Former General Manager of Big Beat Records, Liz Miller has her finger on the pulse of dance and electronic music. Liz generously took time to share her story with us and to offer up some sound advice for aspiring DJs and electronic musicians.
Interview by Jonah Bayer
How did you end up in your position at Big Beat?
In 2009 [Atlantic CEO] Craig Kallman, who comes from background of DJing in clubs since he was 17 years old, decided it was time to re-launch his own dance label from the early 90’s, Big Beat. He started searching for someone and my name came up through a mutual colleague who I had worked with at Beatport. He offered me an opportunity here to help carry on his legacy, and I couldn't really pass that up!
It seems like good timing seeing how Skrillex and other EDM artists have blown up over the past few years.
There was a time in the mid-nineties where the major labels really got interested in the genre and some real money started getting put toward these acts. That was the height of the Chemical Brothers era and it seemed like it was going to stick around but the bubble kind of burst. Things got too expensive and the records weren't selling enough and so the companies lost interest. This time it stuck around and I think that's largely in part to the live element and being able to share, because this type of music is so much about the live the experience–that's the environment it was born and bred in. It's about being in a club for two or three hours and letting the DJ take you on a ride—and now you have DJs who are rock stars in their own right like Skrillex who started in the rock genre and then transitioned into dance music. It's been exhilarating.
Did you ever predict that it would get this big?
I had hoped for it. I would have liked for it to happen earlier but I'll take it at any time. I'm excited for dance music as a whole and when it comes to these younger kids—they're not all kids but some are quite young, I just heard of a 13-year-old DJ being signed to a booking agency—it's exciting for them and, for me, that’s exciting to watch. To be honest, I don't know if I would have predicted that it would get this big because we were in it for so long as a subculture and it just felt like it would stay that way. I guess I would say that I continue to be pleasantly surprised.
"The numbers are never going to tell you the whole story."
What do you think draws you to a particular artist?
We listen to their production and lyrics and hear if they have a unique take on things. I don't think it's different from any other A&R process; you just get to know the process so well that you can tell if someone is just imitating what they've heard or taken an influence and made something of their own, or if they've created something all new all together. You hope to hear something new where you can't recognize the influences entirely. So for the most part I think it's very similar to rock or pop A&R–you look for someone with their own unique twist on what's already happening and has the ability to take it up a notch and make it their own.
How would you say technology has affected the way you do your job?
If you're talking in the last five years I think the analysis of trends on social networks has become such an integral tool that I’d imagine all the A&R across all the labels are trying to find out where real reactions and real excitement is happening and then digging into that to figure out why. The numbers are never going to tell you the whole story so it's so important to meet an artist, get a sense of who they are, get a sense of where they're going and make your own decision from there.
What advice would you have for an artist who wants to get your attention?
Start with your friends, start with who you know. Get people to support you by throwing your own party and building a network of people around you who are excited about what you’re doing. You've got to start with a fan base somehow. I think a mistake a lot of people make is they create a SoundCloud page and a logo and have a fancy photo shoot but they don't have anyone else talking about them and that's never going to work. You need other people evangelizing what you're doing and spreading the word about you—and if you can't start with your own social network who can you start with? We have A&Rs who scour the Internet and are statistical masters trying to figure out where there are real fans reacting to things, so if you just get the people around you excited you're doing something right.
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