We had the chance to catch up with Billboard Dance Editor and Founder Matt Medved last week, he’s also known as the producer and DJ, Matt Medved. Hot off five days straight of Grammy parties and pondering the future of music, we picked his brain about which artists are destined for awards, the role of music under a Trump Presidency, what dance music culture is like outside the US, and how to cut through the noise of writers’ inboxes to get your music heard. He’s also shared a guest mix he did for Sirius XM’s Electric Area in November, which he says is mostly “shaman house,” another topic covered in epic interview. Read on below and see the full track list here.
NHQ: Which artists are you watching to be nominated for a Grammy next year? And who from the dance world could win Best New Artist?
That’s tough. And also so many people who win in that category [Best New Artist] have been around for years. I don’t know if he could ever be recognized by a mainstream category like that but someone I do think will go on to win tons of awards is Attlas on mau5trap. I think he’s a next level talent, super brilliant – he could make film scores that get nominated. He’s a crate-digger in a sense but also a transcendental producer and a really good DJ. I remember I first heard his remix of Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” and I hit 360 [deadmau5’s management company] straight away and said, “I don’t know what your plans are with him or how we fit in but whatever I can do, just let me know. This kid is crazy talented, I’ve never heard sound design quite like this.” Because I produce music I can hear something like that and say, “Wait! What?! How do you make that sound?” I’m not sure if this stuff will ever be recognized at the Grammy-level, but then again when you first heard Sonny I’m sure no one thought he’d be working with Bieber or ever get nominated – some producers have a way of transcending.
In terms of producers from the electronic world who could win Best New Artist, I think Martin Garrix is about to have a really big year with his album. Cashmere Cat is currently making really impressive electronic music that can also cross over. Alison Wonderland, I’ve been supporting her for awhile now, I think her next big release will be significant. We’ve also been supporting marshmello a lot, I think that Moe [Shalizi, marshmello’s manager at Redlight] has done brilliant things with his marketing – it’s a social media marketing case study. I’m always interested to see how people are leveraging these platforms in creative ways to push new artists. I think Mark Johns is another, we just did a big print piece on her. “Molino” is a great song that I think hints at her potential. Satori will be on our next artists to watch list. He’s awesome, and he plays live with Ableton and a whole setup. David August is amazing, he’ll definitely win awards in some capacity.
NHQ: What about producers that you, Matt Medved as a fellow producer, covet quietly?
I love this Berlin deep-house scene, I was living there when I first started freelancing for Billboard. Everyone knows Berlin for its techno scene but I like the deep-house scene better, it’s quirky and psychedelic and really representative of the counter-culture there. It all started with a place called Bar 25 which I believe would have, if left unchecked, become an intentional community kind of like Christiana in Copenhagen. The attitude of the DJs wasn’t “we’ll play another hour” it was “we’ll play another day.”
Artists I really like from that scene are Nico Stojan, he was one of the original Bar 25 residents and he plays Burning Man every year, he played Robot Heart, he’s doing something with Acid Pauli I think pretty soon who’s another one I love. Unders whose track “Syria” I thought was one of the best song releases of last year, I played that in literally every single DJ set that I did. I made it one of the top electronic tracks on Billboard and he was floored.
NHQ: Are you able to write about artists like that often for Billboard?
Yea, it’s mostly just limited by my own time. It’s kind of unfortunate, sometimes the music I like the most that I want to write about myself just doesn’t get done, it keeps getting delayed because of my crazy schedule. Writing a feature these days for me is such an investment of time I can’t make during my normal work day. But I don’t have to run my curation decisions by anyone, obviously if we’re going to do some big partnership or there’s print involved then that involves other people. And definitely when it comes to end of year lists I try to get a guy or two from the underground in there.
NHQ: Just saw John Mayer play to a room of 150 people and invoke more feeling with an acoustic guitar than 99.9% of DJ performances we’ve seen ever seen, which electronic music artists reach John Mayer-levels in a performance?
