Destination Black Rock City #2: Sunday

The Nugget Casino Resort in Reno has been taking great care of me in the past 3 days, so it’s indeed a bit (subconsciously) sad, that I need to leave to continue travel to Burning Man. This base of operation, temporary studio, and war room is one of the comfiest places I stayed in my life. The sadness is subdued by anxiety and an essence of stress. I need to pack all procured goods into two containers, that will be allowed onto the Burner Express bus that’s scheduled to leave in 2 hours sharp.

Ziplock Spacebags are a work of magic.

I’m packing more clothes and less air, so the mass of costumes is effectively cut in half. The one thing that’s not willing to fit is the sleeping bag. I bought a thicker one because I had no idea about the conditions during the night. I was still suffering from a nasty cold slowly turning into an acute sinusitis (my unfortunate problem), so I chose to be rather safe than sorry. For next year, though, I’ll opt for a thin bag, and thick pyjamas instead. Ultimately, I made it work: large parts of the sleeping bag did stick out of the backpack, but it resembled something that would pass as one piece of luggage. And pass it did.

The hotel did have a lot of Burners checking out that day. Obviously, if the checkout is until 11 am, everybody is going to check between 10 and 11. I realised this the hard way, after desperately waiting and letting full elevators pass for about 20 minutes. In a brief moment of being logical, I hopped onto an elevator going up instead, which turned out to be a cool idea. What comes up, must go down… I almost missed the shuttle, but as Burners tried to fit in their luggage and bikes into the trunk, this gave me the few minutes to get on board. 10 minutes later, we’re parking at Reno Tahoe Airport – seeing nothing but weirdly dressed people. I’m in the right place!

Travel to Burning Man

The Burner Express is one of the best ways to travel to Burning Man. It gets both your sorry ass and stuff into the desert. 15.000 people did use BxB this year, which means about 8.000 less cars in Black Rock City. We do that for mother nature, don’t we? Of course, being able to have a 1 hour stop to buy crap that was sold out at Walmart yesterday, skipping the line at the Gate, and eventually being let into the city when everybody else is put on hold due to whiteouts (dust storms when you don’t see shit that’s 5 meters away) is a very nice bonus.

The organisation of BxB is fantastic.

You immediately get the snarky taste of experienced Burners trying to hold our Birgin (Burner Virgin, a person who is heading to their first Burn) hands. It’s also the point, when you get your Will Call tickets. My god, it’s the most beautiful ticket I ever held in my hands. I get the same goosebumps while recalling the emotions from when I got my burner starter pack. Minutes later, we’re on our way.

After the 1 hour shopping stop, I did have the bare minimum of burner survival material. All of it, but one item – a collapsible water container. See, BxB lets you buy water in 5 gallons quantity and pick it up in the desert. Turning on the much needed MacGyver skills, I bought a solar shower, which is exactly 5 gallons. This worked, except the water tasted like shit (but it was water). I solved this problem later on in the week when we had some empty containers in the camp. Btw., BxB also lets you bring your bike in and out, which was funny – cause I did buy that extra, but I didn’t get a bike. Since Walmart was out of bikes, I needed to rent one last minute for a huge pile of money.

The real travel to Burning Man (Starts at Gerlach)

I thought passing Gerlach meant being in Black Rock City in next 5 minutes. Wrong! I didn’t really know what I was looking at when the bus stopped in the endless traffic jam. It was, in fact, the city covered in a nasty dust cloud. After about 30 minutes, Rangers (the good ones) started to turn trailers around back towards Pyramid Lake. Just as I thought we’re being turned around as well, the ranger made a gesture and the bus bursted into a mad party.

We’re being let in! As we were passing cars, and dusty burners waiting in line, some of them were not looking super happy. Well, fuck their burn. As we were slowly rolling towards the Gate, I opted for rather watching yoga girls doing their art, and really hoped to get to know some of them later. Our bus got checked (tickets), and as we didn’t have anybody stupid unlucky enough to have falsified tickets, we were good to go.

We parked at the depot, and quickly ran to see the Greeters.

There was none of them at the bell. Well, let’s hug and greet ourselves. And ring the bell. “Virgin” does not seem to be a popular word around here. Every Birgin is kind of whispering the magic formula while they smash the bell with a rebar. “Fuck iiiit, I’m not a virgin anymoooore”. I’m shouting without any shame. The bell rings, I’m covered in dust from rolling around, accidentally kicking another burner’s head. 5 seconds in, and I’m already a jaded Burner (it’s those bitter folks who’ll always tell you how last year was way better). I’m Home.

The dust storm is settling. I have all my stuff, including a cardboard box with everything I bought during the shopping stop. I have 4 pieces of luggage, which I’m trying to tie together on a journey that should only take me across about 8 blocks. What I didn’t know –  it was about 4km of walking. The people I’m passing by are mostly nice. They greet me with “welcome home” (except for the Redneck camp where I’m told to “fuck my burn”). About half way through, I’m passing by two really nice ladies, who ask me if I need help.

“No…” *BAAAAM*

As you would expect from a good comedy movie, at that point all my luggage collapsed, and all the canned food started to roll down the street. “Ok, we help you!” Those two awesome chicks were from Mexico. They were hot, super nice, and after they helped me, hugged me and kissed me, I never saw them again. Good for me, I’m a married man without a Burning Pass (when your significant other gives you a free pass to fuck other people at Burning Man).

Minutes later, we’re in the camp. It’s in an awesome location (almost next to Center Camp), in an awesome neighbourhood (google Planned Playahood and Orgy Dome), and it’s deserted. It’s about to get dark, so I better get going to build tents. I bought two of them: one large, serving as a dust cover, and a smaller one to be put inside where I only am going to sleep, dust free. As you might have guessed, I never even unpacked the smaller one and trashed it as first thing back at Reno.

Midway through, my campmates come back and we hug. In Black Rock City, everybody hugs and it’s nice. While remembering my childhood, where you were supposed to procure tent poles out of nearby wood, I was facerolling through the process, inhaling dust the amazing atmosphere of this District 9 – like city. It got dark, and still felt so surreal…

I am pretty tired. I did not manage to pick up my bike, so I’m thinking to call it a day. Or not? Let’s just head out for a short walk to see what’s around. Since I see quite some bikes rolling, I decide to take whatever light source I have. This is always a good decision in Black Rock City.

