In the first episode of our new podcast, SoundCloud VP of Music Intelligence Hazel Savage interviews legendary British DJ Judge Jules. The wide-reaching conversation is packed full of advice for artists and insights for anyone curious to learn more about the current state of the music industry.
Here are five key takeaways from the podcast, from pivotal shifts in where talent gets discovered, to the strengths and weaknesses of AI, and the importance of mental health and well-being in the business of music.
1. AI can’t replace human tastemakers and producers
“AI will never evolve like an artist can,” says Jules. This is evident in two spheres: an artist’s long-term sonic development, and tastemaking.
“Big artists like Patrick Topping or Solomon – If you were to listen to them now, what they're playing and what they're making, compared to two or three years ago, it's a dramatic evolution. I don't know that AI can do that.”
“Most artists, especially DJ producers are testing out stuff now that’s three months ahead of what’s available, and that’s what AI will never be able to do,” he tells Hazel Savage in our interview.
2. TikTok hits aren’t translating into long-term artist success
Judge Jules highlights that while TikTok has been a popular platform for discovering new music, it doesn't necessarily translate into long-term success for artists.
The problem, according to Jules, is that “music is ancillary to the experience.”
“Two or three years ago, if a record was performing well on TikTok, then the A&Rs would come swarming... Fast-forward to now and the reality is that TikTok only records don't perform very well as an artist prospect. Those records that only get big on TikTok don't have an artist proposition because people aren't really visiting TikTok as music fanatics,” he told us based on his experience signing many TikTok track deals.
What’s more, he’s seen very few artists with a TikTok-first hit getting follow-up support from labels. Even though the label contracts will provide the option for the label to buy up subsequent tracks, the option is “almost never” exercised, says Jules.
3. Artist mental health and well-being must be factored in
“There are a lot of challenges to mental health that are unique to being an artist,” says Jules.
Touring can exact a heavy toll on artists’ well-being, Jules notes. The emotional rollercoaster of performing in front of large crowds and feeling a sense of elation and self, only to find yourself alone and jet-lagged in a hotel room just a few hours later.
In Jules’ legal career, he believes that knowing the deals and being a skilled lawyer is not enough. Understanding the motivations, emotions, and struggles that drive individuals in the music industry is crucial for providing holistic client care. This includes considering mental health issues and the potential impact they may have on an individual's career. By recognizing the deeper, bigger picture and taking mental health into account, not only can artists receive better support and guidance, but the industry as a whole can foster a healthier and more supportive environment for its artists.
4. SoundCloud is a great place to find rising talent
Jules has been an avid user of SoundCloud for years. He’s been uploading his Global Warm-Up Radio show (now on episode 1022) to SoundCloud since Day 1. However, there’s more to SoundCloud than being a convenient place to upload your music.
“SoundCloud has become a massively important A&R source,” he told us.
“SoundCloud is obviously inhabited by music fanatics…so the “buzz chart” within SoundCloud has all of a sudden become so important to the A&R fraternity – to record labels big and small – looking to find new artists. Because you know that if an artist is performing there, it's because music fanatics like it. And if music fanatics like it, that's at least the beginnings of an artistic career.”
5. Successful artists are (usually) successful business people
According to Jules, being talented and making great music is no longer enough to succeed as an artist. He tells us that if you’re an artist, you need to be “a relentless, very thick-skinned, self-publicist” who understands their musical direction and target audience.
Having great ideas, understanding keys and the dancefloor (for electronic musicians) are all entry requirements.
The common denominator among successful musicians that Jules has met over his career?
“Almost all of them are very savvy when it comes to business.” That’s not to say they do everything, but they do know precisely who is doing what in their business.
And that might not be for everyone. “You might be good at some of them,” says Jules, “which might make you a backroom producer but might not make you an ideal candidate to be a successful artist.”
Watch to the whole episode below, or listen to the interview on SoundCloud.