Exclusive: Isaac Hayes Family Pushes Legacy Into the Future With ‘Unvaulted’ Project

Though his discography includes 22 studio albums, five film soundtracks and three live albums, Hayes was a prolific composer far beyond what the public got to hear in his lifetime. His son and company president Isaac Hayes III is deep in undertaking the passion project of changing that, beginning with digitizing hundreds of unreleased master recordings he had unvaulted from Tennessee.

“I was just in awe of the organization and the quality in which he kept things,” recalls Hayes III. “Even [family] photos that I didn’t have or my mom didn’t have that he had, it was kind of just dope. Images and sheet music, photographs, all these masters; there was just so much stuff that he really took pride in preserving and taking care of, some going back to the Sixties.”

Friends, Family Pay Tribute To Isaac Hayes

ISAAC HAYES III (Credit: Carlton Adams)

Among these recordings are albums and songs from Hayes and artists he produced for his record label Hot Buttered Soul, outtakes from work with late jazz trumpeter Donald Byrdand R&B singer Major Harris, and instrumentals ranging from rock, pop and country to disco, funk and electronic music. Not everything has weathered the test of time, but Hayes III has gone to painstaking lengths to restore the recordings that have been damaged. Several reels of analog tape, for example, had to be dehydrated and baked in an oven to rescue the precious, precious arrangements.

Isaac Hayes’ work has been widely sampled for decades and has contributed to the foundation of broad genres including hip-hop and dance music. This top tier access to his masters could have an impact that will be heard and felt widely in popular music in the future.

In fact, it has already sparked the brains of several leading producers in Atlanta who Hayes III recently assembled for a listening session, men who have collectively worked with the likes of BeyoncéJay Z, Kanye West, Mariah Carey and many other top artists.

More elite performers, producers and music supervisors will be invited to hear excerpts of the music at a private event in Atlanta during September’s BET Hip-Hop Awards weekend in Atlanta, and Hayes III is considering listening sessions in New York and Los Angeles. He is open to all serious inquiries to license music, yet plans to be very careful in determining what is right for the brand.

The video below features Bryan-Michael Cox, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Organized Noize, Jazze Pha, DJ Toomp and Drumma Boy head nodding and getting goose bumps as they hear this music. You can practically see the invisible light bulbs illuminating over their domes.

Hayes III says there is the potential to officially release some of this music as well as a tribute album. He plans to relaunch the Hot Buttered Soul label, which will also put out albums that Hayes produced for other artists and intended to release before the fall of Stax Records forced him into bankruptcy in 1976; there are jazz, soul, Caribbean and cover songs hidden in the HBS archive. But, as with every mission of the new Isaac Hayes Enterprises, it’s more important to embark on the right endeavors for the brand than to put out products quickly. Timelessness, after all, does not need to be rushed.

Hayes III, 39, is an accomplished producer in his own right who licenses a steady stream of music to TV and film projects; this year, he has had placements in several Bravo series as well as the films About Last Night and Think Like a Man 2.

His knowledge of the music business (including what he likes to call his “A&R ears”) and entertainment industry are the keys that makes this company different from how other music estates are being managed. His vision and passion is unusually strong for the family member of a late music legend, making him the ideal person to take on such an unprecedented mission.

“The bridge between current culture and my dad’s legacy and heritage that I have and the connection with him and his music is a definite advantage,” he says. “Musically, just being in the industry and the amount of relationships that I have — I always say that I’m a relationship guy — I’m excited because I know so many people. And even having met so many people that I know are relationships that my father had that I might be able to continue or build upon with respect to who he was as a person, it’s good.” He maintains close ties to organizations that closely supported and honored his father, including the Recording Academy and Hayes’ publisher BMI.

Soul Legend Isaac Hayes Dies At 65

“I think the job of any celebrity’s estate is to find their place in pop culture to continue the legacy, whatever that is,” he asserts. “Whatever essence of my father that some 17-year-old can find in his music is the job that I have to do. Someone who is that young is not going to necessarily know the music in the same way that my parents knew it or that I know it, but the essence is still there. You have to find that bridge.”

