Beatport CEO Robb McDaniels by James Chapman

Robb McDaniels’ Beatport wants to cultivate a new wave of creators and build “the Connected DJ Booth” of the future

“No matter what, the music experience evolves for every generation; whether you like it or not, whatever’s next is already out there”

Beatport CEO Robb McDaniels. Image: James Chapman

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“The future of DJing has arrived,” claimed Beatport’s CEO Robb McDaniels in July, when the company announced the Beatport Streaming integration with Pioneer DJ’s CDJ-3000. It was a pretty bold statement, considering the tech has been available elsewhere since 2020. But, with his sights supposedly set on supporting a vast new generation of DJs, McDaniels knows that this partnership could prove significant for thousands of venues, and hundreds of thousands of DJs.

There’s a lot less bombast when McDaniels and MusicTech sit down at Destino Pacha, the resort where IMS Ibiza is taking place. Beatport acquired a majority stake in the conference at the start of 2023. Here, DJs, producers, and other music industry workers discuss the culture and technology of electronic music (in 2022, the buzzword was ‘Web3’, this year it’s ‘AI’). The attendees also dance as DJs spin tracks by the pool – it is Ibiza, after all.

Hosted on the opening weekend of the island’s unparalleled party season, the conference sees the likes of Grimes, Pete Tong, TOKiMONSTA, LP Giobbi and Sherelle sharing advice and opining on the scene’s modern challenges.

Beatport IMS Ibiza
Photo: IMS Ibiza

“Beatport’s ultimate goal is to unlock everybody’s inner DJ,” McDaniels says. “We believe in conversation, dialogue and education. [IMS Ibiza] is a great platform for that.”

“There are a lot more people out there that love the craft of DJing, respect it, and want to learn how to do it. And so if we can make it easier for them to do that, then it’s going to benefit everybody in the community.”

Such sentiments can be seen in Beatport’s other ventures. In 2022, the company earned MusicTech’s Gamechanger Award for its innovative Beatport DJ App’s Party Mode. The browser-based software allows DJs to mix and manipulate tracks from its 11-million-track catalogue, with the option to play back-to-back online with three other DJs from across the globe and to an audience of up to 100.

Collaborating with Pioneer DJ on bolstering the CDJ-3000 is an obvious next step for Beatport’s DJ booth. Beatport Streaming has been available on Denon DJ’s media players since 2020 but, as McDaniels agrees, Denon’s hold on the DJ industry is hardly as significant as Pioneer’s.

“Pioneer DJ is just a preeminent brand for DJ hardware,” he says. “They were the first company we integrated with on the software side with Rekordbox, so it’s a very important partner of ours and is critical to the industry. And of course, it’s typically Pioneer CDJs that are in every club around the world – they have been for 15 to 20 years.”

So, cloud DJing is now theoretically possible across thousands of venues carrying the latest CDJ-3000s in their inventories. This further cements the concept as a feature of ‘the connected DJ booth,’ as McDaniels says. Many appear to agree, including music tech journalist Declan McGlynn, who suggests that “until it came to the CDJ, [streaming] was always going to be seen as a novelty; an entry-level tool for bedroom DJs.”

And it’s not just about being able to ditch USB drives and log into your Beatport library on any CDJ in the world, McDaniels continues (though that is the plan, of course). The data that Beatport can accumulate from DJs streaming from the service may prove invaluable to producers and artists of all levels.

Beatport’s vision is that Streaming will be able to “track the plays, pay the rights holders…Everything will be automated, so DJs can publish their setlist to their fans, if they want,” McDaniels explains.

Beatport CEO Robb McDaniels
Beatport CEO Robb McDaniels

“There’s a lot of learning [we can do]. We could even publish in real time what a DJ is playing and where.” He goes on to describe heatmaps that will track which songs are performing well in a given location.

As a producer, being able to understand where DJs are playing your music – and where it’s being well-received – could be a boon when cultivating a fanbase. Not to mention being paid whenever a DJ streams your track, which will help patch the multi-million dollar hole in the royalties system due to unreported song plays during DJ sets.

“What’s critical to getting to that point, though,” says McDaniels, “is that the professionals are using it and get used to that workflow.”

There’s the rub. The CDJ has been around since 1994, but myriad vinyl DJs are still yet to sacrifice their wax to USB sticks for CDJs. Likewise, isn’t it unlikely that many modern DJs are unwilling to rely on a nightclub’s wifi connection to load up their WAVs?

“I think there’s always gonna be DJs that still want to download music, right?” retorts McDaniels “They have tens of thousands of songs in a library, and, even if we put all those songs on the cloud, they don’t want to [use Streaming].”

Beatport Streaming isn’t designed with purist DJs in mind. Instead, it’s a safety net for digital DJs and a gateway for the next generation of DJs. McDaniels looks to his children, who (perhaps ironically) aren’t prone to downloading music files. Instead, that generation of listeners is mostly exposed to the instantly-accessible world of streaming. Young DJs won’t be heading to Beatport’s marketplace to download songs or check out the Top 100 – it’ll all be built into the streaming architecture of their DJ hardware, just as they expect it to be.

“No matter what we do, or don’t do, the music experience evolves every generation; every 15 or 20 years. Whether you like it or not, whatever’s next is already out there.”

No reminders are necessary on how rapid-moving the music technology industry is. With innovations such as Spotify’s AI DJ now readily available and receiving widespread use, does Beatport see much of a challenge on its market share?

“I think that there’s a segment of the music population that is kind of tired of the ‘lean-back playlisting’ thing with Spotify,” says McDaniels. “And if only, like, one per cent of Spotify’s paying subscribers become Beatport DJ subscribers, it’s 30 times our current business. And, again, I think that our community will be beneficiaries of that. [DJing] is a more active, therapeutic and immersive way of enjoying music, at least for an hour or two a day.”

