Behind the Music: Eelko van Kooten – CEO of Spinnin’ Records

We Rave You is committed to sharing the many layers of the music industry and takes pride in presenting our ‘Behind the Music’ feature which helps provide an insight into the unsung heroes of music, and the massive impact they make in the ultimate success of an artist. Few come bigger than the CEO and co-founder of the crème de la crème label of the EDM world.

Eelko van Kooten is one of the most well-known entrepreneurs in the international dance industry. He started music label Spinnin’ Records in 1999, together with A&R specialist Roger de Graaf. Eelko has since spearheaded the business for the past 17 years, growing into one of the real trailblazers of the dance music world, nurturing the careers of globally renowned DJs including Afrojack, Martin Garrix, Oliver Heldens, Sander van Doorn, and Sam Feldt.

A juggernaut of a company, Spinnin’ Records is widely regarded as the leading music label in the industry, also hosting several sub-labels including Spinnin’ Deep, Don Diablo’s HEXAGON, Tiësto’s Musical Freedom, Oliver Heldens’ Heldeep Records, and Sander van Doorn’s DOORN Records. Over the years Eelko has been praised by the international music industry for his knowledge and ability of pushing the boundaries of the dance industry. He was included in Rolling Stone’s ‘Top 50 Most Important People in EDM’ and won an IDMA award for ‘Best Music Label Executive’, but as he discussed with We Rave You in an exclusive interview, it was Eelko’s father who was his initial inspiration.

“I grew up in an entrepreneurial family surrounded by music. My father was a well known radio personality in the music business. And so growing up, music was a big part of my life and from an early age I knew that I wanted to work in the music business. I started my own publishing company in 1998. And a year later I decided to start a record label together with my partner, A&R specialist, Roger de Graaf. I love working with talented people, it’s the best thing there is. And I believe that if you turn your passion into a career you will be successful no matter what you do. So that’s what I did.”

Eelko was quick to point out that he prides the Spinnin’ company on standing out from the rest:

“The biggest difference is that we are truly independent. We don’t have a specific artist who owns the brand, we are not bound to a specific genre. Together with Roger, we had a vision of how we could improve the quality of music and be more successful at promotion. And so, as a music label we strive to be forward-thinking and trendsetters, meaning that we release progressive music and new artists. We dare to take musical risks and embrace new ways of promotion. When people follow Spinnin’ Records they know what to expect: new, high quality music.”

And if you had ever wondered how the label manages to select the next big thing, it seems it is a base they have well and truly covered worldwide.

“We have a very strong A&R team who are constantly monitoring what’s happening in the international music industry. Which trends are emerging, who is playing what and current music styles in local markets. Next to that we scout talent through the Spinnin’ Records Talent Pool, an online platform where people can submit demo’s which will be rated and reviewed online among other producers and by our A&R team. We work with international talents such as Curtis, Alok, Throttle, Vinai, and Tujamo, who point out new talents, we use the internet, word of mouth, events and personal relations.”

So what is the ethos of Spinnin’? Well according to Eelko, innovation is key in staying one step ahead of the game…

“We strive to bring new music trends for music lovers. We are constantly looking for new, cool, music and upcoming artists. By helping them to develop a good music and artist profile, they will succeed. But ultimately, the success of an artist is dependent on his own personality. We’re just there to help bring that personality out – in music as well as online and in the media. Next to that, innovation is important. We keep innovating and updating our services so that we are effective and relevant in today’s music and media landscape.”

But in today’s music market, the company faces new battles all the time to ensure they stay on top:

“Today, dance music doesn’t know just one global trend. Even though we’re one world online, different trends are visible in local markets. If you look at the US, Asia and South-America, it’s evident that contrasting music styles and trends emerge in local markets. As a label you have to keep surprising your audience making sure you stay relevant in local markets, that’s a challenge. Due to the availability of streaming services, people in Asia that were previously cut-off now have full access to (free) music. We knew that we had a fanbase in those markets but our music was just not available yet. The arrival of Spotify changed all of that and allowed us to further promote our music in emerging markets.”

And despite the growth of EDM influences in Asia, The Netherlands remains the natural HQ for Spinnin’ and the industry as a whole:

“We have a long history in electronic music that goes way back to the 80’s, so our industry is quite mature compared to other countries. The Netherlands has played a pivotal role in the evolution of electronic music worldwide and is home to some of the most talented DJ’s and producers in the world. Furthermore, The Netherlands is home to a few very influential dance companies who have settled here in close proximity. It allows us to keep a close eye on each other.”

In 2017, much has changed from how listeners were consuming their chosen media even 5 years ago. And Eelko believes the change is only positive for the dance music world.

“The good thing is that the music scene is very diverse when it comes to popular music styles, different artists and territories. That’s very exciting for music lovers as there is a big variety to choose from. Spotify, with its different subscriptions and features, allows people to listen to more music and helps them to discover new music styles. People can be more adventurous when it comes to music, which allows them to develop a broader taste in music.”

The recent expansion of EDM in the USA has affected the dance music scene, but as Eelko states, it is a trend that has “matured the market”: 

“EDM is just a genre in dance music and dance music has cultivated in the US. A good example to illustrate that is The Chainsmokers. Two dance DJ’s who were number one in the Billboard charts for weeks. This shows that the US music fans and media are starting to embrace their own artists.  The American music industry now has their own DJ heroes and their music is played on commercial radio stations, which matured the market. Again, Spotify opened up the market, radio stations no longer dominate the charts. We’re of course very happy with that. It is very difficult to choose particular people who are influencing the scene right now as there is so much talent in every genre. But some of the people that I admire for their musical talent are KSHMR, Calvin Harris, Drake, and Diplo to name a few.”

And as you would imagine, social media is now of absolutely paramount importance when it comes to artist marketing.

“It’s very important because it’s where your fans are. The landscape is constantly changing which brings new opportunities on a daily basis. Try to imagine a world without social media, it’s almost impossible! Social media allows artists to easily connect with their fan base, to share music an to give a glimpse behind the scenes. We’re always looking for high quality music that is refreshing, has an original sound and a strong vocal and/or instrumental hookline.”

One of the many sub-projects of Spinnin’ Records is the incredibly popular Spinnin’ Sessions, a concept Eelko is, rightly, rather proud of:

“Spinnin’ Sessions is our radio and event brand. In our weekly radio show we play unreleased music; potential hits from unknown dance-artists including music from the Spinnin’ Talent Pool. Spinnin’ Sessions is currently broadcasted by radio stations around the world. After the success of our radio show we decided to create an event concept, bringing Spinnin’ Sessions live to our fans. We started with an exclusive event during Miami Winter Music Conference and since then have hosted events during Amsterdam Dance Event, Mysteryland, Sunburn Festival in Goa, India and several other events in Europe and Asia.”

So what are the plans for Spinnin’ in the future? What does the biggest label in dance music have in the pipeline for us in 2017?

“The music industry is growing and we want to be part of that growth with our music and artists. Currently we’re working with new talented artists from different parts of the world and are working on introducing our music in those emerging markets. It’s an exciting time ahead and we’re looking forward to the future!”

(BA Hons Journalism), 30, London. NCTJ-accredited journalist and dance music lover specialising in interviews, features, editorial work, and reviews.

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