‘We Could Bring Back The House Party’: Q’s With Beatport CEO Robb McDaniels

Robb McDaniels
Jay Blakesberg
– Robb McDaniels
CEO of Beatport

Beatport, one of the most important destinations on the internet for DJs and profitable asset of LiveStyle, Inc., turned 16 (see milestone overview below). The electronic music community has adapted well to the worldwide ban on public life by keeping in touch with its audience online, many through channels hosted by Beatport.

Charlotte de Witte released her new Return To Nowhere EP with Beatport Live. Paying tribute to her native city of Ghent, she set up her decks in the medieval castle of Gravensteen, June 11. On June 9, German DJ Monolink led a lineup that included Kevin de Vries, Innellea, and Tom Peters, streaming from the Berlin TV Tower.
Two Beatport-hosted livestreams dubbed ReConnect, featuring some of the biggest names in electronic music, who performed from their homes, raised close to $300,000 for COVID-related charities.
Pollstar met up with Beatport CEO Robb McDaniels via Zoom to talk about the role of live in 2020, alternative income streams for artists, creating new genres in music and a silver lining in this crisis.
Pollstar: What are your thoughts on the relationship between live and recorded music in times of Covid?
Robb McDaniels: The standard formula was to tour after you release an album, to promote the album. [In absence of] touring, people are certainly releasing music. How can you promote that release, whether it’s a single song or an album? As you see, more and more artists are moving to online events and the streaming of, perhaps, an album release party.
We’ve got more and more of those album release parties streaming live, and I think as long as this virus is around, without any kind of vaccine, we’ll see more and more artists doing that. They have to continue to connect with fans and release music. We’ve got the internet to facilitate that, so we’re going to see a lot more of that in the next six to 12 months.
It always felt like the electronic music sector was a parallel universe that operated outside of traditional structures. Copyrights, intellectual property, and control in general, seemed less important than an open-source approach and collaboration. Do you agree with that sentiment, and has this crisis reinforced that community?
It’s a great point, and I think there are moments in time, like these global events that are shocks to the system, that accentuate or accelerate trends or realities that already exist. And in what is a truly global electronic and dance music culture, it’s very collaborative. We’re seeing more of that happen as these artists are spending more time at home and off the road, creating and releasing music. The number of releases that we’re getting each week on Beatport increased between 10% and 20% over the last year. 
In terms of some of the copyright and intellectual property protections, in some respects, dance music culture has not necessarily paid attention to that at its detriment. There’s a lot of copyrights that go unregistered, and we started a partnership with Sentric Music Publishing in the UK late last year to help the producers, writers and labels register these copyrights, so they can collect on all of that performance and mechanical income.
Charlotte de Witte
– Charlotte de Witte
Performing on Gravensteen Castle in Ghent, Belgium.

These are other ways that we can help the community collect the money that they deserve. Look, at any point in time, dance music must be the most played genre of music in the world. Even when there’s a pandemic it’s still played in homes around the world, certainly, when there’s no pandemic, on beaches and in nightclubs and at festivals around the world. 

And yet, it’s one of the least collected from the PROs. The money’s just not getting to the right places. We want to change that. We’re working on a number of initiatives to help the community collect more of the money that they can then reinvest into being collaborative and creative.
Did you get any feedback from DJs on the reality of performing from home?
Let’s remember that touring is not inexpensive. A lot of artists and DJs, and it’s obviously a little different for a DJ than it is for a touring band, but they don’t necessarily make that much money. They get to pay themselves a little bit of money, a per diem or stipend. What we’re seeing is that those artists who had embraced their digital presence and online engagement with their fanbases were the quickest to adopt to this new reality. 
Obviously, with the big ReConnect events that we did to raise money for our industry right when the pandemic started, there were many artists and DJs, who graciously volunteered their time. But they were quite unsure about this whole thing of performing from their home for their fans. Would people really enjoy this? Have the same connection? 
When they saw the response, people sitting, dancing in their living rooms, communicating and being able to reconnect with each other, it catapulted a lot of artists into this new way of embracing online engagement with their fans. We see more and more artists pivoting towards it.

Carl Cox doing his thing at his Melbourne home
Carl Cox
– Carl Cox doing his thing at his Melbourne home
Beatport’s ReConnect events raised some $300,000 in donations

What other income streams, aside publishing administration for creators, does Beatport offer during this crisi?

