Business and beats

Are dance music producers and songwriters ensuring every beat counts, both on the dancefloor and in their bank balance?

Kyle Fisher
  • By Kyle Fisher
  • 20 Dec 2012
  • min read
Every music scene has its ‘big bang’ moment - electronic music’s was the ‘energy flash’ of acid house which coursed through the UK in the late eighties.

That energy crashed through the doors of pop culture, opening them wider than they’d ever been before. Fast forward 25 years and the ongoing digital evolution is creating almost endless possibilities for the dance music community. Electronic songwriters and composers can make, release, distribute and promote music without leaving the house.

But this shifting landscape also raises a question. Can these artists successfully balance their musical and business assets? Revenue generated by dance music needs to pump from studios through dancefloors, radios and retailers and back into the pockets of creators. Otherwise, these music makers may have to look elsewhere to sustain themselves.


PRS for Music’s Director of Membership and Rights, Mark Lawrence and Truelove Publishing’s John Truelove have established a working group to tackle the challenges facing the electronic music community. The group, including music publishers and label representatives, wants to engage with more dance music writers to increase awareness of what they can do to ensure they are paid for their creativity.

Mark says: ‘Dance music was once the discerning underground music fan’s genre of choice. Now all that has changed - electronic dance music producers are now very much part of the mainstream – their music is everywhere.’

The group wants to ensure royalties from performance and mechanical sales reach the correct creators - challenges include the accurate registering of compositions with PRS for Music, the collection of performing data from clubs and live events and the effective licensing of dance music in international markets.

John Truelove, the creative force behind his own Truelove Publishing and chair of the group, says that the evolution of musical formats from physical vinyl to digital and the growing use of online retailers have created these concerns for dance music artists – particularly when it comes to the timely receipt of royalties.

‘It’s all well and good to see one’s music used and critical success garnered,’ says Truelove, ‘but livelihoods depend on being paid. Getting money from digital downloads for composers and publishers is a very central concern at the moment, not just from exploitation in the UK but exploitation worldwide.’

Without the correct registration of compositions, collecting societies will struggle to match songwriting data with songwriters. Common mistakes from artists include registering incorrect edits or mixes of tracks or pseudonyms instead of the correct artist names – all can lead to errors or delays when payments are made.

These errors prevent artists from receiving the correct royalties, whether that be in the form of mechanical royalties from digital sales or from performance royalties. PRS for Music statistics show specialist dance programming made up 15 percent of broadcast hours on BBC Radio 1 in 2011 – however, 54 percent of the total value of unclaimed works for BBC Radio 1 was for music broadcast during these shows.

Rising to the digital challenge

So how do the dance music creators themselves see this digital challenge? Mark Moore, the man behind acid house act S’Express, who had a number one UK hit with Theme from S’Express in 1988, warns that when producers step off the dancefloor and into business, it’s easy for them to become lost. As he says, most producers working in the field of dance music do so to feed their creative impulses rather than fulfil long-term career plans.

‘I’ve established myself – so I have a publishing deal, a lawyer, an accountant – they’re all making sure my licensing and legal commitments are correct. But I’m sure there are a lot of people who don’t know about these things. If some people blow up, they won’t know about the next step. We’re talking about people who make music in their bedrooms.’

Moore says creating a working relationship with a label or publisher is the most sensible action for dance music producers looking to navigate through these thorny issues – and the new breed of DJs and producers appear to agree.

Daniel Avery, resident DJ at London’s Fabric and recently signed artist to Erol Alkan’s Phantasy Sound label, is a new dance music producer to have made some serious waves in 2012. A series of key releases including the Water Jump and Need Electric EPs have culminated in a FabricLive mix for the club’s esteemed series - he says he would be none the wiser about making a living from creating music if it wasn’t for his label.

‘The second a track is finished, it gets properly registered at every level and in every territory. They also encouraged me to fill in set lists regularly and help them chase any inaccurately listed radio plays. As long as everything is done at an early stage, it shouldn’t be a problem and can only be a positive thing for someone like me.’

