The music industry consists of a magnitude of elements – of which only one is the music itself. Behind the glimmering lasers and lights, Instagram posts, private jets and millions of followers was once a young kid dreaming of all the fortunes of super-stardom. Although we often have a chance to hear the stories behind the artists through interviews, there are a large amount of fundamental components that contribute to the success of an artist. Many of those are professionals who are not at the forefront of the industry, but instead choose to be concealed by the curtain.
We Rave You is committed to sharing the many layers of the music industry and takes pride in presenting the ‘Behind the Music’ feature which will provide an insight into the unsung heroes of music and the massive impact they make in the ultimate success of an artist.
Our feature begins with a role that is instrumental in the marketing and promotion of an artist – the role of Public Relations. We sat down with the CEO of one of the most successful PR agencies representing the crème de la crème of the EDM world to find out what it takes to represent some of the biggest artists in the industry. Urban Rebel PR’s CEO Vass took time out of his hectic schedule at this year’s Amsterdam Dance Event to chat to us about his journey to the top of the music PR industry.
Personable, charismatic and professional are just some of the ways we would define Vass. As a young CEO, he is brimming with optimism, creativity and love for the industry and certainly does not fit the mold of a corporate CEO. In fact, he is a walking paradox. Focused, competent and concise but driven by chaos – Vass is certainly one interesting fusion. The vibrant music lover’s energy is almost addictive as he talks about his journey from a young music lover who fell in love with clubbing to representing some of the biggest artists of today including Dannic, Dyro, Lost Frequencies, Hardwell, Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike and many more.
Being part of such a dynamic environment started at a very young age for the Urban Rebel CEO where he discovered the allure of the clubbing culture.
“I was about 14 when I first experienced clubbing. I managed to sneak into a club with some friends who were older than me. I was lucky enough to see the iconic Tony De Vit play although I wasn’t really aware of DJ culture at that point. But it’s fair to say that early brush with dance music ignited a passion and after that I started to dig out more about electronic music. Fast forward a few years and I was out clubbing every weekend to places like Godskitchen and Gatecrasher etc. So I sort of fell into it.”
So how does a hobby turn into a career? Seems as though the transition from interest to industry was a very organic one for Vass.
“I didn’t really think of the music industry as a career path at that early point in my life. I had a passion for media and got involved in a website which at the time was the #1 website for dance music. We used to have around a million views a month and were profiled on various TV stations and so on. It feels minuscule now when you compare it to the millions of views websites and social media pages will get in a day. We had a lot of exposure to offer through the site and the platform was very popular so the interest and reputation around the site snowballed. Around 2002 I went to work for an events agency that was running international tours with artists such as Pete Tong, Sasha, The Chemical Brothers and Faithless. I didn’t really know what PR was in the very beginning but I ended up doing press for a lot of the tours we ran and learning it as I went along. The game changer was around 2004, when I worked the PR for a big tour we put together which had Boy George as the headline DJ. It was pretty surreal because one minute I was working with music media and the next I was also getting calls from major news and lifestyle publications wanting to speak to George as part of this world tour we were running. It was around that time I saw there could be a long-term career in this.”
Representing an artist of such caliber would have been an incredible feat for the young dynamo. Driven by the chaos, Vass took on the challenge and learned on the job.
“Of course, it was a little nerve-racking in the beginning. It was a different world to the exclusively DJ one I was used to. From the way the promoters worked to how journalists wanted to run their stories, it was all one big learning curve. But it’s funny looking back because I now work with many of these same individuals so it’s interesting how that evolution has grown. I was thrown into the deep end but it was an education and it also cemented my love for all things PR and media related.”
After being thrown into the deep end of the industry, Vass explored various genres on his music PR journey.
“Around 2005/2006 I joined Connected DJ’s and started working with guys like Gareth Emery, Lange etc. Trance was still pretty hot back then so I had a chance to get a taste of a scene I mostly kicked off my clubbing adventures with. I later started working with clients from a range of genres such as house, techno etc and really got stuck into a few different scenes to get a sense of how the industry operated right across the board.”
With a name like Urban Rebel and Vass’ dynamic personality, it’s hard not to be curious about whether the name of the agency describes a characteristic of its founder.
“I like to throw TV’s out of hotel windows!! Haha, unfortunately it’s nothing that rock n roll. I was just bouncing a few ideas around and eventually landed on Urban Rebel PR as an offshoot of trying to think of simple acronyms. If you put it in text language it’s ‘UR PR’.”
Urban Rebel PR represents a large number of high profile artists which begs the question how the agency chooses which artists to represent.
