It’s almost that time again – hotels are being booked, flights reserved and deposits cashed to hold down spots for the dance music industry’s seminal music gathering in Miami. And with that, I’ve been reflecting back on my experiences and conversations over the last several months in regard to what’s gone wrong with Miami in March.

Every Spring, most of the sports-hungry American population settles in for “March Madness”: in essence, it is the playoffs for college basketball. The anticipation is huge, the pageantry is massive, and the energy is both spontaneous and infectious.

I had that metaphor in mind as it related perfectly to what was the March musical experience in Miami. Carefully note these words: “was” and “March musical experience” (not WMC or Ultra or Miami Music Week).

I’d also like to level-set your expectations. This will not be a “bash” of WMC/Ultra/MMW but rather an objective and subjective look at what was and some suggestions, from an industry perspective moving forward.

 

Is the Conference a Party, or Is It Just a Conference Now?

Full disclosure (I actually missed Disclosure but more on that and other “misses” later): I love, have loved, and feel I will continue to love going to Miami for music related stuff in March.

This year was no different in that I headed down as I have done the last thirteen years and fifteen times in total since the ’90s. What was different was that I obtained a press credential from WMC (a thanks to Lauren Braid of WMC!) to be “official” and to check out some of the panels, interact with exhibitors, keep my running travelogue and more discretely see exactly who signs up for the Winter Music Conference.

It had been about ten years since I got a badge. You see it is important to keep in mind that “WMC” really is a conference and has been since the first one in 1986. I apologize for an English lesson but, a conference is defined as a “formal meeting for discussion”… and that was really what most of the industry loved about WMC. If you hear (or speak with them as I have) from stalwarts of our scene like Josh Wink, Hector Romero, Timmy Regisford, David Morales, Miguel Migs, Barbara Tucker and Marques Wyatt – they all share that it was a chance for like-minded music professionals to truly network and get business done. It was an opportunity to break new music, sign acts, connect on projects, vent and also have a good time.

I know, everyone reading this is saying, “Stop being so idealistic DEL… it was a party.”

Agree… there was always a party element but it has grown to be THE primary reason to go.

Now, Miami in March is 98% PAARRTAAY. For successful DJ/producers that I’ve talked to like Fred Everything, Adam Beyer and Danny Daze, it’s a non-stop jump from gig to gig (or restricted gigs due to exclusive arrangements) and they’re out of there. They likely leave with more money than many of the stalwarts mentioned earlier made in the past, but at what cost to making the connections and relationships essential for long-term success?

 

How Did March Become So Confusing?

So what was it like last year? My answer would be, “What was what like?” My comeback question might sound a bit confusing to you. Therein lies some of the problem and “madness” of Miami in March.

Did you mean WMC?

Wait, were you referring to Ultra?

Sorry, I guess you meant MMW, right?

The logistics of the “goings-on” in Miami in March this year are akin to thumbing through songs/tracks on any of the online services by genre… it’s too confusing!

DJ without a paying gig? Why go? Bedroom producer who may make $300 if your track does well online? Why go? Don’t care about networking because you can send social media messages or what amounts to spam-like emails to labels, club owners, promoters, other DJs, or magazines to get gigs or your song played/reviewed? Why go?

A quick history lesson. WMC ruled and Ultra became a nice little day-long beach party in ’99. Things were pretty cool but Ultra’s growth led to a divide in 2011 when the split first started. The “young kids” went to Ultra and WMC became a viable, but declining-in-influence option. Then, Ultra changed it’s positioning to “Miami Music Week” which really resulted in a further decline in relevance for WMC with a key cohort: youth!

This year the weekly split was the most pronounced, spanning thirteen days.

When the DJs, producers, and artists don’t know when to get there and when to leave… you know the logistical quandary will be even more magnified for the supporters and dancers.

On the bright side, if you really don’t care about the difference between deep house, techno, indie, disco, or soulful house nor where the parties are located, who is dancing (or bobbing) next to you, and are just there to PAARRTAAY… you’re golden!