‘But it’s definitely not part of the culture with new DJs. In fact, I know some quite big acts who haven’t registered any of their work. I think people need to be told a bit more forcefully that there’s potential money waiting for them. I’m fortunate that my label now takes care of everything but I’m sure not everyone has this luxury.’

Tom Kelsey is part of independent drum n’ bass imprint Hospital and works with the likes of High Contrast and London Elektricity as well as newer artists such as Metrik.

He said that his imprint does its best to pave the way for new artists looking to starting off navigating their way through the complex business world. ‘At a label like Hospital we try and instil the right mindset into our artists as soon as we sign them,’ he explains.

Set list submissions

So how do dance music producers make money from the performance of their songs in clubs or festivals? It’s obviously big business.

DJs are expected to submit their own set lists from performances from clubs or festivals to collecting societies such as PRS for Music – this enables the organisation to correctly distribute performing royalties to the music creators. However, DJs and producers suggest that this is not part of the current mindset existing in their community.

‘In my career I’ve submitted a set list only a handful of times – that’s terrible isn’t it? But you forget that you have to do it,’ says Moore.

PRS for Music figures show that dance music producers are less likely to submit set lists than their guitar-wielding counterparts. Statistics revealed that only 36.5 percent and 14.3 percent of set lists were collected for Creamfields and Glade festivals respectively in 2011.

This was compared to Reading last year, a predominantly guitar-based event, where 88.7 percent of set lists were shared. An average set list for a major dance festival such as Creamfields or Glade can be worth as much as £250.

The power of performance

Matt Walsh, producer, DJ and label manager at Clouded Vision, says it pays for producers to get out into the clubs as DJs. He and Avery regularly DJ together at their Movement club night in East London – and the pair agree that performance as a DJ is where certain revenues lie, although this doesn’t necessarily help songwriters.


Walsh says: ‘Most new artists realise that their daily bread comes from the shows they play. I’m sure record labels have begun to take fees from live shows by now - if not they soon will.’

James Masters, one half of techno imprint Rekids, formed alongside Radioslave’s Matt Edwards, agrees that the emphasis is on producers leaving their studio and getting behind decks or playing live.

‘I try and encourage all of the artists I work with to understand that the focus of any income will be through their DJ or live performance fees. They really need to see physical product as a business card and digital product as social media,’ he explains.

How to mix business and beats

It’s clear technology does afford great opportunities to release, promote and distribute music, but electronic producers need to be wary of the various pitfalls it creates, particularly as the genre continues to grow and the stakes get higher. Calvin Harris, Example and Hot Chip are indicative of acts who have taken electronic bleeps and beeps out of the club and into the mainstream. Meanwhile on the other side of the pond, the rise of the ‘EDM’ juggernaut is seemingly unstoppable.

Adrian Kemp, from Ninja Tunes’ Justisntmusic - representing works by the likes of Toddla T and Coldcut - says that technological change should not be feared, particularly if artists align themselves with a reliable publisher and label.

‘Technology certainly poses certain administrative challenges but it’s not rocket science if you work with a decent publisher. It’s just about keeping pace with the new retail landscape. As publishers our job is to relieve the creatives of the administrative burden to leave them to what they do best. Which is make great music.’

Tom from Hospital believes that the future of the genre is in good hands. The new generation are proving to be more savvy and business aware.

‘The busier and more popular an artist becomes, the less and less time they put into keeping on top of this sort of admin themselves. But a lot of new artists do come in to the scene with a real entrepreneurial attitude. Sometimes they just need a bit of help and guidance with how to direct that energy.’

Mark Lawrence is optimistic about the group’s work and what the future holds for the electronic music “ecosystem”, ‘Discussions over digital recognition technology to improve the accuracy of DJ set reporting are currently taking place and PRS for Music is working with the International Music Summit in Ibiza to increase awareness of the importance of registering compositions.

‘Electronic music is everywhere – it features heavily in television, advertising and film. And the live sector is growing. It is such an exciting time for electronic music writers and producers and one PRS for Music is right behind.’

Truelove agrees about the future of dance music looking bright: ‘It’s really exciting. We can get income from places that we’d never even dreamed we could. The whole digital thing is a blessing as much as bringing in new challenges.’

Words: Jim Ottewill

Find out more about our dance music initiative Amplify