As part of a total reinvention of the brand, Hayes III is also reviewing merchandising ideas opportunities, citing a lack of black music culture in pop culture — even with items as simple as a t-shirt. “You might see Tupac and Biggieon a shirt, but you don’t see Marvin Gaye, you don’t see Barry White, you don’t see Isaac Hayes.”

For more information on Isaac Hayes Unvaulted, stay tuned to the newly relaunched isaachayes.com or search #IsaacHayesUnvaulted on Twitter and Instagram.

HUF “Fuck It” Genuine Leather Snapback Cap


West coast skate label HUF have entered the luxe headwear game, with this genuine leather snapback cap emblazoned with the brand’s “Fuck It” motto. the cap is available now via the brand’s online store.

SoundCloud Debuts Monetization Play With ‘On SoundCloud’, Announces $100 Million In Funding


The Soundcloud app runs on an iPad in Berlin, Germany, 17 March 2014.

 Ole Spata/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

The successful audio platform has launched it’s first advertising initiative, and plans a subscription service in the near future.

It’s a new era for SoundCloud.

The audio platform has long been a home to unsigned, independent and even established artists to debut new material — from Lorde’s The Love Club EP (which ultimately earned her a record deal with Lava/Republic) to Drake’s OVO page, which is often the first place the Toronto rapper debuts new material from himself as well as his OVO-affiliated artists. Heretofore, SoundCloud’s revenue was derived primarily from its Pro accounts and private funding. But beginning today (Aug. 21), the company has announced a three-tiered monetization strategy that will introduce advertising to the platform for the first time, as well the news that SoundCloud has received more than $100 million in funding since its 2007 launch.

Jeff Toig, SoundCloud’s chief business officer since September 2013, tellsBillboard that the company’s growth has come in three phases — first was the creation of tools that have allowed users to upload new content and track its engagement, the second was scaling the audience (175 million unique users globally per month, the company has announced), and the new third phase. “This is where we start to figure out how to generate revenue and help our creators make money in order to enable them to build careers with us,” Toig says.  “WhenAlex [Ljung, SoundCloud’s CEO] and Eric [Wahlforss, SoundCloud’s CTO] founded the company, they really saw an opportunity to build a business with a global, open platform that would kind of evolve over time.”

At the center of the new strategy is a partner program called On SoundCloud, which includes a new Premier tier (which is invite-only) for subscribers that will allow them to monetize content of their choosing via select advertising. The new offering reflects SoundCloud’s positioning as a promotional tool for creatives, rather than an all-you-can-eat service for consumers. Until Thursday, advertising had not been part of SoundCloud’s business model. Instead, SoundCloud had offered a “freemium” pricing scheme that charges users for file hosting. Three hours of audio time can be uploaded for free (the Partner tier).

Premier-tiered content will include advertising from five different ad products — native, audio, display, channel sponsorship and contests. Red Bull, Jaguar, Sonos, Squarespace and Comedy Central are the first five ad partners at launch. An example of the sponsorship model can be found on Squarespace’s sponsor pageDan Gerber, SoundCloud’s head of sales (and a veteran of Pandora), notes that audio ads will be similar to YouTube, running at a minimum of 15 seconds, with 30-second ads offering the option to opt out after the first 15 seconds. Additionally, display ads will be offered solely on the mobile platform, which Toig reports has seen audience growth increase by a multiple of six in the first eight months of 2014 alone.

Unlike most other music services, On SoundCloud will not launch with agreements from the three major labels. While major-label artists like Beyonce,DiploKendrick Lamar and Drake frequently use the platform to debut new material, sources tell Billboard that 80% of SoundCloud’s current uploads are from user-generated content, while 20% is derived from labels.

Toig says the company is in “active and ongoing, advanced discussions” with Sony, Universal and Warner Music, but that this week’s launch was meant to illustrate how SoundCloud can be for anyone. “SoundCloud is not just a service that depends on the majors only — although we do work with them and hundreds of their artists all the time, and we’d obviously love to have them onboard,” Toig says. “But there is a much broader creative ecosystem here and we’re really keen to represent that in a full and complete way.”