Wait, I found my answer! It is all about the PAARRTAAY so everything must lead and end with the $$$.

DJ without a paying gig? Why go?

Bedroom producer who may make $300 if your track does well online? Why go?

Don’t care about networking because you can send social media messages or what amounts to spam-like emails to labels, club owners, promoters, other DJs, or magazines to get gigs or your song played/reviewed? Why go?

 

2016: Was This the Tipping Point?

Let’s answer the question about what it was like in 2016. I had the logistical quandary mentioned above: When should I get there and come back? Since Ultra itself has never drawn me in and MMW started on the Monday before I would usually arrive, I started by working back from the WMC calendar… not the WMC conference. The problem was that WMC was starting on the Monday after MMW. Since I am now also focused primarily on going to and DJing events, I wanted to be sure that most of the supporters I know and my industry colleagues would be there at the same time.

It didn’t happen. I played a party with Jellybean Benitez on the Friday of what was labeled MMW. Many of our WMC-centric peeps had not yet arrived. On the last “official” day of MMW, Sunday, I was lucky enough to DJ the Salted Gets Deep rooftop pool party and after-party at the beautiful Epic hotel in downtown Miami. To underscore: hotel, downtown, rooftop, last day of MMW.

In essence, Miguel Migs & Marques Wyatt did a great job in selecting a date, venue, & style of party that would crossover to the MMW, Ultra, & WMC crowds. While more of our WMC-centric people were there, many were still not. At the same time, I loved the diverse (including younger) crowd that seemed to love what we (Danny Krivit, Fred Everything, Julius Papp, Lisa Shaw live, along with Miguel, Marques, and I) played good dance music from noon to 11pm outside and then inside till 2am (along with a surprise appearance by Jask).

Hopefully you don’t need genres to understand this, but to make it clear what that sounded like: low 100s BPM for several hours then building through the day-night and music ranging from rock-indie-jazz to disco-funk-soul to soulful-deep-tech house! Sounds like it comprised a little bit of ALL of the music played in Miami during March.

As the second Monday of music arrived in Miami, I sadly said bye to many of my industry colleagues and our supporters who had been there for all or a good deal of the previous week. I listened a final time, longingly, to them as the recapped their highlights – parties that I would have loved to have attend such as the Ovum Showcase, Crew Love, Keinemusik Showcase (love these guys & their label!), Paradise Miami with Jamie Jones, Martinez Brothers, Bob Moses, Hallucienda at the Electric Pickle with Doc Martin & DJ Three, Wild Life with Disclosure, Dusky’s party, and also DJs I like – Damian Lazarus, Seth Troxler and Joeski.

The sad fact was that most if not all of these artists were contractually not permitted to play the week of WMC or simply left because they were already there a week! It also became apparent, by the lack of venues available that second week (during “WMC”) that there may have been some similar contractual “agreements” with hotels and venues so that WMC could not compete with Ultra/MMW that second week. The $$$ and PAARRTAAY plots thicken!

Back to the CONFERENCE… WMC that is. With a crisp press pass, I ventured through the exhibit hall. Without criticism and just sharing the facts, it was clear by the small Pioneer DJ and Rane booths that this was, despite incredible new technology and products by both companies, not the pomp & circumstance of the exhibit hall I first encountered in the ’90s let alone in ’06.

My unscientific estimates by talking to and viewing the badges of WMC attendees (those that paid to go to the conference itself) was that nearly 95% were mobile, bedroom or commercial bar/lounge DJs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that demographic and I am thrilled that more and more people are playing, dancing, and listening to dance music. It’s just that it is not the same assemblage of incredible talent that leads the scene internationally.

 

Music in Miami: More of the Same or Signs of Change?

