A Trip Down The Road to Finding Success – Exclusive Interview with Armin van Buuren
Interview by Kristine Kennedy and Michael Beas
Photos Copyright Ruud Baan
As a common household name in the music industry, this man certainly needs no introduction. We all know him, love his music, and applaud him for his countless contributions to our music industry. Armin van Buuren is equal parts talented and humble, and it was a true pleasure to have the opportunity once again to interview him. We hope you enjoy the interview and find some inspiration from him to be true to yourself, no matter what your dreams are in life.
Raver Magazine: It seems that you bring your ‘A’ game wherever you go. You have the best parties, the best artists signed to your Armada label. Everybody is always looking forward to you playing. How do you create the momentum and the vibe to always have endless energy, not just in yourself but in your entire label and the artists you represent?
Armin van Buuren: Well with the label, we’re just focused on the quality of the music and it’s not always easy because we get sent so much great music and we have the honor to work with so many great artists. And all these artists that we decide to work with, they decide on our label. They deserve the equal amount of attention. So we want to create a vibe to not only promote myself but the label as a whole and every individual artists that is signed to our label.
Currently we have about 80 artists exclusively signed to Armada and another 200 we work with on and off. That’s a lot. That’s a big responsibility. We as a label are expanding – we have the office in Amsterdam with 120 people divided over two companies and we recently set up shop in New York. We really are setting roots with the offices in New York and London, which was opened last year. It’s important to do so, we feel, especially for the American acts that we sign, so that they can get promoted by American representation in a local office.
That was always our dream. Not necessarily to have many people in many offices around the world, but to spread our love for dance music globally, which is what we try to do via livestream, social media, and now offices in various cities globally. We are hopeful to be in Asia pretty soon because it’s an extremely important market that we want to be in.
Raver Magazine: When you set up a shop, whether it’s in Amsterdam or New York (which we have gotten the opportunity to experience both and they’re awesome), is there a common theme that you look for when setting them up and making them your home?
Armin van Buuren: Well, I am not the CEO of Armada – that’s Maykel [Piron]. He runs the company and he’s in charge of the business decisions such as hiring staff. Of course, behind the scenes I have my say in the company and I do decide mainly on things for A State of Trance and Who’s Afraid of 138, but I’m not actively involved in the office and how the office is presented.
Obviously if it was terrible and I wouldn’t like it, I would tell Maykel and he would know about it, but that would just be an internal discussion. We’re very fortunate that Maykel and I often agree on a lot of topics, including the difficult ones, such as where do we want to go with our music?
The music we represent is first and foremost the music that we love, not necessarily the music that we think will sell well. So we still sign a lot of obscure tracks that may not necessarily be chart successes instantly, but Maykel and I are dance music lovers first and foremost. That’s the most important thing – you have to be true to yourself.
Raver Magazine: What sets Miami Music Week and Ultra Music Festival apart from the other events and festivals that you play at during the year?
Armin van Buuren: Miami is different because it’s the start of the dance music calendar. This is where the DJ’s come out of their holes from a few months over the winter working in their studios. This is where they showcase their brand new music for the first time. That’s why Ultra Miami and Miami Music Week are important because it’s the start of festival season. Miami is where you bring your ‘A’ game. Numbers-wise, it isn’t the biggest festival, but because of the timing of it at the beginning of festival season, it is a great opportunity to plug your new music, to build your relationships.
Raver Magazine: How do you feel about the new location this year?
Armin van Buuren: Well, to be honest with you, when Ultra moved from Bicentennial Park to the downtown area [at Bayfront Park], I was a bit skeptical because I felt that Bicentennial Park stage was so phenomenal. But they needed that ground and they built a museum on it, so Ultra had to move. I was scared then, but look at what it became. Miami is home for Ultra and I know how important the festival is not only to the organizers but to the fans that come here from all over the world to have an amazing time. Ultra has been so supportive of me and my music career, so I will always support them.
Raver Magazine: Well, speaking of the start of festival season and all this talk of new music, you have a new track out with our buddies Lucas & Steve. Can you tell us about it?
Armin van Buuren: It’s called “Don’t Give Up On Me” and it was super cool working with the guys because they’re kind of the young up and coming talent in the industry. They’re in their third year in Miami and I admire them a lot. I like them a lot. They come from house Music and I come from Trance, so to find a common ground was a fun experience.
Working with them was a breath of fresh air because you have to understand, I’ve been a producer for more than 20 years and it’s very easy to get stuck into the same formula and I make myself very aware of that. Even all my knowledge can sometimes hold me back if I don’t take a little bit of a risk here and there. When I got the stems from Lucas & Steve’s version to do my part, I was blown away by the details of their production. I think I got 115 tracks with audio information, so that shows you the care they put into it. They’re super talented and all the sounds they have going into that track – it’s phenomenal.
Raver Magazine: Talk to us about your Master Classes. You teach so many people that look up to you to become producers and realize their potential. What advice do you have for them that could possibly help someone that is reading this?
Armin van Buuren: The most important thing, if you want to be a successful DJ and you want to play all the main stages, your quickest way to the top is just write music. Write a track that everybody plays and then you are on your way. Look at the rise of Martin Garrix. Obviously he’s an amazing DJ and an amazing producer. His track “Animals” was played by everybody. That’s probably the greatest example of how that goes. You just have to make music and you have to make music that other DJ’s start playing.
That’s how you raise attention. Also, I want to stress that it’s very important to find your own sound. Of course, it’s good to look at other DJ’s, it’s good to do my Master Class, but there will never be a next Martin Garrix. This is an individual character that has a distinct sound and has distinct fans. So think to yourself, “What can I bring to the table that other DJ’s may like and they can work a dance floor with?”
So that’s a little bit of work and for most people, it won’t come instantly. You need to spend time in the studio and work, work, work, work, work. I’ve produced so much music over the past 25 years, and let’s face it, not everything was a success, but every track is a part of that journey to get to a successful single.
So I want to tell everybody, if you’re really serious about being a successful DJ, I think the most important thing is to keep working. Never give up hope. Believe in yourself and if you think you have something to bring, then do it.
Raver Magazine: Last one – it’s bonus question time! We’re back in your home in The Netherlands and about to open up your refrigerator. What are we going to find? Maybe a Heineken if we are thirsty?
Armin van Buuren: No, not even a Heineken. My life and I are big fans of good wines – both red and white. Red wine you’ll find in the fridge. You’ll also find a lot of sugar-free stuff. We have two kids and they like sodas, but we try to keep them off the sugar. So you’ll find milk, a lot of fruits and you’ll probably find a fresh fish because I love Kamado style grilling. It’s really healthy and super nice! Maybe you put a little salt on the fish, put it on the Kamado and eat it fresh with a glass of white wine.