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Afrojack Talks Artist Development, WMC, New Album [Interview]

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Nick van de Wall — better known by his dance music moniker Afrojack — has been partaking in Miami Music Week and Ultra Music Festival for more than a decade. Fast forward to 2019, and Nick van de Wall is still headlining one of the world’s biggest music festivals (Ultra Music Festival), but things aren’t quite the same for him as they used to be. Since putting way more focus on his artist development company, Afrojack reveals that he actually derives way more joy from making other talented artists’ dreams come true. Living vicariously through other talented acts, Nick admits, is what makes the experience truly rewarding and is especially most gratifying for him.

This year, it wasn’t just music for Afrojack, who spoke on the Winter Music Conference panel, “Digital Collision: The Convergence of Esports, Gaming and Electronic Music Culture.” This year, WMC returned to Miami for its 34th annual edition, but following a revitalization, this year’s series, which was held across the Faena District in SoBe, felt fresher and seemingly brand new. 

Afrojack just dropped his new single, “Sober” with Rae Sremmurd and Stanaj, which has been taking the dance music world by storm since its recent release. Guaranteed to dominate festival season, “Sober” is a pop/hip-hop crossover from Afrojack, which Nick admits is his first in a while, but certainly won’t be the last. Letting us know that there’s an album in the works, as he prepared for his Ultra set in the weeks before the annual March music fest, Nick revealed that he’s got enough new music to release another ‘Press Play’-like EP this year as well. 

Another successful year in Miami for one of the world’s biggest producers and most prominent DJs meant a headlining main stage set at Ultra Music Festival, which was uprooted to its new home on Virginia Key Park. As you’re able to relive Afro’s Ultra performance (video below), you’re able to experience the main stage magic he created, bringing out special guests Rae Sremmurd and Stanaj. Immediately following Ultra 2019, it was announced that Afrojack will make his grand return to New York’s Electric Zoo Festival, which brings its Evolved edition to Randall’s Island Park this Labor Day Weekend. 

Watch Afrojack live from Ultra Music Festival 2019: 

READ: Full Afrojack Interview Q&A:

The Nocturnal Times: Today you spoke on Winter Music Conference’s “Digital Collision: The Convergence of Esports, Gaming and Electronic Music Culture” panel. How was the experience speaking on this panel for you and what can you share about it for those who weren’t in attendance?  

Afrojack: To start off, Niles sitting next to me was very, very informative and educated on everything that’s currently going on in gaming. This kind of saved my life, because I was doing the panel for a friend of mine. So, I went in there thinking, of everything that’s going on here, I get in on a gaming panel. Now, I love gaming, I play a lot of games. I’m not even one of those guys who says they play a lot of games, but they only play for 30 minutes a week. I actually have wasted parts of my life playing video games. 

The Nocturnal Times: What kinds of video games are you into? 

Afrojack: Final Fantasy VII. I’ve played Final Fantasy VII like 20 times. I’ve played Final Fantasy VIII like 10 times, FF IX like five times, and FF X, maybe about three times; I didn’t really like it that much. FF XII, XIV, and XV. I actually did the music for Final Fantasy XV, which was pretty cool. I also like Call of Duty, and I had to get out of Fortnite. 

The Nocturnal Times: We definitely wanted to ask if you were a Fortnite guy…

Afrojack: See, that’s the thing. I actually just spoke about this on the panel. When I get into something, I’m into it. That’s the thing about gaming, it can be very addictive. With Fortnite, I was into it for about a month, and I would spend a lot of time playing it, maybe 5-6 hours a day. Sometimes I was spending 8-10 hours a day playing it because I’m a DJ and I don’t have many daytime responsibilities. But, of course, this makes my music lack. I have an artist development company; I have to stay sharp. At one point I couldn’t connect to the server, there was an update required, I installed it, and it wouldn’t activate. It then put me into the queue and I had to wait to get in. After a while, the servers were still down. I thought if I delete it now, I have to wait to play it again, which is gonna take a few hours. I created a border from myself around it, and then I just never played it again. I loved it, but I never played it again. 

The Nocturnal Times: So then you got to #1 (Victory Royale)? 

Afrojack: No, I never hit #1. It was so difficult. I remember getting to #2 or #3, but never got to #1. I play Call of Duty usually, which is a totally different perspective when shooting over the shoulder. I also played the Resident Evil 2 remake, but this was very simple for me because I played all the games. Something like that comes out, I get so excited, and then I beat it in 20 hours. Fortnite is infinite, and the same with COD. 

The Nocturnal Times: What else was discussed on the panel? 

