This interview has been paraphrased for consistency and clarity. You can watch/listen to the full interview with Sam Feldt here!
Joey: Hi Sam, how are you?
Sam: What’s up! Happy to be here. I’m good! I just finished two shows – one at Electrobeach in France and another at Airbeat One in Germany.
Joey: Yeah, I noticed on your Instagram that you got back yesterday. I was already admiring how you were going to do the podcast today. That’s dedication!
Sam: Yeah, as I said briefly in our conversation earlier, I usually do stuff like interviews, meetings, and press from Monday to Wednesday, and then Thursday to Sunday I’m usually back on the road. In this case, on Friday, I’ll be back to Tomorrowland.
Joey: How important is it for you to have a rhythm like that; some schedule that you can maintain?
Sam: Well, I like it, but it doesn’t always work out. For the past four weeks, I haven’t been back home. Then it’s tough to maintain a schedule from Monday to Wednesday, etc. But yeah, when I’m back home, usually that’s how my week looks.
Joey: How do you manage traveling while also doing other parts of your job? You make music and play, but what about the other things you do? How do you maintain those things while you’re traveling?
Sam: It can be pretty hard, especially when it comes to time zones. Sometimes you have calls and emails, but you’re on the other side of the world. So when you wake up, you have a mailbox with like 100 emails, but then when you reply, no one replies because they’re all sleeping. It can be quite frustrating, but you have to make it work. I think it’s essential while you’re touring to keep responding to emails and doing your calls, while still working on music as well. Otherwise, when you get back home, you’re going to have an enormous workload with a backload of maybe 1000 emails that you’re never going to survive.
Joey: How would you describe your business as an artist right now? Everyone knows you make music and DJ, but what else is going on in the background?
Sam: There’s quite a lot. I just finished my label contract, so we’re talking to new labels now. Part of that is setting up my own label, which is a big task since I have to find the right distributor and build the right team. I also just launched my publishing company. Also, I’m the founder of two other businesses, one called Fangage, and another is a hangover drink that I launched in October called ‘Always Bright’. Plus, I’m also the founder of the Heartfeldt foundation, which is a sustainability platform and non-profit. I just went to Uganda for that last week. It’s a very diverse life with a lot of different aspects, and I think that helps me because I can do the creative stuff in the studio and on stage, can connect my entrepreneurial spirit with the two startups, and also have a sense of purpose through my foundation.
Joey: Have you always been this entrepreneurial? Or was this something you found out once you were at a certain level in your career?
Sam: I started my first company when I was 13 years old. I had to drag my dad over to the chamber of commerce because I couldn’t make a company yet because I was a minor. I sold my company when I was 15; it was an e-commerce store where I imported products from China and resold them here in Europe. So I think entrepreneurship has always been in my system.
Joey: We were talking earlier about how we met like seven years ago, and you were using a different artist name at the time. Do other people know that?
Sam: Well, I tell the people who want to know. My original name was Dr. Papasov. The Facebook page is still up if you still want to see what I looked like eight years ago coming up as a DJ. I always kept it up to remember where I came from kinda. Sometimes you see you’ve come a long way.
Joey: How did it all start? You started at 11 years old right?
Sam: Yeah, but it was just playing at birthday parties with my friends and stuff. Every year for my birthday I asked for money, and with that money, I would buy smoke machines and strobe lights – a drive-in show basically. I expanded that for a couple of years. My dad used to drive me to all these parties where I would literally play the whole night for 50 euros. But, as an 11-year-old, 50 Euros was a lot of money. I could buy video games, and I was having fun doing it. I then stopped for a while until I was 17, when I went to the club for the very first time. It was in Albufeira, Portugal and I saw Billy the Kid perform there. I was like wow, that’s great. I don’t want to be dancing; I want to be that guy in charge of the club and making people dance. That’s when I went back home and invested in a DJ controller. I started practicing, mixing again, and putting my mixtapes on SoundCloud. It still took me five years to get signed. It was definitely not an overnight success.
Joey: Was five years later your first sign ever, or the biggest track you’ve signed?
Sam: Well, that was my Spinnin Records signing. I still had some smaller records before that under the Dr. Papasov name.
Actually, the first record I made under Sam Feldt got me signed to Spinnin. It was a bootleg of the Kelly Family that never came out. But it’s still on my SoundCloud called ‘Alien’. I sent it over to Spinnin, and that for them proved that I was able to create something new and different; it was a fresh sound. Before, under Dr. Papasov, I was sending them the cheesiest EDM tracks. I was just imitating the charts and trying to make the next record for Hardwell or the next beatport number. Under Sam Feldt, I said fuck all that, I’m just going to make what I love. The moment I started changing styles, that’s actually when the success came.
Joey: What was the reason for changing the name? Did you feel the urge to change styles?
