“Industry Rule #4080 / Record company people are shady,” is a line from New York hip hop legends A Tribe Called Quest. Which immediately begs the question: What are the other 4079? In our new series on RBMA, Industry Rule, we’re talking to artists about the rules that they’ve learned throughout their time in the business. Record deals, booking agents, getting your publishing sorted and more.
For our inaugural edition, we’ve tapped Minneapolis techno DJ/producer DVS1 to talk largely about his experience running a nightclub. As someone who now spins in some of the finest in the world – Berghain, fabric, etc. – he clearly has a lesson or two to impart about the unexpected struggles that can arise when business and art come together. It was only after its closure, after all, that DVS1 found the time to start producing in earnest. Ever since, he’s found himself releasing on labels like Ben Klock’s Klockworks and Derrick May’s Transmat.
Running and owning a club are two different things.
Wanting to push art/music and owning such a venture don’t always go hand in hand. After pushing music via putting on events, parties and renting sound systems in my city for more than ten years, I decided that the next natural step would be to open a club called Foundation in Minneapolis. Of course opening up a club is much harder than just putting together a one night event. Dealing with city licensing, taxes, insurance, liquor laws, construction...
All of these things are exciting, but are also extremely time-consuming and a constant uphill battle if you live in a place that struggles to embrace any type of culture musically outside of the mainstream. With only a few legal venues supporting proper music in a city like Minneapolis, finding any clubs that are open to a new art direction is nearly impossible. So I felt that opening a club was necessary.
Don’t spread yourself so thin that you have nothing to stand on.
But let’s assume you make it through this process and eventually successfully open your doors to the public. The paperwork doesn’t stop there. The fact is that you’re constantly dealing with keeping the city happy, the investors happy, the customers happy and now you’re also responsible for other people’s income and livelihood. You can’t just decide to stop when it gets too tough...
If you’re like me, you also want to do everything yourself because either you don’t trust anyone else, or you think you can do it better! In the end your ambition was to push and promote music and art full-time, but in reality you’re opening the office early, closing the club late and somewhere in between you start to lose sight of what you actually wanted to do.
If I would have known what I know now, I would have just tried to find an existing venue or a business partner who would have allowed me to control the vision, but not be responsible for everything else. After a while the business side of things burned me out on the art side. When that started to happen, I made a conscious decision to shut down and go back underground.
Doubting yourself is okay.
Making mistakes is all part of the process. Of course you learn from your success but you learn more from your mistakes. And to make mistakes you have to try things you’re not comfortable with. When you throw yourself into situations that aren’t familiar and aren’t safe, you come out on the other side a better person/artist.
The easiest example was opening my club. In retrospect it was a mistake, but that mistake led to so much more. Over the years I gained a reputation for doing sound systems over and above what was the norm. I owned and operated large scale systems for parties, rental, etc. When I opened and subsequently closed my club, I fell into massive debt. The only way out was to sell my sound system company, the thing that I thought defined me. What I didn’t realize then was that selling my sound system not only freed me of the debt, but also freed me of my responsibility to others and myself doing sound every weekend for years. I finally had no excuse but to focus on what I should have been doing all along: music and production.
After I sold my system, I made a commitment that I would do a live PA within six months. I’m a DJ, always have been, always will be. But suddenly I found myself promising to do this live set, and I thought of every excuse to try and get out of it. (In the end I’ve only done three live sets over the 17 years I’ve been DJ’ing.) But those live sets have pushed me to create music and to explore my ability as a producer. That process also took me to the next stage in my career and opened the doors I have now as a performer.
Quality over quantity.
When I first started releasing my music, Derrick May and Ben Klock both told me that I should be careful about spreading myself too thin. Sometimes that meant even saying no to artists that I admired or came up on during my time playing music. The point was to stay with a family and be smart about how my name was going to be presented. If I hadn’t known this, I would have committed to so much more and, in the end, been lost in the shuffle. The same goes for people requesting podcasts and remixes. Don’t spread yourself so thin that you have nothing to stand on. Everyone wants something from you, and if you say yes to even half of it you will be underwater quickly trying to keep up. You’re better off picking and choosing and making smart decisions.