A MAGIC Week In Vegas!

Okay…I know. I said I’d be blogging every day from MAGIC Marketplace this week, but found it virtually impossible to both cover the show for StarStyle and Netmix, while also networking with some of the world’s most popular youth-driven fashion brands every day. Companies like Phat Farm, Timberland, Sean John, Big Star, True Religion, Apple Bottoms, Jessica Simpson, Kenneth Cole, Ralph Lauren Polo, Ecko Unlimited, G-Unit, Roca Wear, Converse, and Puma were there in full force to take orders from buyers for their Fall retail orders.

Let me tell you, the MAGIC Marketplace is a massive event. Bigger than I imagined. It literally takes up the entire Las Vegas Convention Center plus some. MAGIC Marketplace also owns Project Show, which housed boutique brands like Meltin Pot, Triple 5 Soul and Ted Baker nearby at the Sands Convention Center, a few blocks away and connected to the Venetian hotel.

You might be asking, why am I writing a column about fashion on a blog about DJ culture, dance and electronic music?

Mainly, because I think it’s extremely important to take yourself out of your comfort zone for a minute and see something you’ve never seen before. You just might make that connection or learn something that can potentially benefit your career or your company’s cash flow. And, if you can bring that new knowledge to the dance music community, then it will only help the genre grow by learning from and adopting the methods that have led to the success of others in both the hip hop and rock communities.

For example, the hip hop community, whose artists are connecting with consumers not just through their music, but also through their own lines of clothing, are becoming multimedia entities involved in more than just music.

As one music executive from Universal Mobile said during a keynote address at the Music 2.0 conference on Friday in Los Angeles; record labels are transforming into music companies that are involved in more than just releasing audio recordings. Labels are getting involved in all aspects of an artist’s career. Not just the music, but also the fashion, books, DVD’s and other cross-media opportunities.

 

Take a look at the picture above. It is of the Ecko Unlimited tent at MAGIC Marketplace. From the vehicles outside to the clothing and accessories inside (I wasn’t allowed to take photos without an appointment), Ecko Unlimited is taking advantage of the relationship consumers have with their favorite artists. What brand connects better with hip hop music fans than Marc Ecko’s, Ecko Unlimited? Or, better yet, Jay-Z’s Rocafella and 50 Cent’s G-Unit?

With 50’s G-Unit under its umbrella, Ecko continues to tie music and fashion together seamlessly by working closely with artists who appeal to teens and outfitting them in their videos to maintain street credibility. If 50’s wearing that gear, then kids want to be down with that.

Better yet, Marc Ecko is even styling automobiles! This type of grassroots marketing through music videos is tough to do in dance music. Mainly, it’s because dance music videos are either full-on animations or the artist is a producer that never really appears in the video themselves. There’s no one to latch onto. No one for the fan to get close to.

If there is an artist, that person is one of the few that has crossed over into the mainstream, but there is little support for that artist’s lifestyle choices beyond a photoshoot for the album cover. How many DJ trade mags feature photo shoots with that artist as you see in Cosmo or GQ? URB and Fader do a great job, but we need more than just two magazines to support these types of efforts.

Dance music labels, artists, producers, and the dance music media have to wake up to the possibilities that are out there. Instead of just focusing on the music, they should also really be focusing on the artist’s lifestyle in order to create deeper relationships with dance music’s fans.

The dance music community asks, how can we be as successful as hip hop has been? I believe it’s because we’re not connecting the dots. Some would argue the money just isn’t there at this point to fund broader marketing campaigns, which could increase an artist’s visibility resulting in a stronger connection with their fans.

I say, we have to find it. We have to go outside, to the mainstream, and find the investment dollars to take dance music to the next level. We have to get a professional in our attitudes and the way we do business. We have to put the drinks and the drugs down and get our feet wet in the real business world. We have to prove to investors that DJ culture is not just a never-ending party–it’s a way of life for millions of people across the globe. But we’re not living up to that.

We have to be more successful, which scares some people because they’d rather toil in obscurity citing reasons such as integrity or not selling out, rather than taking the music mainstream and benefitting from that success. It’s tragic that labels like Strictly Rhythm, Nervous and King Street haven’t become the size of rap labels like Def Jam or No Limit or Death Row.