We’re still selling downloads, more each year. We may be one of the only places on the planet where downloads are increasing. We recently launched Beatport LINK, which is the integrated streaming product, which has really taken off in the last few months, with more and more people at home. 
All the big streaming events that we’re doing, our audience is pretty massive, we can help these artists reach a lot of people. They get to engage with those fans, and perhaps drive them to buy their music or add them to their Spotify playlist, or send them to your website and sell t-shirts or vinyl. There is certainly some ancillary income that we don’t participate in that we’re helping to promote for these artists. And we don’t mind doing that because a rising tide lifts all boats.
Some of those events, we’re now bringing in brand partners, so there’s performance fees or money tied to some of them. We hope that increases as well over the next six to 12 months.
Can you tell us the number of monthly Beatport LINK users, and how it has increased?
What I can tell you is that, in the last three months, we generated as many new subscribers as we did in the first nine months. We’re a year into LINK right now, and the curve has accelerated quite dramatically. 
We also launched Beatsource for open-format DJs. The Beatsource LINK product has launched as well and is actually growing faster than Beatport LINK when it launched a year ago. We are well-north of 10,000 subscribers and growing quite quickly.
What do you mean by open-format DJ?
DJs that play anything other than electronic music. Beatsource is a totally different brand, store front and shopping experience than Beatport. A lot of them play a song for 30 to 45 seconds and do tons of mashups and scratching. It’s a different type of DJ than the electronic music DJ.

La Fleur in her Berlin home
Justin Massei
– La Fleur in her Berlin home
If her daughter’s reaction is anything to go by, people loved La Fleur’s ReConnect set.

You mentioned the ReConnect streaming events. Do you have numbers on those?

We’ve done two major ReConnect events, and then half a dozen to 10 other, smaller events that were either genre or label focused. We did a Pride one as well. What I can give you is statistics from the two major ReConnect events.
We raised over $260,000 for the charities, and there were over 23 million views. The reach was about 126 million impressions. They were some of the biggest events that happened online in music. We’ve seen success in these smaller ones as well, we did a drum and base one and just did an organic house one, which is a new genre that we’ve introduced, featuring some of the DJs that helped us create that genre. It’s been quite a rewarding effort.
And we provide the track IDs while people are playing, so the DJs are realizing now that they can play their music, we’ll track ID it, link it to Beatport and all of a sudden, they’re rising up the charts. A little bit of a silver lining amongst these dark Covid clouds we have to deal with.
There seems to be agreement that a live stream cannot replace the experience of going to a gig. What are your thoughts on the future of live gigs, based on everything you’ve observed over these past months? Have you come across any creative solutions that work in your mind?
Definitely come across creative solutions. The drive-in parties in Europe and the U.S. We’re in a public health crisis. It’s challenging gathering large groups of people together. Wearing masks certainly seems to be something that helps significantly prevent the spread of the disease. So, perhaps were we’ll start is outdoor events capped at a certain number of people where everyone has to wear masks. If you’ve ever been to festivals like Coachella, you have to wear a mask most of the time anyway, because it’s blowing dirt all around.
I don’t think that will be too much of a struggle for people. There is obviously pent-up demand and people wanting to get reconnected with each other. I also think that, in the shorter term, we could bring back the house party. Getting together with 20 or 30 people is a lot easier than 2,000 or 3,000 people. Let’s everybody get a DJ set up at home and tour your own party with your friends, those are the 20 or 30 people you want to see anyway when you go to big festival.
I think it’ll be next summer, before we really start to go back to normal.
What are you working on at the moment?
More of these online events. We really want to provide our community with a bigger platform to engage and reach their audience. We have more LINK integrations for both Beatport and Beatsource coming this year, and we continue to push our Hype program for the smaller, emerging labels that perhaps don’t get as much access to real estate on the Beatport store, but have great music. 
How does that work?
Labels that sign up for Hype, they pay $10 a month, are selling an 80%-plus increase in their annual sales. Even the DJs that are shopping on Beatport like it, because it helps them find those diamonds in the rough, the undiscovered gems.
16 years of Beatport (overview):
16 years of Beatport
– 16 years of Beatport