Elektro Exclusive: Interview with the founders of Spinnin’ Records
Behind any good song – or any song, for that matter – there is more thought and work than most fans realize. Songs can only debut on Beatport and iTunes after the collective efforts of a very talented team come to fruition. How do we know, you ask? The geniuses behind Spinnin’ Records broke it all down for us. For all you EDM lovers and music aficionados, the legendary Spinnin’ Records has brought to the masses some of the most well-known artists in the world.
Spinnin’ Records was founded in 1999 in the Netherlands by Eelko van Kooten & Roger de Graaf. They are the driving forces behind this music machine. Who knew then that the youngest real estate broker in Holland and a record store manager with an MBA in Economics would team up and become the masterminds behind one the top dance labels in the world?
We sat down with Eelko van Kooten & Roger de Graaf to discover their story: how Spinnin’ was born, how they operate and how they conquered EDM.
Elektro: Tell our Elektro readers how you even got involved in the music industry.
Kooten: My father was a famous DJ in Holland in the 60’s and the 70’s. He went to the famous club then in NYC CBGB back in the 70’s and met Bruce Springsteen but also Donna Summer. They had a conversation about music publishing and my dad ended up playing first their music on the radio in Holland, and because of that he became the sub publisher for Holland of Springsteen and Donna Summer. After becoming a real estate broker, and learning the music business in my dad’s companies, I started myself a publishing company, MusicAllStars. My first client was Armin Van Buuren and was also his first music publisher. Since I grew up with music and started my own music business, I can say music has always been in my blood.
Graaf: I started working as a record store manager in Holland Rhythm Import (Vinyl). I worked as A&R for Work / Rhythm / Fresh Fruit. I knew music. I know music. I also have my MBA in Economics.
Kooten: (interrupts) Roger is one of the best A & R’s in the dance music business. He is the man behind the music & creativity and I’m the management, legal & business guy! We are complementary partners, match made in heaven!
Graaf: Aww, thanks Eelko. Anyways, I’ve always been involved with music…
Elektro: How did you meet?
Kooten: I’ve always wanted to launch my own record label since I thought It could be handled better. It was just the perfect timing and perfect partner. Roger came into my office and started talking about the music business and then I knew, he was the guys for my label. We started the label in 1999 and started slowly. We started signing artists to our label for the world and releasing them first on Vinyl and once they were successful in the clubs we were making CD singles, and started promoting to the promoting to the radio and got playlists and top 10 singles chart positions in Holland. With the success proven for our tracks, we licensed them around the world, which resulted in many international hits and because of that it started many foreign tour successes of djs from Holland.
Elektro: What makes Spinnin’ Records different from all the other dance labels?
Spinnin’: It’s how we create, promote & network. But of course, “it s all about good music.” We look for talented producer/artists and than we focus on the 5 T’s; talent, timing, tigering (going all the way), team work and toewijding (dedication).
Elektro: Spinnin’ has an impressive artist roster from Afrojack, Sander Van Doorn, Basto, Sidney Samson, Quintino, Bassjackers, Julian Jordan, Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano, DJ Alvaro, Rehab, Bingo Players …I can go on and on! Talk about how the process starts. How do you choose which artist you want to work with?
Kooten: First off, we have a strong A&R team. Roger decides if they the tracks are commercially marketable and if there is originality. Artists and producers need to be open and flexible to work with. We go together with the producers into the product itself on a music level, trying to find the right track the right song. Not all producers like that but in the end, we aren’t working on 1 track but on a creative process and in the end on musical careers. It takes plenty of time but we know how to get with the producers the right sound, the rights songs, the rights promotion and the best result, because we make a great team with the producers.
Elektro: Being in the business for so long, what makes an artist a star?
Kooten: First, it’s all about good music, so they need to have the musical talent, but they also need to be flexible to work with and open for criticism in order to work in a team and in order to grow, as a musical producer/artist and as a person. Also the producer artist needs to stand out so originality is of essence.
Graaf: It’s a combination of the talent and our guys to work as a team. But what it comes down to is the artist needs to have the talent.
Elektro: When you say “talent,” do you mean production musicality and music talent or star talent as a performer? What if they are strong DJ but their producers aren’t at their caliber and vice versa.
Spinnin’: We work on a musical level. So for us, the music is hands down the most important. It’s the true performance of an artist and its originality. That’s how a true artists stands out.
Elektro: Most well-known DJs all come from Europe. What percentage of DJs do you think are from the Netherlands? Do you also sign artists from different countries or like to stick to European artists?
