‘Spinnin’ Records has an independent approach, but with major opportunities on both a local and worldwide level.’

Pictured L-R: Roger De Graaf and Ewout Swart

MBW’s World Leaders is a regular series in which we turn the spotlight toward some of the most influential industry figures overseeing key international markets. In this feature, we speak to Roger De Graaf and Ewout Swart, Co-Presidents of Netherlands-headquartered, Warner Music Group-owned dance music label, Spinnin’ Records. World Leaders is supported by PPL.

Almost exactly six years ago, Spinnin Records sent shockwaves through the dance music industry with the news that it was to be acquired by Warner Music Group in a deal worth over $100 million.

Born in Hilversum in 1999, Spinnin’ started off pressing vinyl records and today operates an online media empire with over 30 million YouTube subscribers. As Co-President Ewout Swart notes, that’s nearly double the size of the Dutch population.

Swart was recently promoted from COO to Co-President of Spinnin’ alongside the label’s co-founder and CEO Roger De Graaf.

The execs tell us that the move will see De Graaf focus on artist relations and creative projects, while Swart will concentrate on operations and “global acceleration”.

“It’s a well-deserved promotion for Ewout,” De Graaf tells MBW. “This is a logical next step. My focus will be more on artists and music, whereas Ewout is looking more after the processes in the company. We will continue working closely on a daily basis as we have done successfully over the last six years.”

De Graaf adds that “this new chapter” of Spinnin’ “allows [the company] to focus more and will help to bring the different teams within Spinnin’ even closer together”.

Part of this new chapter for Spinnin’ Records includes the recent move into The Amsterdam Music Harbour,  a new creative hub in the city under the same roof as Warner Music Benelux and Warner Chappell Music Benelux – the first time the three entities have shared the same address.

The storied dance music company has also expanded its global presence with new roles in Beijing, London, and Los Angeles.

“Spinnin’ is a global label, so we work [as hard] on an artist’s career from Brazil as much as we would on an artist’s career from Indonesia,” says Swart. “That’s what makes it more interesting.”

De Graaf explains that Spinnin’ has operated as a standalone company within the wider Warner Music Group over the past six years, and says that the label “still has an independent approach, but with major opportunities on both a local and worldwide level”.

He adds: “The decision to keep Spinnin’ the same [as it was pre-acquisition], but with the added major worldwide power [from WMG] has proven to be very successful and has resulted in enormous business growth.”

This year, Spinnin’ Records released new music from dance music stars like Alok, Don Diablo, Gabry Ponte, Lucas &; Steve, Lum!x, Mike Williams, R3hab, Tiesto, and Timmy Trumpet.

Here, Spinnin’ Co-Presidents Ewout Swart and Roger De Graaf tell us about the label’s successes this year, its growth, global strategy, positioning within Warner Music Group, and the evolving deal landscape in the dance music business…

As you transition to this new chapter of Spinnin’, how do you feel the company is positioned in the global music industry today?

Roger De Graaf: We are still a worldwide dance company that can and needs to make its own decisions.

We decide on which artists we sign, which tracks we go after, [and] we create our own marketing promo strategies. We are responsible for the deals we offer, the business strategy, and of course, the end result every year, which is hard work. It’s quite a unique situation as part of a major record company.

“One of the things we see now is a shift from Anglo repertoire to more localized repertoire.”

Ewout Swart

Ewout Swart: What’s important is that over the last few years we expanded our global footprint with staff in the US, UK and China. What we’re trying to do daily is to strategize and make a difference for our company and artists. [We’re] trying to be ahead of the curve.

One of the things we see now is a shift from Anglo repertoire to more localized repertoire. The key word here is global. We’re constantly adapting our tactics and signings to have local success and trying to build local artists into global superstars wherever they may arise.

In what markets are you seeing the most growth potential for Spinnin’ or dance music in general?

ES: There’s so much potential but it’s also so specific. LATAM is great territory for dance in general. India is a country where we’ve just scratched the surface. Asia, I wouldn’t be surprised if that will be one of the top two music markets within the next five years.

It’s difficult to say. Because of the localization. Every country, region and territory has something [for us] to tap into.

