QA Q&A with Adrian Alexander

Recently on the EDM Production discord that I help administrate, I held a Q&A with Adrian Alexander, A&r rep, of Elliptical Sun Records. Specifically we discussed A&R and the music industry.

Click through for the whole Q&A as I’ve transcribed it.

Contents

Q&A

A big thank you to everyone on the discord for asking questions and participating!

How much do you look at an artist’s pre-established fan base? How much does that matter versus the quality of the music submitted?

Adrian Alexander: At Elliptical Sun, we don’t look too much into fan bases, as we aren’t necessarily looking for people who already have a lot of fans. Quality of music is far more important, and we have good faith that great music will bring both the label and the artists more fans.

Some of our top artists have very few followers/likes on FB/SC and that’s more of a promotional issue.

But yeah, not a significant factor we take into account when signing a new artist. We’re currently promoting in the US quite a bit so the fans will eventually come.

Hope that helps :smiley:

what else do you look for in an artist besides just the music they’re putting out?

and if i can add - how big is the range of experience [for a lack of better words] in your label?(edited)

Adrian Alexander: Aside from the music, the most important thing that we look for in an artist is a sense of association with the rest of our label members. It’s really important to us that anyone we sign be invested in the label and are willing to communicate and collaborate with the rest of our artist roster. Producers who are just trying to keep a release schedule with a new song every 2 weeks don’t really appeal to us. So, in essence, a sense of appreciation for our community effort.

We have producers who have a broad range of releases, specifically in terms of output, but all of our artists have one thing in common, and that is a solid knowledge of technique and mixing skill.

How many tracks would be good to submit as a demo? One, or multiple showing range? What other things should be sent for consideration by a label?

Adrian Alexander: We love it when producers send in 2-3 tracks at a time but a single demo works just fine as well. We mainly want to see consistency in their sounds.

What do you think when someone submits a track with uncleared samples? Is there now a monetary consideration in play?

Adrian Alexander: We will not sign tracks with uncleared samples. We don’t get too many demos with them, but our label owner would rather invest in high profile remixes than gamble on tracks that may or may not profit after we spend money clearing it. 😩3 We depend heavily on airplay to bring in money to the label, and if a release just happens to get less radio play, then that’s a loss for us. Our biggest supporters are Above & Beyond, and they get so many promos that they simply can’t fit some of our tracks on their show. That said, we are their top supported label other than their own.

I’ll mention though that if a track is simply spectacular, but it contains a sample that needs to be cleared, then the conversation can happen.

When you say “air play” - do you refer to typical commercial FM radio, or also internet radio like Pandora, Spotify, etc.?

Adrian Alexander: Air play mainly referring to any support that is monetized. This could be spotify, youtube, satellite or internet radio, etc.

What is the main reason you see artists coming to your label specifically? They already have expert technique and mixing skills, so I doubt it is to gain advice there. Is it mainly just distribution?

Adrian Alexander: Well, you’d be surprised. A lot of really talented producers lack the confidence in their own work to make informed decisions about their mixes. So, even though we all have solid knowledge about production, we’re all still very curious about what the rest of the group does to achieve certain traits in their mixes

That said, yeah, most of the demos we get are from artists who are wanting support from Above & Beyond, etc. Which is understandable–for fans of Anjunabeats, that’s a really big deal.

Would you ever take someone with under developed skills if you thought they had potential/liked their sound?

Adrian Alexander: We will always offer feedback on tracks of reasonable quality. If it’s apparent that someone just downloaded their first crack of FL Studio 2 weeks ago, then we generally won’t offer much feedback other than to keep practicing, but if we hear something special in an underdeveloped track, we will have conversations with that artist to get them there.

And an important note that applies across most labels: the main demo email for a (popular) label is the worst way to get your demo considered

Our demo email has such a high volume, and only the owner screens those demos. His goal is to scan as quickly as possible, so there’s not too much room for underdevelopment

Getting to know a label’s A&R’s is the best way to have conversations about your music

How would you go about getting to know people in the industry?

Adrian Alexander: Reach out to them. Make a connection about something relevant. Don’t try too hard to force a conversation as they are likely overwhelmed with those as it is. I reached out to Anjunabeats’ senior A&R about a year and a half ago thanking him and the rest of the team for their radio support of my music, and ever since then, we’ve had a pretty close relationship, simply because I took the time to start a relevant conversation.

Just be sincere, but not over the top. This industry is filled with a lot of different characters, and the ones who align most to the middle of that personality spectrum are the easiest to talk to, if that makes sense.

what’s your favourite vaporwave track?

