SoundCtrl Series Part 3: Dance Music in the Era of Copyright Controversy

by Angus Thomas Paterson

This is Part 3 of a running series.

For Part 1: “Life After the Digital Disruption,” click here.

For Part 2: “Protecting the Future of Music,” click here.

The Power of Independents

In the fragmented and sonically diverse world of club music, there are independent labels serving a widespread range of subcultures, each of them often connecting to a completely different and authentic audience.  That said, across the board, one of its big independent success stories is Anjunabeats, the label owned and A&R’ed by London DJ trio Above & Beyond, who were ranked last year in the top 5 of the world’s most successful club performer’s in DJ Mag’s influential ‘Top 100’ poll.

Anjunabeats specializes in cutting-edge music for the trance community, a sound characterized by its euphoric melodies and driving, room-filling energy. In 2005 Anjunadeep was born into a sub-label that runs concurrent with Anjunabeats, which itself developed into a hugely respected vehicle for the deeper, more groove-focused sounds of progressive and underground house.

Anjunabeats finds itself in an intriguing position, as it was established in early 2000, when physical distribution was the norm. The label was there to witness all the changes, and not only survived to tell the tale, but also thrived. Label manager Allan McGrath is responsible for coordinating and promoting its weekly releases, from a combined roster of more than 50 artists across the two labels, and he says there’s a positive story to tell.

Responding to Thomas’s tales of making a living largely from recorded income, McGrath says there are several artists across the Anjunabeats and Anjunadeep labels who have also chosen to focus their energies mostly on studio work. “They’re definitely in a much better place to do that if they’re with an established brand who can push the release in a certain way, and ensure that if the quality of the music is strong, then it will reach its full potential, rather than being lost on a smaller label, not being promoted properly or finding the audience that it deserves.”

However, it’s still far from the norm, and McGrath says most artists interested in a long term career would have to strongly consider the opportunities offered by live performances. “I would say definitely the model has undoubtedly, inevitably and probably irredeemably changed, to the point where live income needs to be the end game for 80 percent of artists in electronic music.”

Does he see it as a negative development? “Not personally, and not necessarily,” he says. However, there’s room to lament how quickly the business model has been shaken down. “You could argue that for a very long time, the value placed on music was unfeasible and excessive, especially in certain parts of the market,” he says. “But it’s a shame things have moved with such swiftness, and often without any kind of safety net or precautions, towards a model where music has lost its value. I do think it’s a shame music is viewed as ‘free’ by a lot of people.”

In the face of a decline in the value that consumers attach to music, Anjunabeats have adapted in a number of ways. McGrath says the market for physical products hasn’t completely vanished, though it has changed significantly. “It needs a lot of care and attention, so it looks like something you’d want to have on your mantelpiece or in your record collection. But there’s still a lot of people making high-quality, beautifully designed physical products.”

Looking to the digital realm, Apple’s iTunes platform remains the platform of choice for the industry’s major labels, and McGrath confirms it’s also a crucial tool for taking Anjunabeats to a wider audience, with the independents often showcased alongside the major label heavies. “It’s got a very editorial based storefront, and you can often find yourself on the homepage alongside artists like Adele, or whichever other commercial artist is being played heavily that week.”

There’s been concerns expressed over Apple gaining a chokehold on the industry; but dance music’s independents have leapfrogged this threat via several specialist digital platforms, the most important of which is Beatport, a site so ubiquitous its sales charts have become the de facto Billboard Hot 100 for dance music. It’s a quick, easy and cheap way for fans to purchase new music, and allows the labels plenty of flexibility in areas like price points and sound quality.

“For a label often putting out one or two releases a week, that’s predominantly club music and in a DJ environment, Beatport is of massive importance to us,” McGrath says. “Seeing as DJ sets are where our music tends to live, whether in a club or on the radio.”

Otherwise, McGrath says their own online shopfront is a hugely important vehicle for selling music to their fans. “It’s an amazing way of building a very close and lasting connection with our most loyal and dedicated. You can offer them the product first, they’re getting it from the heart of the label, and that’s what they’ve pledged their support to.”

Stay tuned to for Part 4: “Cultivating Cultural Capital”