This also speaks to the age-old argument that the dance and electronic music community aren’t really developing artists, they are just content in developing producers who are the stars but generally aren’t stage performers. The DJ can be the star, but many DJ’s (save for Collette) can’t sing or connect with their fans from the stage. They are stuck behind the turntables in closed booths, somewhat obscure and disconnected. Not as prominent as they should be. This limits the exposure fashion brands have in tying dance music to clothing because the DJ isn’t seen as much as he or she is heard.

Oddly enough, you’d think Erick Morillo would have made the DJ booth at Pacha transparent, but yet again, it’s a big black box where all you see is the DJs torso and head. Our communities DJ booth designers must start to get creative and make the booths transparent and hide all those wires. Do amplifiers really need to be underneath the turntables? Of course not! Get rid of all that shit! Make DJ booths so you can see the whole person!

By the way, I’m not saying that DJ/Producers shouldn’t be promoted as artists. They should and let’s figure out how to change their relationship with their fans. I’m really just trying to fuel a conversation about how dance music and DJ culture need to adapt to the reality that they’ll never be as successful as hip hop unless we take a long, hard look at our community and make some serious changes that could take the genre to the next level. We were almost there in the late ’90s…but we’ve crashed into obscurity again!

It’s a bit sad that the days of CC Peniston, Crystal Waters, Robin S., Byron Stingley, India, Taylor Dayne, C&C Music Factory and even Turbo B. from Snap, where the singer was at the forefront and fans could connect with the artists, are gone. Such and such producer featuring such and such singer is now the norm. Who do fans connect with? Some connect with the producer/DJ because it’s cool and they love the producer’s sound. Armand Van Helden is a good example of that. Others connect with the singer because that’s what they identify with. Barbara Tucker is a notable example as well. But, the connection is still fragmented, not unified.

Don’t get me wrong, I love house music. It’s in my blood. But, so much of it is a beat and a sample. There is no singer to speak of in many of the songs I play in my mix sets. There’s no image or personality for the fan to connect with over time. No one to follow. I’m not saying get rid of deep house, because tech house is my passion and you hardly hear any singers in that genre. Let’s just find a way to figure out how to create superstar artists again, that people can relate to.
I know in Europe, it’s very different and the DJ is considered a star, but we have to remember, we’re not in Europe! Americans look to lead singers to connect with them and their lyrics on a one-to-one level. Maybe I’m even guilty of perpetuating the problem. I continue to spin tracks without singers to speak of. But then again, good song-driven tracks are few and far between. It’s a Catch-22 situation.

When are dance music producers going to take a step back into obscurity and sign artists to a production deal, record them and push them along to mainstream success instead of sitting in the glare of the spotlight? Yes, there are a few here and there that do well, but I think the genre is predominantly dominated by the producer/DJ, and not by the recording artist. Hip Hop and Rap are producer-driven genres, but they depend on the image of the artist to connect with the fans.

I understand that it’s hard as a DJ to give up the spotlight that’s been gifted over time, as the album-oriented dance artist has virtually disappeared over the past ten years. In a single’s driven world, how do we make that connection? Keep asking yourself that question. That’s why it’s equally as important to look at the success of other genres and ask ourselves, why aren’t we enjoying the same type of popularity? And that’s why I went to MAGIC Marketplace and Project Show, to see for myself what’s been taking place and what we’re missing out on.
If producer/DJs like Deep Dish, Sasha, Sandra Collins, Bad Boy Bill or Paul Van Dyk are so successful, then why don’t they have their own fashion brands by now? I’m not talking about just T-shirts and baseball hats. I’m talking about a full line of clothing, from socks to suits and dresses. Because maybe, just maybe DJ culture is not connecting with its fan base.