Adrian Alexander: Hah, not huge on vaporwave. The pads are too detuned for my taste. I draw the line at slow synthwave, and on that note, pretty much anything by Michael Cassette.

Sorry to disappoint :p

What genre gets submitted the least to your label?

Adrian Alexander: Hardstyle.

Do you accept any kind of genre ?

Adrian Alexander: Our backbones are in progressive trance and melodic progressive house. If it’s within one or two steps away from that, then we will definitely consider it. But as much as we love diversity, our audience would be pretty confused if we released a happy hardcore track.

have you gotten any free tekno submissions?

Adrian Alexander: Can’t say we have, no

How do you overcome the challenges you face specifically unique to new technology? IE - back in the day, one would send out vinyl promos to djs, but in the digital world, how do you overcome the immense saturation with a louder and more unique voice?

Adrian Alexander: That’s a good question. The industry is incredibly saturated at the moment, and it’s difficult to filter the producers who are authentically creating something from those who are simply using MIDI packs and track templates. Back when I first started producing, there were no templates for sale. I suppose I would have to say that we lean on the example of more established labels to develop our sense of direction, but we always stay true to our sound to keep ourselves unique and above the noise.

how long does it generally take for a track to go from the initial signing to officially released?

Adrian Alexander: Generally it takes about 2 months. It took less time a year ago, but we are attracting a much higher volume of quality demos.

High quality problem for us!

I can tell you that Anjunabeats, Enhanced, and other labels within our family can take up to 6 months for a release. So we don’t feel too bad about it :smiley:

Hey Adrian! When submitting demos, do you guys prefer to have a demo that’s already mastered and ready for release? Have there been cases where you’ve had a track was just mixed really well but mastered after it was signed?

Adrian Alexander: We have a team of 4 A&Rs who all have input on production quality. We like to have demos with a light mastering chain at least, so we can better judge the impact a track will make in a club, but we will almost always have small points of feedback for a track, so an initial demo is rarely the final master that gets released

That said, if the mix is great and the track is already mastered, we won’t complain :smiley:

What is the average age range of your producers? I’ve never thought my music good enough for a label, but even if it was, as a 26 yo, I feel old.

Adrian Alexander: Most of us are 26-30 years old

A few are much younger, and in fact we have a couple producers who still can’t buy alcohol.

Was trying to ask this earlier, but got disconnected from Discord. Is other musical experience, like playing instruments or FOH engineering, factored in to that 4-10 year range of production experience?(edited)

Adrian Alexander: Yes it is. Only a few of us were musically trained as children. Most of use picked up instruments after high school. I don’t count my middle school band hours in my years of experience

Hey Adrian! When submitting demos, do you guys prefer to have a demo that’s already mastered and ready for release? Have there been cases where you’ve had a track was just mixed really well but mastered after it was signed?

Adrian Alexander: For demos, we prefer submissions that just have a quick mastering chain on for loudness. EQ, compression and limiting would be optimal, as we get a fairly clear picture of what the mix sounds like, while also being able to assess impact for DJing purposes.

We will almost always provide feedback on the mix, so spending money on a professional master isn’t necessary at that stage.

Of course, many mastering engineers will allow a certain number of “free” revisions, so if you’re pretty confident in your mix, it’s great to have a nice finished product ready to go.

what do you think is most important, making new & unique styles of music or well-produced music? (both is an accepted answer)

Adrian Alexander: Both are important, but production quality is more important.

If an artist can hone mixing and composition skills, it will generally be only a matter of time before they achieve their own sound, if they are truly in it for the art

What is your opinion on ”making it” in the music industry? Is there such a thing?

Adrian Alexander: That’s a veryyy open question. I would imagine “making it” means you can survive off of music alone, in which case, yes. Royalties are, for most artists, never a sufficient income. Therefore, gigs must be the primary money makers. If you get signed to a great label that has great artist management and great PR, then it all boils down to marketing your music and producing consistent output to stay relevant.

From there, you will draw an audience, and then clubs/festivals will book you, with the help of a booking agency.

That said, the road there is anything but easy!

Piggybacking on that, what percentage does the income generally breakdown for your artists for gigs/merch/record sales/etc… (if you’re aware of these stats)

Adrian Alexander: For me personally, it generally breaks down like this:

Per quarter, I make around $100 off of sales, $60-80 from streams, $80 or so from monetized radio play, and $300-500 from 2-3 gigs

So with 3 gigs, I make twice as much as I make from total royalties. Now, mind you, I’m a small time DJ.

