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Facebook is my main news hub where I share upcoming releases, gigs, photos, videos, and blogs. Typically, I post 3–5 times a week.

Telegram and Twitter duplicate what I post on Facebook, with occasional extra content.

On Vkontakte, I write in the Russian language for my fans out of from Russia and CIS.

I also upload vlogs and gigs videos on YouTube and share travel photos, selfies, and studio routine on Instagram.

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Behind the scenes

How I prepare my DJ sets

Organising playlists by energy levels, vibe, and flow

It would be interesting to know how you prepare your DJ sets, how you decide which track will be mixed well with the previous one, how on stage you choose such tracks that were not included in your planned tracklist, etc.

Vlad Zabolotsky

How to organize your music collection in order to quickly pick the right track in the right moment out from tons of material?

Dj Nerva

Preparing for the performance includes a lot of things: negotiating with the promoter, visiting the venue (when possible), agreeing on a technical and domestic rider, researching the lineup and communicating with other artists, thinking through and launching an advertising campaign, recording a video invitation or a promo mix, working on social media and much more. Maybe someday I’ll tell you about it, but today is all about the “creative” part, the music.

I don’t think of DJ as a creative profession, hence this word is quoted. I’ll write my thoughts on this later

Vlad, in order to answer the question of how I decide which track will be mixed well with the previous one, I have to explain the structure of my DJ collection first. A similar question was sent by Dj Nerva, so I will combine them into one.

Rekordbox and playlists

DJs play on various different media, apps, and gear: laptops, disks, flash drives, vinyl, smartphones; on Pioneers, in Ableton, Tractor, Serato, and much more options. Speaking of myself, I use three things: Recordbox, USB sticks, and Pioneer media players.

On audio formats support 

Here is how it works. First, I add music to Rekordbox on my laptop. Then I carefully tag the tracks so that they are automatically distributed among the ‘intelligent’ playlists, and sync these playlists to the USB sticks. Then in the DJ booth, I connect my USB sticks to the Pioneer players, and inside I see all the playlists exactly as I structured them on my laptop back home. And this is the key moment because thanks to these playlists I can easily find that very track I want to play next within a few seconds.

Now I’ll tell you about the key playlists that make up the structure of my collection.

Energy levels

First of all, after adding tracks to Recordbox, I assign them the energy level. This is the main criterion. The most important thing here is that the level of energy is how I feel the tracks and not a formal thing like the tempo or anything like that.

How usually DJs do

Here I want to make a little detour and tell how DJs usually do. Most DJs pre-select the required amount of tracks in advance and arrange them in the order in which they plan to play. So that is complete predestination. Of course, such pre-planned sets can sound great at home, but they might be completely inappropriate on the dancefloor.

It may seem that only newcomer DJs do this, but no: even those who have been performing for more than a decade are doing this, so it’s really common. Some DJs even record the whole mixes in advance and during the performance they basically fake, but this is just so wrong so I won’t even discuss it.

More proficient DJs don’t prepare sets in advance in such way but select tracks right during the set looking at the crowd in front of them. Most often, they use tempo as a plain simple criterion for choosing the next track.

So it turns out about the following. Let’s assume the following track is playing on the dancefloor:

A DJ thinks: “Aha, 122 BPM. The dancefloor is going on well, everything is fine, let’s not slow down the pace.” He is looking for the next track in his digital library of hundreds of tracks, scrolling and scrolling that rotary knob, and he finds this — a track in the same key and even two BPM faster:

Obviously, the energy on the dancefloor went down; people going out. Lowering the energy during a set down is fine if you know why you are doing this. But if the DJ from the example above wanted to keep the driving vibe, then this is a failure.

Or here’s the opposite example. Suppose a DJ is playing such melodic progressive:

He does not want to speed up the tempo, so he finds the track in the same key and even one BPM lower, and in addition also from the same record label:

Do you get it?

It is clear that the energy is partially correlated with the genre, and as a result — with the tempo. But the relationship of energy level and the tempo is not always that obvious, and it is not always predictably linear.

This is why relying simply on the tempo of the tracks and thus mechanically select the next track for mixing is clearly not worth it, and hence I organise my tracks by the energy levels instead.

So, now going back to the energy levels I use in my Rekordbox. In total, I make five levels:

Deep
★★ Build-up
★★★ Driving
★★★★ Peak-time
★★★★★ Banging

Experienced guys might have noticed that these names resemble a type or time-slot of a DJ set: opening, warming, “peak-time” and so on. Indeed, speaking of the energy level, I immediately think about the scenarios for using a particular track. In other words, I ask myself: “At what point of the event would it be appropriate to play that particular track?”.