Spinnin’: We would say 60% are from Holland. We recently signed Swanky Tunes and Hard Rock Sofa from Russia. Also, Ian Carey from the US. We work with him since 4 years now and together we had some big hits “Get Shaky”, “Last Night” featuring Snoop Dogg & “Amnesia” featuring Timbaland.
Elektro: Tons of European DJs have made bangers and are always on Beatport. Are you guys drinking special water?? What is it?
Spinnin’: It’s something new. They create new sounds. It’s the same thing like hip hop. We can’t compete with the good urban hip hop that comes from the US. It doesn’t make sense. The real hip hop sound comes from the US. The real dance sound comes from Europe.
Kooten: We are one of the few labels who know how to get from tracks from number #1 hits on Beatport musical to turn it into radio hits in Europe and around the world. Spinnin’ has proven time and time again that they can do this.
Elektro: Do you only work with dance music?
Graaf: Yes, this is what we like and what we do best. We (Spinnin’) made dance music really big in Holland on the radio and in the clubs. Holland is one of the rare countries in the world where they play EDM at 8 o’clock in the morning on the nation wide market leader radio station!
Elektro: How do you find your artists?
Kooten: We get tons of demos thru mail and email. We also search on YouTube, SoundCloud or even just word of mouth.
Graaf: It’s a combination for us going out and discovering new talent and people coming to us.
Elektro: Talk about your most memorable artist you’ve ever signed.
Spinnin’: Defitnitely Basto! Jef Martens, who is Basto, and his manager, Toon Martens, his brother, came in our office to present new tracks for a future project.
After a long meeting they both left our office. We signed Basto and left with record deal. But the funny thing is that Toon also landed a new job as creative for our publishing company, MusicAllStars & a job as co-A&R for Spinnin’ Records! That was the best meeting. We signed new talent and hired a new employee.
Elektro: Why do you think DJs are all coming to Los Angeles for dance music?
Spinnin’: DJs need to travel to be recognized. EDM is a new sound for America. If you bring dance music from the US by a US artist to Europe, we feel it’s not special anymore. EDM is special because this genre of music originated abroad.
Elektro: People may never know how the process works for a record label. Tell our Elektro readers the process. So for example, if I’m a DJ, I send you my demo…then…
Kooten: I send the demo to Roger since he is our A&R guy. First, we evaluate to see if it’s good or not. Then, we listen for originality. If Roger and the rest of the creative team like it, then Spinnin’ signs the artist to the label.
Graaf: As a team, we try to improve all of tracks with the producer to create a hit. We brainstorm and create a marketing plan. That’s where Eelko comes in because he is the “business guy.”
Kooten: We create a strategic six week promotion plan for the artist. We promote the track to the international djs, they play it in the clubs and in their radio shows around the world, via our Twitter and Youtube accounts, and after that on Beatport and other digital platforms. We promote the sh*t out of it. The track is considered a success if it lands in the top five on Beatport. From there, we go back in the studio to do track edits for commercial radio and bring it to the radio. Once all that is done, that’s when we look at sales, which comes directly from good marketing. That is why it is so important to have a great team and plan it out right for it to be a success. Separate from a great A&R team, we also have companies for management, MusicAllStars Management, publishing, MusicALlStars, and social media, Viryl Engine.
Elektro: Who would be your dream DJ& Pop/Hip Hop collaboration?
Kooten: I would definitely love to have Chocolate Puma & Firebeatz in collaboration with Method Man on their monster anthem “Just One More Time Baby.”
Graaf: I would love Julian Jordan & Kelly Rowland. Now that would be awesome!
Elektro: Is this a true or a rumor that Swanky Tunes has now a new imprint titled “Showland” under Spinnin” Records?
Kooten: Yes, we are very pleased with Swanky Tunes joining the Spinnin’ Records family, and to be working with them on big tunes!
Graaf: Their newest single “Blood Rush” will be released September 3.
Elektro: Spinnin’ Records has been around for 13 years. What was your vision for Spinnin’ then and where do you see it evolving into next?
Spinnin’: Music labels have evolved. The music industry changed rapidly in the last two-three years. We never thought EDM would be collaborating with pop/hip hop when we first started the label. So as for what we believe we’ll be working more with pop & dance collaborations. Before, it was just about chart positions and selling records.
Now, next to and via the music, it’s also about making an artist into a brand and making more revenue streams from that. As an artist, they have to be musically talented and outstanding. From there, with our team, we help the artist to develop in all genres and get as much exposure to make the artist a success. When an artist is successful, then Spinnin’ Records succeeded.
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