Zane Lowe is a long way from home, but he always fits right in.
The Auckland-born and raised broadcaster is arguably the highest-profile music radio DJ on the planet, with upwards of 20 years’ experience on the mic on either side of the Atlantic. He’s constantly in motion at work and in life. And he loves it that way.
Just days earlier, he was chilling with Kanye West at the rapper’s sprawling ranch in Wyoming, for what became a buzz-owning chat ahead of Ye’s new album release ‘Jesus Is King’.
“Whenever you talk to artists like that,” recounts Lowe, “there’s an opportunity but you also have a privilege and responsibility to get as much interesting information as possible. You’re a conduit for people to learn and artists to share.”
Lowe didn’t take the easy route. He carved out his reputation in London, first at MTV U.K. and XFM, then moving over to BBC Radio 1 where he hosted the New Music show for 13 years. In 2015, he joined Apple Music and relocated to Los Angeles, where he now lives with his wife and two kids.
A former artist with NZ’s Urban Disturbance and Breaks Co-Op, Lowe serves as Global Head of Artist Relations for Apple Music and oversees Beats 1, where he’s one of the music streaming giant’s anchor hosts.
TIO caught up with Lowe for some insights into the streaming world, Tones And I and chasing dreams.
Listen to Zane Lowe’s interview with Kanye West:
Zane, it’s been a while. We last talked in 2012 ahead of Future Music Festival.
I remember. I was walking around my living room in London at the time. It’s very different to what I’m doing now.
How are you enjoying life in the States?
I love it. It happened at the right time in our lives. We had an amazing time growing up in New Zealand to going into life in London. My wife and I became parents. We have two beautiful boys.
By the time we jumped on a plane and decided to come on this adventure, we were all really up for it. No regrets. We’re having a really good time. It’s a lot to do, for me personally and subsequently for my family.
The streaming era is the most proactive era of the music business history. More people can get more hands on more tools, more opportunities to do more with their own career.
Which means you’ve got to be super dialed-in if you want to reflect that or you want to project it or amplify it or make it exciting or help add value to it.
You really can’t ever take your eye off it, it’s moving all the time. That’s exciting. It’s what we did all the work for, to get to a future like this where artists are in control.
You’re in a great position to make a comment like that.
Coming from NZ and myself from Australia, we’ve seen so many great bands from part of our world – The Church, You Am I, Headless Chickens, anyone on Flying Nun Records – who weren’t enormous globally and probably ought to have been.
We live in a world now where there aren’t any real borders with music. The biggest hit right now is ‘Dance Monkey,’ a song created by a former busker from Australia.
There’s no reason to miss out on those opportunities in a digital world.
It’s true. It’s the most exciting time to be an artist and the most exciting time to be a fan.
If you’re willing to let go and throw yourself into the unknown. A lot of times, having been a signed artist in the past, you want to be in a situation where others wrap you up and help you achieve your dreams.
It allows you to focus on the music, and subconsciously to relinquish some responsibility if it fails.
Ultimately if it doesn’t work, the buck stops with you and how hard you’re willing to work for it to achieve you goal.
Artists have worked out now it’s way more exciting and a way better option to do that in the modern age and pick and choose when you want to invest in the industry or be invested in.
You’re right, the artists we listened to growing up didn’t have a chance to do that. They weren’t given the resources or the support to release globally because perhaps they hadn’t achieved enough locally.
If you look at a band like Gang of Youths who put out an album on streaming services all over the world at the same time and then got their head down and did everything they could to reach every potential fan, face-to-face.
Now they’ll go back and make another record when the time’s right and they’re perfectly positioned to kick the door wide open. They didn’t need permission, they didn’t need anyone to tell them, ‘sorry, you haven’t done enough for us to invest our really precious resources and our time, staff and marketing to help you reach more people.’
They just recognised the music was available, they just made sure people knew who they were.
That’s why we’re seeing so much excitement around that music, around K-pop, around African music. Australian viral hits, whatever it is, wherever it’s coming from, if it’s great, exciting and authentic it has a shot on the world stage.
You’ve built a new show.
It’s funny, we’re always making shows. Some have formats, some are one-offs. Some are documentaries, some are interviews.
We make as we move. (New Music Daily) is a special one because it comes with an amazing playlist which already reaches a lot of people.
That’s always been the strength of radio. As a format, it can move fast.
It’s so fast now, we’ve been in situations in studio where we find out a song comes out a social media feed and within 30 seconds of it being announced we’re streaming it off our own streaming service around the world on Beats 1.
That’s one of the real perks of being inside a streaming service, you move at the pace of the music.
What’s it like being in the studio and feeling that feedback? How does it compare with your experience with Radio 1.
It’s different. Whether it’s level up or down, it’s a very fast, very information-connected experience. We are very open to the moment.
Before the Kanye interview we had a Facetime interview with Smino, who was frying eggs in his kitchen. We called his producer Kenny Beats (and connected them).
We will just follow whatever thread is in placed front of us. We will pull any thread. That’s just my show, it’s just really the philosophy that permeates through the whole experience.
Go with it. It’s happening in real time anyway. If you look at your timeline, it’s constantly being refreshed with ideas, opinions, information, releases, news.
I don’t really want to wait for that to be perfectly baked and presented. No one is waiting for it to be baked, they just want it, so I want to go for it. That’s what it’s like.
We’ve got our timeline in front of us, we follow all the feeds. We have big video screens in front of us and we Facetime people so we can see them and they can see us.
We’ve got cameras in the studio to capture all of it. We’re very social media-connected, everyone’s got phones out. We have access to the streaming service.
If I can’t get a record in, I’ll just jack my phone from my own Apple Music account. I don’t care.
I just want to have access to it all because I think all of it makes it more exciting.
Tones And I is on this enormous streak and she’s just cracked the U.S. charts. Is she a potential guest on the show in the next couple of weeks?
Yeah, whenever. The door is always open. Absolutely.
I don’t know half the time (who will be on the show). Often people are just in town and they come through.
Because we now do the Facetime video so often we don’t wait around for people, we just call them up. Tones can come in whenever.
I love watching songs like this connect in the modern age. It’s really exciting when you see artists ride a wave out of nowhere, what’s happened in the last few years with Juice WRLD, Lil Nas X, Tones And I. They’ve got a ticket now, a ticket to the show.
Let’s support it and see where it lands. Absolutely. Let’s go.
Do you have any advice for DJs in this part of the world who want to follow in your footsteps and introduce music to legions of people?
You’ve got a device in your hand and the ability to record, the ability to record audio and video. Go out and find new artists, use your taste, use your ears.
Go and discover something new, go talk to them. Go support it, build around it. Repeat. Build your relationships, like anyone would in any industry.
Build your own path. Eventually when that path leads you to a place that wants to invest in you and amplify you and do more, if you want to take the opportunity, take it.
But remember, if was you who got yourself there. Don’t compromise your vision just because you have an opportunity.
Always find the balance.