Instead, initial partners with signed deals include labels finetunes, Red Bull Sound Select, Spinnin and SEED; comedy networks Funny Or Die, Jash and AST Records; podcasts Earwolf and StarTalk Radio; publishers BMG and Sony ATV/EMI; independent artists Little Simz, Big Gigantic, GoldLink, Blackbear, Romiti, Jakubi, Cyra Morgan, Oliver Sadie and audio-based deals with multi-channel networks primarily built on YouTube, including Maker Studios, Fullscreen, INDmusic and EDM Network.

Additionally, Toig says, a paid subscription service is expected to be launched in the coming months, which is where agreements with the majors and other labels will likely come into play. While key executives at the major labels and top indie executives say they fully expect to reach a deal with the music service, they say it could be a couple more months until such agreements are worked out and signed. Sources at the major labels and members of Merlin, the independent label rights management group, says that none of them have yet to sign a contract, even though the basic framework to a deal structure has been agreed upon. Some complex deal points have to still be worked out, they say.

“If they are going to get full industry support, there is still some pretty complicated stuff they will have to deal with,” says one industry executive. “It’s not that I don’t think they will get there, but I think they are still a few months away.”

When the subscription service deal is done, it likely will take the shape of other music service deals, sources say. In most cases, a certain percentage — roughly 10-20% of revenue — is taken off the top to pay for costs in generating advertising and subscriptions, with the remainder of the revenue being split 70% with the music industry and 30% to the service. On SoundCloud’s Premier tier, available this week, will likely mirror a revenue-sharing model more akin to YouTube, which would see SoundCloud keeping 45% of revenue and the remaining 55% going to the creators. Toig declined to comment on specifics, noting only that creators would generate “the majority” of revenue from monetized streams.

Like Youtube, SoundCloud also has a user-generated component where some bands and DJs, might put up alternative versions and mixes of songs, while fans may put up mash-ups. Since the site has been heretofore un-monetized by advertising, SoundCloud has managed to skirt infringement by using the safe-harbor act of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which means complying if a copyright holder serves take-down notice. The site has, however, drawn ire from DJs like Kaskade in recent weeks for issuing take-down notices for remixes and mash-ups of copyrighted material.

That’s why the coming months will be crucial for SoundCloud as it legitimizes its business model, which industry sources suggest has been controversial up until now when it comes to skirting rights issues. “SoundCloud have to be good actors with the rights owners because no one will invest one more dollar in the business if they are at war with the content owners,” argues one major label executive. “If they don’t figure out how to monetize, or if they make enemies of the content companies, they will not be long for this world.”

Billboard Cover: Diplo on His Katy Perry Connection, Madonna Collaboration and 8-Figure Lifestyle


The most valuable backpack in Los Angeles is a capacious, sturdy-looking black number loaded with a pair of sticker-emblazoned MacBook Pro laptops, a set of headphones and a mobile Internet hotspot. It belongs to the 35-year-old DJ-producer Wesley Pentz, better-known as Diplo, and it’s with him wherever he goes. The money is in the matched pair of computers. He uses one when he DJs — playing hundreds of gigs a year, including a weekly residency in Las Vegas. (Billboard estimates he makes $100,000 to $250,000 a pop.) The other is dedicated to music production and contains in-progress tracks for an entire Grammy ceremony’s worth of A-list artists who are expected to release music this fall, from Madonna and Usher to Skrillex and Chris Brown. (Diplo’s premium rate to create a single beat ranges from $40,000 to $50,000, industry sources say, but he’ll often charge less for artists who agree to be featured on his albums.)