“Commonly it’s quite an organic process. We’ve built up longstanding relationships over the year but then on the other side someone will reach out to us to find out more about what we do. Word of mouth is still the best and cheapest form of promotion and it’s the same for us agencies as it is for the artists and events. But ultimately, it comes down to relationships. If the relationship doesn’t work then it’s going to be difficult to achieve the goals everybody involved wants to achieve.”
Although the dance music world is not as riddled by controversy as its music counterparts, on the surface it certainly appears to be chaotic with the likes of DJ Mag drama and artist disagreements on social media. From the perspective of an industry insider, the disputes are dim in comparison to the unrest created by the fan culture.
“When it comes to electronic music – by and large – we all get along with each other. Of course there’s a lot of angst that comes from small communities of fans where they’ll hate one genre over another and be quite vocal about it. There’s also plenty of ‘keyboard warriors’ out there who get a kick out of trolling fans and winding them up about the music/artist they like. It’s a lot of BS when it comes down to picking sides. Personally I don’t see why you have to choose but there does seem to be this design in some people where you have to be either one side or the other. As a culture it would be far more progressive to embrace all genres and the preferences of other people.”
With EDM exploding worldwide, it’s certainly insightful to hear how the industry professionals perceive the evolution of dance music and it’s growing popularity.
“Dance music has played an enormous part in the musical landscape of this generation, so much so that it’s here to stay now. We’ll look back and there will be some amazing tracks from this era that will continue to resonate in say 30 years’ time, but for all the amazing tracks we’ve got, only a small percentage will likely be played on the ‘Classic hit’ shows of the future. You hear it on stations that play rock stations, hip hop etc. That said, it’s incredible how global and successful our scene has become.
With the shift from digital sales to streaming it’s also really exciting to watch the evolution of an entirely new generation of artists emerging from that. One of the artists we work with, Lost Frequencies, is a young guy who’s only released a handful of records but has had phenomenal success with his music in a very short space of time. That success was hugely organic for him. His music has really resonated with an audience and has just taken a life of its own leading to him scoring numerous #1 records and now having the opportunity to take his sound to new territories around the world.
With fellow Belgians Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike their success has been maturing over a much longer period. They’ve put the time in and when you see their pulling power at events and festivals it’s truly jaw dropping. They recently had 45,000 people fill a stadium in Germany breaking the record for the biggest solo gig by a DJ in the country and this month they’ll have 84,000 people join them across 4 nights at their homecoming show ‘Bringing the Madness’. The army of fans their music appeals to around the world is staggering. They’re an incredible draw when it comes to live show environments and their music is hugely popular across radio and streaming charts.”
At one point does an up-and-coming artist need the services of a PR agency? It may seem tempting to hire a team of people in the quest for your dream, but it’s certainly not as essential as it may appear.
“Some artists certainly rush into it too quickly. There’s this urgency of ‘I’ve made a record I need a PR’ and quite often it’s not the case. Before hiring a PR agency you need to evaluate what it is you want to achieve? Do you really need it for the benefit of the record or is there another reason you want PR? A good PR can tell pretty quickly if you really do need press support but it helps if you understand what it is you actually want to achieve before hiring one.”
The process between an artist and a PR agency is certainly a collaborative one. What makes it a success? Vass explains:
“I think when you get the right artist and the right moment and it clicks there is a natural feel for it. But you still need to understand the process and how the story is best communicated – all of that is where the experience and professional knowledge comes into play. We can try and predict things as best as we can, but that’s all we can do. For example, I didn’t work with Hardwell and then figure out that he’s going to be the #1 DJ in the world and leave it at that. Obviously I wanted that to happen. I want all the artists we work with to achieve their goals. Hardwell had a vision and he and his team were always thinking of the long game. Through his tireless work ethic, a drive to leave nothing behind each time he steps into the DJ box and a hunger for his music, you can see why success has and always will come to him. It’s infectious to be involved in a campaign for any artist with that kind of drive. To a part of an amazing team who all support that artist’s goal and work enthusiastically to help him achieve that dream breeds a lot of dedication and passion for the role you play. But the other side of the coin is it may have never happened. He could have aimed for it for years and it never happen. Was I instrumental in making that happen? No. I had an impact I’m sure but at the same time it’s not like I’m the reason why that happened. The fans were. We just help organize the chaos once those magical moments occur.”
Humble words from a trailblazer who has earned the trust and respect of some of the biggest artists in the industry. With an abundance of energy and a clear creative vision, the sky’s the limit for the young trend-setter. Professionals like Vass may choose to abstain from the industry’s spotlight but make no mistake – these are the players that set the stone foundation of an artist’s creative vision. If the success of the vibrant agency thus far is any indication, we’ll certainly be seeing a lot more of Vass and Urban Rebel PR in the future.