Colors… everywhere

Darkwads are a problem, especially early days. After that (and few unnecessary bruises), even tourists get the message. With a headlamp and a glow-stick tied to my ass, I make my way out of the camp for a short walk. At least, I planned it to be short.

What I immediately notice are the colors. There is a fortune worth of EL wire on the Playa. Suddenly, I’m all surrounded by light. It’s becoming overwhelming already. “It’s just day one, wait for Saturday”, my campmates tell me later. Residing near Center Camp, I thought it might not be that bad of an idea to get closer to the Man.

It’s getting chilly, but there’s a fair mass of people converging on the biggest orientation point in Black Rock Desert for coming days. From afar, the Man looks intimidating. Coming closer, I realized I expected him to be much taller, though. To be absolutely honest, I felt lost within the mass of happy faces, but felt accomplished for making it out here.

Walking around the perimeter, I caught a glimpse of Galaxia – the Temple. At this point, fatigue was irrelevant and I stepped ahead towards the pilgrimage. Construction was still ongoing. But my god, it was already the most beautiful piece of architecture I’ve ever seen. It’s almost midnight, so I’m making my way back to the camp. Some clubs along the way are already buzzing, others (like Neu Verboten and Ego Trip) are still being built.

Ok, so maybe I might go out one more time tonight 🙂

While we don’t have a real fireplace at the camp, there’s something like a fireplace talk going on, as we try to get to know each other. It’s a diverse gang of very nice people I’ll be spending 9 days with. As I notice coffee withdrawal symptoms, I get some more water and think of laying down, when folks decide to go dancing. I’m hesitant, but they offer me a bike that’s waiting for a campmate. I’m curious how city exploration works in a larger group, so I’m in.

It’s hard to believe money does not work in a place like this. Hell, even barter is frowned upon here. Everything is gifted, and I’m struggling with the concept (as much as probably every other first time Burner), so I observe.

“Hey guys, would you like a drink?” “Yes please, what you got?”

It’s surreal. I’m getting a Sake and a cocktail moments later, as I’m vibing to breakbeat music. We’re drinking in a place called “Duck Pond”, which is a mid-sized club with a very thoughtful layout. Breaks aren’t really our thing, so after finishing drinks, we’re going next door to Celtic Chaos. While I don’t know the DJ, the music is nice. Time is flowing, so I’m surprised at first that some people are heading back to the camp.

Suddenly it’s 3 in the morning and I’m falling asleep. Like a baby.

Destination Black Rock City #1: Getting tickets to Burning Man

I failed for 3 consecutive years. Getting tickets to Burning Man is a ritual on its own and it took me 3 years to realise. I’ll be honest: I wanted to sneak in via shortcuts and the Universe said no. I wanted to abuse my status of an artist from the default world, but that didn’t work. Obviously, at Burning Man, everybody is an artist, and isn’t at the same time. Your participation is your artistic expression and that’s one thing I didn’t get. I thought it’s enough to send few e-mails and wait to be spoonfed tickets. Nope, nope, nope.

It all started by setting my calendar as soon as the dates became public. As many alerts as possible. This time, my determination and mindset were all different. During registration day, I was all anxious. It was one click. One small click a minute after launch, and a big click for me. I felt relieved, but knew the main tension point is coming.

Main sale day was one big test on thinking on my feet. I created a ticketfly account as recommended, cancelled all my plans, and came home from work early. Too early in fact, as I didn’t really pay attention to the switch to Daylight Saving Time. Lucky for me, this gave me an additional hour instead of taking one away.

Fast forward to a time 30 minutes before tickets to Burning Man going on sale.

My personalised link didn’t throw an error this time,  I’m in a queue! Is the sale starting earlier? For people, who supposedly want it more?

After 8 minutes, my queue is over – a countdown starts running instead. A countdown that is, based on my calculations, end exactly 2 minutes after sale launch at 9pm of my time… I’ve heard sad stories of people missing tickets to comic-con by seconds. I was trusting in the system, didn’t dare to reload the page and having faith. The ticketing system could already be down by the horde of Burners and Wannabe Burners, who all want the same: tickets to Burning Man.

9:02 and not a second later: One more queue. I see a white stickman walking in front of a progress bar, that looks like it’s updating itself based on the queue size in front of me. I think it’s a good sign that I’m not getting any “sold out” message. As soon as my stickman is about halfway through, I know it’s going to take about 15 minutes of waiting altogether. I’m sweating. Terribly. What’s going to happen when my stickman reaches its destination?

17 minutes of waiting it took. And I’m prompted to login to Ticketfly. And the login is not working, with facebook throwing nasty exceptions on me. With Ticketfly checkout embedded into the Burning Man web, I soon realise why. I need to use this account, as the email registered needs to match my Burner Profile. A password change is not an option, as I never set one. I cannot delete the account, and disconnecting facebook does not help me either. The last remaining option is “Reset password”. I pray for it to arrive fast, and fast it arrived. It helped, I got through! But…

I have 4 minutes to pay.

Yes, to manage server load, everybody who passes the queue stage gets I guess 10 minutes to pay, or try again. I was typing as fast as possible. The form was not really user friendly, but ultimately, I had it all. I did not care about all the service surcharges and fees. Just please: Let. Me. Buy.

My head is pulsing. My t-shirt is wet from sweat. A green confirmation bar tells me to have fun in Blackrock City. I grab hold of my lady and tell her calmly, that I’m in. I’ve got tickets to Burning Man. I feel the urge to share it with the world. So I do, via facebook, my arch enemy of the past minutes…

Quarter review: Q1/2018 a.k.a Holy sh*t, I did f**k up a lot

The first quarter, where I planned to take things seriously with Dark Beauty, is gone. TL;DR: Boy, did things go sideways! 

What I promised

In Q1, I wanted to mostly catch up on the release pipeline. “Timeless”, “Juno”, and “Carol” were planned to be released in February, March, and early April. I had a couple of artists I wanted to talk to about building DBA, being a platform for artist development. Last but not least, I wanted to bring at least one product to the market. Nope, didn’t happen.