It’s been six years since Spinnin’ was acquired by Warner Music Group. Can you talk through the evolution of the company during this time and what being part of WMG has meant for the Spinnin’ brand?

RD:  One of the great decisions [we] made [was] to keep Spinnin’ as much as Spinnin’ was [yet] benefit from the worldwide and local power of Warner Music.

With the help and support of Warner we have professionalized all the departments internally. We have seen a huge increase in scale. And we have been able to build close relationships and collaborations with a lot of Warner affiliates around the world.

That has helped us to score a lot of hits from the likes of Sam Feldt, Tiesto (pictured) with Lay Low, Imanbek & BYOR (with Belly Dancer), Move Your Body by Öwnboss and Sevek and different Kris Kross Amsterdam singles.

We also had great success with Warner Music Korea. We created an Asian-Anglo collaboration between Sam Feldt and Shaun, which resulted in over 500 million streams to date.

“They gave us the flexibility to redefine. that was an actual brilliant move.”

ES: The first 18 months, like with all acquisitions, was about trying to find [out] who we are. The first one to two years was about keeping our DNA as an independent dance label, but trying to benefit from what the major was adding to us instead of just adopting everything [at the major].

The best thing that could have happened to us was that the right people within Warner let us do that, and not lay everything upon us that we needed to do everything they were doing. They gave us the flexibility to redefine and that was an actual brilliant move.

Tell us about the Warner Music Group leadership you worked with over the past few years that gave you that flexibility?

ES: The biggest credit from inception is to Bart Cools, International Executive Vice President, Dance, A&R and Marketing. He played a crucial role in in helping us find our way within the major company without losing the independent look and feel. We’ve worked with him ever since.

We get a lot of support. People were very patient. They were trying to get the best out of us as people and out of the company, but have also been patient and flexible and let us find our own way. Bart definitely deserves a shout-out for this particular process.

RD: For two years now we’ve also worked closely with Simon Robson [President, International, Recorded Music, Warner Music]. He has supported us and helped us out with building bridges in different territories around the world. And of course, [we’ve had] support from Max [Lousda, CEO of Recorded Music at Warner Music Group].

Spinnin’ recently reached 30 million subscribers on YouTube. How important is YouTube as a platform for Spinnin’ ?

ES: I think our country size is almost half of the amount [of that subscriber base]. It was a very special moment to realize that our Dutch-origin YouTube channel has twice the amount of our country’s population size. It’s mind-blowing. We started the channel in 2007. What I love most about it is we have a very diverse audience.

“YouTube is still a very important platform and channel for us.”

We grew massively from 2012 to 2016. We’ve made a difference in so many different people’s lives [across] different eras and different ages, and contributed something to their path or present is what I like most about it. So there are multiple groups within those 30 million subs and this is one place where they come together.

RD: We have seen great successes locally in territories like Mexico, Brazil, and Poland, where something takes off and then crosses over to multiple other territories. It’s great that you can add this to your marketing plan. YouTube is still a very important platform and channel for us.

The IMS business report published earlier this year estimated that the dance music industry was estimated to have grown 34% year on year in 2022 to reach $11.3 billion in value. What is your forecast for the value of the wider dance industry in the coming years?

RD: It’s difficult to say where it’s going from here because, on one hand, we have emerging markets that we just discussed, like Asia, Africa, LATAM and the new business models of the different social platforms that we have seen over the last few years that have created a lot of scale.

On the other hand, we see saturation in the market, due to the enormous amount of music released daily on the various DSPs.

ES: Since the 60s I believe, the economical business cycle of the music industry [has been] a mixture of quantity, quality, price, and accessibility.

“We see saturation in the market, due to the enormous amount of music released daily on the various DSPs.”

Spotify [sees] 43 million uploads a year; 120,000 a day. [You have to try ] to make your artist stand out [amongst that volume of tracks]. It’s a mixture of quality and quantity. So [the industry] will have its ups and downs.

Always trying to find the ups is what we like, to be honest.  That’s one of the perks of being a global label. Like I said before, there’s always a territory where you can make it work better than the other.

RD: It’s a big world and we can always find opportunities, so we will keep searching for them.

