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A Very Nerdy Chat With Music’s Most Powerful Tastemaker, Zane Lowe

A Very Nerdy Chat With Music's Most Powerful Tastemaker, Zane Lowe

The within skinny from the thin man on the within.

You’d have a tough time discovering a extra influential individual in music broadcasting than Zane Lowe.

The Auckland-born, LA-based radio host has been within the thick of the music business for almost 20 years — first as a presenter for MTV, than because the 13-year host of BBC Radio 1’s night present (the place he launched the Hottest Document In The World phase), and now because the Artistic Director of Apple Music’s Beats 1 Radio.

His personal present on Beats 1 is extensively regarded by business execs because the holy grail of radio — a Lowe endorsement may be integral in breaking an artist internationally (look no additional than the careers of Aussie acts like Ruel, Amy Shark, Dean Lewis, or Tash Sultana, whose music Lowe commonly champions.)

Chatting with Lowe over the telephone from LA, it’s clear his ardour for music — and the business that powers it — is all consuming. He talks shortly, typically throwing in anecdotes about artists or songs that he’s interviewed or heard, and sometimes reflexively throws questions again at you (‘What do you think? Which artists do you think will break?’) just like the skilled interviewer that he’s.

Naturally, any chat with Lowe turns into an intense rumination on the prevailing tendencies of the music business — particularly, the impression of streaming on how we eat, and the way artists create, music. So, forward of his return to Sydney for the 2018 ARIA Awards, we received him on the telephone for a really nerdy chat.


You’ve watched numerous developments rise and fall during the last twenty years. As an example, a number of years in the past we had that large EDM explosion in pop, and now we type of appear to be popping out of the different aspect of that. What are the developments you’re noticing are on the rise now?

First off, you’re proper. Pop is probably the most adaptable and malleable style or artwork type in music, as a result of pop is all the time looking for new methods to reinvent itself and keep related. So, to a point it has all the time obtained its eyes and ears on no matter its cooking underground or cooking to the exhausting left or the onerous proper or the centre.

It may simply pull these actually cool sounds and reapply it in its personal approach and that’s a very fascinating dance. Finally, you find yourself with pop altering form, nevertheless it additionally modifications the form of no matter its borrowed or no matter it’s drawing from.

“Pop changes shape, but it also changes the shape of whatever it’s borrowed or whatever it’s drawing from.”

In regard to streaming — because the flip of the millennium, artists have been making much more music and discovering methods to get their music in entrance of individuals with out permission. That’s the stuff that’s actually shifting the needle, as a result of streaming is direct distribution and artistic distribution of artists now.

There’s additionally not a number of area between the artist and the fan within the dialog now. So, what you’re seeing is music is simply shifting so quick, the standard is genuinely actually robust, and there’s a insatiable urge for food for it as a result of we don’t have to attend round for it anymore, we will simply take heed to it.

Hip-Hop is dominating proper now as a result of it’s so thrilling, it’s so actual. It’s the soundtrack to a really loud dialog and it’s being made on a regular basis and launched on a regular basis, as a result of in lots of respects it is aware of how you can use the streaming period. It is aware of easy methods to transfer at that tempo. So pop music to me is drawing very instantly from hip-hop proper now in a really massive method.

Zane Lowe and Kendrick Lamar

I interviewed Charlie XCX final week and we have been discussing how her launch technique has modified a lot. She is taking a look at hip-hop and they’re dropping singles and mixtapes on a regular basis. Whereas most different genres are nonetheless caught in that conventional launch format. Do you assume that’s one in every of largest modifications we’ve seen since streaming has taken over?

Yeah undoubtedly. When you create platforms the place you possibly can simply put your music up and gauge the way it’s reaching individuals…in the event you use that and make music that applies to that setting and also you see direct response like rap artists do, revolutionary pop artists do — and to a point SoundCloud was constructed on the backs of dance music — anybody who can immediately get their music to individuals are constructed for the streaming period as a result of they already perceive that being artistic is 24/7.

It’s not the older concept of creating an album, touring it, taking a yr off, discovering the power to make one other album and tour. There are some artists which are able to doing that. They’ve a fan base that may stay loyal to that course of — however in case you are a brand new artist coming by way of, most of the time, you’re shifting at a far faster, and extra visceral, tempo.

You’re within the studio making music, you’re not placing it on some sort of slate to be put out in six months! When you’ve received one thing nice you set it out now and you’ve got the means to do it and the viewers are prepared to listen to it.

Do you assume main labels are outfitted to cope with this in the intervening time as a result of artists can now add on to platforms they will circumvent that course of in any respect. Do you assume labels are outfitted to cope with streaming? 

I feel so, and I feel I’ve seen a variety of actual modifications in the best way they’re shifting and the tempo that they’re shifting at, and in addition the way to which they’re shifting with their very own artists too.

“We are in an era where the artist is very much in control of their own narrative.”

I feel anyone, whether or not it’s a label, a supervisor, a lawyer, an agent, a radio station, a TV station, it doesn’t matter: anyone who’s making an attempt to regulate the tempo and the way of which music is being launched, in distinction to the artist’s needs, just isn’t constructed for this time.

You’ve acquired to have the ability to collaborate and transfer with the artist, transfer with the viewers. You possibly can’t management the music, or management the setting or the supply till you’re prepared. You gotta be prepared to maneuver. I’m seeing numerous labels and managers, lots of people who’re very fast to pivot now and transfer in line with what the artist needs.

We’re in an period the place the artist could be very a lot in charge of their very own narrative. Social media provides them the voice, streaming provides them a distribution mannequin, and the viewers provides them the rationale.