There’s so much more to do in dance music than just make beats and sell records through club play and mixtapes. I see the volumes of people who love dance music and DJ culture, but it seems as if there’s no central cast of characters. No one to pull it all together on a mogul-like level, ala P Diddy, Jay-Z, Jermaine Dupri. Who are the icons of our industry? Who are the ones pushing both music and fashion-forward? Where are the outspoken artists like hip hop’s Kanye West, who are changing the game? Sure, we have Moby, but he’s not winning any Mercedes Benz Fashion Week awards! Just kidding, Moby. And today, is Moby really considered a “dance” artist, or a pop star?
That being said, I learned so much about the world of fashion marketing last week…maybe too much! LOL. As I walked both the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands, I saw an incredible level of creativity. Although one thing really did disturb me. There was a Chinese company who’s booth inside the LACC featured a line of Ecko-type knock-offs, down to the size of the lines in their checkered shirts.

I thought to myself, why MAGIC would allow a Chinese company who is closely infringing on an American brand’s likeness and image would be allowed to show and sell their goods? I guess there’s no law against the competition, as long as you’re not using the other brand’s name. But it did raise questions in my mind nonetheless, in an era when we’re very sensitive to South Asian music piracy rings and low-quality Chinese-made knock-offs.
My friend DJ Dakota made an appearance on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning, spinning chill out and downtempo sounds at the Platform section of the show, which is an area set aside for the smaller, boutique brands. We were invited out to the MAGIC opening party at the Hard Rock Cafe Hotel, where we saw the Goo Goo Dolls (photos below) open the trade show’s week with an energetic and fun performance.

As MAGIC was to the big brands, who’s booths were incredible marketing centers all by themselves, Project Show focused on smaller, boutique offerings.

However, some lines like Ted Baker and Meltin Pot chose to show at Project over MAGIC, mainly because they wanted to connect with more of a raw, youth culture than mass-market brands like Perry Ellis and Kenneth Cole.

At MAGIC, some brands stood out bigger than others. I think the Sean John booth was probably the biggest of them all. Bigger than Perry Ellis, Polo, and Kenneth Cole. P. Diddy is just taking the fashion industry by storm.

To actually see the line, you had to have an appointment set up prior to the show. I didn’t get the chance to check out the gear myself, but from the looks of it, Sean John is giving the traditional brands dominating hip hop over the past few years, such as Tommy Hilfiger, Phat Farm, and Ralph Lauren a run for their proverbial money.

P Diddy’s Sean John line is making a huge impact on the men’s fashion marketplace, targeting young urban teens and young adults who want to live the hip hop lifestyle, but also want to dress in button-down suit, shirt and tie for work.

As fellow Netmix DJ Madsol Desar proclaims, hip hop is going corporate. You’re going to see a lot more hip hop heads wearing nice threads over the next year or so, as rap superstars like Jay Z are driven around in Bentley’s. Sure, the Ecko’s will still do well, but from the looks of it, I see a movement in fashion towards more dressy, classy, upscale styles. For men, baggy jeans are out and slacks are in. Maybe this will help hip hop clean up its hardcore image, I don’t know? But that’s the goal I think these brands are trying to reach.

Here’s a good look at the Sean John Booth. Then compare it to the other’s booth’s I’ve added below:

 

 

Now, here are the others:

 

I did go over to Project Show at the Sands Convention Center, but I didn’t take any photos to speak of. I ran into my friend, Sandra Mihalenko from Meltin Pot. She gave me a DVD promo for the movie they are releasing, and I caught a glimpse of her beautiful new engagement ring! Congrats, Sandra!

I also checked out the Ted Baker booth, which was very, very cool. Some great stuff coming out in the Fall. And, I hung out at the Triple 5 Soul booth and spoke to their PR/Marketing rep about the brand. We’ll probably work together on a few things down the road between T5S and StarStyle music.

Let’s see, what else can I show you here? Oh, yeah…the Goo Goo Dolls performance!

Using my trusty press pass, I was able to make my way to the stage to get some shots of the band’s performance. Here’s a few pics below, and then you can make your way over to the Netmix/Flickr photoblog to see the rest.

Google Dolls performance at MAGIC in Las Vegas – 2006

Google Dolls performance at MAGIC in Las Vegas – 2006
Google Dolls performance at MAGIC in Las Vegas – 2006
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