What happened

All was going extremely well in regards to Dark Beauty up until January 20th. The quarter review would have been full of high fives, if I didn’t interview in one awesome company. Everything went pretty smoothly and I joined them… full time. At the moment of writing, I’m Chief Technology Officer of an InsureTech project. And I’m really passionate about what I do. I was never happier at work. Problem: The amount of time I spend with Dark Beauty is almost non existing.

Also, Burning Man happened. After 4 years of trying to gamble the system, I decided to not look for shortcuts in getting there anymore. Seems like my intentions to participate in the rough, artsy, inspiring, and dusty temporary city became pure enough… and I got tickets. I’m going to the Playa in August/September, which means two things: Preparations are cutting into the spare time I don’t have; and I’m possibly not going to make it to ADE 2018.

Releases

Yes, the Russians are still spamming demos to 400+ labels on CC, like they did back in 2015. But now they use Mailchimp, and apparently not well enough. It should have told them clearly, that I did open their mail, but never clicked a link. So why do they bother to send the same tracks over 3-4 times?

While demos were not the best channel to scout, there was one exception. Simon and  Fabio, a.k.a. Pindura. They originally sent their self released single for repost consideration. As I don’t do this anymore, I politely responded and thanked them for the effort. Well, then I listened to the track, and was blown away. After couple of e-mails, we agreed to try a remix EP. As unbelievably as it sounds, we got 4 remixes out of 6 people I’ve asked. 4 really great remixes, coming out later in May.

I’ve mentioned the new place where i work now. Well, the world is small. One day, I’m scouting the german scene to find nothing groundbreaking. The other day, I come to work for my first work day to meet Marvin and sign the EP together with his longterm collaborator Patrick. Space EP is currently being distributed for promo.

With that said, I will fit “Timeless”, “Juno” and “Carol” into the upcoming schedule, as I didn’t make it in Q1.

The good stuff that happened

In Ultima and Space EP are my Q1 highlights in terms of music. The Proton contracts have been a huge relief from bureaucracy. Other than that, there wasn’t that much going on. Except…

It was just before Christmas in 2017. I got a message from a girl, named Anastasia (It’s not my Prague DJ in crime partner Anastasia Lova). Our conversations got long and deep ever since. She is an aspiring DJane, now successfully played a club debut, an open air event debut, and gets recognized in her local scene more and more. She has a vision for herself. She is excited. She is curious. She’s the prototype of a person I’d love to work with in DBA. She taught me a lot by simply asking questions I’d never ask myself. It’s really very simple lessons for any aspiring artist: Be young. Be pure. Be curious. Be like Anastasia, a.k.a. Mierri. Thank you so much!

What needs to change

Mastering. I used to do mastering myself up until the point I couldn’t do it reliably due to hearing loss. After trying out few mastering services, I finally found a reliable and affordable mastering engineer. It’s none other, but Cid Inc. What I find as a bottleneck though: the label placing orders for mastering. I mentioned it’s affordable, and it really is. But if you’re a label, you cannot just pay it straight from the pocket – you need to do contracts, accounting, budgets, taxes. This stuff takes an awful lot of time. So for the sake of not waiting three months to get a release out, I’ll expect artists to arrange mastering themselves from now on.

Time. I need to put Dark Beauty time back to my calendar. Past Saturday’s three hours made a huge leap forward, so this is possibly going to continue.

Products. There was none released, but there are two in the works. A book, and a series of video tutorials. Book first, tutorials later. No more multitasking on both.

Goals. I set bold goals for Dark Beauty this year. But strayed away. I need to focus more. And I’ll be actively looking for an intern. Yes, I’m going to pay that intern for work.

The ADE Hackathon (Dark Beauty at ADE 2017 pt.6)

For the first time during ADE 2017, I see light rain in Amsterdam. I’m making my way from DeLaMar to the back of the Centraal Station, where ferries dock. My circadian (and all other) rhythms are already messed up, so I’m not really worried by the fact I might not be on the proper one. While the ferry passes by Aitana (the hotel we stayed in with Martin), I am considering bailing out for the last time – as I imagine a comfy bed up there. One does not simply sleep at the ADE Hackathon. 

I had no trouble finding MTV Headquarters, really. An old shipbuilding facility, that’s now refurbished into a very very very modern workspace. What I really meant – it is majestic. All the fancy startups would be jealous. I’m signing my soul to Viacom in exchange for an ADE Hackathon T-shirt and making my way into something, that could be described as a lobby. But in reality, it’s a giant creative space, where your brain gets stimulated wherever you look.

ADE Hackathon at MTV NDSM

It’s me x100

I’ll be honest – it’s always nice when your peers openly think of you as smart. It happens to me and it’s a bit more than occasional, I feel special when it does. But my god, I wasn’t really able to imagine a 100 people just like me in one place up until today. Well, here we are, the illustrious “Brightest minds of the music industry” at ADE Hackathon 2017!

I’m passing by the DJ booth while looking for my teammates.

But first: How did we come together? It all began few weeks before departing to Amsterdam. I got invited to a Slack team with instructions. From there on, you pitch ideas in one channel, recruit team members or get recruited in another one. If you feel adventurous (I did), you create a third channel, where you coordinate everything with your newly recruited team members.

Fast forward a week before ADE Hackathon, it all gets shaken up – people change plans or… bail out. That’s harsh life of hackathon teams. Teams start panicking merging, and lucky for me – I manage to get into one that’s very active on Slack. Bruno from Brazil, Kellie from the US, Dennis from Rotterdam, Sebastian from Austria. Fresh minds, first-time hackathon attendees, known as “Ghosts ‘n’ Hackers” and guys who are making the Moov, later on. We adopted a flower-shaped couch and about 15 cans of beer. Why not.

Intro keynote

Meindert Kennis. This guy, CMO from Spinnin’. He talks about the magic behind their talent pool, innovation, and of course – he’s hiring. All the high profile names and brands support the ADE Hackathon because this is 100 rockstars that are able to disrupt the industry in a snap, literally. Everybody wants a piece of us.

We clap, try to speak with all the important people, get business cards, get job offers… And we are introduced into the hackspace – which is a huge room well prepared for being creative. By that of course I mean there are post-its and Red Bull in quantities that are possibly going to kill us.