Right now, the bag is on the floor of a black Escalade that’s rolling through the Hollywood Hills, ferrying Diplo to the Burbank, Calif., headquarters of his record label Mad Decent, an indie that partners with various majors for distribution. He’s expensively dressed down in a soft-looking gray Rodarte T-shirt (it reads “Radarte”), black jeans and Palladium desert boots. He has close-cropped blond hair and a toned physique that’s the result of lots of yoga and gym-class-style exercises — a routine he recently passed along to his DJ buddies Skrillex and Steve Aoki. Despite his sleepy, hooded eyes, his vibe is amped and chatty. Snaking down the inside of his right forearm is one of his nine tattoos, a simple line drawing of a Brontosaurus-ish dinosaur (it’s a Diplodocus, a childhood favorite and the source of his DJ name) that he got a decade ago as a source of motivation: “It was like, if I ever have to quit making music and get a real job, I’ll have to look at this every day and know I failed.”

Diplo: The Billboard Cover Shoot


Coming over a crest, a potentially Instagram-worthy vista appears below. Diplo pulls out his phone, aims it out the window and hits record on an app that makes instant GIFs. He’s constantly documenting his life, which he shares with many followers on Twitter (1.26 million), Facebook (1.27 million), Instagram (744,000) and SoundCloud (4.2 million). He’s a master at the form — it’s hard to think of anyone better at breaking viral hits (like Baauer’s “Harlem Shake,” a track Mad Decent released that went on to top the Billboard Hot 100) or introducing subculture slang to the widest possible audience (he had white kids saying “twerk” a year before Miley Cyrus did). “I’ve probably got the most eclectic social media there is because it literally goes from hanging out with my son at a park to like Madonna’s house to a rave in Africa,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll even realize how crazy it is until five years from now when I’m not doing anything fun anymore. Or maybe 20 years from now, and I’m looking back at how the fun just never ended.”

Rides like this are one of his favorite things about Los Angeles, where he sets down for about a week a month, mostly to spend time with his 3-year-old son, Lockett. (Diplo and Lockett’s mom, Kathryn Lockhart, split a couple of years ago and he currently lives, as much as he lives anywhere, in Las Vegas — or, as he puts it, “That’s where I keep my stuff.”) He pulls out the production laptop, which contains hundreds of versions of tracks, some for specific artists; others for Major Lazer, the lineup-switching, reggae-inspired group that he leads; and other sketches that don’t have a specific home. He points to a project he has been working on for more than a year. It began as a doodle built around a sample of dance act Caribou (“I love that band”), which morphed into a rap track, and then evolved into an entirely different song with Pusha T on vocals. Just recently, Diplo gave the song to a major artist he won’t name, who pushed it in an entirely new direction. “The BPM changed and the song went from major to minor,” he says. “Two songs came out of one idea.”

Or consider “Take You There,” the first song from Jack U, Diplo’s new collaboration with Skrillex. It started with a beat that was intended for Usher that Diplo made with his frequent collaborator Ariel Rechtshaid, himself a high-end producer-songwriter, who contributed to recent records by Haim, Sky Ferreira and Vampire Weekend. (Earlier this year, Diplo says he and Usher knocked out “four or five” tunes for the R&B star’s next record in a week.) Usher passed on “Take You There,” but Diplo liked it enough to play it in his DJ sets, where it got a good response. A few months later, he was in Ibiza, Spain, with Skrillex, where they set up a makeshift hotel room studio. Diplo and vocalist Kiesza, who he met on the island, wrote a new song to the track one night while Skrillex was out. Skrillex chopped and warped the 140 BPM tune into an 80 BPM bass monster the next day. The two DJs worked on the song some more on a private jet when they left the island. “I mixed it over the next five months,” says Diplo, “and then Kiesza performed it with me in New York for the very first time in front of 17,000 people.” He grins, clearly pleased by the way it turned out.

