Few artists working in dance music today can match Kaskade’s sustained success or endurance. The veteran U.S. DJ and producer (real name Ryan Raddon) was there, before the big bang of EDM, when Sasha was the “son of God” and Hardfloor the most in-demand remixers on the circuit.
Kaskade recently sat with Lars Brandle for a keynote interview at the 2018 Music Matters summit in Singapore. During his 45 minutes on stage, the progressive-house champion opened up on his rise to the top, the pressures of fame and his new endeavours into the world of festival promotion. Below is an edited transcript from the interview.
At the start of your career you worked with labels and distributors. You’ve always had a head for the business of music.
Early on, electronic music was so so small. The notable artists were making, like, $50,000-$100,000 a year. I was making peanuts. So it was hard to find people who were interested that would help you.
In those first five and 10 years, it was me and my wife. That was Team Kaskade. So I learned different aspects of the business, which pockets of America were working (for my shows).
I was visiting Australia twice a year for easily 10 years. What drives me is playing shows and sitting down in the studio and writing, creating and making music. There are things that pull and distract me and take me away from that. But that’s the core of what I do.
With Sun Soaked, you’ve become a festival operator. How did that come about?
I didn’t initially set out to be a festival producer. It was more like, the (idea came to me from) shows I was doing in Los Angeles, which is where I live… it’s my largest audience, it’s a big city with a big scene and they always welcome me.
In 2012, we’d just sold out Madison Square Garden in New York and I followed that up with my own tour. We sold out the Staples Center.
We got to the Convention Center which was the largest room we could find in Los Angeles. They have car shows, boat shows, but they’d never done a music performance in this space at all. We set up a stage and sold 20,000 tickets in a matter of an afternoon.
We were scratching our heads thinking, what do we do next? We were on top of the hill, where do we go from here? Shortly after that I had the idea… every time we come back we’re reinventing this, ramping it up. What if we had an annual show here, somewhere that can house this many people?
For so many years I played shows on beaches. It’s the perfect venue for me, for my sound. After those shows I said, we need to go to the beach and we need to make it happen now, because we’d talked about doing it for years.
We were able to do it successfully in 2017 and we grew it this year by three times; we sold 31,000 tickets this year. Our goal is to take it further next year, expand it and take it to other parts of the country, potentially. My team is actually quite small.
I’ve got a business manager, an attorney, a management team, an agent. But to pull something off like this, you need a bunch of people. I’m very involved in the process, we’re planning and we’re securing the dates for next year and booking up venues in other cities. It takes a huge amount of time.
During his keynote at Bigsound, Paul Kelly spoke about the need for an artist to sometimes do nothing. Do you also feel the need to pursue down-time?
It’s important to find time to disengage. I think with social media a lot of artists and personalities feel like they have to constantly be on it, there’s a pressure.
Right now, if I refresh my Twitter feed there’s probably 50, 60, 100 comments from something I sent out an hour ago. It took me a little while to realise I didn’t need to respond to all these people. You don’t have to be there all the time.
When Twitter and Facebook first came out, it was hard to disengage, but you need to take time for yourself. It’s very easy to get lost. I’m very fortunate, my time away is my time with (family) which is completely different and keeps me grounded.
How do you get into the zone for making music?
I’ve had songs that have taken me 20, 30 minutes to write and they’ve been extremely successful. And I’ve made songs that have had 30 different versions and worked on them for months, I’ll keep going back to them and they’re still there.
You can’t rush the process of being creative. Sometimes it just comes out and it works and that’s the way it is. Sometimes you can’t rush the process, sometimes if I feel that pressure, if you try to make the writing process go faster, I can all collapse.
There’s a pressure on performers at the top of their profession, with constant tours and switching time zones. The death of Avicii was a big wake up call for the music industry. Hardwell said a few years ago he was take a step back from touring. How do you keep everything in check?
Certainly over this past year, with Avicii (taking his own life) — it’s really unfortunate what happened with Avicci — there’s a lot of concern for artists’ mental health and how the road can beat people up. There are pressures with touring and relying on social media.
For me, although this is a huge moment in my life, Kaskade being Kaskade, I’m touring, writing music, it’s just that. It’s one part of my life. I’m a father of three and I have a life I live outside the one people see.
That’s important, having balance. If my wife Naomi was here, I’m sure she’d have a few words to say I haven’t got anything figured out with balance (laughs). It’s a constant effort, and I’m constantly managing to make sure I’m not doing too much of any one thing over another. It’s taken a lot of time and effort to sort out. I think that’s important.
I applaud the guys who are standing up. You get these situations where the touring machine and the team become so large there are pressures that (artists) feel they have to continually deliver. It’s a challenge for everybody to figure that out.
What advice do you have for other artists, DJs and producers?
Early on I was just floating around trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I was doing that because mainly I didn’t really ever think I could make it as an artist. I was always making records on the side, kind of as a hobby.
I came from a very conservative Midwestern upbringing. To think you could do music as a living was outrageous. With that very cautious attitude I approached the music business as a something I’d find a line of work that I liked, and continue to make music as a passion.
I worked in a record store, I had a weekly party and had a radio show. There are many facets to music. I tried on different things trying to figure out where I’d fit in. If you’re starting out, don’t get frustrated. Carve your own path. Find what you truly love and figure out what you excel at, what you do well.
Once you discover that, put a lot of thought into it. Don’t be afraid to move from left or right. All the people I’ve looked up to have been unique, you don’t know where (music) will take you. Figure out your path, throw everything into it, it can all work out.