Afrojack: Gaming aside, we also talked about music. The music and gaming industry is coming together; we’re really in the process of witnessing it coming together. We can now think about it, discuss it, but it’s already a work in progress. 

The Nocturnal Times: Absolutely true — the world’s are already colliding. Speaking of Fortnite, DJs like Marshmello have put on concerts/DJ sets within the map of Fortnite. 

Afrojack: That was a great marketing stunt! 

The Nocturnal Times: Do you have any interest in collaborating or combining music and gaming? 

Afrojack: Well, I have done music for video games before, but as far as a live performance like Mello did within a game like Fortnite, it was a genius marketing ploy, but it worked well because it wasn’t centered around a human. 

The Nocturnal Times: What about more along the lines for a video game soundtrack? 

Afrojack: I’ve done part of a video game soundtrack before. I did Final Fantasy XV, and then later I got to do some very Japanese-style music for Timequest, it was called Added Quest. I also did some soundtracks for Call of Duty, which was another fun experience. The reason why I tend to not speak about these things though, is because they haven’t changed the face of the industry. These things were fun for me, it was good for my brand; it was fun for them, it was good for their brand, but it didn’t change a concept or change something in music and gaming.  

The Nocturnal Times: So, you’re saying it wasn’t a “game-changer?” 

Afrojack: Yes, exactly! *Laughs* It wasn’t a “game-changer!” Now, I’m talking with some friends who do the gaming for Final Fantasy XV, Luminance Studios. We are thinking about ways to basically link normal music with video games. The same thing goes for YouTubers and streamers. It’s very stupid that there’s not already a licensing deal in place that allows them to promote the music. It’s not the consumption of music, but it’s promotion towards consumption. It’s seen as a loss in money, because people are consuming it, they have to pay. I think they should be looking at the bigger picture here. It may be one thing if the major labels don’t want to get on board something like this, but I’m surprised the smaller labels aren’t completely jumping on this. I’m in a different position now. Of course, I’ve always had my label, but it was co-dependent on bigger companies. Now, I have my own artist development company and financial backing. 

The Nocturnal Times: What can you share with us about your artist development company?  

Afrojack: LDH (Love + Dream + Happiness to the World). It’s almost a billion dollar company that’s based on artist development. It’s very interesting because it’s not about money. It gets to a point where you realize, I had this thing that I wanted, I get it, but it doesn’t even make my life any easier, or better, nor does it make me more comfortable; I’m not happier. I started noticing that if I supplied my experience to a younger artist that’s dreaming of that experience, right next to me, and all I had to do was make one phone call, I noticed it was the most beautiful thing I had. So, that’s when I started building my own artist development company. I signed Quintino, R3HAB, Apster, D-Wayne, Bobby Buns, Shermanology. Now, I’ve restarted this together with LDH Europe, and not just providing my experience, but also putting a team together that turns my experience and vision I have of recycling into a schedule. So, the guys that I sign now, they don’t get to run around and do idiot shit I liked used to do. I was very irresponsible. When I made $1000, I would go spend $1000, because why not? I never had anything, so I didn’t care. 

The Nocturnal Times: What do you tend to instill in your new talent? 

Afrojack: I try to make sure that they know that they need to be making music for 16 hours a day. When I first started out, I didn’t have much competition. Now, everybody wants to be a DJ, so if you want to be the best, and you want to love what you do and you want to be successful, you have to do it all the time. I’d say for five days a week, you have to be producing for at least 8 hours a day. I also tell people that they have to inform themselves on how the scene was built, where does it all come from? If you don’t know who David Morales is or Harry “Choo Choo” Romero, you’re going to be running far behind the people who do know. Looking at stuff released from Frankie Knuckles or the Daft Punk era and wave of French producers that came out. I stumbled across all of this by accident and it inspired my future music. What’s different today is that they don’t have to stumble across it by accident, so I help them. They might be pre-occupied with garnishing success, but in my case, I tell them that you can make a song, a great song, and I’ll play it. But before I put it out, you are forced to at least read this, and this, and that, because I’m not gonna raise a monkey. I’m not going to be responsible for a temporary success who turns themselves into disgrace and failure because you see that a lot. You see a guy who has it all figured out, but then he drives his career into the ground. There were many times that that’s almost happened to me myself, but luckily I’ve always had a great team around me and they were there to make sure that didn’t happen to me. So, I want that team, to be the same team that’s there to do that for other people. 

The Nocturnal Times: That’s one thing about you that we weren’t fully aware of and how involved you were in it. 

Afrojack: A lot of people don’t. I haven’t been very vocal about it since I’ve started focusing so much on this. 