This is how a modern hit gets made, Diplo-style: not in big-money studios, but on the move, in hotel suites, private jets, SUVs — bits and pieces pasted together with collaborators all over the world. “He didn’t grow up playing the piano; he came up as a DJ,” says Rechtshaid. “He has this naturally different approach.” But radio-redefining hits (from M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” which kicked off the current era of dance-music-powered pop, to Usher’s “Climax,” which spent 20 weeks on the Hot 100) are just one piece of Diplo’s empire, which, Billboard estimates, will earn him $12 million in 2014. In 2013 he played 221 live dates; this year he thinks he’ll easily eclipse that number — including 23 stops on his own Mad Decent Block Party traveling festival, which he has been headlining with help from acts including Outkast and Dillon Francis. He has a Saturday-night radio show, Diplo and Friends, on BBC’s Radio 1 that, like his music, he records on the fly. And in partnership with Dr. Luke’s Prescription Records, Mad Decent has its own song-publishing arm, which brings in massive cash from viral smashes like “Harlem Shake.” “Wes is one of the most important people in music,” says Skrillex. “He brings a really f–it-let’s-try-it attitude.”

Diplo Cover Sneak Peek: 5 Things We Learned

Diplo’s first album, the DJ Shadow-ish Florida, will be reissued this fall on Ninja Tune to mark its 10th anniversary. Which is also how long it has been since Diplo last had a day job, when he was living in Philadelphia, tutoring kids in an after-school program. But even then he had multiple hustles, including digging for rare records, which he would peddle to elite vinyl heads like Questlove, sample-hungry producers including a young Kanye West and record stores on St. Marks Place in New York. “I’d drive to flea markets outside Philly in New Jersey,” he says. “And I’d find things like Rufus Harley, this bagpipe-player record, and sell it in New York for $400.”

At night, he and a DJ buddy named Low Budget began throwing a series of increasingly influential parties as Hollertronix, playing party-rocking sets that crashed Dirty South hip-hop into The Clash into dancehall reggae into Brazilian funk. Not long after, he met and began dating M.I.A. Together they put out the very-Hollertronix 2004 mixtape, Piracy Funds Terrorism, and worked on her acclaimed 2005 debut album, Arular. With his then-production partner Switch, Diplo also crafted her follow-up, Kala, including the era-defining single “Paper Planes,” which got heavy play on virtually every radio format except for country. The track was built around impossibly catchy rap-sung vocals, gunshot samples and a guitar part lifted from The Clash. “Going to the Grammys that year felt like the turning point,” says Diplo. “We lost [record of the year] to Robert Plant and … what’s her name? Alison Krauss. But everybody knew we should have won.”

Listen: Our Top 5 Favorite 5 Diplo Remixes

Diplo sees a clear line between those early days and the music he makes now. During his teen years in Florida, where his dad fished for shrimp and ran a bait shop and his mom worked in a supermarket, Diplo was exposed to the wild musical diversity of towns like Fort Lauderdale, where he went to high school. “The three things I’d hear were Miami bass, reggae and heavy metal,” he says. “I still wonder why anyone would listen to any other music.” Which is maybe why, despite spending a lot of this year DJ’ing monster EDM events like Electric Daisy Carnival and Ultra Fest, he doesn’t really see himself as a part of rave culture, which he dismisses as overly reliant on drugs and formulaic sounds. “They don’t even care about the music anymore,” he says. “It’s about the experience and hearing things that are really familiar and comfortable over and over again.”

He’s equally baffled by many of his DJ peers’ lack of familiarity with records that don’t fall squarely into the serotonin-surge formula of contemporary dance music. “All the DJs were at my Vegas night one night — I’m not going to name names, but all the big EDM guys — and I played a Juicy J record,” he says, shaking his head. “They’re like, ‘Where do you get these records?’ I’m like, ‘They’re on the radio! You can buy them off iTunes!’ They really have no idea. They live in these bubbles. I’m like, ‘Damn, dudes, use your imagination a little bit.’ ”

The SUV pulls up in front of Mad Decent’s HQ, an anonymous corner building that started as Rechtshaid’s space. During the past couple of years it has grown into a hive of activity: three studios, live rooms, a vocal booth, a squash court-sized space used for video shoots. Aside from a mural involving Muppet-ish monsters and lyrics from songs including David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” the decor is basically nonexistent. “We rent this place for super cheap,” Diplo says cheerfully. Studio B is currently occupied by the Picard Brothers, two young-looking French kids who specialize in sleek R&B. Diplo’s phone rings. He answers it, joke-barking, “What do you want?” and then, before the person on the other end can speak, says, “Stop being a little bitch.” The next moment he turns serious. “Are you going to be in the studio? I need to get some stuff from you. Text me when I can meet you tonight.” It’s Rechtshaid, and Diplo has been trying to reach him to discuss four or five songs they’re working on for Madonna’s next album.