Let’s think and have dinner

What happens when team members get connected last minute: you need to agree on a problem to solve first. Luckily, there are industry Pros from Phillips Hue, KPN Technium, and Woov staying onsite and are very eager to consult. Best thing: they are people who are a step ahead in the industry. Instead of consultation, we opted in to get as many insights about the development of their products as possible.

We are collectively leaving for dinner. What we don’t know yet is the location – it’s a secret. Until we enter a magical industrial area in the dockyard. With a huge DGTL banner and two full-blown stages. DGTL x Kompakt is happening here, tomorrow. And we already know what it’s going to look like while stuffing ourselves with super delicious burgers. That might well be the highlight until I suddenly get the silly idea to hijack the DJ booth. I get silly ideas in Amsterdam. Don’t ask. I am allowed to play by the organizers. At the booth in MTV.

People start dropping. Like flies.

While we iterate on our ideas, there is a sudden trend. Some people are leaving for a smoke and not returning. The last ferry leaves at 1 am, this is going to be a deadline. I think it’s mostly because some of the people are participating in their first Hackathon. The coffee machine breaks down. It’s getting colder (somebody left the doors open). This is what you would normally call a “shit hits the fan” situation.

It’s 1 am and my team is now Kellie and myself. We decide to call ourselves Ghosts & Hackers and are safely heading out of analysis paralysis. Bruno and Sebastian join us remotely later on to approve the final idea. We are going to build an AI-powered, geolocation-based recommendation system for ADE. All based on the problem, where best-promoted venues get crowded and people are not aware of alternatives because there’s so much happening. Suddenly bits and pieces start coming together, as we mock the first low fidelity prototype on paper. As soon as we are done, Kellie decides to move home as well.

My moments to shine

As the team’s chief of UX and UI, I need to create the wireframes first and ultimately ship the prototype and User Interface. ASAP. I have no idea when I finished, but I know Sebastian and Kellie did have already parts of the backend done. There is hope!

I need a place to crash…

Suddenly, it’s morning. I find myself on an inflatable mattress next to the elevator. Two hostesses who try and try not to wake us offer me a smoothie and I graciously accept. I feel like a hobo (and possibly look like one). A shower is something I’d enjoy now, but a stylish cap is ok as well. Yes, this is the moment when “Peter with the thinking baseball cap” was born.

I’m grabbing breakfast and a (possibly the 56th) cup of coffee. I make myself comfortable in the DJ booth and people seem to be waking up. So I did what I naturally would do – I started playing. Guys from team Angel App join me in the booth moments later and we have a tech talk while playing a b2b2b. After few mins, it’s just me again, but folks from team JokR are in the mood to dance. Here you go you beautiful French people, have some house tunes on me! (little did I know)

Kellie and Bruno come in and it’s time for work. Sebastian stays remote, and Dennis is sick at home. But holy shit. I just DJ-ed at MTV Headquarters!

Maarten, the most phenomenal host

We did have everything we needed, not just food and drinks, but also tech, data, and gadgets. And if there was something we didn’t have – we called Maarten. Maarten is the GM of Young Creators. He is the person who makes absolutely everything possible, is able to provide even more data on the fly in the middle of the night. He is inflating mattresses, repairing the coffee machine, making sure people are on Slack, and literally everything. Shoutout and a big round of applause!

Guys from Trancefamily can possibly picture me, on a party we were organizing – in full Duracell-Bunny mode – and quadruple that effort over 24 hours. Yes, that’s Maarten and I don’t believe he’s human 😀

Time flies when you’re having fun

Instead of picturesque description what happened next, I will leave it up to your imagination based on bullet points. We had about 5 hours left to hack, most of us pretty much nothing to show. Some teams didn’t exist anymore, others were thriving.

This happened for pretty much all of the teams including us, in chronological order:

  • “Damn, half of my team didn’t show up”
  • “Ok, one final update to the design”
  • “Ok, now that’s really the final design”
  • “Final_Final_Production.sketch”
  • “Ok let’s split the effort – you do the pitch deck, you do code, I do the final design”
  • “We all code”
  • “We all code and enjoy it in a very perverse way”
  • “Somebody messed up the commit”
  • “Oh crap, the Jury comes in and preliminary pitches start”
  • “This place is now a nuclear reactor of creative energy”
  • “Guys, hacking stops in 15 minutes”
  • [7 minutes later] “Guys put everything down and commit finals”
Preliminary pitches, Finals, and Winners of ADE Hackathon 2017

At 3 pm, we start pitching our ideas to the Jury. We need to show at least something and know there’s going to be some time to do some final_final_final touches. Bruno is doing the pitch for our team, and I’m commenting, mostly related to UI. I try to be funny with lines such as “look, there’s this Melkweg venue you’ve possibly never heard of, with a young prodigy Armin van Buuren setting the decks on fire”. Yeah, in our jury group, there are people from Armada and they don’t seem impressed. Dammit.

You’d normally be stressed as hell when doing this kind of pitch to an investor. In a hackathon setting, it’s pure excitement. There’s nothing to lose, and so much to win!

The hacking for ADE Hackathon 2017 stops, everybody does final commits and we all move out of the hacking space into the lobby. Guys from JokR hijack the decks, playing techno. I love it. We’re chilling out while we wait for the jury to decide 5 finalists. Maarten summarizes the past 24 hours in a slide deck. I hope the picture of sleeping hobos never makes it out of MTV HQ.

We are not part of the top 5. The finalists present their final pitches to all of us and it’s all amazing products. It’s no surprise that the most daring product wins. AngelApp – a drug consumption app that can save lives. Having seen intoxicated people collapse on the dancefloor a lot of times, I can only agree.