For example, I can easily put a driving track in the middle of a warming-up set if I realise that I need to cheer-up the dance floor a bit, or vice versa – put a warming-up track in the middle of the night, if I decide to give the crowd a little rest.

energy level is how I feel the track

Inside the energy level playlist, I make four more sub-playlist nested according to what I call vibe and the flow:

Dark Hands-up
Dark Heads-down
Melodic Hands-up
Melodic Heads-down

And here the most interesting part begins.

The vibe

“Dark” and “melodic” are more or less intuitive terms, although the names are very nominal. This is emotional ‘colour’, the mood of the track.

First, a couple of obvious examples. Here is the “melodic” — think of rainbow, butterflies, flower meadow:

And here’s the “dark” — twilight, anxiety, hypnotism:

Please note that these tracks even have the same key, but how different their mood is.

But there is also a less perceptible difference. This is especially true for Techno, where a pronounced musical part is not always present.

Listen to this:

Is it “dark” or “melodic”? Someone can say, “what are you talking about, there are just a kick, bass, and hi-hats, how can you understand anything?”. For me, the answer is clear: if while listening to the track I’m smiling like an idiot, then this is “melodic”.

Now listen to this track. I specifically chose a similar style and even the same artist to shift the focus of attention only to the vibe:

To me, this track is colder and more aggressive, hence clearly “dark”. And if you think there’s not much of a difference when listening at home, there is a huge difference on the dancefloor.

The flow

“Hands-up” and “heads-down” are pretty unique entities, and I didn’t see anyone using these terms for their music libraries.

To me, this is all about the structure of the tracks: build-ups, breakdowns, pitch-rising effects, big drops, climax etc. In other words, how the tracks flow.

If the track goes smoothly, and you can just dance and keep dancing without being distracted by the breaks and big drops every minute or so, then this is the “heads-down”. In a sense, we can say that the heads-down tracks are more monotonous. This is not very accurate, but sufficient for a general understanding.

What is Progressive

If there are constantly some breaks, new leads, intense breakdowns and all those big things where people literally put their hands up, literally, then it’s “hands-up”.

Below are a few examples:

Pay attention to the breakdown in the middle and drop at 1:30. This is “hands-up”.

Another example:

You probably realised by now that this is “hands-up” too.

From the two examples above it may seem that the hands-up is always something melodic and cheesy. But for the vibe we have another criterion, and here we are talking only about the structure. Just both of these tracks are “melodic hands-up.”

Here is another “hands-up”, but this time it’s “dark”:

And now let’s take a listen to “heads-down”, for contrast:

Can you feel how much smoother this track is?

If it seems to you that heads-down is necessarily something slow and deep, here’s a driving Psytrance example:

Note how this track just is going and going without the interruption, you can close your eyes and just dance without the breakdowns.

Speaking of breakdowns, listen to this track:

Here the breakdown is stretched for a minute and a half, but notice how smooth and even monotonous it is, again, if we compare it to breakdowns in the hands-up tracks.

Therefore, knowing the energy level, the vibe, and the flow of the track, I can fully control the direction of the set. And thanks to the playlists, I know exactly where the next track is. This classification of all the tracks and new arrivals in my media library is the main work on the preparation of my DJ sets.

 No comments    157   1 mon   Advice   Behind the scenes   DJing   Pioneer   Rekordbox

Where I’m going to musically

Important message to promoters, labels, and fans

Playing a 5-hour set is easy when you play what you love. On my recent Open To Close set

After introducing Rave Podcast with a new format last week as a sort of re-launch, many people keep asking me where I’m going to musically, do I change the genre, and where is Psytrance after all? This is true that I’ve been making and playing Psytrance mostly for the last seven years, so these questions are totally understandable and make me no surprise.

Let me give you my honest answer.

The main driving force and the reason why I choose to pursue a music career is genuine excitement from music I make, play, or listen. A pure and simple joy.

The problem is that I didn’t felt it that way for the last year or so, in Psytrance in particular. Every month it was a pain for me to find even ten to fifteen tracks that I would really love to play, there was a few but the rest were just ‘fillers’ to fill the time gap in my 1-hour mixes. It made me really sad and it was certainly not the way I wanted it to be, so that’s when I decided to put Rave Podcast on pause and take a little break.