“EDM” becoming mainstream has been incredibly important. I don’t love most of the music or the festivals but we now have a whole generation of Millennials and the following crew of Gen Zs whose desire to dance and listen to music has been heightened. The hope is, as they age, their tastes will refine and the ensuing demand for more unique music will inspire and incentivize singers, songwriters, producers, and DJs. This demand will create an impetus for musical innovation not really seen since the “foundational years” (my term) of the mid-’60s to mid-’80s. It was during that fertile incubation period that the Vietnam War, racial divides, women’s rights, world conflicts and civil unrest inspired and incited some of the greatest (and still loved, let alone sampled) rock, jazz, funk, R&B, disco, punk, hip-hop – and yes, eventually House – music of the last sixty years!

What I loved about Monday on the WMC week were a few of the panels I attended (of about 30 offered during the week) especially one hosted expertly by Barbara Tucker with veterans like David Morales, Timmy Regisford, Crystal Waters, and DJ Pierre sharing the good (realization of dreams & hard work), bad (the loneliness that can come on the road after the crowd goes home), and ugly (what happens when you don’t read or fully understand the contracts and legal documents you sign) of the recording/remixing/production components of the industry. There were also some funny real stories like Crystal sharing that she made her classic “Gypsy Woman” in her kitchen with “a six pack and a drum machine in one night.”

Recognition for all of the effort was well done via the WMC International Dance Music Awards. All awards presentations come with some gnawing complaints related to why some are/aren’t nominated or why certain winners were selected. I had the same consternation with some this year but they did get it right for a singer I’ve loved for years, Dawn Tallman and a great label – Glenn Thornton’s Slaag Records for the Best House/Garage/Deep House Track – “Feel the Vibe” by Bob Sinclair f/ Dawn Tallman. Admittedly, while I fully support the awards, having 56 of them may be a bit much. When you start literally breaking down Best DJ awards by nuanced genres like House/Garage/Deep DJ vs. Indie Dance/Underground DJ vs. Techno/Tech House DJ… well, you get the picture. I guess if I want to hear dance music across genres I’ll have to book all of them?

The “non-conference” parties during WMC’s portion of the “music in Miami during March” were much more limited, had smaller attendance, utilized fewer venues (see above), and in confusing fashion for the folks that came down for “WMC” as they have done it for years… many of their favorite parties did not occur on the same day as in the past. For example, our DO YOU WANNA BOOGIE? event has been the closing party on Sunday (but what is now the “second Sunday”). People have changed flights and DJs and industry colleagues have used it as a way to chill and enjoy the last night knowing that they’ll know a ton of folks.

Bottom line was that so many non-DJs and music lovers have used “WMC” as their guide with regard to making their travel plans. It was a mistake for them to do so, overall, in 2016.

Well, there was no way I was going to do it on the THIRTEENTH day of the “music in Miami during March”… so, I did it on Tuesday as more of a mislabeled “opening party.” And it was still good but not the same as the previous seven years. What would have happened if I had the opportunity to do this disco-funk-soul jam during the first week… with many more young people and DJs… many of whom have discovered or are discovering that foundational sound? What if I had been sponsored and had SOME budget vs. having it a venue that doesn’t pay us anything? Could I have reached even more people? Or how about if the party had been integrated into one of the Ultra or MMW pool parties… sounds like a match, right?!

In fact, who has more juice and house cred than Louie Vega and what did he do? A party on Saturday night during MMW to try to expand his audience but then he also had to do a similar one five days later during WMC for his core audience. Would one massive event with the core and expanded audience have been better?

