Dust an electronic music festival for fingerprints, and you'll find those of Gary Richards on just about every surface.
A producer, a booker, the founder of the promotions company HARD Events, the current president of the events company Livestyle North America, and, first and foremost, a DJ named Destructo, Richards has been involved with dance music on nearly every level. There may be no one better positioned to make sense of the way electronic music has evolved over the last decade, or predict where it's going next.
Right now, he's particularly interested in the latter. At Livestyle, he recently launched a new cruise called Friendship, and he's currently at work planning a new event for his hometown of L.A. Speaking from his office, Richards shared his experiences booking festivals, offered some tips for artists looking to make his lineups and explained why, when it comes to electronic music, he remains as excited as ever.
Spotify for Artists: When you launch a new festival, where do you start? How do you figure out what the festival's identity is going to be?
Gary Richards: I just try to come up with a new formula that's fresh and new musically. For me, it's about balancing new things that I wanna bring up while also having [great artists] at the top so that the festival feels solid. And making sure that it all blends together properly. It's kind of tricky. I'll use the analogy of a salad: when you're making a salad, you gotta have the right amount of olive oil, vinegar, tomato, olives. If you stick a piece of french toast in there, it doesn't fit.
Spotify: On the other side, how do you continue to make old festivals exciting year after year?
Richards: I think that DJing really helps with that because I gotta always find new stuff to play. Being a DJ is all about playing that record that no one's ever heard before. I think people forget that sometimes. Whatever I play in my set is usually what ends up on the lineup.
__Spotify: So there's a lot of continuity between your DJing and your booking. __
Richards: Yeah, I think it goes hand in hand. Deadmau5 is a perfect example. I remember in 2007 and 2008 when I was starting to promote festivals, I kept seeing that name. I was like, "What is this? What is this?" But third or fourth track in, you're like, "Man, this guy's amazing. I gotta get him." In electronic music, it doesn't always work like that, because these guys don't necessarily have big hit records. It's more: are they constant with quality club bangers? And that's just something that I just hear in my ear. It's not like I look on Spotify and see, "Oh, this song's got 20 million plays, I gotta book it." I don't base it on numbers.
__Spotify: What can an artist do to get on your radar? __
Make awesome tracks and send them to me. [Laughs]
Spotify: Is email your primary source? Or are you also searching through mixes and playlists?
Richards: It's a combo of everything. I do get a lot of good stuff sent to me from my peers and other labels. If Boys Noize sends me something, I'm gonna listen to it. But then I'll go on Spotify and check out the New Music Fridays and flip through that and see what's going on there, or go over the electronic playlist and the rap stuff.
I'm just constantly looking. I thought at some point I'd get sick of doing that, but it's kind of why I do everything else. I just love discovering new music and turning people on to it. Even just random kids will hit me up on Facebook or give me a USB drive in the club. I don't listen to everything, but I try. Then I have about eight bookers in this company, and we'll have a call once a week, sharing info. I still challenge them like, "Guys, fuck just selling the tickets. Let's just pick some cool shit and make it sell tickets."
__Spotify: Four or five years ago, when people would write about EDM festivals, they'd almost always call the scene a bubble. In retrospect, do you think that analysis was accurate? __
Richards: Maybe it's fair to say that in some ways. But I think that when, say, your festival went from 120,000 people to 90,000 people, having 90,000 people is still insane. Because I remember when it was 200 people. Maybe for people in Wall Street and people at McDonald's—maybe for them the bubble burst, but I think there's more electronic music, quality producers, DJs, than ever. It's getting on the radio. It's just permeated all of culture in America. On a scale of one to 10, maybe two years ago it was at a 12. Now maybe we're at a nine. So in my eyes, that's still incredible. And it's here to stay forever.
__Spotify: What have you learned in that span? What are you doing today that you weren't doing then? __
Richards: To be honest with you, I kind of do the same thing. I get pitched so many things, but I still just rely on my ears. An act could sell 30,000 tickets, but if I don't hear it and I don't think it fits in with what I'm doing, then I won't book it, no matter what the agent or the manager says.
Then again, there's other festivals in our company that I work on with my team, and I just let them do what they want to do. We have certain festivals in here, in our portfolio, that aren't really my favorite festival, that I wouldn't personally go to, but they tell me, "Look, these are the things that work here." So I guess that's different: I'm in a new role now. Before, it used to be that everything was from the heart. Now, I have some that are from the heart, but then there's some that I just help them make logistics better, or work on the budgets with them, or figure out ways to make the stages better.
Spotify: How do you see this scene developing in the next five years?
Richards: The cream will rise to the top. A lot of the producers now all have the same tools. If you're kind of an average producer you can make something pretty decent, but how do you stand out? The real deal artists are gonna rise to the top, and the mediocre, in the middle, will fall away. People used to like anything electronic. Now it's gotta be deeper than that.
__Spotify: You've created some innovative, outside-the-box festivals like Holy Ship! and now Friendship. Do you see more things like that developing in the future? __
Richards: Yeah. Right now smaller's better: more intimate, exclusive. When you're at a festival with hundreds of thousands of people, at some point, it just becomes a lot. We just launched an event called the Breakfast Club. It's a small, 500-person event we're doing in Miami: Five in the morning, pancakes, eggs, bacon. We'll have surprise guests, watch the sun come up with mimosas, Bloody Marys. I'm just as excited about that as I am for a festival with 100,000 people.