How competitive is it for signing dance artists these days, not just versus rival record companies, but also in regard to all the different options that artists have to release music today?

RD: It’s very, very competitive and it will [get] more competitive in the next couple of years [due to] a storm of data, which is accessible to everyone.

It’s a big storm of trends. And the storms can stop very quickly. The social TikTok generation can jump on new things [at any] moment. And the musical trends and genres are [developing] super quickly.

On the business side of trying to sign artists, it is becoming more competitive because everybody wants the same things.

And how are your deal structures changing in response to that?

ES: From a historical perspective, dance music has always been ahead in deal-making. We have a lot of different deal types. We have less ’20 albums’ types of deals, for exclusivity [periods] of 10 or 20 years. It has always been more organic, more fluid, and more fast-paced.

We cater to a lot of different deals, but in the end, it depends on how an artist wants to pursue their own career, and the service level they want to get from us. We always try to stay on top. But I’ve seen a lot by now and it depends on what the need is.

“Warner as a global company is very innovative when it comes to technology deals.”

Warner as a global company is very innovative when it comes to technology deals. The AI and Endel partnership for example is a good one. They’re one of the first to try to explore new tech.

RD:  All these deals are tailor-made. From track deals with options to artist deals, development deals, and we work closely with big [artists] and their music labels. You need to do tailor-made deals.

We’ve been talking about what you can do for artists and about development and marketing, but in the context of the rise of the independent artist market and all the different options for monetization and distribution today, what is the value of signing with a record company for dance music artists and producers?

RD: On the A&R side, we have an experienced A&R team and we can add a lot to the music strategy, development and servicing the best songs to them. Our social platform[s] and marketing promo machine can really help.

We have people in the US, in China, and in the UK. We can still add a lot to their careers, if you look at the different parts [of the business] that we [handle]. And of course, we have a great service when it comes to back office, legal and distribution.

ES: The simple answer is, artist development. Strategy, release planning, the content, and the marketing.

That’s where [labels] make a difference. It’s having a dedicated multi-disciplined team [who are] able to work with an artist for a decent period of time and have a short, medium and long-term strategy. That’s what makes a difference.

You mentioned earlier the volume of music going on to DSPs every day. Looking at that volume of content combined with the rise of generative AI platforms,  what are your predictions or concerns about the impact that AI will have on the dance music industry? 

ES: It depends on what timeframe you’re looking at it from. My concern is about copyrights and rights of publicity. Human creation, name, likeness, etc should always be protected from unwanted usage.

That stands out for me as a concern. Human beings, as a species like to explore. We like to be creative. We send stuff to Mars just to constantly look at our boundaries. We make cars that drive 300 miles an hour. Not that we use them every day, but just to test our limits. That, in the end, is where people will always have the advantage over technology, because we’re curious minds.

“AI is technically brilliant. It could be used as an amazing trigger, or as a source of inspiration, [to] enhance creativity.”

AI is technically brilliant. It could be used as an amazing trigger, or as a source of inspiration, [to] enhance creativity.

Apart from that concern, it will have its ups and downs. It might saturate the DSPs a bit more. Over time, it will trigger a human reaction to do better. I’m not worried about it as long as we can secure the rights part in it. t has the potential to unlock a lot of creativity.

Warner is very committed to embracing new technology in general and driving the industry forward. And in the end, it’s part of an artist’s decision if they want to be part of it or not.

As an industry, we need to make sure that we protect the artists, whether they are songwriters, or live performing artists. If we want to have fresh music in the future, we need to protect that group of people and make sure that they can still make a living out of making music.

If there was one thing you could change about the music industry, what would it be and why

ES: With the high level of quantity [of music] nowadays, there’s a lot of great talent that doesn’t have the ability to be found. That’s one of the things I would like to see [changed] if there was a choice.

RD: There is just too much music being launched every day, but I am afraid we cannot really change it. That’s something we would both change.

World Leaders is supported by PPL, a leading international neighbouring rights collector, with best-in-class operations that help performers and recording rightsholders around the world maximise their royalties. Founded in 1934, PPL collects money from across Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America. It has collected over £500 million internationally for its members since 2006.Music Business Worldwide

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