Armada Music US General Manager Dan Smith stopped by to discuss the leading factors behind dance music’s rise to mainstream recognition.
Dan Smith, the general manager of Armada Music in the US, leads a prosperous career that dates back to the early 2000s. Having gained experience working in various fields within the music industry, he demonstrates a well-versed background that gives him a unique perspective on electronic dance music.
Over the years, the entertainment industry has bore witness to an exhilarating transformation in the realm of dance music. What was once a secretive, underground movement has erupted onto the global stage, reshaping the industry as a whole. To help us better understand dance music’s recent ascent, Dan provided well-informed insights on the matter. In our chat, we explored multiple topics that have propelled dance music into the international spotlight and reformed the sonic landscape of the music industry.
When Dan was first introduced to the scene in the early 2010s, New York City nightlife was thriving. “At that time it felt really healthy. There were records crossing over into pop radio; there were DJs actively coming here,” he said.
Then, the “velvet rope” era entered the chat. “There was a weird time in nightlife in New York where some of these clubs closed down,” he said. “A lot of the DJs in dance music started to get booked at bottle service-type clubs. It felt like it had died.” Fortunately, that phase didn’t last forever. Soon after, a resurgence in nightlife transpired.
With years of experience under his belt, Dan was ready to take the next step in his career. This past February, he was officially hired by Armada Music to oversee its operations in the US. It didn’t happen overnight, however. Everyone has to start somewhere.
Dan told us, “My career really started in studios. I decided, ‘Hey, let me see if I can go work at a record label.’ I had a chat with Ultra [Records] and they thought it was cool that I had worked with David Guetta once. I was really lucky to have joined at a time where it was the start of streaming.”
“I was very junior at the label but I dug in and tried to figure out the whole streaming game, essentially making a name for myself as somebody that came up when streaming was coming up,” Dan went on. “It’s given me a lot of background to know where records can go, and I’m thankful that Armada trusts me to help them promo their records in the US.”
At a music label, Dan believes there are two types of general managers: those who are A&R focused, and others who are marketing-focused. He considers himself the “marketing and promo guy, and that comes from my background promo-ing records.” He added, “I’ve spent a lot of time trying to be early on digital trends…a lot of what I’m focused on is making sure that our artists are crossing over here properly, that the biggest artists get the biggest pushes, and that the developing artists get all of the opportunities they can.”
Working at the biggest independent dance music label in the world can certainly contribute to a deep understanding of the industry’s inner workings. With the worldwide recognition of dance music currently at its peak, we defer to Dan Smith’s judgement on why he thinks the genre continues to plant more of its seeds across the globe.
A lot can be said about why dance music has captured the hearts of an internationally diverse audience, but the emphasis on its instrumental quality and less on lyrics is an intriguing factor. Dance music is a relatable musical language that can be understood by everyone. Now that it’s globally recognized, the industry’s opinion of dance music has changed as well.
Today, we see more crossovers and collaborations with A-list artists in dance-pop than ever before. One such milestone for the commercial success of dance music was Beyonce’s 2022 album Renaissance, on which Honey Dijon, Green Velvet, and other dance music producers were credited.
Speaking on his experience working in studios, Dan shared, “There was a time in studios where active writing sessions were happening, and pop songwriters would go in and say, ‘How can we add a dubstep drop to this?’ Or ‘I just heard this thing on UKF, can we flip it or do something?’ We still see that and still see dance records being sampled by rappers and vice versa.”
From his perspective as a GM for Armada, Dan also revealed how dance-pop has impacted the way the label operates.
He then touched upon the challenges they face as a label on the promoting side. “We could have a song that is blowing up on the radio because the programmers there love the artist and they’re among the few people that will take a stab at something before it has the streams, and we’re thankful for that,” he explained. “But sometimes, the records we see that work on radio don’t always work on streaming and vice versa. It becomes a balancing act, and we’re always trying to find the one that fits both.”
Dan also discussed the significance of technological advancements and how their progression points back to the global nature of streaming. And whether we like it or not, AI technology will continue to develop and make its way into our everyday lives. Dan, who fully supports the use of AI, wrote a Music Ally guest column a few weeks ago about how AI can positively affect the dance music industry specifically.
There’s nonetheless a widespread fear that AI will take away the creativity and the heart of making music. Dan disagrees. “I don’t think a completely AI-generated song will ever be able to reach even the same sonic level,” he said. “Even if you take out the creativity part, it won’t reach the same sonic level unless it’s figuring out how to use the same tools that our musicians are using.“
Arguably the most integral aspect in the recent expansion and evolution of dance music is the power of social media.
With the expansion of dance music reaching new heights, Armada, who considers itself the home for all dance music, is seeing the impact firsthand. “The expansion of dance music, streaming in general, and how much it’s grown has attracted more different creative sources of funding for the music industry abroad,” Dan explained. “We see that result here with our Beat Music Fund, where we’re focused completely on investing and acquiring masters of classic dance catalogs.”
Dan encourages other industry leaders who are looking to positively embrace the evolution of dance music and take advantage of its staying power to be willing to take risks and try something new and creative.
Our conversation with Dan Smith highlighted the resilience, adaptability, and transformative power of electronic dance music. His valuable expertise on its past, present, and future illuminates the genre’s progression from the underground to the mainstream. As we see it continue to evolve, the music industry must remain adaptable and forward thinking, just as Dan and Armada Music have done, to continue pushing the boundaries of what dance music can achieve.