The Nocturnal Times: Would you consider it a close-knit team that you have working with you? 

Afrojack: Well, in Japan they have about 500-600 employees — it’s gigantic! They do tours for 80,000 people. One of the shows sold 2 million tickets. And, that’s only in Japan! So, we’re trying to create the same type of situation here. There’s also an LDH USA, which I’ve been working with closely to try to get them to share the same vision I have from Europe. For me, the great thing about it is that people have dreams and our company has employees and a vision. We find a kid with the dreams, and are working towards talent, have the right mindset, and make their dreams come true. It’s the best deal in the world. If someone came to me when I was 15 years old and they said they would sign me for x percent, and with our expertise, we know we can turn your dream into a reality, I would have been like, “sign me up!” 

David signed me. He’s worked with Nicky [Romero], he’s working with Brooks now. David’s a great guy, what he did was really helped skyrocket my career, instantly. I feel that I’m in a position where I can do the same thing. But now, I can put my focus on that and doing it for other people and that’s what’s most satisfying to me. 

I’ll be playing at Ultra, and I can be playing one of my new tracks, but I don’t even care that much anymore. I’m happy for my fans, but it’s not a life changing thing. I want to play music that’s going to change people’s lives. I love it when someone sends me something, and if it’s nice, I’ll say it’s nice. I’d rather play an okay track from one of my guys to get them into the light. I also signed Jewelz & Sparks recently, so I’m really excited about that. I was a fan of Jewelz & Sparks, but they did one thing. When I met them, they turned out to be great producers, and they were never signed to any teams or anything. I wanted to work with them on another level because they were terrific producers. To me, they are great chefs, but they were only cooking one recipe. 

The Nocturnal Times: What can you tell us about your latest Global Remix Battle?  

Afrojack: The Global Remix Battle wasn’t just a remix contest. We pictured it being a remix contest, but it ended up becoming so much more than that. This became more like a talent scout. When you win a remix contest, your life doesn’t change, unless it’s super sick. We did find a few people who found a “wow, what is that” track. Out of the five winners, two really blew my mind. I heard the remix, and I was like, “WOW!” So, I went to his SoundCloud and I was like “WOW!” Then, I saw he already remixed three of my tracks and I was like “WOW,” “WOW,” “WOW!” This is why we do this. We don’t just want to find the music, we want to find the people too. I found the music, and I was like “WOW.” He’s from Japan, I think he’s 30 years old. When I met him, I found out he barely speaks English, so, one of the first things I said to him was that he needs to learn how to speak English. I’ll be playing a lot of his music at Ultra this yea, and for me that means a lot more to me than playing my own music. Everybody is going to go crazy and they’re gonna wanna know what I played in my Ultra set, and his life is about to change — and that’s what I love about this now more than anything else. 

The Nocturnal Times: His life is about to change, and he doesn’t even know it yet. 

Afrojack: That’s right, his life is really about to change, and he has *no* idea what he’s in for yet. I told him, we’re gonna do some crazy shit. He was in the studio with me in Dubai, I looked at him, and I said, “we’re about to experience some crazy shit!” He was like, “ok!” That’s the fun thing about this. If you have 1,000 apples, one apple is nothing. But if you give one apple to someone with no apples, it’s the biggest fucking thing. For me, when I came to Miami Music Week/Ultra for the first time, everybody was so nice to me. Back in 2008, I remember everybody was so nice to me. I met Sebastian Ingrosso for the first time, and he was like, “I like your music!” To me, that was mind bowing that somebody like Ingrosso knew and liked my music. These people, who I’ve been following for years. So, that’s what I’m going for with the kids that I’m signing. I want to be able to give them the very same experience that I had my first time coming to Miami Music Week. 

The Nocturnal Times: On the new music front, what can you tell us about your new single “Sober?” 

Afrojack: I just released my new single with Rae Sremmurd & Stanaj, “Sober.” It was very difficult to put this one together, which is of course because Rae Sremmurd is gigantic right now, but I’m very happy with how it turned out. I’m working on an album right now, and “Sober” is the first one of the pop/hip-hop/crossover stuff I’ve done, but Im also probably going to do another thing like the ‘Press Play’ this year as well. You’ll hear a lot of the music in my Ultra set. To close off, a lot of the ‘Press Play’ music I made last year, I made by accident when I was preparing my Ultra set. The same thing happened this time around. I made 10 tracks while I was getting ready for my Ultra set, and then I was listening back to everything yesterday and we thought, “wow, we should release these… how many do we have? We have 10 tracks? Let’s do another EP!” 

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