The floundering launch of Jay-Z’s Tidal, in conjunction with the recently announced Apple Music, has brought the discussion of the music industry’s ability to respond to the digital world back onto center stage. While pundits focus on the politics and possibilities of streaming services, Stanford itself has made a foray into the shape-shifting industry through a new joint partnership between the university and Warner Music Group (WMG).
The Stanford/Warner Music Group Leadership Initiative, launched earlier this year, invites a group of students in their junior year to participate in a program that includes a Spring Quarter class co-developed with WMG, a 10-week summer internship with WMG or one of its partners, as well as the opportunity/requirement to draft and complete a capstone project during their senior year. As an additional bonus of the partnership, the Stanford Arts Institute recently hosted a talk between popular Grammy-nominated producer Kaskade and Cameron Strang, Chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Records as well as WMG’s music publishing arm, Warner/Chappell Music.
Both the pre-event advertising and the post-event crowd made it clear that the main attraction of the whole affair was a chance to see Kaskade, the only electronic artist to play Coachella’s main stage this year. What gave the event its value, however, was that rather than meet Kaskade, we really were afforded a chance to see the man behind the brand: Ryan Raddon.
While it’s “Kaskade” that was written on the program and printed across the free hats being distributed at the entrance of Cemex Auditorium, it was Ryan Raddon who sat up on the stage, casually reclined, looking like a 44 year old Orange County dad, because, that’s exactly who Ryan Raddon is. The talk was centered on the business of the music industry, but most of the chatter amongst my friends after the event was simply about how “normal” he seemed. Despite playing in front of hundreds of thousands people on a yearly basis, Raddon appeared much less a rock star than he did a pragmatic individual with an understated, yet obvious passion for music.
This contrast between celebrity and person was particularly poignant for me individually, given that the last time I saw Raddon with my own my own bare eyes, he was in the middle of unleashing sonic ecstasy on the main stage of Coachella, with me and 70,000 of my closest friends looking on. (While there’s no way of definitively knowing exactly how many people were there, Raddon mentioned that several Coachella executives told him they had never seen anything close to that size in the festival’s history. Some insane aerial drone footage of the show would seem to support that claim.)
Raddon said it took him and his team six months to prepare for his Coachella show, a process that involved renting out an air hanger in the middle of the desert in order to practice constructing the full lighting apparatus that surrounded Kaskade’s turntable during his performance. And while both Raddon and Strang avoided diving too far into the explicit details of their partnership, it was obvious that Raddon saw the partnership between artist and label as extremely beneficial, given both his ability to receive feedback from WMG personnel, as well as the access that the label can provide to other high-profile artists that Raddon would like to work with.
When asked to elaborate on what is different now that he’s become a household name in the electronic scene, Raddon simply replied, that “now when I reach out to other artists I want to collaborate with, they return my calls.”. Talking both on stage, and in a private talk after the event, Raddon further articulated this idea of collaboration as a way of explaining EDM’s future trajectory, suggesting that rather than supplanting more traditional genres, electronic music offers the ability to incorporate a variety of sounds into its own by dissolving standard genre distinctions and borders. For Raddon, the rise of electronic music at Coachella isn’t pushing out any of the traditional rock and hip hop components of the festival, but is rather working to actively bring them all closer in unison.
This future is, in many ways, already upon us. History is operating at an accelerated pace: the more I spoke with Raddon about his Coachella experience, and the rising amount of requests for both Kaskade collaborations and concerts that were born from it, the more it became apparent that those two weekends in April were a kind of “plugging-in” moment for his career arc, though unlike Dylan’s electronic challenge to the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, Kaskade’s set was a celebration of the genre’s meteoric rise. That it has only been about two months since the festival, and the importance of the concert is already cemented speaks to the pace at which the EDM machine is moving. That Raddon was flying out after our meeting to do some night-time studio work with an undisclosed artist spoke to the speed at which his own personal life is moving as well: like most electronic sets, there are no stops, but only transitions, from one sound to the next.
Photo credits: Harrison Truong