Scale that to someone who is playing 10 gigs per quarter and streaming in the hundreds of thousands rather than tens of thousands on Spotify, and you’ll be looking at probably a net of $20,000 from gigs and $2,000 from royalties

A record label-critical article (https://techcrunch.com/2017/11/15/united-masters/) by TechCrunch came out yesterday during the announcement of $70mil in backing from Google parent Alphabet, venture firm Adreessen Horowitz, and 20th Century Fox for a startup called UnitedMasters. There seems to be a growing trend in the music tech space for startups that seek to replace record labels to help musicians with distribution, analytics, and royalties, especially since there seems to be a shift in revenue streams from record sales to streaming royalties. What’s your thoughts on this, how do you think that record labels and A&R’s like yourself can stay viable/attractive/relatable/current to artists? Lastly, a lot of artists I’ve spoken to acknowledge that touring makes up the most of their income, what do you think about artists looking for their main revenue stream to be from streaming/record sales vs touring?

Adrian Alexander: Great Question!

I think record labels still have a place in the industry and likely will always have a place in the industry because most artists are not self sufficient with branding.

Labels can have label parties, label themed stages at festivals, etc.

If the artist is on his/her own, then the product has to be extremely strong to convince those responsible for booking talent to invest

I have a 2 part question: 1) What would you say was the track that defined the sound of 2017 in trance / progressive. 2) What do you think the sound of trance will be in 2018?

Adrian Alexander: So, in progressive trance, it’s hard to discount the impact that Anjunabeats has on the scene. I know many others swear by the Armada realm, but I really think the innovation is coming from the other side of the road.

I’d say the scene was dominated by big basslines and giant chord progressions/supersaws, and that style reached its peak this year

So maybe Higher Love by Seven Lions and Jason Ross in the early part of the year, and towards the end, I think things started to get a bit deeper/proggier. So maybe Grum’s material, Napier by Rolo Green, or something of that sort.

For next year though, I think the vintage sound is going to continue to make a comeback. The new one from Ilan Bluestone and Maor Levi (‘We Remain’ I think?) will be huge. Tough to say, there was a lot of diversity that came out of this year, Lots of forks in the road.

Can you tell us what you guys consider to be good branding for an artist, and how often do you have to sit and talk with an artist to improve theirs?

Adrian Alexander: I think I mentioned last time that we don’t generally look too much at an artist’s following. Generally, that’s because many great demos we receive are from artists who aren’t even sure who to talk to about licensing a logo design.

There are some basics that we encourage artists to invest in. A unique and professional logo, some decent press shots, and social media pages with consistent URLs/tags are a few.

But other than that, as long as you don’t have in your bio something like “our new music is going to rape your ears” then generally we are lax about it

What is the average age range of your producers? I’ve never thought my music good enough for a label, but even if it was, as a 26 yo, I feel old.

Adrian Alexander: 26 is a very young age in the industry. Almost all of our artists are 26-30

do you expect artists to shoot for one label alone or is it understandable if artists shoot other labels

Adrian Alexander: Totally understandable if an artist sends a demo to multiple labels, but we have a lot of resources to offer artists, so we always encourage them to become more permanent members of our team.

What artists do you hope submit to the label, If you have any?

Adrian Alexander: We have a few up-and-comers that we have our eyes on, but no well known names. Though, we occasionally get a few bigger artists who submit.

We had an artist off of mau5trap submit to us recently

What do you do for your artists in terms of promotion?

Adrian Alexander: We tap into our fanbase to promote them, and vice-verse. With all the cross promotion and cross pollination of audiences, it tends to create one big family of followers, which makes the products we put out more meaningful

That, and we have recently booked some showcase gigs that will allow for performance opportunities for our artist roster

What makes a good artist?

Adrian Alexander: That’s an easy one. They make art.

Which, you know, might sound deceptively cheeky at first, but in reality, there are producers and there are artists. If you’re just slapping together loops and midi files played by presets, then we can all tell that you aren’t an artist.

Creating soundscapes and palettes and stories within the music, genuine musicality.

That’s art.

Thank you for coming! This has been an awesome experience, and you’ve given some great information! Where can we find more about Elliptical Sun Recordings, and are there any shoutouts you’d like to make?

Adrian Alexander: Thanks for having me, guys!

We have all the usual social media platforms, but are most social on facebook. Give us a like and drop us a line anytime :) https://www.facebook.com/EllipticalSunRecordings/.

Thanks @dyce., victim of collusion for the invite and shoutouts to anyone who has been inspired or feels otherwise more informed from the Q&A :smiley:

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