Little did I know

I have mentioned team JokR numerous times throughout this post. Their product was about “re-living the musical journey of yesterday’s party”. Which means: you open the app, lock your screen, dance. And in the morning, you get an e-mail with the playlist of tracks you loved so much, yesterday. Might be a nice cure for whatever stupid thing you did through the night 🙂

The technology is based on your phone’s motion sensor, which is an awesome idea indeed. The guys apparently tested it in the morning while I was taking over the MTV booth. Now we know, that Orkidea – Nana (Jerome Isma-Ae Remix) is the most banging tune. (And it is, for real). So yeah guys, enjoy your KPN special prize! 🙂

ADE Hackathon: An experience I never want to miss again

I’m bailing out of DGTL x Kompakt, even though we have free access thanks to participation in the ADE Hackathon. I’m calling my wife while floating on the ferry. I need to sleep and I need to sleep badly. And my head is buzzing from all the beer with creative energy. I know I need to sort my head now; the only thing now I’m sure of is that I need to resign from my day job to do stuff like the past 24 hours (which I ultimately did and built Discover DB as the first of many). I just had the time of my life.

(Of course, I did not sleep, at least not right away)

Obvious question is obvious: #TeamDarkBeauty on ADEHack 2018, let’s do this!

RIP music curation on Soundcloud? Discover Dark Beauty is no more

Soundcloud deleted Discover Dark Beauty along with several other music curation channels without notice. I’m wondering, if this means an attempt to take a bite off repost channels’ revenue. Looking at previous attempts to monetize, I’d say the guys in Berlin are starring into the barrel of a gun yet again (if true).

This is highly speculative and subjective content.

 

It seems to be a calm afternoon. I try to have a look on some cumulative stats of Dark Beauty while on the go, but it won’t load. I dismiss this as connection error. Two hours later, friends start messaging me they cannot find Discover Dark Beauty (I call it DBR internally, so I’m gonna stick to that as an acronym). Houston, we got a problem!

How DBR worked

I was launching DBR with one intention in mind: Instead of 4 niche-specific channels I’d need to follow personally, I wanted to group them into one feed, and filter it by quality. The backend consisted of simple APIs that periodically fetch newly posted tracks, and evaluate their popularity (comments, posts, reposts). The best tracks bubbled through the threshold. I logged into Soundcloud, opened today’s batch. After doing one more manual QA of each track, I have liked and reposted them on DBR (manually).

Surprise surprise: during testing, I found out that there is a wide overlap in people who like and repost almost every single track from that. The Dark Beauty niche is real! 🙂

Where I might have crossed the line was what happened afterwards. I started following people who were active on the tracks on DBR. As a result, I would get data, and get them to follow back. Soundcloud usually gives you a warning strike if you follow too many accounts at once, but I already know you’ll never get a warning if you reach out to 99 people per day. Noteworthy: you do not follow anyone twice – that raises flags. I was hoping to get an audience big enough to be able to pitch producers for eventual premieres on DBM. I won’t lie to you, if this would have worked and artists would later on start pitching their tracks to DBM, we could start charging them for the service – as some channels do.

Lesson learned: A music curation channel should serve the audience and help grow it, organically. I have crossed this off from the possible direct revenue streams, but am going to continue building one.

What this might mean and who’s going to suffer

I really do hope it’s me who broke the Terms of Service (I’ll look into that). It might become a disaster if repost channels start to get banned. It might be a disaster for SoundCloud. You could guess, that having a big audience usually means, that you also have a big mailing list. Instead of monetizing the audiences of Progressive Astronaut, Sweet Musique and similar, they could very easily lose them. The channel gets banned? E-mail newsletter out, and the community starts to move to a new place (Spotify? Website?). Money? Gone. Audience? Gone.

Since the upcoming one is yet another “music industry hacking weekend” for me, I’m including the topic of music curation to the itinerary. While the channel is gone for good, my API is not. I only need to craft some nice UI on top and voila.

Note: This is by no means an attempt to rant on any company or subject. I just analyzed a very unusual behavior, that’s all.

Dark Beauty in 2018 – Still an electronic music label?

It happened one Friday in later October 2017. I snoozed my alarm to realize I was going to be late to work. Again. Even though it was the best job I had to date, after a weekend spent in thoughts about future, I handed in my resignation. Today, a week after my notice period was over, I’m getting up 6:25. To annoy my wife, and write few hundred lines of code / text /marketing for Dark Beauty. For the next couple of days, my own electronic music label is becoming my full-time job.

So, what exactly changes? What are the plans? Before I can go deeper into that, let me share a piece of background.

Very openly: Dark Beauty started as an outlet for me and my aliases only. When it comes to record labels, most of the producers I know are frustrated about not getting responses, or not getting signed. Which was not really the problem I was facing: I was in a state where I could sign tracks, but then usually lost all transparency about what was happening later. When are my tracks going to be released? How much money am I going to make? Who is going to remix my work? Who gets the promos? Guilty as charged, these were all issues I was very eagerly pushing aside myself while working with ABTC Recordings a while back.

All was cool until I started working more in the product business in my day-to-day job. Suddenly, all my frustrations became opportunities, which I was validating during 2017. Especially the time at ADE was eye-opening. “You don’t start a record label in 2017” was the message I kept hearing, and… I agree. I’ll get to that later. I also had the opportunity to speak with the most powerful people in the industry and have a look how top labels like Spinnin’ and Armada are working with their data. Turns out, top labels do their job several levels better compared to what I perceived.

Based on this, the first thing that I need to change is:

My commitment to Dark Beauty

Long story short, signing artists, getting their music on Beatport, and eventually paying them is only about 1% of the work a good label needs to do. And in order to take it further, it takes what? Time. I wrote that I’ll be working with the label full-time for upcoming few weeks. It’s going to be weeks with almost zero income, which for obvious reasons does not work. After that period, I will set aside 2 hours per day and I have to take that time from somewhere. Which unfortunately means putting my Raavn brand on autopilot for few months (already happening since November – mostly means no new releases or remixes). A sacrifice I’d make any day.

Dark Beauty is part of Proton now

In past few days, I have finalized the transition to Proton as our new distributor. Our previous one was fine for previous purposes, but there were few issues I would need to address in the future. The reasons for the switch is mainly:

Transparency: With great power comes great responsibility. Every now & then, an artist would come to me back in my days, asking about how much he or she earned. That required me to log in, click through a series of filtered statements, export, calculate, get back to the artist. As you can imagine, it was not comfortable. Not mentioning that credibility of the label suffers if you’re not able to send back a number in 2 minutes. Every artist should be able to check himself (herself) and that’s what we (Dark Beauty artists) can, now.

