Maykel Piron is one of the three founders of – and the driving force behind – Armada Music, the biggest independent dance music label in the world with offices in Amsterdam, New York and London. With close to twenty-five years of music industry experience under his belt (of which the last fifteen years have been spent as the CEO of Armada Music), Piron is one of the masterminds of today’s electronic music scene.
Under Piron’s management, Armada Music has been voted ‘Best Global Record Label’ six times at the International Dance Music Awards (IDMA’s) in Miami and he recently made it to the Billboard Dance Power Players List.
Due to Armadas immense growth over the past few years, the label now boasts a catalog of over 15.000 titles and an artist roster that includes world-renowned acts and super talents such as Afrojack, Andrew Rayel, Armin van Buuren, Dash Berlin, Erick Morillo, Fedde Le Grand, Gareth Emery, Julian Jordan, Kevin Saunderson, Lost Frequencies, Morgan Page and W&W, earning the label weekly airplay on the biggest nation-wide broadcasting stations in the world (such as BBC Radio 1 and Sirius XM) and weekly new adds to the US Airplay charts.
In addition, the success of acts such as Armin van Buuren (under Piron’s management) and Lost Frequencies led to a slew of gold/platinum-selling records, as well as a Grammy nomination for Armin van Buuren’s ‘This Is What It Feels Like’.
Ahead of IMS Ibiza, we caught up with Maykel to discuss the journey so far and the future of Armada Music.
We’re looking forward to having you at IMS Ibiza. It’s been 15 years of Armada Music, what have been some of your favourite moments?
There have been too many favourite moments to count, but I’ll try to mention a few key ones regardless. We were able to celebrate Armada Music’s 10-year-anniversary in Ibiza with the entire staff, have enjoyed tremendous chart success with records such as ‘This Is What It Feels Like’ by Armin van Buuren, ‘Reality’ by Lost Frequencies and more recently, ‘Body’ by Loud Luxury’s. But we are equally proud of our underground releases, such as instant classic ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ by Thick Dick, released through Subliminal.
Almost three years ago, we opened our own, in-house club in our HQ in Amsterdam, followed by a super professional radio studio. We also had about twenty of our partners (and above all wonderful people) join us in helping to raise funds for cancer research (I’m proud to call so many people around the world my friends in this industry) and opened our offices in New York and London. This is only a small selection of the things that make me so happy to work in this industry and I’m really looking forward to all the things we have yet to experience and/or accomplish.
What was your background before founding the label? What were your first steps into the music industry?
I started working for a DJ promotion service at the age of 19, after which I joined Purple Eye Productions. That’s when I first started working on records from Armin van Buuren (among others such as Ferry Corsten and Marco V). In 1999, Warner Music Benelux asked me to set up a dance division and thus I became the A&R manager of three Warner labels for three and a half years (as well as responsible for Warner/Chapell publishing in the Benelux in my last year there, for which I signed acts such as Above & Beyond). I was always looking for a new challenge and in 2003, I found that challenge in setting up Armada Music with my business partners David Lewis and Armin van Buuren.
What early moves did you make to ensure Armada was different to other labels?
Armada Music has been around for fifteen years now and since the very beginning up till now, we’ve worked our hardest to ensure that we’re the best possible partner for all of our artists. We can work one-off tracks as good as any other label, but our strength lies in creating sustainable artist careers in electronic dance music. We have a genuine love and passion for electronic dance music and that’s exactly what shines through in everything we do and how we make decisions and determine plans.
You’re one of three founders of Armada Music, how did your relationship with Armin and David Lewis begin?
The idea actually originated on Ibiza. I had been working with Armin for some time and Dave was Armin’s booking agent. It had always been a dream of mine to run my own label and Armin had expressed his interest in founding his own as well. Dave proved the missing link and so, Armada Music was born.
Armin’s profile has rapidly grown over the last decade, when did you begin to realise he was becoming the biggest DJ in the world?
I’d say it was more a gradual realisation that a sudden one. As Armin’s manager, friend and business partner, I’ve been there almost every step of the way. When we set up Armada Music in 2003, Armin was already pretty successful by most standards. But whenever we thought it couldn’t get any better, his career just burst through the ceiling and kept growing. His mentality had a huge role to play there, as he has always been one to push himself further than the last time. Of course, when he first became the #1 DJ in the world it was a huge moment, but we knew of his potential long before the rest of the world did. There aren’t many people like Armin in the world, and this one knows what it takes to reach the top and stay there.
What do you personally look for when signing a new artist? Are you still putting DJ technique and talent first or is it now a combination of attributes that make a new star?
Firstly and most importantly, we’ve got to love the music he or she creates. If we don’t like it, we won’t sign it. It’s that simple. But besides the obvious, we feel it’s important to have someone who brings a fresh approach or musical vision to the table and who is an all-around enjoyable person to work with and to be around. We don’t feel DJ technique is that important for every artist because there are plenty of top producers out there who are solely focused on making music and don’t want to play DJ gigs. But there are also highly skilled DJs who need help producing. Every artist demands a different approach and it’s as you said: a combination of attributes that makes us want to invest in someone’s talent is what does the trick for us.
Armada was right at the forefront of the music industry’s changeover to digital. How quickly did you and the label adapt to the change of selling your music online?
Armada emerged when iTunes took its first steps. We were one of the first to gain a foothold in the online market during this ‘digital revolution’; the major labels were still reluctant as they were already struggling with the huge amounts of illegal downloads. We jumped at the chance instead and focused on the digital market ahead of the rest of the music industry. We adapted right away before anyone else and I dare say we chose well.
Technology is constantly changing and evolving. What current technology is Armada using to stand out from the crowd?
We’re currently using tools to analyze big data. The current amount of information that comes into our office on a daily basis is insane. In order to read this information, process it and to be able to use it and turn it into dedicated marketing strategies, you need a special tool and that’s what we’re delving into at this moment. Furthermore, even though we believe that true A&R’ing can only be done by humans, we are also testing some AI (artificial intelligence) tools to see what kind of music we’d end up with that way.
And last but not least, it’s great to see that the smart speaker business is booming, with Amazon, Google, Apple, Spotify and Facebook all working round the clock to improve their hardware solutions such as Echo and Homepod. It’s fantastic to be able to say ‘Hey Alexa, get me in A State Of Trance’ when getting ready to go out and to hear Armin’s new club anthem a mere two seconds later.
What aspects of the evolution of the music industry excite you the most?
This has to be the fact that it’s now possible to listen to all kinds of music, everywhere and at all times. Because of this, the possibilities for artist and record labels to get their music heard – and to eventually build a career – are endless. Streaming had changed the business model of the music industry while simultaneously offering consumers the chance to listen to music without paying twenty bucks per CD. And because of this, people tend to try out (and like) many genres of music instead of one or two. In turn, this will lead to fusions between genres and proper chances for artists to stand out. Electronic music is a relatively new addition to the music spectrum and we’re still only scraping the surface of what’s creatively possible. Besides this, it’s wonderful for artists to be able to reach out and engage with their fans on the other side of the world real-time.
One of the masterminds of today’s electronic music scene, Maykel Piron (Armada Music, Co-Founder/CEO, Netherlands), founder of one of the biggest independent dance music labels in the world, will bring his twenty-five years of industry experience to the DIGITAL DEBATE at IMS Iniza, joining Chris Manning (The Orchard, Senior Director/International Operations, UK) in discussing our ever-changing relationship with the online domain.