Spinnin’ Records calls itself the ‘world’s leading dance label’. It’s a controversial claim – but the company’s history provides plenty of evidence to bolster its argument.
Over the past 20 years, Spinnin’ has helped launch the careers of some of the world’s biggest DJs, artists and producers, from Afrojack and Bingo Players to Cheat Codes, Fedde Le Grand, Martin Garrix, Martin Solveig, Nicky Romero, Oliver Heldens, Sam Feldt, Sander van Doorn and many others.
Furthermore, with its roots in underground dance music, the company’s global reach was given a major boost two years ago when it was acquired by Warner Music Group – in a deal worth over $100m.
Spinnin’ still operates as a standalone company, however.
Co-founded by publisher Eelko van Kooten, and A&R exec and now Spinnin’ CEO Roger de Graaf in Hilversum in 1999, the company started off like most ’90s-born dance labels – pressing records. De Graaf estimates that between 70,000 and 80,000 were pressed in Spinnin’s first year.
In spite of launching at the end of the ‘90s and barreling straight into the music business’s Napster-driven decline, Spinnin’ has successfully navigated the industry’s format transition (from CDs to downloads to streaming) to become a digital media powerhouse.
“We jumped on the digital revolution straight away,” explains de Graaf. “We always wanted to be setting a new trend.”
Today, Spinnin’s online reach is vast: the firm’s YouTube channel is one of the platform’s Top 50 channels worldwide, with 26.2 million subscribers. Spinnin also has a radio show that attracts 30m listeners each week.
Spinnin’ Records’ playlist brand on Spotify counts millions of followers, too; the most popular is Spinnin’ Records Top 100, which has nearly 770,000 followers alone, with over 2 million total followers on Spotify.
Spinnin’s A&R department, led by Head Of A&R Jorn Heringa, is a hit-spotting machine: the company’s releases have been a near-permanent feature in the global charts for years.
The likes of Martin Garrix’s Animals hit No.1 in the UK in 2013, with the official video clocking 1.3bn YouTube views to date. Martin Solveig & GTA’s Intoxicated hit No.5 on the UK Official Singles Chart in February 2015 and has been viewed over 150m times on YouTube.
Other huge releases over the years include the likes of Bingo Players’ Rattle, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike x Martin Garrix’s Tremor, and Alok, Bruno Martini & Zeeba’s Hear Me Now.
Successful Spinnin’ hits from 2019 include the likes of Yves V’s We Got That Cool (feat. Afrojack & Icona Pop), and LUM!X and Gabry Ponte’s Monster – which at one point was being streamed tens of million times a day.
One of the label’s stars, Sam Feldt, recently reached 1bn (combined) global streams, with his current and biggest hit, Post Malone (feat. RANI) surpassing 100 million streams on Spotify. Other Spinnin’ artists to hit the 1bn global streams milestone this year include Alok and Kris Kross Amsterdam.
Among Spinnin’s properties are a number of artist-led sub-labels like Sander van Doorn-run DOORN Records, Oliver Heldens’ Heldeep Records and Tiësto’s Musical Freedom. Not to mention Spinnin’s Copyright Free, plus trance-centric imprint Liquid Recordings as well as Spinnin’s Talent Pool, Spinnin’ NEXT and Spinnin’ Deep.
Last month saw Spinnin’ expand east with the launch of Spinnin’ Records Asia. Based in Singapore, the company plans to use the new HQ to “sign and work with artists of Asian heritage from every part of the world, bringing their music to a global audience”.
Here, as Spinnin’ celebrates its 20th birthday, CEO Roger de Graaf tells MBW about his career in the music industry, what it’s like being a part of Warner Music Group and the challenges of marketing dance music today…
Tell us about what you were doing in music before Spinnin’.
My first job was in a record store in Holland. [It was] an import vinyl record store and CD store. We sold R&B, hip-hop and house music. That was halfway into the ’90s. It was called Rhythm Import. It was a famous record store in Holland. After one-and-a-half, two years, I wanted to do something new.
I got the role of A&R Manager at the same company, because they also had a distributor where they imported all kinds of vinyl and CDs from the US, UK and Italy. They also started to release music [via] the Rhythm Import label. They also started labels like Work Records and Fresh Fruit Records.
Due to the fact that I was A&R manager, I was calling a lot of publishers to get to know writers and artists. I got in contact with Eelko. I was an enthusiastic guy, and he was the publisher, and he was looking to set up a record label.
He wanted to service his clients in a better way on the recording side. So we started Spinnin’ Records. He asked me, “Are you interested to help set up a label?” We were a great match.
Tell us about those early days, the first signings, first releases – how did that set the tone for the next 20 years?
In the early days, we did a lot of licensing from other territories. So we licensed A.T.F.C Presents OnePhatDeeva – In And Out Of My Life, from Defective Records, which became a nice chart hit in Holland.
And at the same time, we also started a label called Liquid Recordings, because trance music, in the early days of Spinnin’ Records, was very popular. A lot of DJs back in the day were playing trance music.