Contracts: Hands down, the contract text of the paperbacks was hilarious, but it was a disaster to produce, get them signed, and imported. Now, our artists get an email, click a link, that’s it.

Opportunities: The friends over at Proton are not new to the industry. It’s a vivid community that knows whats and wheres. With joining, we can use a part of their credibility, which is already opening new doors for us.

Technology and communication: having perks like account monetization on Soundcloud is sure very nice to have. But what Jason and his team are doing absolutely well is proactive communication, that’s simple to understand and actionable.

I’ll be catching up with releases, finally

I have to confess, that I lost most of the agreed releases, because artists don’t like to wait. After remastering, “Timeless” will come out in February; Sierra Haven “Juno” in March, and Cold Hatred’s “Carol” in April (Spotify + Free Download). I’ll be scouting in Prog and Techno music for new exciting local names in the Prague and Berlin region. I’m aiming for 10-12 releases this year. I’d rather have less, with better music and a lot of great remixes.

Dark Beauty is having a sister label, soon

This is an investment for the future, aiming at emerging markets around India, China, and Russia. These markets have quite different attributes and are VERY VERY VERY exciting to explore. Target niches are Uplifting Trance and Main-room. I will be working with the awesome folks at Horus on this one. It’s possible there won’t be that much buzz around this project, tho.

Q1/2018: We’re repositioning away from an electronic music label

My friends and colleagues from the music industry have noticed that light blue notebook I’m carrying around. Yep, that one, with the bear 🙂 Some of you are joking about it containing a million dollars worth of intellectual property. Well, guess what? Turns out there really is a lot of great ideas inside.

What is Dark Beauty going to be, if not and electronic music label? First and foremost, it’s going to be a business. A product business on two levels. Yes, it’s tempting to say that music is about emotions, and that an artist should be in it for the good vibes, not for the money; that a label should be a family. And that’s well true. I want Dark Beauty to be a family; a well-fed family that’s intellectually stimulated, has bold goals, and celebrates achievements together. A family of artists, that want to make it in the industry, or die trying. A family of artists that take actions instead of sobbing with lame excuses.

Q2/2018 DBA and DBF (Thanks to working for IBM I’ll never be able to let go of acronyms)

So where is DB going to shift from an electronic music label again? I’m heading into the product sphere from two different perspectives. The way most indie labels operate is: they perceive (or don’t) themselves as the product. They put out music as “The Label”. I want to level up that game by building artists as separate products. Instead telling the story about DB, I’ll be maintaining distinct artist stories of whoever comes in. In order to be able to support and grow the family (I’ll refer to it as “DBA” from now on – A is for Artists), I’ll be building industry specific products. People are able to build industry-changing apps in 24 hours, so I don’t se a reason why I couldn’t build 7 products in 12 months (I’m saying building, not launching). Goes without saying I have a budget for it.

The core

While in Q1 I’ll be focusing to identify first members of DBA (Looking at usual suspects like Martin Michniak and Nephyx, hi guys! 😀 ), I’ll physically build that thing in the second quarter of the year. How it’s going to look like? I don’t know. But I sure do know that it needs to retain every piece of information that I share there, so I don’t need to repeat myself with everyone who joins. I want to cover an artist brand development roadmap first and foremost: From brand New artist, through Emerging brand, Local hero, into a Global hero. I’m also seeing a network of visual artists, as well as managers being part of the inner circle of DBA. DBA will also cover management issues (a.k.a. happily showing the finger to promoters who’d love to see you perform for free).

The inspiring outer circle

Once there, we will discuss about DBF (F for Focus). I do have a very specific network of people I absolutely “click” with. They can be identified by being able to have a bi-directional conversation with me (Meaning: we were able to intellectually enrich ourselves, both ways 🙂 ). I want to expand this network of people. The trait they share: everybody wants to make the world a better place, and is not afraid to dig in. Most of my great ideas come from talks with these people. I know why I want to bring them in, question is how and what to do.

Q3/2018 Sample Packs, HAZE2 and DBM

“Sample packs? Seriously?” – well turns out there’s still room to bring fresh sounds into the game, especially if you have an analog at home (I don’t but it’s planned). Niche specific sounds, a fresh perspective on packaging. It’s going to be primary a way for DBA to get inspired, but I believe we can get a buck out of it later on.

Lessons learned from 2017: 2 months are enough time for 2 remixes only. So this time I want to allocate 6 months to make the HAZE compilation better by having at least 6 remixes. I already started poking around, gonna pitch tracks to remixers in Q2, and will chase for the deliverables in Q3.

My current consulting biz (Problem solver for music industry) will also join the Dark Beauty umbrella, and will be rebranded as DBM (M as Marketing). After implementing rates, my world got polarized into the half which tells me I should charge more, and the other half who are never going to contact me again. There’s going to be possibly a more affordable version for the general public (maybe even free, don’t know yet), which will in essence guide you to solve your issues using DB products. It’s not going to be applicable for DBA, people who can make it in are worthy of my time investment.

Running an electronic music label successfully? All in the mind
Q4/2018 ADE, DBF, End of year evaluation

There’s going to be a lot to talk about at ADE 2018 if all goes well! I’ll be extending mostly personalized invites to DBF, as well as talking to artists and targets for our product line(s). If there’s a Hackathon, I’ll fight hard to bring a whole team to the hacking table.

After ADE, I’ll try hard to develop DBF, possibly with some outside mentoring. The goal is to be of such relevance at that time, that whoever I would like to bring in, would consider it a very worthy challenge.

I’ll wrap the year in between Christmas and NYE with some analytics. What did work? What did not? Does DB have active revenue streams? How did DB do financially overall and what’s the trends? And then early on in 2019, I will make the decision together with DBA and DBF: to either plan to scale what’s good about Dark Beauty, or kill the project altogether (to make room for something else).

Why the changes? Why can’t you just stay an electronic music label

Short answer: Cause a small indie electronic music label can change the world only with help of what they release. There’s exciting times for all artists ahead, and I want to contribute to the future of music.

