In a time when many musicians are still looking for an exit from the wreckage of the old music industry model, a handful are already carving a new path. Take for example Joel Zimmerman, better known to fans across the globe as Deadmau5.
The 28-year-old producer and electronic musician just inked a deal with EMI’s Virgin label that allows him the freedom to grow his live career without worrying about generating income from sales of recorded music, which he told Pollstar isn’t really a viable method of support anymore.
“If you can’t get out and play live shows and have a stable income from that, you’re done,” Deadmau5 explained. “Really, you are. Because when you put a track out, it’s gone.
“And sales are not what they used to be, so it’s just kind of naturally evolved into this thing that you can still have some exclusivity over your intellectual property by taking it on the road.”
Deadmau5’s manager, Three Six Zero Group’s Dean Wilson, said even though the agreement covers live, recording, sponsorship, television, film and merchandising activities, it’s not exactly the kind of deal other acts have made.
“It’s a very different deal to what most people would perceive as a 360 deal,” Wilson told Pollstar. “It’s an investment deal more than a rights or 360 deal. It doesn’t include publishing, because we’re already with EMI for the world.
“Basically EMI has invested £1 million to work with Deadmau5 for five years and they get 50 percent of any income generated by anything besides publishing within that term.”
Why would an artist whose name is quickly becoming synonymous with progressive and electro house music and who consistently sells out venues around the world tie himself to a major label when most musicians are walking away from them? Experience.
“We discussed revenue streams, from how little you make from selling singles, to album sales, to how much an artist of Joel’s stature really gets blogged and illegally downloaded and just how huge the live touring side of his business is versus how poor the record-selling side is,” Wilson explained.
“As a forward-thinking young management company, we can only do something to a certain level – which we have done – and then we needed help. To be able to do that you need to be able to plug into some serious worldwide machine. So it made sense to talk to the majors and [EMI’s] Nick Gatfield was the only person who really got it.”
Another person who got Deadmau5 right away was Joel Zimmerman – William Morris Endeavor’s Joel Zimmerman that is – who began booking his namesake about two years ago after he was introduced by a friend.
“It started with me listening to his music,” Zimmerman told Pollstar. “I was like, ‘This stuff has big room potential.’ So I sold him to a bunch of promoters that I had a long-term relationship with and it just took on a life of its own.
“I put him on a tour with a pretty substantial DJ artist that I look after and it was incredible how many kids were coming out just to hear Joel.
“But that was only for one tour, three or four weeks. Then he ramped up what he was doing on the live front and we exploited it.”
Zimmerman said the move out of clubs and into much larger venues also came out of necessity, because Deadmau5 isn’t DJing; he’s playing live music, which requires a lot more gear.
“Initially it was a pain in the ass, because he’d show up and we’d have to reconfigure whatever was going on in the DJ booth for his production,” he explained.
An important element of Deadmau5’s live act is his trademark mouse head, which he said was actually part of the impetus for moving from the studio to the stage.
“I had fabricated this mouse head as a bit of a laugh,” he explained. “I was really excited to go and try it out and see if I could do that. And I did. It worked.”
The head has evolved constantly over the past two years and Deadmau5 is currently working on a top-secret one he says will blow audiences away. And that’s not the only change coming.
“In the future I’m also going to start integrating more live instruments and vintage gear as well,” he said.
One thing Deadmau5 has learned through touring is to expect the unexpected.
“It can be good or bad anywhere,” he said. “I had an amazing time in Denver and then I had a crappy time – in Denver. It’s weird. I like doing it because you never know what to expect.
“We had a bit of a success story in Salt Lake City. It was like, ‘What’s in Salt Lake City? Okay, I’m gonna go rock a crowd of 700.’ And then we get out there and it was like 7,000. Who does that?”
It’s a safe bet Deadmau5 knows what to expect when he takes the stage at this year’s Glastonbury and a host of other stops on the European summer festival circuit. After that, he’ll return to the States to work on a new album and then head back out for a fall run, which Zimmerman said will only include a handful of clubs.
“Where we don’t have the history, we’ll put him into places that have a residual club audience. But in the last year every place is blowing out and it’s because of him playing there, not the club. So we’re going into the Roselands and the Warfields. His music is big-room, electronic music. It’s meant for tons of people.”