Miami Music Week: Dance Music Makes Its Big Return To The City
Throughout the year, electronic dance music sees three major festivals largely representing the entire genre: Tomorrowland (Belgium), Electric Daisy Carnival (Las Vegas), and Ultra Music Festival (Miami). DJs fly in from all across the world for these events, all of which host week-long parties leading up to the main festival itself. Ultra Music Festival/Miami Music Week is the first one of these events to take place each year.
Miami Music Week takes place toward the end of March, with the event serving as the main kick-off event for much of dance music’s festival season. The festival itself bolsters lineups filled with the genre’s biggest names, such as Fisher, Illenium, Sofi Tukker, Zeds Dead, and more. Record labels throw parties showcasing their rosters, artists meet up with each other for last-minute back-to-backs, and the week is filled with music, networking and, for some, debauchery.
“Miami is such a wild place,” Annie Norman, Head of Events for Anjunadeep and Anjunabeats, told Pollstar. “It’s the first date in the calendar that brings everybody back together again after a long winter. It’s really a gathering of the family, whether it’s artists, label execs, agents and promoters. Everybody gets together to launch the rest of the year. It’s an opening party. So it’s always a family affair.”
Miami Music Week and Ultra Music Festival are held alongside the Winter Music Conference – an event focusing exclusively on electronic music that was acquired by Ultra outright in 2018.
Ultra Music Festival was founded in 1999 by Russell Faibisch and Alex Omes and piggybacked off of Miami’s Winter Music Conference. The first iteration of the event took place in Collins Park, before moving to Bayfront from 2001-2005, 2012-2019, and returning once again in 2022. Miami estimates that the festival alone has generated nearly $1 billion of economic impact since 2012.
“Miami Music Week itself is such a hub, especially in North America, in regards to electronic music,” Bryan Linares, Global Brand Director of Dim Mak, the record label owned by Steve Aoki, told Pollstar. “It’s important for us to have a presence there amongst the other labels and artists. It’s really a marketing opportunity.”
The Ultra lineup boasts more than 100 artists. Throughout Miami Music week, over 100 parties will be taking place with around 11 record labels putting together showcases, and even more artists throwing their own events with friends.
With so many events over the course of just a few days, artists who aren’t even on the Ultra lineup fly out to join in on the festivities.
Justin Chernick, better known under his house music alias, Justin Jay, is among those artists coming to Miami despite not playing at the main event. Instead, he is playing at three different parties, including the Dirtybird White label showcase party, another artist party hosted by John Summit, and a party of his own. With his own event, Chernick plans to highlight Miami’s local talent – a group often overlooked when the big names start coming to town.
“I wanted to put on local talent, which I feel is not normally a part of Miami Music Week,” Chernick said. “It’s all these DJs coming in from out of town. Gina Turner is playing the party as a special guest, but the majority of the lineup is all these amazing people that I’ve met and become friends with who live in Miami. It’s such a special city because it’s such a melting pot of different people from different places.”
One South Florida-based promotion company, BLNK CNVS, has its hands in a multitude of events. This year sees them promoting 20 parties, including the Anjunadeep and Anjunabeats pool parties, Dim Mak’s showcase, Spinnin’ Records’ pool party, and Deadbeats vs. Cyclops Recordings.
“We’ve been working with BLNK CNVS now for three or four Miami Music Weeks,” Harrison Bennett, Deadbeats’ Label Manager who helps curate the record label’s lineups for showcases, said. This year’s showcase will see them returning to Soho Studios once again, a venue they utilized during the last Miami Music Week in 2019. “We love this space. It’s just a big warehouse in the middle of Wynwood, and you can kind of do whatever with the space.”
BLNK CNVS first stepped onto the scene in 2017, and Miami Music Week sees them taking over venues such as Nautilus Miami Beach, MAPS Backlot, Oasis Wynwood and Soho Studios.
“Spinnin’ Sessions has been taking place during Miami Music Week since 2013, and after several editions, we have found our home at Nautilus Hotel,” Steven de Graaf, Commercial Director for Spinnin’ Records, said. “For us, this is the perfect location to host our flagship pool party right at the beach and truly in the heart of the Ultra/Miami Music Week action.”
In addition to locking down venues throughout the week, the promotion company has also lent helping hands in snagging artists for shows.
“BLNK CNVS will also reach out because they have multiple shows at multiple venues,” Linares said. “They get leads from most agents, if not all the agencies, and they kind of have a first look at everything that’s available as well. They’ve really taken a big role in Miami, taking up a lot of venues.”
Ultra Music Festival draws talent from all across the world and every continent. Considered one of the meccas of dance music, the event allows budding artists to make a splash and grow their fanbase, while those working in the industry are provided with numerous networking opportunities.