Traditionally good/great parties that have historically gone on during WMC the past five plus years were still fun due to proper DJs and music: Stan Zeff & Zepherin Saint’s Tambor & Tribe (like Louie, they did their party on the Saturday of MMW), Ala-Cris Herrera-Mikeytown’s Souleil (did theirs on Sunday), Kings of House (good but sad without Frankie), Ian Friday & Salah Ananse’s Libation vs. Afrique, Sandy Garcia’s Keep It Deep at Kill Your Idol (classic beach venue – I loved playing this party), Krivit-Francois K-Claussell’s Body & Soul, Timmy Regisford’s Shelter, Tony Touch & Voodoo Ray’s Toca Tuesday & Funkbox, & Lil’ Ray’s Clubhouse Jamboree (I stayed an extra two days taking a 6am flight Saturday morning just for this one). There were several parties like NYC promoter extraordinaire Red and Lil’ Ray’s Sexy Bitch Tour that simply could not find a proper venue during the WMC week due to the aforementioned hotel “shut down” on the beach. Promoter drama during MMW caused a party by Milan’s talented producer Mark DiMeo and his Soulstice label to be canceled… during the opening… I was there and ready to play later that night, don’t ask for more details!

Bottom line was that so many non-DJs and music lovers have used “WMC” as their guide with regard to making their travel plans. It was a mistake for them to do so, overall, in 2016. Since most of them never have nor probably should attend the conference portion of WMC (at least as it currently exists), they were left with expectations that were seriously misaligned, especially later in that second week… to no fault of the DJs that they love who remained and did events.

 

How Should the Madness Evolve?

What does this all mean and what is needed?

In my opinion, guided by many of the names you’ve read in this story, I’ll use a simple business process we’ve utilized at Johnson & Johnson to be a provocateur… what needs to “Stop, Start, Continue” during the madness that is now the Music in Miami during March.

We’d really love to hear from you and not just to rehash or hate… but what do you really feel needs to be done, whether aspirational or practical? As I’ve always expounded, MUSIC IS THE UNIVERSAL LUBRICANT… so let’s start and stay focused on the MUSIC as a unifying force! I’m bullish we can do it!

Stop:

  • The two weeks of events.
  • Having three separate events.
  • Limiting artists to exclusives.
  • The hellacious sound blaring from horrible, cheap hotels throughout the day/night
  • Having the majority of DJ sets being just 60-90 minutes.
  • Saying it’s about the music when all of the actions taken by everyone show it’s about the money. Money will always be a factor but, it doesn’t need to be the lone factor.

START:

  • A steering committee of passionate, engaged, diverse, innovative & influential thinkers from the music, hotel & recreation, promotion, and other related fields to develop a simple but clear overall strategic plan for… a contiguous, call-it-what-you-want (I like Miami Music Week), nine-day (Saturday to the following Sunday) music mega-event in Miami that includes a formal conference, party events, and has a master calendar of all events, panels, parties, on one highly functional website.
  • Integrating youth into non-EDM music/non-Ultra events by co-promotion.
  • To partner with health-focused companies (e.g., Kind Snacks, Whole Foods)
  • Working on new traffic patterns alternatives to alleviate the beach to downtown and back traffic congestion during peak periods… it’s literally two miles and can take 90 minutes!
  • Bring back structured opportunities for relevant (not just the superstars) industry professionals to network sponsored by gear & other relevant companies.
  • Consider learning & development workshops (production, remixing, contracts, investing for your future, health, etc.). And then you’ll have a complete week with the whole industry GROWING, together!

CONTINUE:

  • The conference component for WMC for those that want it.
  • To get food from La Sandwicherie… the ONLY place I eat when I’m there, really!
  • Honoring the past by exposing them to the youth and vice-versa… both in proximity of where events take place and with diverse line-ups
  • Embrace dance music… all of it!
  • To buy music.
  • To dance like nobody is watching as opposed to hoping someone is taking a picture of you with your arms waving (but not much else moving).
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  • Del – this post is exactly on point! I stopped going to WMC in 2002. Having attended many WMC’s during the great mid-90’s till the 2002 conference. The events, panels and the legendary parties gave me a wonderful experience which I will cherish forever.

    Sadly, I haven’t been to Miami since then. I hope that there is a way to implement some, if not all, of your suggestions as it would be a much needed re-design for the industry as a whole. Perhaps, I’ll attended once again? Respect, Ken_UF