Long answer: What I was hoping to achieve at ADE 2017 was to find ways to bring Dark Beauty under a reputable umbrella, because it will never survive as a one-man show. To be part of the future of the industry, in my opinion you need to go big. Balls deep in. Didn’t work unfortunately. I was too overwhelmed from where the industry itself is compared to the state of DB.

Later on I had talks with great labels that are struggling in my opinion. I tried to listen to the concerns, tried to think about ways how an eventual merger would help both. Unfortunately, label owners are almost exclusively the cause of 100% of their problems. Excuses like “If I had the skills, time and money, I’d own the world” are statements that are a showstopper for me personally.

The wrap up

If one does not have a perception of at least one of skills, time or money, I think there’s something very wrong. I’m now talking about 3 totally different labels (one of them is out of operation already) who are more less saying the same. Then I have a look on collectives like Monstercat, and am like: WTF? How can there be such a gap in mindsets? I don’t really want to solve this particular question, though. I think you are not able to fix a broken mindset, but you sure as hell can be the inspiration for that mindset to start changing. And that’s what I ultimately want to do with Dark Beauty. Inspire with success stories.

p.s.: Yup, I did use the words “electronic music label” in a slightly sarcastic way. It’s also good for SEO.

Money is what it’s about… until it isn’t (Dark Beauty at ADE 2017 pt.5)

It’s few hours later after the most amazing party ever. Martin is already gone and a lonely can of RedBull is staring at me from the hallway. I am due for a meeting early on, but luckily – the sad alarm clock sound is soon followed by a happy mail notification. My counterpart cancelled the meeting, so I can sleep more, and dream more, about today’s topics: Brands and Money.

The meeting cancellation was most appreciated, but still didn’t get me my 8 hours of sleep. Way past noon, I’m making my way to the DeLaMar Theatre, in a post apocalyptic state of mind. Cheeseburgers didn’t make me feel better, but a triple espresso did. Yep, the coffee at ADE venues was amazing. I get a text from Martin and follow to the main panel room to hear about…

Marshmello and Alan Walker

I learned about Marshmello not so long ago thanks to the parodies of CVNT5. Obviously, the brand for him is mostly represented by the bucket on his head 🙂 I was not really sure about Alan Walker, though. Until I heard his track, Faded.

How much money does Marshmello make?

I have to kinda admit – I was not the best in paying attention to the panel, still trying to shake off past night. What I can tell, though, is: you can build a sustainable brand with something special, or something really authentic.

“I need to start doing shows, making music no longer provides enough money for my living”

A panel called “Best and Worst of how to run a record label in the 21st century”  started with a very obvious statement: Doing music and selling tracks is not going to cut it. It possibly does not ever since the end of 90’s. As a specific example, Stephan Bodzin was brought up as a producer, who needed to start DJ-ing and doing live shows to be able to live off music.

Need income? There’s a ton of opportunities out there. Writing music just isn’t really a viable one, if you’re not Maarten Vorwerk. You can still build empires of your own, but as business 101 states very clearly: don’t focus on just one revenue stream.

The final panel for me at ADE 2017 is very interesting, because I’m facing the people I look up to with huge respect – especially Nadine from Armada. What they say makes perfect sense: You’re an Artist, and Art needs to come first. Of course, Music is not a non-profit industry, but there’s people who can help with business if your Art is perfect. Heck, Business is an Art in itself for many of them – and I proudly include myself here.

Having watched the Deadmau5 Masterclass (a million times) recently, I did have that itch. To reach for the mic and dare. Dare to ask the most influential people in the industry:

“Are demos the only thing you consider when signing an artist, or do you look for an artist with a brand already built?”

The panel responds (also including Tommie Sunshine, Austin Jacobs, Luke Solomon, Jennifer Cardini) almost identically: We live in exciting times, where music is just enough to get signed to labels, even top ones like Armada. To be honest, I was surprised. Mau5trap, based on Joel’s words, does look for the whole package. A big pile of money. Is Mau5trap missing out?

No time for any more talks unfortunately. My alarm rings. I need to leave in order to meet the other 99 brightest minds in today’s music industry.

Raavn pres. Setwork #32

The final regular instalment of Setwork for 2017 is here. And it’s dreamy, deep, orchestral, cinematic, and very moody. 

It feels like I found a blueprint for the selection I love, the past few sets have a very distinct vibe. The 32nd part of the series spanning the past 7 years is one of the best in terms of what DJs call storytelling. Yes, the mix is not perfect, I did not care about harmonic mixing at all – it’s about the Journey and the Destination.

I was mixing this episode of Setwork rather late at night, and it took me 1.5 hours to get out of the state it brought me into – especially thanks to the resolve in form of Quatri’s track “Into the Oblivion”. Brought shivers all the way.

Also, I possibly might have a teenage crush on Nølah 🙂 She’s easily became one of my go-to artists this year. Worthy of a mention are also the amazing guys over at Saturate Audio, who are currently reinventing themselves into a very promising progressive label. The music is already there, no doubt – just give them a listen and you’ll fall in love.

 

Tracklist

01 // Baime – Tyras
02 // Dario Dea – Symmetry (master)
03 // RY X – Lean (Fake Mood ‘Sleepless’ Mix)
04 // Roma Moss – Full Moon Riders (Original Mix)
05 // Max Richter – On The Nature Of Daylight (Retza Edit)
06 // WhoMadeWho – Heads Above (Fake Mood Remix)
07 // Rupert Gregson Williams – Duck Shoot (Bloody Shelby edit)
08 // Artsever – Picturesque (Original Mix)
09 // Following Light – Peripatetic (Original Mix)
10 // Nølah – Lost Island
11 // London Grammar – Rooting for You (Robero remix)
12 // Quatri – Into The Oblivion

Innerspace played at Transmission 2017!

While we aren’t really a label focused on trance, we will never hesitate to release a trance track that’s Dark and Beautiful. Proof of that is “Innerspace”, a track by our household name, Martin Michniak. It’s incredibly humbling to get the kind of support we got during the recent weekend – a play at one of the greatest trance event there is: Transmission.

Thomas Coastline has our deepest thanks for including the Division One remix of Innerspace in his warmup set. For a small, young label like us, it means the world.