Talks regarding curating showcase lineups begin in December or January, giving everyone a few months to prepare and begin arranging plans and flights. For record labels outside of North America, the planning begins even sooner. Spinnin’ Records, located in Hilversum, Netherlands, typically starts thinking about Miami Music Week in October.
“The Amsterdam Dance Event in October is always a good starting point to start preparing,” de Graaf said. “We meet with the artists and the promoter at ADE and start talking and sharing ideas for the coming event.”
Anjunabeats/Anjunadeep also begin their preparations early, first planning their Miami Music Week events six months ago.
When it comes to curating the lineups for Miami Music Week’s parties, most record labels aim to highlight the artists they will be promoting in the coming months. For the artist-owned labels, such as Dim Mak (owned by Steve Aoki) and Anjunabeats/Anjunadeep (both owned by Above & Beyond), the artists themselves have a heavy hand in deciding who will perform. Norman also collaborates with the label managers for both Anjunabeats and Anjunadeep, Gareth Jones and Dom Donnelly, in order to figure out who all will be playing.
“Normally when we curate our lineups, we look at our roster first and foremost to see what campaigns are running, and then who’s on tour or active at that moment as well,” Linares said. “Then we always bring in a bit of friends and family.”
Due to the close-knit nature of dance music, those taking the stages for showcases also carry an organic element. For Dim Mak’s showcase, Aoki asks around to see who’s available and playing, then invites them to come by his party and take the stage once they see each other.
Zeds Dead and Subtronics’ respective record labels, Deadbeats and Cyclops Recordings, opted to do a joint showcase. This year sees one artist from Deadbeats taking the stage alongside another artist from Cyclops Recordings for each set, a feat that Bennett had set his sights on since Deadbeats first began throwing collaborative showcases with various record labels, including Jauz’s Bite This label.
“We wanted to do as collaborative of a booking as possible around this,” Bennett said. “Our goal at the beginning of booking was to always have a back-to-back, just wild pairing that people didn’t see coming.”
The back-to-backs at Deadbeats vs. Cyclops also see an organic nature, with Bennett asking around to see who wants to play with who and the event “purely a relationship thing.” In fact, the initial lineup was changed at the last minute, with several artists swapping after realizing they wanted to play together.
With so many flying in for the event, the week-long festivities often provide the opportunity for those working in the industry to meet and catch up with friends. Spontaneous guest sets during events are a frequent matter, with those curating event lineups intentionally leaving room for someone to hop in during the week, or sometimes even the day, of an event.
Coordinating these showcases proves to be a heavy lift. While most of dance music already blocks out Miami Music Week in the calendar, arranging venues, coordinating with numerous booking agents and figuring out costs can prove challenging. Especially because this week, in particular, can quickly become extremely expensive for those flying in.
Hotel rooms during Miami Music Week average around $200 a night, and Spring Break manages to help the prices soar. Oftentimes, artists flying in for Ultra or Miami Music Week, in general, are taking a loss once factoring in the prices of flights, hotels and transportation during one of the city’s busiest weeks of the year.
Some of those making the trek out to the city will come in for a single set then quickly make their way out. Zeds Dead and Bennett themselves will only be in Miami for about 15 hours, all of them flying in for their set closing out Ultra’s Worldwide Stage on Sunday, with their showcase taking place at Soho Studios shortly after the festival wraps up. Once their sets are done, they’re headed home.
“Nobody is really making anything, they’re ideally breaking even,” Bennett said. “The beauty of these parties is that people are really just there for the fun of it.”
In addition to booking the artists themselves, those putting together shows throughout the week need to ensure top-notch production.
“I think a few sorts of key areas that we hone in on to make sure we deliver a great show for the Anjuna Family, which is what we lovingly call our fanbase, is great production,” Norman said.
Dance music in particular relies on massive visuals, lasers and more to put on a big show. With a DJ behind the decks rather than a full band, fans want to see technical feats that blow their minds in the midst of a good mix.
“(It’s about) making sure that the show and the stage have the right vibe for the brand,” Norman said. “Whether that’s good video content and visuals and lasers, or things like foliage and organic materials, and lanterns.”
Each label being represented carries their own specific brand that extends beyond simply their sound and the kind of music they release. Everything from the production of live shows to the artwork on posters and merchandise is meticulously planned out to fit the atmosphere of the label. For collaborative events, such as Deadbeats and Cyclops Recordings, that means straddling two different realms to bring together the best of both.
Despite the high cost and massive effort in planning out shows, missing Miami Music Week is not an option. The festival draws around 150,000 to 165,000 fans of dance music, providing the perfect opportunity for the genre to showcase what it’s been up to.
“It’s super important for us to activate there, especially since most of our acts, around 80%, are electronic dance music,” Linares said. “It’s important for us to have a presence there amongst the other labels.”