I can’t remember the day I first found Monstercat; not precisely, at least. I remember hearing a track from Tut Tut Child and maybe a few tracks from Stephen Walking, but back then I was really into 23 and Going Quantum. The name Monstercat had not yet become synonymous with incredible producers and innovative business practices.
Monstercat really started out just like many other YouTube channels. The only difference is, unlike Suicide Sheep, MA Dubstep, or Liquicity, Monstercat has been signing music as a label from day one. (Though, all of those are now labels, as well.) Back in 2011, they signed Krewella and released ‘Killin It,’ and the rest is mostly history. In June of 2014, Monstercat reached one million record sales, and became the 11th most subscribed channel on YouTube in Canada. Since then, Monstercat has grown to become the 10th largest YouTube channel in Canada and has broken into the Top 350 in the world.
So when I got word last week that I would have the opportunity to interview the CEO of Monstercat, Mike Darlington, I was more than just a little excited. I’m not an idiot, I knew what it would mean for me and for Your EDM if I nailed this interview. So, I began to formulate questions. Questions about Monstercat, about the 18th compilation album, about his favorite kind of cat, whatever I could come up with. The day of the interview, I learned that Mike just wanted a chat, an organic word-vomit-conversation. I nervously scrapped most of my questions and made the call on Skype.
Mike answered the call with a smile and I was immediately put at ease. Too many times as a new journalist entering the industry have I put my idols on a pedestal, but it’s important to remember that everyone has their own humble beginnings. We begin to talk just off the cuff. Mike and the Monstercat team just recently returned from a trip to TomorrowLand, so I chose to start there.
For the Monstercat team, it was a choice between TomorrowLand or Christmas bonuses. I think it’s fairly obvious what they chose. “I had no chance to party or hang with the team in a regular environment,” said Mike. “We have a lot of people who work in the states and different places not in the office. It was the first time for them to come and meet the team.” It’s a real family community in the Monstercat team. “At the time when we promised everyone, our team was only seven. By the time Tomorrowland rolled around we were like 20 people. I ended up bringing everybody.”
Mike is actually a very community oriented individual. I asked him if he’d ever been a part of a community program as a child or adolescent, and he gave a wry little laugh. “From as far as I can remember, I’ve been on the internet.” It feels like I’m talking to a longtime friend. There’s no filter for Mike, he just wanted to talk and be real. “My first real job I was head of social media and marketing for an application developing company and that was the first time I had ever really gotten involved in developing community. But being a part of the internet, it’s hard not to see the importance of community and open discussion.”
Community is very important to Your EDM, as well. We have a group on Facebook that we’ve affectionately called “Your EDM’s Family.” It’s a way for people to gather to talk about current events, new music and generally whatever they’d like. “[…] I requested to join because I wanted to monitor how your community can interact with each other.” We have over 30,000 members and we’re one of the largest groups on Facebook, so it’s a bit difficult to keep everyone in line, but Mike seemed pretty pleased. “I was happy to see with you guys that you took that approach from a media perspective; you were more than just a place to find out about music and news. You actually had people wanting to be involved in the community aspect and that was really cool to me.” Monstercat’s influence, though, extends far beyond just Facebook and YouTube. They also have one of the most active communities on Reddit and the most active subreddit dedicated to a label. “There are a lot of other music communities on reddit that have nine or ten times the amount of members we have, but if you look at the interaction on posts, we get a lot more interaction than a lot of the bigger subreddits.”
Part of the reason for that is because of how loyal the fans of Monstercat are. I’ve never seen a more loyal bunch, a more invested group of fans who so consistently speak with the artists on the label and even the CEO. “I recognize them by name, I see them post on reddit and YouTube.” Mike does not have a hands-off personality. This label is his and Ari’s lovechild and I can picture him being involved in every major and minor decision of the label for years to come. There are still many aspects of Monstercat that could be improved upon, and Mike is well aware of it. He has large plans for the label and for its artists, too.
“The next thing you’ll see from Monstercat is development of artists. We want to have more of these artists breaking, as well as our involvement with them. I want there to be 5 artists from Monstercat that are some of the biggest in the industry. I want us to be involved in their branding, their PR, their marketing, their management.” As the music industry has changed, one of the areas that some major labels have started to slack on is artist development. Many labels will hear an artist’s sound and sign them for a record. But once that record is out, they really don’t care about artist development, only about how much money they can make. Monstercat, and many EDM labels, are markedly different, taking into account the fact that some of the biggest DJs have come from the most humble beginnings.
“Au5 & Fractal are touring pretty consistently. Astronaut is touring. Case & Point is touring. Favright is touring. Haywyre is touring. Hellberg is starting to tour. Let’s Be Friends are touring non-stop. Pegboard Nerds and Project 46 are always touring now. Rogue is touring. SCNDL is touring. Stephen Walking is on the tour. Varien is touring.”
