New York City DJ/production duo The Chainsmokers (Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall) are easily 2014's most unexpected dance superstars. Within just under five months "#SELFIE"–their Dim Mak-released single–dropped the bass on the zeitgeist and became a viral, then global, mainstream smash. As The Chainsmokers' manager, 4AM's Adam Alpert has had a key role in assisting their navigation of the path to success. Thus, when interviewing him, it's intriguing to get a sense of his background, as well as his thoughts on artist development and the music industry overall. When considering how an act handles sudden fame, as well as how they proceed moving forward, veteran leadership and a clear, defined direction are of absolute importance. This is an eye-opening look behind arguably 2014's biggest mainstream dance story.
When did you become aware of The Chainsmokers and what initially drew you to their sound?
I was managing Alex (Pall) for two months when he told me he wanted to find a great partner and create a duo. Someone from my office told me about this young producer named Drew (Andrew Taggart) up in Maine who had just graduated college and was looking to jump start his career. I asked Drew to come to NYC and meet me and Alex. They went to dinner together and the next day The Chainsmokers, as you know them today, was born. They instantly became best friends. When they started producing music together, they started remixing indie bands because they wanted to do things a little differently from the other EDM guys. They found stems online and asked the bands directly for them. Remix after remix was incredible. What was even more impressive is that they only use the acapella so all the production was original. They all had (and still do have) an emotional reaction for me and that’s when I knew they really had something special.
The Chainsmokers have evolved from from being club DJs and remixers to now being an act putting out their own original material. What are your thoughts about the benefits to this theory of growth for dance artists?
Becoming a true act, an artist needs to be both a skilled entertainer that can deliver a creative show and captivate an audience as well as a true musician that puts out original content that their fans love. Before producing became easier to learn and do on laptops and mini keyboards, most of the big producers were DJs first. Nowadays kids are starting to produce at home as teenagers before DJing live is even an option. With The Chainsmokers, we got the best of both worlds. Alex has been DJing for several years and is one of the best DJs I have ever known. He puts together some of the most imaginative sets, mixes, and bootlegs in dance music. His ear for music and sound is second to none. It was’t until he and Drew partnered that he got involved in producing. Drew started the other way. He has been a musician and producer for several years. He plays many instruments and studied at the Bandier School of Music at Syracuse. He DJed here and there but it wasn’t until he partnered with Alex that he developed his live performance stage presence which is now so much fun to watch. They compliment each other so well it’s scary.
In my opinion, no matter how good of a DJ/producer one is, you shouldn’t put out original work very often until you have a true fan base. The reason why I like remixes is because you are putting your own personal artistic interpretation on a song by an established musician that your fans most likely know and already like so they’ll be inclined to want to listen to what you’ve done. If you haven’t yet built a nice-sized, loyal following, new potential fans you are promoting to are less likely to listen to original material from a new producer/DJ they don’t know. I sometimes have new producers that I manage put their amazing originals on the shelf until we feel we have enough people listening to get that track the maximum exposure. Remixes are a great way to prove your skills to fans old and new and build your fan base.
As a manager, your thoughts about the benefits of working with artists who a) have something to fall back on in terms of college education, and b) show an aptitude for songwriting and a desire to advance that particular talent?
It’s always a good thing to have something to fall back on and I would encourage a college education to anyone. Songwriting and being a musician is both a skill that is developed as well as a gift. Not everyone has it. I do believe that with hard work anything is possible and I have seen it first hand. That said, for those without that special inherent gift, it can take a long time.
Insofar as your background, what initially drew you into dance music, and related, what was the moment where you decided to move your skillset into artist management?
I was running nightclubs in New York and had been throwing events around the world for years. I booked all the DJs and became friends with all of them. I loved watching them get more popular and more creative. I knew that with my past experience, my relationships, and my passion for music, I could really help build careers. There has been no greater joy in my career than watching fans cheer, support, and show love for my artists. Sitting side stage and watching thousands of fans dancing their asses off and holding up signs and taking pictures makes all the hard work worth every second.
In your professional career to-date, you've worked alongside a few industry heavyweights and in some top-tier establishments. What about popularity and sustainability (in regards to nightlife) have you been able to take from these experiences and channel into your success in EDM of-late?
The three main things I would say would be, first, being creative, being different, thinking outside the box. Differentiate yourself from your peers and be original. Give your audience a reason to see you over everyone else. The second is simply to be genuine, nice, and hospitable. We are in a business of making people have fun, have memories, and be happy. There is so much love and so many friendships backstage. We all have the same goals and together we have grown this dance music community into what it is today. The third is hard work. If you love it, it won’t feel like work but if you give it everything you got and truly believe in it the results should be amazing.
Before signing deals to ensure The Chainsmokers truly cementing themselves in dance, what have been some of the most jaw-dropping moments so far in the evolution of "#SELFIE" turning into a larger mainstream happening?
There have been so many milestones. Too many to name. The first was Steve Aoki signing the track and being in our video. There were tweets and Instagrams by celebrities like Rob Lowe tweeting that "#SELFIE" was the “Smells like Teen Spirit” of our generation. When the video hit 10,000 views, 100,000 views, 1,000,000 views, 10,000,000 views, 100,000,000 views. Celebrities like Samuel L Jackson, Scarlet Johannsen, Cameron Diaz making their own version of the song. Going on Access Hollywood, American Idol, and more. Watching it go to #1 on Billboard. Hearing millions of people around the world singing it and making their own videos. The list goes on.
Looking ahead, what are your thoughts about the correlation between EDM, viral movements, and social media? There's Eventbrite data that shows that those who identify themselves as EDM fanatics are eleven times more engaged online than their non-EDM counterparts. Do you feel as though this will grow, and if not, how do you think EDM can remain in the public consciousness moving forward?
EDM is the most popular and fastest growing genre of this generation. This generation is naturally the most tech savvy and the most social online. Now that there is direct access between artist and fan, it provides much easier ways to actually be a fan and keep up with the artist. Also, because EDM artists tour more frequently and put out music more frequently than any other genre, the output of content is tremendous and consistent so the interaction and engagement is constant. It’s also very exciting and fun to watch compared to other genres. Virality comes from being different and raising the bar or introducing a concept that connects with everyone. I foresee the concept of genres dissolving. People are more and more becoming fans of almost every genre at the same time. Musicians for every genre are working together. EDM and country, hip-hop and country, hip-hop and rock, rock and EDM. To me, it’s all pop. It’s about music being great and thats what becomes popular. Good music. The people want hits!