this post is by Matthew Kershaw, Group Marketing Director at Ministry of Sound.
Those of us who lived through the 90s will know that the electronic dance music scene was once a far cry from what it is today. Back then, around the time that the Ministry of Sound opened its doors, DJs had a relatively small following of discerning ravers.
But today, DJs are superseding even pop stars; they dominate charts and festival line-ups, gossip magazines and radio playlists. They are hard to ignore.
During Advertising Week Europe (AWE) panel, In the Mix: What Brands Can Learn from Superstar DJs, Reggae legend David Rodigan noted that, in the past, the DJs main role was to fill the gap before the band got on stage. However, success stories such as Calvin Harris have utterly revolutionized this role; he reportedly earned $66 million in 2014. But how exactly have this new breed of celebrity made its way to the top? And what can brands learn from DJs' rise to fame?
They move in the right circles
DJs know that they have to be seen in the right company, with the right people. Calvin Harris has collaborated with just about everyone, straying outside of dance into working with Rhianna, Ellie Goulding, Neo, John Newman, Florence Welch. Following his recent high profile split with pop-star Rita Ora he is now is rumoured to be seeing Taylor Swift – both sweethearts of the music scene, giving Harris profile in the tabloids. Harris is also strategic about which clubs, festivals and events he plays at. He recently signed a multi-year deal at America's biggest nightclub, Hakkasan in Las Vegas, where he reportedly earns over $400,000 per set.
Brands should approach their partnerships in the same way; choosing authentic and appealing partnerships to improve consumers' experiences of both. For example, last year, Louis Vuitton and BMW partnered around the launch of the motoring brand's high end i8; Vuitton produced a four piece line of luggage designed to fit perfectly into the car's rear parcel shelf. The luggage added another element of exclusivity to the vehicle, and increased awareness and favourable associations with Louis Vuitton's strong styling and quality.
By leading, not following
To stay at the top of their game, DJs keep one step ahead of the trends. David Guetta, who plays to enormous crowds, also makes sure he plays smaller underground venues in order to read and understand his audience. This allows him to look forward and predict what's going to happen next, to understand what works and what doesn't and constantly test new tracks.
Brands should also endeavour create insights, to look inwards and assess their offering, and forwards, to predict what's going to happen next.
Mix the familiar with the unknown
Norman Cook used to say his technique was to play three records the crowd knew before he played one they didn't. If DJs and brands alike go too far ahead of their audience, they risk losing touch. Like one magnet dragging another, if it moves to fast it loses connection.
They always stay true to themselves
The most successful DJs have an authentic style: they evolve their sets over the years, but ensure their style remains present. The legendary Pete Tong has attributed his success to his ability to constantly reinvent himself while staying true to the core of what he's about and his love of new music.
In the same way, it is important that brands should find ways to refresh themselves, while staying true to their core.
A good example is Ministry of Sound itself, which started life as a nightclub in south east London but is now a global recordings and compilations business, puts on 1,000+ events around the world every year and has a large digital audience. But on that journey we have stayed true to our purpose which is to help people to escape from the conformity of the everyday via extraordinary experiences.
The bottom line is that while the music matters, great set after great set doesn't guarantee superstar DJ status. The Diplos and Tiëstos of this world are aware of themselves as a product, and behave carefully in order to market themselves as such.
Their music, too, when done right follows the same process any company releasing a great product would use; the consumer is listened to, trends examined, genius and creativity are applied and magic is produced.
This is what DJs and brands alike need to do to rise above the clutter and stay ahead of the curve.