It’s either artists who have a multi-faceted live element to their performance or those who mostly play really emotional, evocative music. Like if you see deadmau5 and he plays “Strobe” you’re going to freak out even if he’s literally just playing the track because that song is so tied to memory and emotion, at least for me. Comparing a DJ set to a guy at a piano belting it out, it’s very hard. A live electronic performance though, like Bob Moses, is different – they’re a really good marriage of electronic music production and song-writing and it makes sense because they’re the sum of their parts. Tom was a singer in a band and Jimmy came up under Booka Shade in his studio, and when you see them Tom’s on guitar and singing and Jimmy’s bent over the electronics. I feel like they hit those John Mayer-levels and they did it with the sounds of underground dance music, deep-house essentially, which is traditionally a genre that doesn’t always feature vocals. The fact that they [Bob Moses] have reached this level of mainstream success and recognition while also kind of retaining their credibility in the underground scene is incredible.
NHQ: Unrelated, what’s Shaman House?
Shaman house, I wrote it on Billboard Dance once – I’m not trying to make it a thing. I 100% made this up.
NHQ: But someone also made up every other genre, you could make it a thing.
That’s very true. It’s basically 118 to 122 BPM or maybe up to 125, melodic, tribal, it sounds like the background music to some kind of sunrise ritual.
NHQ: What was India like? You were just there.
I was! I played Sunburn Festival in Pune, and I played shaman house which I felt like I had to. It was really cool, I played on the Monstercat stage and then I played on this other late-night stage and it was super interesting in that it reminded me of what the American dance music scene was like in 2011 or 2012 when all the kids were stoked on the mainstage. They were into big drops and dubstep, EDM is this new cool thing and I thought that was interesting. The guy who played before me was just banging it out in the middle of the afternoon and I was like yea, we’re gonna take this down to 118. But it seemed like people were really open-minded. Kids would come over and get into it, afterwards I had one kid hit me up on social media and say I was the priest who converted him from DNB to house which was the greatest compliment I’ve ever received – I could die happy. Then another kid hit me up and told me I was his favorite trap DJ, but I really appreciated the sentiment.
NHQ: If an up and coming producer wants to get their music on Billboard Dance, how do they do it?
We’ve grown so quickly, editorial is up by 218%, we passed two million unique visitors in December, so we’re getting a lot more attention and a lot more people want to get involved, which is a great thing. But as we grow the staff and grow the brand’s capability to respond to and showcase all that we’ll be able to do a better job of being more responsive. Amazing music will always stand out, for example when I heard Attlas no one pitched me on that – I just happened to hear it and I tracked him down. Nobody ever pitched me on Kygo, I discovered him through building relationships and sharing music. These days it’s a little tougher to keep my ear to the ground, back when I was freelancing I was writing one article a day so I was listening to tons of music – now I’m managing all of Billboard Dance.
Honestly, really good PR can help a lot I think because it helps get through the noise of the inbox. Biz 3 or MSO PR, Rephlektor or Infamous PR, those are trusted, long-term working relationships so I know when I get something from them I’m going to be more inclined to listen to it. I know these people don’t just throw everything at me, it’s going to be something that makes sense. For a rising artist getting solid PR is good advice, and I know it can be tough because good PR doesn’t come cheap. But that is a way to cut through the noise of the inbox.
NHQ: Are there any specific don’ts when it comes to pitching you music?
Yes, please don’t do it on Facebook. That’s not what I use Facebook for, it’s not usually the best way.
NHQ: You’re being really nice about this.
It’s just not where I go to listen to music, direct on socials isn’t usually effective. I will say that following up is fine and totally cool on email. When I finally do get time to listen to music it can be overwhelming in the inbox, but if I know someone’s been following up I’ll listen to their stuff first. I’m still the only full time person for Billboard Dance, we’re doing the volume of a large-scale publication but I’m still just one person. The last thing I want is for really great talent to pass me by because of bandwidth issues. But there’s so much music out there, it’s such a saturated climate, which isn’t a bad thing but it does make it harder to find stuff.