Stepping aside

Don’t take this the wrong way. The global Psy scene is flourishing at the moment. And there are certainly some amazing talents that keep making fresh music, and I still have my love for Psytrance. But I don’t like the majority of productions and the overall trends where it’s going musically, it’s just too generic and boring for me. It’s just not inspiring to me as a DJ to play same feeling tracks with pretty much all the same predicted sounds and cliché.


A typical distribution by genres in my Beatport carts. The numbers say it all

The Progressive scene, however, is fresh air to my ears. Every week my Beatport carts are full of amazing, high-quality and forward-thinking releases that truly excites me. Ironically, I played Progressive in the early sets in 2011, even some older Rave Podcast episodes had a lot of deeper music, so it all comes naturally to me. In some way, I’m going back to my roots.

So, what’s next?

Listen to the first half of my recent 5-hour Open To Close set. Listen to the new Rave Podcast episode aired on DI.FM last week. Listen to my Opening set for Astrix back from December if you missed it. This is where I am musically at the moment, and this is what you can expect to hear from me in the near future. My own productions will follow along, too.

I understand that this might upset some people who’ve been following me for years as a Psytrance producer. I also understand not everyone going to like my new transformation, sort of speak. But I’d rather be honest with you guys, and most importantly, be honest with myself.

 2 comments    81   1 mon   Behind the scenes   Career   I am

DL Edit

I edit pretty much all the tracks in my DJ collection, making breakdowns shorter, or making a DJ-friendly arrangement, or changing some parts here and there, or even adding some bits from other tracks. The way I always have something unique in my sets.

Sometimes I can instantly tell what will work on the dancefloors and what won’t, sometimes I see the crowd’s reaction and only then add a respective note to this track to tweak it later when I back in the studio.

Eventually, all these tracks end up being labelled as “DL Edit”, so I know it’s my edit and not the original version when I play.

Working on a proper music collection is where all the DJ’s hard work is, when you see a DJ is playing is just a tip of the iceberg.

 No comments    7   7 mon   Behind the scenes   DJing

No stress

It’s been almost two months since I’ve put Rave Podcast on hold and said that I won’t be as active in social media as I usually am. And you know what, it actually feels great.

It’s great to not be worried about the deadlines and all those public activities that music producers are kind of have to have nowadays.

In return, it allows me to win some time to do what I love to do as a DJ and music producer — to actually make music and work on my music library. Things will get even better, bear with me.

Working on my music library
 No comments    7   7 mon   Behind the scenes   I am   Photo   Studio

Stepping aside

For the last few years, I’ve been living on inertia. Write a track, share something on Facebook, record a podcast, all as per usual. Always in hurry, always in rush. Why? I thought I know the answer — because that’s how it supposed to be, isn’t it? But recently I asked myself: “Do I want to see myself there in 5 or 10 years?”, and surprisingly, the answer was no. A part to that answer was the music which no longer excites me that much.

Psytrance is stale. Even if the most successful artists say so (Astrix posted this a few days back on his Instagram story), then the scene is really in a bad place. I never said this before, but in reality, it’s not that easy to find even 10 to 15 fresh and original tracks a month to fill the monthly podcast. Same kick and bass, same copy-pasted leads, Terence Mckenna phrases, or Hindu vocals, or bloody stupid triplet drops that makes absolutely no sense. Don’t get me wrong, there are quite some awesome and talented producers and labels around and I still love Psytrance, but not that kind of “Psytrance” that you typically hear at a festival or in Beatport top chart.

It’s time to make a change.

I have decided to give myself a little break, time off to make something fresh. You’ll probably won’t see me very active in social media and even think to put Rave Podcast on hold for a while, but I want you to know that is only because something new will be forging in the meantime.

 3 comments    4   8 mon   Behind the scenes   I am

Audience location

Do you remember Apple Music for artists that I’ve written about a few days ago? Turns out, there is something useful, and I’d like to share my observations.

Just out of curiosity I looked at the top countries where the most plays come from, and then I looked at the same stats on SoundCloud. Here are the numbers:

Top countries where people listen to my music from. A coincidence? I don’t think so

Just look at how similar the data is between two different services. Top three rows are exactly identical, even the ratio is very close. How cool is that! I mean, it’s one thing when you see top countries at some particular platform, but when countries match across few sources it’s a whole another thing.

