From Beyonce's $50 million Pepsi deal to Taylor Swift's dances with Walgreens, it's clear that American pop music has cozied up quite comfortably with big business. From rap to country to gospel, music fans can rest assured that if it's popular, it's probably already earned a corporate sponsorship.
But what happens when a genre bubbles quietly for decades before exploding in popularity over a few years? Electronic dance music has existed in American nightclubs for 30 years now, but its expansion into the popular consciousness came so swiftly that large-scale business interests -- from record labels to event planners and merchandisers -- have been caught playing catch-up.
Still, that investors have their eyes set on monetizing the dance music scene is hardly news at this point. Since its June 2012 coming out party in the New York Times, Robert F.X. Sillerman's rapidly growing EDM empire has led the charge: With a series of banner acquisitions (DayGlow, LIV, Beatport) and a Billboard cover in which the man who made concerts corporate appears holding a globe in the palm of his hand, Sillerman has put the dance community on notice in a big, billion-dollar way.
Corporate interests, of course underscore the vast majority of music that makes its way to American consumers (look no further than hip-hop to find another genre that went from the streets to cubicles in the blinks of a few label owners' eyes). But for some, like the $2.8 billion private equity firm Platinum Equity's former managing director John Langdon, dance music represents a promise that must be kept.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Langdon describes leaving private equity after tiring of the industry's challenges and growing disgusted with the costs laid on the backs of the working class employees of companies often caught in turnaround and finding a new love in dance music. Langdon produces and DJ's as SlingR, one half of Kalm Kaoz, an electro group he formed with Nathan Filby, a producer who goes by Motoe Haus.
Like Sillerman, Langdon has moved quickly. He has started Massive Enterprises, the parent company to a host of niche service providers (namely: Massive Advisors, Massive Festival Management, Massive Merchandising, Massive Mastering, Massive Decks Recordings). In Langdon's estimation, the influx of players like Sillerman into EDM poses a threat to the organic nature of a style of music once relegated to after-hours clubs and illicit raves. "Wall Street has found our hiding place," he writes.
Langdon's thesis and prescriptions for the dance music industry and its fans are debuting exclusively on HuffPost Entertainment in the embeddable PDF that follows this interview. Langdon, who cuts a passionate figure and blends a designer suit presentation with an anarchist's raw energy, stopped by HuffPost headquarters for a brief interview on his own background and interests. An edited transcript of that conversation is available below.
Why'd you decide to leave private equity?
I love private equity because I love the puzzle. That's what I was paid to do -- figure out the puzzle. I did the most difficult deals, which were the turnarounds; buying broken companies that no one else wanted and trying to fix them. It was very, very, very intense. And often, even though we were trying to save companies, I'd have to stand in front of people and fire thousands.
So the puzzles started to bore me, and that was very scary for me. And the politics… The truth is they wanted everything that was in my head and then they took it. So, I've done my part. There was a time in private equity when the puzzles were all new and creative. And now it's not.
What's your proudest accomplishment in private equity?
I've never lost a dollar in the history of my investment career. My fundamental mandate is preservation of capitol. That's what I tell investors: We can't guarantee we'll make you money, but we will not lose your money. It's very hard to make a dollar, don't lose it.
Would you say you "need" these new ventures of yours to succeed?
Absolutely not. I do, however, need it to be financially stable, so that I can keep my partners and anyone else who is my friend and works with us in these ventures fed and housed. I can't fund that forever, so I need this thing to have some legs, for sure.
Do you think that the things that are happening to the EDM industry, on a top-line level, are necessarily "wrong"?
We have such short memories. Don't forget, when they're coming after EDM, that they shot those kids [at Kent State]. That's a nanosecond in the history of mankind. They gunned those kids down because of the music they listened to and the opinions they expressed. That's still our government. What's happening is simple the nature of things, really, so to say whether the nature of things are good or bad, that's a much grander conversation.
The fact of the matter is that, in a capitalist system, good operators and poor operators land on two sides of the fence. However, I would say, toward Mr. Sillerman, touché. To date, no institutionalized capitol has been willing to come [into the EDM market]. And he's a smart man, and he's done the genre as a whole a great good in that we can now have a proper dialogue about the kids who listen to EDM and what happens at these festivals, because it's institutionalized now. The challenge, for those who love dance music, is that it was such an organic thing, and it will now become institutionalized.
Don't forget what happened to hip-hop, et cetera et cetera. The lessons are all there.
Who do you think stands to suffer the most from the commodification of EDM?
In the end, it's of course the fans. Because the music will be homogenized, and we really won't know it but for all the changes that will come. So Mr. Sillerman's goal, of course, is to find a monopoly. In business school, they teach us that monopolies are best but we can't have them. Oligopolies are second best, so that's what he needs. He doesn't want Pasquale [Rotella, of Insomniac Events, which puts on Electric Daisy Carnival and other events] to go out of business. He needs him as an enemy so he can stand and do this oligopoly thing.
So then you have, I think, whoever the No. 2 is in terms of the U.S., if that No. 2 stays true and we support them in their maverick sensibilities, we stand a chance to still have something that is organic. But most of it won't be.
Tell me about your history with dance music.
It's been a really good one. It's given me lots of times that I'll take to my grave as the best times of my life. But in 1999, I was in Colorado and operating as Questor Partners' turnaround professional for Schwinn, the bike company. I came out of New York, where we were doing blues bars downtown. But when I got out there, a friend of mine took me out to this field in the middle of nowhere, and Sasha and John Digweed were playing. It was an eye-opening experience. It was just like, "Whoa! What's happening? And can we go again next week?" So we did.
So in 1999 to 2000, that's what I did. It wasn't called "EDM" back then, of course. But then I got back to New York, and no one was doing that. They were doing hip-hop. And honestly, I was working a lot, and fell away from the music, until I started dating a girl who lived down in Miami. And she was very into dance music, so I was like, "Wow, this is still going on! Look how it's evolved." And then when I heard Deadmau5 and that noise that Joel [Zimmerman] made, that was the beginning of all of this for me.
But what made you decide that this is the way you want to spend your life?
I love rock and roll, but remember I started out going to pool parties with my girlfriend at the time, who I loved very much. So then it was very progressive, and she'd be in her perfect bikini and dancing to Kaskade. It's difficult for me as an electro DJ, because he's almost like chill out music now, but it was Kaskade who brought me into it. [Kaskade's song] "4 am"? It's perfect -- it captures that weird moment when you're with your friends and the city's quiet and you're all kind of chilling out and there's that strange vibe.
What's something that's surprised you as you move into music?
The dance music industry is fascinating because it's totally weird. It's a wickedly unusual industry and it's about to become very usual, unfortunately. But the production of music surprises me because it never ceases to titillate. I guarantee, if you ask someone like Armin van Buuren, if it's just him alone, trying to do something it will be fascinating.
In terms of people in the industry? There have been some surprises. I am an institutionalized guy on one side of my life, and there's a certain way we do things. I'm not used to the way things are done in this industry. Some of that is from experience, and some of it is just distasteful. But I don't expect to be shoved around by many club owners, let's put it that way.