Pic by Martin Michniak, author of Innerspace

Why, you ask? During Transmission, there isn’t any real warm-up period. As soon as doors open, people start to pour in. The limit is just the capacity of the gates and security checks. Which is why, 11:30 minutes into the first set, there were already thousands of ravers on the dance floor. Exposed to the sounds of Martin Michniak, and Dark Beauty.

The whole set can be found here, and rumors say there might even be a video. You can download the track here.

Thank you, Thomas, for playing out Innerspace once again. You’re awesome! 🙂

Found (Dark Beauty at ADE 2017 pt.4)

I’m sitting in an Uber. The way over to Q-Factory is kind of complicated for me tonight, so I’m spoiling myself (as I do the whole ADE). Since Martin is not with me tonight, I’m enjoying speaking to Imad, my driver.

Uber Drivers are quite happy about ADE. The business is good, especially when the night falls. We’re speaking about lives of musicians, about moving to the Netherlands (not necessarily Amsterdam), about the Dunes and the beach. As soon as I mention Haarlem as the city I love and want to move to, Imad’s eyes shine. He’s from Haarlem.

Coat check and security done, and I make my way up to the rooms. The locker service is a bit expensive for my taste, but I go for it, since there seems to be no cloakroom. As soon as I lock all the stuff I won’t need, I feel relief. Expensive lockers are a good thing. You have control, there’s no queue to get your stuff afterwards.

The fam is already here (“The all-black family you never thought you had”). I hope it does not sound careless, but… At Lost&Found events, you don’t really need to care where your friends are. Everybody is your friend here.

Since I plan to spend more time here than yesterday at WU, I’m buying more tokens. As I learned few minutes later, the pricing is a bit different to yesterday. I’m destined to drink tonight. A lot.

The room is packed. I’m vibing to the music I love, mostly with my eyes closed. I don’t really care about who’s playing. It’s official. I’m not “mostly into trance music” anymore. It’s a feeling of relief. I feel like I found my new self.

Flash forward two hours later. I recognize Khen behind the decks and realize this is the side room. The embarrassing part of the evening ends when I confuse Guy Mantzur with Sahar Z. It’s all ok. Everybody smiles. Lost & Found is a true family. Behind the decks, on the floor, around the venue. DJs who are not playing at the moment are behind the DJ booth, dancing and enjoying themselves. I’m so grateful that this lineup came together for ADE.

I was already tired, but still having the time of my life. Bumping into Linda, one of many fellow ravers I regularly see around the world, makes me come to reality for a bit. I grab a bottle of Desperados (my new go-to drink), and start to recognize more familiar faces. It’s quite full and quite loud in the main room (yes, I managed to find it), so I decide to enjoy myself instead of talking. I’m challenging myself to go to the front.

The 2nd frontline experience at ADE

You are never coming back from the frontline experience at Lost & Found. I’m almost at the front row when Guy J starts setting up, preparing to take over from Chicola. I’ve seen those guys play so much recently, and yet it’s never the same. The music is not so loud anymore, since I’m in a blind spot. Most of the people in the front row seem to know each other for a long time, so it comes as a surprise they start interacting with me in just a few minutes.

Being nice is not punished here, which is awesome (since I tend to come along as the guy who behaves well). Guys are nice, because they know you’re not hitting on their Ladies – you are just being friendly. Ladies are nice, cause they enjoy the unobtrusive attention. For some reason, there’s a lot of respect overall. It’s a homeostasis, except for the moments when the pyro a flames hit. But even after that, you unite in… burned eyebrows. I see Emiel nearby, a party buddy I know for a long time already, and decide to say hi. My new friends seem upset, but hold my place in the front row and act relieved when I’m back.

Did I mention that I bought a lot of tokens? Well, you obviously can spend those with your new friends. Unfortunately (for me), expect that this kind of small favor is always going to be returned. Everybody feels like gifting. May it be drinks, or smiles. It almost feels like what I imagine Burning Man to be.

Lost & Found ADE 2017 by Lieke van Kalken
Lost & Found ADE 2017 by Lieke van Kalken

 

The music is pure magic

Guy J is playing and people are so immersed in the experience, they barely breathe. It’s the standard mix of percussions, hypnotic bass lines, and beautiful melodic breakdowns. The time feels like standing still, but flies fast as hell. It’s the time, where both Guys are supposed to switch, but seem to have slight tech difficulties. Guy J gets an extra 30 minutes and steps on the gas pedal. The vibe gets harder and we all enjoy it.

As soon as Guy Mantzur and Sahar Z take over, I check my mobile phone to realize I missed my tram. There’s so many things I need right now, most notably a bit of fresh air. There’s an itch in my right ear, so I’m pulling out my earplug to immediately lose it on the floor without any hope of recovery. It looks like it’s the sign to leave, but it’s not going to be easy. I need to high five, hug, and kiss hands of (while I do this only to people I feel to respect, this might be the ultimate icebreaker towards your sudden crush on the dance floor) my new friends. Some 10 minutes later I’m out of the main room, in the hallway.

I realize I did not pee for the whole evening. I’m getting rid of one more token, yay! I’m opting in to listen to the main room from the hallway for some more time. It’s still so good!

This is to shed light on the story of the lonely open can of Red Bull

It’s 6:13am. I have few tokens left. My tram is due in about 5 minutes, so I’m opting to invest into the treatment of what is expected to come when I get up in about 3 hours from now. I’m ordering a can of Red Bull. The 3 seconds afterwards come to me in something like a slow-motion: the bartender picks up the can, grabs the seal, and while I try to breathe in to tell her to not open it, she pulls. Pssst… My plans for the morning seem ruined. I want to go to sleep…

So: Can a lonely open can survive a 50 minutes trip to the hotel room? Answer: Yes, it can! I see my lovely friend Betty online on Facebook, so I’m sharing the story as I walk. She seems annoyed when I ask her why she’s not sleeping. Today, I live in an alternate ADE reality, where there’s no such thing as getting up to go to work. But Betty is a good, understanding friend. My story of the night made her morning. And in a flash, I found myself opening the hotel room…

My best party at ADE (and possibly, ever)

The statement is true. I had an experience that possibly redefined how my next 5 years of rave-life are going to look like. I’m pretty sure we see each other. Latest next year, same place, same party, front row. Promise! ❤️