Billboard 2014: See All the Covers

Diplo and Rechtshaid have been in the studio with Madonna for three sessions in New York so far, and are clearly psyched about how the tracks are coming along. “I think three are just like amazing, smashes,” says Diplo. “One is super weird. Late one night in the studio we got a little bit drunk and she improvised a little hook and we made a song out of it. I think it’s going to be a breakthrough if she can manage to get everything together and get it out properly.” (So what does Madonna drink in the studio? “Rosé. It was nice. I don’t think she really drinks, either.”)

The pair linked up earlier this year, when Madonna invited Diplo to her Oscar party. He couldn’t go, but they began texting, and Diplo eventually sent her some music to check out, not really expecting her to take it seriously. “She wrote me back like a 20-page text, notes about all these songs,” says Diplo, still sounding surprised. She gravitated to the hook of a track that Diplo crafted with MNEK, a London songwriter who worked on the Disclosure album. When it became a Madonna song, Rechtshaid and MNEK went back into the studio to work out the verses. “That’s what I was talking to Ariel about,” says Diplo. “I need those verses. I want to wrap that up. That song is on like version 20. It went from a piano ballad to a ‘Turn Down for What’-style song, which I didn’t like. Now it’s somewhere in the middle, which is a more pop record.”

For a superstar DJ and hitmaking producer, Diplo lives a surprisingly stripped-down life. He claims to take a smaller-than-you’d-think salary, socking the rest away or investing it back into Mad Decent. He’s about to get a Tesla, but it’s the first car he has had in years. “I don’t even have a house,” he says. “A lot of DJs don’t realize they’re here today and gone tomorrow. They’re literally taking jets to every show. It’s crazy how much money they’re spending.”

One reason to believe he doesn’t need a lot of cash is his masterful ability to score free stuff. During a photo shoot earlier in the day he had admired a luxe topcoat. By the time he was in the SUV, the no-nonsense woman who handles his day-to-day management had already contacted the designer. To seal the deal, Diplo tweeted a picture from the shoot with the designer’s handle. Or take the Escalade itself, which Diplo is riding in for free. He gets a monthly $400 Uber credit for mentioning the company in his tweets.

Diplo Q&A: Talking Travel, Twerking and Burning Man With the DJ/Producer

Diplo describes his life as a “perpetual motion machine,” and it’s hard to believe he has time for anything that a normal person would consider a relationship. Still, he has been photographed with Katy Perry a few times this year and reportedly was in Jamaica with her recently. She has denied that they’re a couple (but admitted to having people she “sexts”), and doesn’t come up on a list of folks Diplo describes as being part of his life — basically collaborators, business partners and his son. But they definitely hang out — at one point, he lets slip that “Katy uses Uber when she’s out in L.A., but sometimes a driver tries to take a picture of her.”

For now, Diplo is focused on building his empire. He’s working on new music with everyone from Ty Dolla Sign to Lorde and has 30 tracks in progress for the third Major Lazer album, which will launch in 2015 with a Major Lazer cartoon on Fox about a Rasta superhero. Its soundtrack will include new collaborations with Cat Power and Riff Raff. And, this fall, Diplo is on the road with the Mad Decent Block Party, which runs through Sept. 21 (it has sold 63,000 tickets so far) — and wraps with a Caribbean cruise that sets sail Nov. 6.

But even a perpetual motion machine needs to wind down once in a while, and when Diplo does, he goes to strip clubs. “All the strippers in Vegas know me and the club is cool,” he says with a laugh. “They give me a table and it’s quiet enough that I can talk. The strip club is the chillest place I know.”