I empathize with the kids who are in their apartments and bedrooms making music and trying to send it around. And you know what? If I heard something I loved, like Attlas, even if he wasn’t supported by anyone else I still would have supported it on Billboard if it was that transcendental.
NHQ: Back to the Grammys for a moment…why did Lemonade lose Album of the Year?
Well… maybe for the same reason Kendrick Lamar lost to Taylor Swift last year. I know there’s plenty of think-pieces that have been written on this subject, about the biases of the Recording Academy. How long has it been since a black artist won Album of the Year? I believe it was Herbie Hancock in 2008. I don’t know enough about the inner workings of the Academy to say what the reason was, but I do think they’ve taken the easy option rather than aligning themselves with what I’d consider to be categorically better art. Nothing against Taylor Swift, but To Pimp A Butterfly was the best album of that year by I think any critical standard. I was at the Grammy’s last year when Taylor Swift won and it was a punch to the gut to the whole room. Everyone wanted Kendrick to win and there was this visceral feeling that they got it wrong. This year I think it was more of a toss-up, I would’ve voted Lemonade. And it sounds like Adele would have too.
NHQ: When are they going to start televising the dance/electronic awards?
That’s a good question. I do think the Grammy’s have made progress in the dance/electronic categories. I also think it’s one of the most culturally relevant forces in music right now, so I really don’t know but it’s silly that they don’t – dance music’s always been fighting for recognition. In October of last year there was a point at which six of the top ten songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 had a dance artist on it or was by a dance artist. That’s pretty indicative of the times, the Recording Academy needs to recognize. Music has always been driven by technology and there’s no other genre more in tune with or on the cutting edge of technology than electronic music – it’s synonymous with technology.
NHQ: How does living in a Trump-world effect the role of music in society?
I came up listening to punk rock and that music was a platform, I loved this band called CRASS who would print out their lyrics and hand them out at shows because it was about the message. It was about rebelling against what they saw as a repressive political climate and standing up for their values. They called out other artists for posturing that, they had a line that went, “They said that we were trash, but the name is CRASS not Clash, they can stuff their punk credentials, cause it’s them that take the cash.” You gotta have a lot of cajones calling out The Clash but that’s who they were – they walked the walk. It’s not realistic to expect every artist to be CRASS but I do think that now that we’re in this Trump climate we have to do more than just pay lip service to the idea of resistance. Artists need to use their platform to mobilize people in a meaningful way, I thought it was so cool what Chance the Rapper did – leading people to the polls. We need everyone to do that. What Donald Trump has made his campaign and Presidency about is totally at odds with every value that dance music culture stands for. This is not a PLUR President.
NHQ: What do you say to music fans who get angry when artists they follow post about politics?
I understand when fans want to use music as a respite from the world, from the current climate we’re in. So I understand when fans get frustrated if an artist they’re going to see goes on a rambling diatribe during a show when they’re there to hear music. But at the same time, being an artist is about having a message and whatever that message is about it comes with the package. No one’s forcing you to follow an artist on social media, you can listen to their music without following. You can hear it without ever hearing their message if it’s expressed anywhere outside their music. But I think it’s really important that artists be socially active and conscious and use their platform to inform and mobilize people for causes they believe in. If you don’t like The Chainsmokers tweeting about how they disapprove of President Trump, you don’t have to follow them and you can still hear their music on the radio or wherever. I don’t advocate tuning out though and I don’t think artists should be censoring themselves. I understand from a purely marketing and management side why that happens, if you’re posting about political stuff you’re probably pissing off half the country in some way. But I think the upsides of activism are far more important than that risk.
Don’t miss Matt’s Sirius XM Shaman House mix, which aptly ends with a stunningly gorgeous sample recorded at an anti-Trump rally.