Beatport CEO Robb McDaniels
Beatport CEO Robb McDaniels

Beatport is ambitious. It needs to be. Sure, it’s facing titanic competition in the streaming space against the likes of Spotify and SoundCloud. But its reputation was put on the line in 2022 after VICE published an article that alleges a toxic working environment in the company.

“We didn’t do everything right,” McDaniels admits. “We didn’t say or do all the right things every single time.”

The report accuses Beatport execs of “incidents of racism, sexism, and bullying,” from 2020 onward, which the company denied.

McDaniels, who joined the company as CEO in 2017, claims that there were no formal complaints in his first three years, though recognises an “underlying tension” during that period.

“I mean, Beatport was a shell of itself,” recalls McDaniels of his entrance to the brand. “And it was an incredibly toxic environment. The Berlin and Denver offices weren’t even speaking to each other; it was really bad. There were a number of issues in the Berlin office. In fact, everything that was written about in that article was from one single office.” Beatport has since closed the Berlin and Denver offices. In addition, McDaniels claims that a board of DEI experts reviewed the allegations against him, which “included written emails and interviews with other employees,” they purportedly found “nothing related to what was written about in the [VICE] article.”

McDaniels adds that “I’ve always felt like I’ve had an entrepreneurial spirit. And I think one of the characteristics you need to have is to be strong-willed and to see things through. There are certainly a lot of challenges that are put in front of you as an entrepreneur, and you have to figure out a way to overcome those challenges.”

“So first of all, the problems that are highlighted – issues of sexism, racism, and misogyny and so forth – in our world are clear, systemic and very complex,” McDaniels says. “It’s certainly not unique to our industry. But all we can do is try to solve them.”

“Driving change takes many years, and many people striving for the same goal. [These aren’t] problems that I can solve alone…Clearly, there’s more that we need to do.”

Beatport IMS Ibiza
Photo: IMS Ibiza

Some notable absentees from this year’s IMS Ibiza would seem to indicate that the company has its work cut out to fully win back the trust of the industry. Two notable former attendees – who had previously worked closely with the brand – opted to stay away from this year’s event, citing the issues raised in VICE’s article., an organisation for women and gender nonconforming people in the music industry, decided not to attend this year. A statement put out ahead of IMS Ibiza, while recognising “some positive changes” within Beatport, claims that it ultimately chose to skip the event because “some current and former employees expressed scepticism about the effectiveness of these measures, citing a lack of transparency and accountability.”

“We believe that in order for real accountability to be upheld, it is best to pause any affiliation with Beatport for the time being until enough time has passed for those efforts to come into effect,” the statement read.

Elsewhere, Black Artist Database – a platform for Black-owned record labels, artists, producers and bands, which had been guest-editing Beatport’s online magazine Beatportal when VICE published its article – announced in April that it would be terminating its relationship with Beatport outright.

McDaniels laments the decision, insisting that Beatport is on the same side as these organisations – and that while they might no longer wish to partner with Beatport, it “doesn’t mean we don’t support their mission or want to help their constituents.

“We try to help as many people as we can as a relatively small company [of 150-160 employees], but there are limits to what we can do at any one time,” he says. “And I would encourage organisations who aren’t happy with our level of support to think more long-term about the mutual goals we are trying to achieve.”

Actions are more important than words, of course, and when we speak to Beatport’s chief community officer, Sofia Ilyas, she is keen to share the work the brand has been doing with Future Female Sounds. The organisation is one of three recipients of a $100,000 investment from Beatport in the interest of “accelerating gender parity across the greater DJ music industry.”

“Future Female Sounds is a great initiative started by Tia Korpe,” Sofia says. “And it’s a space not just for women to learn about how to DJ, but also where they can learn mixing, mastering, how to get signed to a label…There’s so much there that someone can learn.

“And the funding that Beatport gave Tia allowed her to create an online DJ Academy where people can get a certification. And l think over 1,000 DJs have been through the programme, which is amazing.”

This isn’t a one-off deal either – applications are open for Beatport’s second annual Diversity + Parity Fund, where $150,000 will be distributed among worthwhile causes and organisations that focus on underrepresented groups and promote diversity within the music industry.

Whether these efforts will be enough to rebuild the confidence of the wider industry remains to be seen, but while many outside are focused on the company’s past mistakes, McDaniels would understandably rather focus on the future. Beatport’s Next Class is one manifestation of such principles, offering up-and-coming artists marketing support to help them break through into the industry. BRIT Award winner, Nia Archives, is included in the alumni, with this year’s roster comprising the likes of ANNĒ, HoneyLuv, Junior Simba and Mala Ika.

Looking forward

Pioneer CDJ-3000

Beatport’s partnership with Pioneer DJ may not appear culturally significant at first but, as is McDaniels’s belief, access is paramount to a fairer music industry. He looks back to his youth, when he and his friends would hang out and mix hip-hop records by the likes of Eric B and Rakim and Kool Moe Dee and play video games.

“Life is cyclical, right? You go in cycles of what it’s fun for kids to do. So I think that we can get back to [DJing] being a way for people to socialise together and listen to music, which I think it’s incredibly important.”

McDaniels doesn’t quite have time to dance and DJ at IMS. He has other press interviews lined up, panels to attend, events to host, and he’s ensuring that Beatport Base’s programming is running smoothly. Just as his work is cut out for him in Ibiza, Beatport’s future – and its ambition to pioneer the future of DJing – will require keeping a tight ship, too.

Keep up with Beatport’s journey via its website

Editor’s note: MusicTech was invited to IMS Ibiza 2023 to participate in panels and cover the event. 


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