How Open Format DJs Are Making Millions On The EDM Boom

It seemed fitting that, while hosting a recent rooftop DJ set, FORBES received a noise complaint from an angry neighbor. That happened after the publication’s musical guest, DJ Ruckus, lived up to his name with an energetic 20-minute set, cycling from Jay Z to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and back to his own kinetic brand of electronic music.

Most audiences have been quite receptive to the volume: Ruckus, 30, played about 200 gigs last year. His earnings aren’t yet high enough to challenge for a spot on the Electronic Cash Kings list, but he’s cracked the million-dollar mark, by our estimates, thanks in large part to the likes of Calvin Harris and David Guetta.

“The EDM boom has really, really helped the glorification of the DJ altogether,” says Ruckus. “I was lucky to be in a great position when it happened.”

Full coverage: Electronic Cash Kings 2014

The rising tide of EDM has lifted the boats of most DJs, including those of open format acts and hip-hop-focused turntablists like Ruckus. FORBES first notedthis trend last summer, when Questlove of the Roots, Lil Jon, Jermaine Dupri and others started to see a spike in their fees as nightspots around the country raced to cater to ready-to-dance crowds.

For many clubgoers, old school rap music was just as enticing as the latest hit by Avicii or Zedd. And for some, the live element of an open format set proved much more appealing, particularly when it involved a familiar voice on the microphone.

“A lot of these EDM dudes have their sets already recorded,” explained Dupri, who landed residency for Wynn’s Vegas clubs; he DJs about 100 shows per year. “So they don’t really be doing nothing when they get on the stage, they’re just faking the knobs and putting their hands in the air.”

That sort of criticism doesn’t play well with the EDM set (“If I would have played piano for twenty years, and I played live,” said Tiësto, “it’s also pushing buttons.”) But rivalries between various DJs and their respective styles haven’t had a negative impact on earnings.

Sujit Kundu, who books gigs for the likes of Dupri, Lil Jon and others (though not Ruckus) at his firm SKAM, estimates fees for open format DJs have risen 30% this year; he’s also noticed an uptick in demand at mid-size rooms where they can provide better value than a pricey mid-tier EDM act. For someone like Ruckus, nightly fees hover around $30,000; more established acts can easily double that.

“I always say DJs are artists, entertainers,” says DJ Khaled, who falls into the latter category. “I think EDM is exciting, amazing, shows us how powerful music is. … I feel like it’s a great thing and it crosses over naturally into different genres of music.”

Of course, it wasn’t always so clear that EDM would be a boon to open format DJs. Ruckus, who received a pair of decks for his sixteenth birthday and was DJing Diddy’s birthday bash in Morocco two years later, has had a front-row seat.

A few years ago, when what is now known as EDM bubbled up from the international underground and became a mainstream force in the U.S., it was seen as a threat to open format’s dominance over American nightclubs.

“There was a little less space in some of the main rooms,” says Ruckus. “Open format had control over all of the hot nightclubs across the board, both coasts, all the way from New York to Las Vegas. … But the rise of the DJ [happened] because of the EDM boom.”

As Ruckus sees it, the current crop of Electronic Cash Kings elevated the standing of the DJ from sideshow to rock star. Suddenly, the ceiling for turntablists was no longer a club filled with a few thousand people, but arenas, stadiums and festivals packed with tens of thousands of revelers.

Ruckus plans to continue making noise. He recently released a record, “We Rage,” with Jermaine Dupri; he’s also thinking about a podcast, a clothing line and, of course, more gigs as an open format DJ.

“I’ve got a crazy European run coming through,” he says. “Going to Montenegro and Ibiza and Rome.”

One thing’s for sure: as Ruckus and his fellow open format DJs continue to crisscross the globe, the volume isn’t going down, no matter what the neighbors think.


“There are a million ways to lose a work day, but not even a single way to get one back.”
-Tom DeMarco

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