So, I’ve got a pretty accurate geographical picture. The numbers are basically telling me: “your audience is concentrated here”. The fact that I already played in four of these countries indirectly confirms this.

From now I think to use this data to target my promo campaigns more accurately. Clearly, I had to check that before any media planning, but I haven’t done it before (and thus potentially miss some of the key markets) is a mystery to me.

Fellow producers, where are your listeners from? Would be curious to compare the stats taking a music genre into account.

 No comments    2   1 y   Apple Music   Behind the scenes   Marketing   SoundCloud

Apple Music for artists

Just got closed-beta access to the Apple Music for artists:

Artist’s dashboard

For some reason, I expected a lot of juicy insights or at least some useful data, but as it turns out, there are just a few generic metrics and that’s it. Even SoundCloud has a deeper statistics tool for a long time, and overall SoundCloud it has much more playbacks.

I know that beta version means subject to change, but I doubt that anything will be different once they launch it live. That’s sad.

 No comments    10   1 y   Apple Music   Behind the scenes   Marketing

How much I earned on the album sales

Behind the scenes in facts and numbers

Last year I released my second studio album 2000 Years Ahead, my the most successful release to date.

Success shows in different ways: followers’ growth, bookings, smiles on the dancefloor. But today I’d like to share specific numbers, and that is how I earned on the album sales. Just in time as I recently got a financial report from the label.

How many copies sold

The album was released in two formats: digital and physical. Label — Digital Om Production. At that time Bonzai Music was taking care of the digital distribution, whilst Arabesque Distribution for the CDs.

940 tracks and 140 CD copies sold so far

For the first quarter, people downloaded 940 tracks and purchased 140 CD copies.

Is that good enough or not?

Let me answer with the fact: the album was #1 on Psyshop and #2 on Beatport top charts for the whole month:

“2000 Years Ahead” in the top sales charts. Source: bptoptracker.com.

Overall, the album spent 18 days in the top-10 and 69 days in the top-100 on Beatport. Sitting in the charts for more than two months considered as quite an achievement.

How much I’ve got

Now comes the more interesting part. To be clear, all numbers below are net, i.e. after the deduction of the stores and distributors commission, which is roughly 50% depending on the platform and region. For example, when you see $1,99 retail price per track on Beatport, the real income from it is about $0,9. That’s the numbers I’m operating below.

Stores take 20—50% cut from retail price

So, this is what’ve got from all sources — digital sales (including streaming), physical sales and sublicensing:

Revenue  
Digital sales +€815
Physical sales +€610
Sublicensing +€200
Total revenue: +€1625

A thousand and a six hundred euros sound nice, right?

But revenue ≠ profit. The album also had some expenses on production and promotion that we have to take into account:

Expenses  
Mastering -€225
Artworks -€200
CD printing -€300
Logistics -€100
Marketing -€100
Total expenses: -€925

Now let’s calculate the profit: €1625 (revenue) – €925 (expenses) = €700. But we’re not done yet since all profit splits between the artist and the label — that’s a typical deal in the industry. So, then: €700 / 2 = €350. And that is how much I earned before taxes.

€350 is how much I’ve got a year later for the first quarter of sales

Now we can make a few conclusions:

  1. Once again I’ve got a confirmation of my own words that a music producer cannot make a living on the music sales alone. I’ve written about it earlier and talked on my master class.
  2. Music release is not only income but also expenses. And whilst you may not gain profit at all, it will cost you something for sure.
    It’s important to mention that in my case the label took all expenses since we already worked together and I got a trustworthy reputation. Keep in mind that not every label would want to invest a thousand dollars if you are a new producer with a debut release.
  3. People still buy CDs!

Why I’m telling this

Perhaps, not everyone aware of that, but we actually have a problem in the music industry: many young producers expect to make a living on the debut release sales, then they see a financial report with a 2-digit number (or nothing, at all), start to accuse everyone around and eventually quit their career.

I’m sad to see these things happen all the time and hence why I share my experience on how things work behind the scenes.

I’d love to tell you that “I released my album and bought a house”, but the truth is after a year of hard work and a fantastic appearance in the charts, the album sales directly gave less than a monthly salary of a janitor. That’s the true story.

That’s why you need to remove the pink glasses and start working hard — a something that musicians do not really like to do. And threat your music releases simply as a portfolio.

Bonus: stats

A financial report is not only about the money, it’s also a lot of juicy data. I’ll put some metrics that I find interesting down below.