If you wish to be in enterprise with artists, and be in a relationship with them and in collaboration with them, then all of us — not simply the labels — have to seek out methods to assist and to help and so as to add worth to that have slightly than attempt to sluggish it down.

Zane Lowe and Lady Gaga

Zane Lowe and Woman Gaga

One of many fascinating arguments that has crept up in the previous few years is that streaming is negatively impacting the size of albums — as in, artists are including extra tracks merely to recreation the system, as extra streams will provide you with a primary album virtually instantly, like we noticed with Scorpion and Drake. What do you assume? 

I feel that albums will all the time be made so long as artists need to make them. I used to be simply within the room with an artist earlier than who stated that they have been a part of conversations with individuals saying ‘Do you think you even need to make an album this time, why don’t you do one thing totally different?’

They stated ‘Look at the end of the day, that’s actually legitimate and sooner or later in our journey we might come to that conclusion, however proper now we need to make an album.’ It was very clear that they needed to make an album.

I don’t assume any artist goes by means of the studio like, ‘How’s the format going to influence my legacy? How am I going to maintain peoples consideration? What songs are going to be shared on playlists?’

If you’ll make a physique of labor, most of the time you’re going in to make one thing that you simply need to see via from begin to end — and that might be three songs, seven songs, ten songs, or double album.

Zane Lowe and Drake

Drake and Zane Lowe

Drake is a superb instance of somebody who actually doesn’t fall into any typical state of affairs. He doesn’t fall right into a inflexible construction.

However that’s for everybody else, that’s for all of us to consider. He simply goes in and says “I’ve got this song put it out. I have this project put it out. I’ve just done a remix put it out. I’m gonna go OVO Sound radio and play that remix of BlocBoy JB cause it’s great and I want to get it out. But then when I put an album out, it’s going to be an album. If Scorpion is going to be an album it’s going to be a thing. And then I’m going to put a playlist out.”

I feel that Drake simply strikes based on what he feels at any given time. I feel that speaks actual fact about how plenty of artists really feel now. With out so many various elements of the enterprise in between them and the last word strategy of releasing music to followers, there’s a sense of with the ability to be free, creatively freed from anyone getting in your means.

You possibly can put individuals within the course of and permit them to provide the proper recommendation — that’s what trusted groups are for — however finally you’ll be able to type of do what you need now. You get to determine how and when to place music out. So, when you’ve gotten that freedom and nobody is telling you whenever you’re on the clock or off the clock, properly then creativity is kinda your full time job.

When you’re placing music out, you need to be occupied with what are you going to be doing to help that music, not simply within the conventional means. ‘How am I going to remain exciting? How am I going to reach my audience? How am I going to reinvigorate them? How am I going to get their attention, keep their attention? How am I going to excite them?’

That’s an enormous a part of this good. Making music is the important thing that opens the door however there’s a entire lot of stuff you possibly can put in that room at any time. And albums are a part of that. Albums stay part of that however so do mixtapes and tasks…it’s all nice, or it’s not.

I’d like to vary tack. What do you assume it takes for an Australian act to interrupt in America? Some acts like Tash Sultana and Amy Shark are presently large within the US and the UK, whereas different Australian artists are nonetheless making an attempt to interrupt. What do you assume it’s about these couple of acts that has clicked with the American viewers?

I feel you summed it up earlier than whenever you requested whether or not a label’s constructed to have the ability to transfer within the streaming period. I feel having the correct groups round you in several elements of the world that may actually nurture your music — so long as they’re considering trendy, so long as they’re desirous about how individuals are listening to music now and going ahead. It’s all about having the best individuals round you that really feel and are capable of put your music in entrance of the best individuals to create alternative.

Amy is anyone who has had individuals come about right here championing her trigger, in a method or one other, in a very artistic method. Its not simply ‘Oh, put the record out and hope for the best.’ No, it’s  like ‘Let’s discover methods for individuals to consider who Amy is.’

Amy Shark and Zane Lowe

Then there’s the work, the grass, the love of the method. I imply the band like Gang of Youths to me will ultimately proceed to construct on their viewers, particularly in America, as a result of they love the method. And in case you love the method you simply hold going.

You retain making music, you retain enjoying it, you retain discovering new methods to attach with individuals, and profitable over the hearts and minds of your viewers. That’s it. It’s simply that there are such a lot of extra methods of doing that now — whether or not you’re from Australia, New Zealand, or elements of Africa or Europe or America. It doesn’t actually matter.

It comes down as to if or not you’re eager about your music as an general expertise, and whether or not you’re continually trying to put it in entrance of your viewers in an fascinating and thrilling means.

You’ll be able to’t cease. You possibly can’t simply go, ‘I’ve finished my bit, what’s everybody else going to do?’ It’s like ‘Okay you’ve made this lovely piece of music, how are you going to maintain it alive? How are you going to maintain respiration life into it?’

An unimaginable chef doesn’t simply write a menu and say ‘I’m completed.’ You understand, you bought to go and prepare dinner the meals, current the meals, grasp the meals, change the meals, take heed to what individuals in your restaurant are saying concerning the meals. It’s a must to alter the menu as a way to go well with the wants of the individuals in your restaurant, but in addition not essentially compromise your personal imaginative and prescient.

Its continuously altering on a regular basis, even in the event you maintain the menu the identical. Unusual analogy, however you get it proper?

Zane Lowe is the Artistic Director and DJ behind Apple Music’s Beats 1. He’ll be coming to Sydney for ARIA Awards week in late November. The ARIA Awards happen at Sydney’s The Star on Wednesday, November 28. 

Jules LeFevre is Junkee’s Music Editor. Comply with her on Twitter.