I got to know a guy called Carlo Resoort, and he did a new project called 4 Strings and their first record, Daytime, became a hit. After that, [4 Strings] had a record called Into The Night, and the record exploded in the trance world and became a big crossover hit with the vocal version, Take Me Away.
Those were basically the first releases we did. We licensed 4 Strings for two different territories, to New State in the UK and to Polydor in Germany. That was the start of Spinnin’ Records.
Could you tell us about the creation of Spinnin’ Copyright Free? Why did you decide to do that?
It was to service YouTubers and video makers. To [allow them] to use music for free, because they had a lot of problems with copyright.
We offered for them to use music for free, and in return we had a great promotional tool. It’s a nice continuation of the premium model.
We’re not only offering the music as a free download, but also using it to provide soundtracks to a community outside our own.
how is Spinnin’ is able to use the power of its YouTube reach for monetization, marketing, etc..
We utilize the YouTube channel as a broadcast channel. It’s a fan community, and a platform for our marketing. The amount of followers creates instant awareness with a large audience, which helps our [popular] artists, as well as unknown ones that we are trying to break.
Monetization-wise, our YouTube is a smaller part of the pie than other streaming services, but it generates a healthy revenue for us. But if we remain a destination for friends and communities, we will succeed in being the best brand for dance music lovers, and the best place for artists.
Spinnin’ became a part of Warner Music Group in 2017. What has changed at the company since then?
The good thing is, Warner treats us as a standalone unit, like we were before. We still release 15 to 18 tracks a week. The thing that has changed is that we work more closely together.
We work close with the Warner affiliates and the different Warner labels around the world. This has led to really big successes now, with for example, Kris Kross Amsterdam, and Sam Feldt, Lum!x, which have become big hits in different territories: France, Germany. We just had a Top 10 hit with Sam Feldt in the UK, being marketed and promoted by Atlantic Records.
We work the same as we always did, but under the wings of Warner. We professionalized our structure and organization. So far it has been a great journey.
What’s it been like working with with the senior leadership team at Warner?
It’s great to work with experienced professionals in the industry. They have been very supportive over the past two years. And the good thing is, [we] learned a lot in those years about structures, organization within the company, the way they make their choices and their business approach, and also the sharpness of foreseeing opportunities. That’s been a great learning process.
How does an artist get signed to Spinnin’ in 2019, or 2020?
You need to make great music, and always look for something special, you know? Don’t do the same things that all the artists are doing.
We always search for new talent, for new sounds, new music, something special. The way to get to us can be in different ways. We search all over the internet.
Sometimes we pick music from an MP3 that we [receive]. It’s about something new, exciting.
What are the challenges of marketing a single versus an album released by Spinnin’, or any of the sub labels?
The market has become very, very single-driven at one end. If a single is successful, you need to work on a single for a long period. For example, Sam Feldt’s single [Post Malone], we released at the end of May, and we are still working the single together with the Warner affiliates at the moment.
When a record is becoming successful, it goes from territory to territory and it takes a long time to become a huge hit.
So that’s one side of the single business. Then there’s another side of the single business in that there are more and more artists that want to release more music because they have music available and they want to bring music to the fans.
Some artists are releasing a record every week, which is difficult to market, because you sometimes kill one single with the other.
In the current streaming area, it’s a challenge to hold on to the attention of millennials and the younger people, some of them haven’t even heard of the concept of an album, or grew up consuming music through a playlist.
An album is also very fan driven, so in order to release an album successfully, you need a [large] fan base, of course. The moment that an album is out, basically, everything is available on all the platforms, so it’s difficult to keep the momentum on an album. To rework a single of the album has been more difficult than ever before.
Is that one of the biggest challenges that you currently face in the music business?
Basically, we’re not doing a lot of albums, so the challenge that we face, if we look at the single market, is making sure that we work on the record for a longer period.
We try to tick all the boxes and make sure that the record has the chance to develop into a worldwide hit. That’s a big challenge, because it can be done in a hundred different ways.
You’ve entered into brand partnerships with so many huge brands: Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Skype. How central a role do these partnerships play in the success, or have they played in the success of Spinnin’?
We have done a lot of great brand partnerships, and some of them have helped make releases more successful.
For example, we did a brand partnership with Adobe with Lucas & Steve, and that record has 75 million streams at the moment.
A part of the success has been [Spinnin’s approach to] brand partnerships, for sure, if you look at the other numbers. It feels like a natural approach for the future as well.
What are the main things that you’ve learnt about the music business or music generally over the past 20 years of Spinnin’?
The thing is, I’m still learning. I can think about thousands of things that I’ve learned in my career of 25 years in the music industry how to work with artists, how it works within the major [label] structures; how it works with independent labels, licensing, royalties.
I can just go on: from charts, marketing and the new digital world, its structure, organization, departments, to how people work together, how we can structure the company in a better way, how to work with your PR department…
What are your hopes for the next 20 years of Spinnin’?
I hope that we keep working with the artists that we have at the moment, which has been a great journey so far. We want to discover new artists and develop hit records together with the artists we have.
And of course [we want to] look into new music trends, try to find new artists at the right moments, keep on innovating and doing the right marketing around releases, because that’s evolving all the time.Music Business Worldwide