Digital sales, by store:

Beatport 75%
iTunes 18%
Juno 4%
Google Music 2%
Amazon 1%

Digital sales, by country

USA 20%
United Kingdom 13%
Germany 12%
Australia 9%
Switzerland 7%
Japan 5%
France 4%
Canada 4%
Brazil 3%
Finland 3%
Netherlands 3%
26 more countries 14%

Streaming, by service

Spotify 50%
Apple Music 38%
Google Music 5%
iTunes 4%
Deezer 3%

Streaming, by country

USA 10%
Germany 9%
United Kingdom 7%
Mexico 6%
Russia 6%
Netherlands 5%
Switzerland 4%
Australia 4%
Japan 4%
Sweden 4%
France 3%
Canada 3%
37 more countries 25%
 No comments    6   1 y   2000 Years Ahead   Apple Music   Beatport   Behind the scenes   Music industry

On easy money

Jiz Lee

I’m going to put here some quotes, and try to guess what I’m talking about:

“There are performers, there are lighting people, there’s a PA, there’s a manager, there are all of those people and that’s the production day. And then there’s post and editing. Even beyond just the set, the industry is so much more of a business than people realise. Like every company has a sales team and an accounting department. [...] There are so many people behind the scenes.

Just like any other job, there are some days that are like the most fantastic days ever and it’s I like my job! and there are some days where it’s like you’re working. Not everyone in the industry makes a lot of money, but it costs a lot of money up front for sure. I put more hours into being a porn stat then I think the average person puts into their nine-to-five job.

People might know me for being up from the camera but I do marketing and I set at a desk most of my day. If you do it as a career, you end up wearing so many hats: some performers learn how to do makeup, some learn how to edit [...] Creating your own content, creating your own mini-vids or clips for sale, learning how to edit and upload. All of these things are the learning curve that you have to have in order to be a... I don’t even say successful, that steady working performer.”

All of these things are learning curve that you have to have in order to be a... I don’t even say successful, that steady working performer.

That’s must’ve been about the music industry for sure, right? Well, you’re wrong: these are the quotes of the porn stars interview for Iris.

It’s amazing how similar the expectations of newcomers to the porn business and the music industry: both seem to think that being a performer is easy money and pure pleasure.

Many think that once you’ve learned how to mix two tracks, you’re a DJ. Or just make some music and the gigs will come along, automatically. Or act in porn and just get some free sex and fun (and even get paid for that). Sounds easy!

Well, in reality, there’s a ton of hard work behind the scenes and not every performance gives you satisfaction. I think everyone who wants to make a porn music career should know about it.

 No comments    5   1 y   Behind the scenes   Career   Marketing   Quotes

Backstory series. Part 4

First gigs as a producer

If you’ve been following this backstory series, you know that I had some gigs as a DJ in the mid 00’s, then I took a break, and then in 2011 I came back with ambitions to become a professional music producer and my education in the Audio School was the first step toward that goal.

Today, I would like to tell you about my first gigs but this time as a music producer.

Thanks to the new skills I got while studied in the Audio School, I’ve managed to get my first track released on Ovnimoon Records and that’s what I count as a starting point of my producer’s career.

As soon as my debut EP was released, I’ve got a proposal to make an EP for another label. Then I remixed a track from Magnus who already had a full-length album released on JOOF Recordings by that time. Then I got invited to make guest mixes for a few radio shows, plus my own Rave Podcast has started to have amazing guests too.

Here are some of my first tracks released at that time:

Soon enough, local party promoters noticed it. And we’re talking about gigs, remember?

Despite the fact I consider myself a DJ first, I have no doubts that it is my original productions helped me to get my first serious bookings.

Forest Quest Festival. Russia, 2012 Underground Avant-Garde. Russia, 2012

Advice: In today’s world, it is almost mandatory to be a DJ and a music producer at the same time if you want to make a career of a touring artist, despite these two are very distinguished professions. Your name probably won’t be interesting enough for a booking if you’re “just” a DJ, and you probably won’t be able to perform if you are “just” a producer that has no DJ skills whatsoever.

Being a music producer and a DJ at the same time is the formula of success today

If you are a local DJ who is struggling with getting more gigs with better time slots, start making your own music. Having music released on a credible record label opens new possibilities, you naturally get more followers and your name gets more value from the party promoter’s perspective.

To be continued.

 No comments    6   2017   Backstory series   Behind the scenes   Career   Gigs
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