Menno De Jong: Making the Grade
EXCLUSIVE GUEST MIX
from Menno De Jong
**You can also catch Menno at the Warehouse this Friday in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Hailing from Eindhoven in The Netherlands, 24 year old trance ace Menno De Jong has quickly emerged as one of the industry’s most important up-and-coming melodic music makers. He's ranked just inside the Top 50 by DJ Magazine’s hugely influential ‘Top 100’ poll in 2008 and landed 11th on popular online trance portal Tranceaddict.com’s Top 100 the same year. From his early beginnings as one of Anjunabeats’ rising stars to his present-day status as one of the busiest and most sought-after DJs on the planet, Menno has kept ahead of the curve by keeping busy – and so it’s no surprise that as we catch up with him, he’s hard at work on a number of things.
“I’ve been making music non-stop for my new radio show and Podcast,” Menno says of his recent days. “Basically just listening to new music, going on Beatport, iTunes, checking my promo mails, and so on.” It’s intensive work. “Basically, I’m listening to two or three hundred songs over the span of a couple hours. Once I’ve got a selection of tracks that I want to use, I put them in a folder, change all the filenames, put them in iTunes, make sure the ID3 tags are properly made, and so on.”
As a DJ, Menno is well-known for keeping his fans up-to-date, both via his long-running Podcast and by regularly releasing charts both on his website and through download portals like Beatport.com. “I think a DJ’s job is to find good music for people to listen to,” Menno explains. “A chart is basically a fine selection of some of the favourites a DJ has at that point in time. Considering the amount of material that comes out on iTunes and Beatport, it’s a really good tool to look at to see ‘wow, what is this guy playing right now’. People usually link a certain style or sound to a DJ, and so if a listener is looking for a song in a particular style, for some of the bigger tunes at that point in time, then a chart is a great way to go.”
For the past few years, Menno’s Intuition Recordings label and its recent offshoot Intuition Deep have been gaining industry respect for consistent, well-produced melodic trance and progressive releases. In recent months, a third label has been added to the mix – Stellar Sounds. “It all coincided with my label going independent,” Menno begins when asked about how Stellar Sounds came to be. “I used to work together with other labels for the administration and legal parts, but last year in April I decided to take the company solo.”
“We already had Intuition Recordings going on,” he continues. “In addition to that, we decided to start up Intuition Deep, which was for more progressive and deep trance material. I’ve been thinking for a while about starting something up that can sign some new talent, to catch the guys that I think it’s possible could break through at some point, and to get to that moment with them. That’s the idea behind Stellar Sounds, really – a little talent pool, or an investment in the future you might call it.”
More than most, Menno De Jong knows about the importance of ‘breaking through’ as an artist – aiming for and catching the right wave at the right time so that your passion and hobby catches a critical mass of attention and brings the world knocking at your door. For the vast majority of his musical career thus far, Menno has also been a full-time university student. While his studies may originally have been intended to hedge his bets in case his music career didn’t work out, Menno’s choice of study – International Business – means he’s spent the past four years learning plenty that he plans to apply to what has now with his graduation become a full-time professional business venture.
To some, 2009 might seem a curious time for a promising young business graduate to dive head-first into running a dance music label, given the current unfavourable economic climate, the death of vinyl, and the legal loopholes that continue to allow music to be downloaded without fair compensation returned to the artist and label that created it. To Menno, it’s a mountain that must be climbed.
“You’re right - everything’s basically been turned upside down,” he admits. “On one hand, we’ve basically stopped selling vinyl because it’s impossible to break even. But on the other hand, we are seeing downloads grow consistently. It’s not a huge amount of money yet, but my guess is that in four or five years, with iTunes and Beatport developing the way they are, and with a proper shaping up of legal grey areas that will allow people to download legally, I think we are building a good foundation for young artists to merge in the future. The bright side is that once you release a track on Beatport or iTunes, it’s out there. You don’t need a distributor in Asia, and another one in the UK, and another one in Australia to get the record out there. It’s just a matter of getting it onto the download sites. A good song will sell itself these days, because people are going to find out about it, put it on Youtube, listen to it on Last.fm, post it on their MySpace page, post it up on Facebook, and so on.”
“While the business model has changed drastically, we are starting to get used to it, and it definitely has a lot of potential for emerging new artists. In the vinyl days, a record release took up a lot of time in terms of promotion, getting distribution contracts settled, and so on, whereas nowadays a new release is just out there, and immediately available.”
But as Menno sees it, the shift from physical to digital distribution brings with it a new set of challenges for DJs trying to stay at the top of their game. “As distribution costs go down, we’re of course seeing a lot more music being released – and not all of it is good. It’s harder for DJs like me to find the good records that are out there. Whereas you used to be able to just go into the record store and say ‘hey, what’s new?’ and find all the good releases, now you’re looking on all of these download sites, and it’s just an endless flow of releases that it’s nearly impossible to keep up with. It’s made the scene more transparent, because everyone can see what’s happening. The power is back in the people’s hands – but they have to decide what the good music is, and I think the customer is playing a bigger role than ever, and the supply is virtually endless.”
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately,” Menno admits. “The difference with me is that, rather than making a decision the moment that I graduated, I’ve been working towards something for a long time. Setting up this label has been a lot of work, but I’ve also been doing events, and I’ve been active in the radio business, been DJing, releasing records, and from an early point in my university career I decided that, if I was going to pursue this professionally, I needed to make some preparations and lay a good foundation. That’s allowed me to make the decision that I did when I graduated last year to go professional. Things have grown to a level where it’s sustainable. Right now I’m working on new records, new releases, mix CDs, and doing gigs that are building my profile towards something bigger – and that will allow me to keep doing this for as long as possible. It’s what I love to do most – I always have been really into music, and so I’m ready to put all of my money on this bet!”
“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how this scene works, and I think it’s a logical world in the sense that you can do certain things that will help your career, but the nice thing is that at the end of the day it always comes back to creativity, passion, and what you invest in the music that determines what you get back in terms of support from the fans and recognition from the industry.”
“I think these days anyone can do it – all you need is a computer with an internet connection. The internet is your voice, and if you’re a talented person you can use it to get people to hear your music wherever you are, and wherever they are. It doesn’t matter if you live in Honolulu or Jakarta or wherever, all you need to do is get your music out there. Just be the best at what you’re doing, and the internet will get you going places.”