While the amount of Monstercat artists currently touring is astonishing, Monstercat has never been about getting producers out there in front of people. It has just never been a priority. In fact, Mike has some personal issues with touring itself. “I see a lot of artists in this industry fail because they try to tour too early. They try to do a tour where they think that they have enough fans, they think that they’re big enough and they go and they do their tour, and it completely flops. There’s nothing that’s more devastating to an artist’s career than to go into major markets and have a show that fails.” That’s why Monstercat supports its artists so much in releasing music.
According to Mike, the average artist on Monstercat can make enough money from music releases alone to live full-time making music. I’m not sure I can think of any other label that can boast those stats. Furthermore, the retention rate of artists on Monstercat is incredible. There are nearly 50 artists currently releasing on Monstercat, and more are being added constantly. Just last week saw the newest addition of Grabbitz to the roster, and before that it was Laszlo, and WRLD, and Case & Point. With over one million singles now sold, Monstercat has become a prominent fixture in the EDM industry. “The concept of ‘Monstercat’ has always been an evolving idea with numerous long-term goals along the way,” he explains. “I couldn’t be more proud to be able to say that we have reached one of our more lofty goals to date – selling 1 million singles in just over two and a half years. We wouldn’t be here today without the support of our extended family and are so thankful of what that support has allowed us to achieve.”
As Monstercat continues to grow, it becomes necessary to find innovative ways of breaking artists and finding music faster than anyone. Platforms like SoundCloud, Facebook, YouTube and Bandcamp have made music discovery nearly instantaneous and so it’s important to always keep your ear to the ground. Well, Mike has a solution for that. “I don’t know if you remember the Taste Maker campaign – we’ve narrowed that down to 35, we’re probably going to end up with 20. I’m really excited for that, because we’re going to be one of the first labels to have a crowdsourced A&R team of people from our community. We can be the first on most up-and-coming artists and that really excites me.”
I hope that it has become apparent through the course of this article that Monstercat has a knack for innovative business practices. A constant schedule of three releases per week, periodic compilation albums (the last eight of which have reached #1 on iTunes), and a fresh podcast keep listeners and fans engaged, as well as bring in new fans. But while it’s important to be a successful business, Mike wants to do more to give back. “I think one of the things that becomes so difficult, and this is not an excuse by any means, it feels now like with all the projects going on we only have so much time. I’d love one day have someone in our company dedicated to giving something back in any way possible. The thing is, I always want to do things that aren’t about money. For us, we did one campaign where we raised $25,000 and that was great. I’m happy that we raised that money — it was for a charity that provides video games to hospitals for sick kids. […] We did a local charity campaign where we gave out sweaters to the homeless. We gave away a couple hundred. We’ve done the Electric Family campaigns for the Humane Society in Canada. I’m working on a campaign right now with Martin Haywyre for a music education charity — kinda getting kids involved in music at a young age and being able to fund it for them so if they can’t afford to have an instrument there’s a way for them to do it.”
To me, that makes Monstercat more than a label. It’s really a community that just happens to release music. Show me a more unique label and I’ll edit your name into the article right here – XXXXXXXXX. I think Mike says it best though, “It’s been the driving factor, involving community. It’s the only reason we’re here. We’ve always put them first.”
Now, I love to talk business but sometimes it’s just good to get silly. We asked Mike, “If you could choose four other producers to be on your zombie killing dream team, who would they be? What would be their role?” His answer is awesome.
“My first [choice] would definitely be Pegboard Nerds. I picture Alex with his massive hammer, swinging it around and smashing zombies; and Michael just plowing through them and knocking them down. I would also bring 12th Planet, cuz he’s a G. I just think he would smash zombies real well. I need a tech guy… Oh, I’d bring Stephen Walking – the Werewolf. He’d tear up some zombies. I’d actually probably bring Deadmau5 – he’d be the one to bring out the laptop and hack into shit, and he’d be our tech guy. He wouldn’t be the best zombie killer. Actually let me swap him out…
I know my last man! Carl. Carl Cox. He can definitely smash some zombies.”
Compilation 018 – Frontier is out on iTunes today. And it’s already #1. But with so much success comes a platform to voice your opinions. And Mike has some fairly strong ones. “We’re taking a really aggressive public stance on how we believe the copyright laws are really antiquated and how some major labels are handling it is fucking bullshit. There have been a lot of misconceptions, as well as bullshit going on – like that poor girl, the YouTuber, getting sued by Ultra for $7m for their music in her videos. It’s bullshit that people’s mixes and podcasts are getting taken down everywhere. It’s bullshit that people can’t sample at all in the dance music industry when that’s where dance music came from. People shouldn’t be afraid to take inspiration from other people’s work to create something new. Isn’t that what modern innovation is?”