Sam: To be honest, I never expected Sam Feldt to grow bigger than Dr. Papasov. I thought Dr. Papasov was doing very well since I was playing 2–3 shows a week at hockey clubs and stuff. I was like 17 back then. I thought it was going well, but creatively I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I was playing the cheesiest sets – anything from hip-hop to hardstyle. I started Sam Feldt as a side project, never expecting to sign any records or any shows. I began making mixtapes in the melodic, deep house style for me and my friends and family. And then I did my first record, and when Spinnin replied, I was completely confused because they weren’t releasing records like that. They were releasing Animals by Martin Garrix. So they must have been seeing something else in it.
Joey: Looking back, what do you think was the reason that the Sam Feldt brand was bigger than the Papasov brand?
Sam: I think people see right through if you’re imitating and not following your heart; if you’re releasing or playing stuff that’s not completely you. With Sam Feldt, I didn’t care what other people thought. I just did what I loved. People will always see when somethings coming from the heart. That’s why my whole umbrella brand is called Heartfeldt because Sam Feldt was a project that I started from the heart.
Joey: Yeah, I think that’s a critical piece that a lot of artists underestimate. Everyone says that it’s like that. But still, somehow 95% of artists are copying other sounds.
Sam: I think that’s exactly it. Sometimes in interviews, they ask me, ‘what’s your biggest tip for upcoming producers?’ I always tell them that it’s cheesy to say, but I think a lot of people don’t. listen to the answer. I’ll repeat it, and I hope they listen. The answer is to find your own sound. Find a sound that you love, and produce that instead of copying other people. I think if I said that to Dr. Papasov, he would have said yeah yeah yeah, and he wouldn’t have paid attention. But that’s really what you have to do. I tried for so many years to get releases, but I played empty bars, and never got it. The moment I did exactly that, when I really listened to myself, that’s when I got the success pretty much overnight with the first release I sent over. While I was sending releasing for five years, I never got a reply. So that’s the key.
Joey: It’s so funny because I talk to a lot of artists and have been an artist myself. If you look at a successful artist career, it seems like there is some template in all those stories – a template of success. Finding your sound and doing the core thing you think is best seems to be one of the most prominent pillars.
You started your first release on Spinnin and had this new brand called Sam Feldt. Did you have an idea on how you wanted to brand it?
Sam: Uhm, kind of. I literally came up with the name Sam Feldt in two minutes. My first name is Sammy, and short for that is Sam. I was looking around, and I listened to the songs that I was making. I was like, okay this is kind of melodic and deep house. When I looked at who was popular, like Robin Schulz, I realized I needed a German last name. So I googled two German last names and scrolled down the list, and within a minute, I found Feldt. I was literally on the register page on SoundCloud, and had to type in a name; it stuck ever since. Then I had to upload my profile picture, so I got myself a logo. I just went into Photoshop, got a font, dragged it around a bit, put a line under it, and it’s still my logo. So that whole branding got created within five minutes. Obviously, over the years, I’ve perfected it, and now have an artistic director doing all sorts of things. Also, from the very first moment, I implemented a lot of natural elements into the branding. A lot of leaves, palm trees, stuff like that. I’ve done that from the very first track I’ve uploaded, and the rest has evolved.
Joey: I really like that because I’m a big fan of not overthinking shit. When I listen to your story, all of the decisions you’ve made – which seem to be pretty big decisions right now – didn’t require a lot of overthinking.
Sam: It’s also easier when you don’t have anything. When you’re starting with zero followers, it’s a lot easier to choose your name then when you have a million followers. I didn’t expect anything from the project, which is why those decisions were taken so lightly.
But also, when it comes to the musical side, a lot of my DJ and producer friends around me have the problem of perfectionism. And they never release anything because they think it has to be perfect. Coming from a different background where I’ve had businesses since I was thirteen, I know things are never perfect. I can work on a record for ten years…
Joey: What would be the difference between you and your friends? Is there a different mindset or thinking process?
Sam: I think you have to learn to be able to say to yourself at a specific point, ‘this is good enough. I’m satisfied now. I might not be satisfied when it comes out in a month, but yeah, let’s put that creativity in a new project.’ When I collab with people, usually I’m the guy that finishes it. Some people stay in a process for months and months: perfecting the sub-bass and eq; really going into detail. I think the best thing you can do is just to release and go on to the next project.
Joey: I’m so happy you say this. Because this is something, I would like to point out to everyone.
Sam: The problem is, you finish a project, and then you listen back to it two days later. You hear stuff and then change things again. Then, two years later, you go back to it. The mind is very subjective. It also has to do with how much you’ve slept and other music you’ve listened to in the clubs. If you hear the same track week after week, you’re going to hear stuff that you’re going to want to change, and that’s not going to be very helpful for your productivity.
Joey: It’s like looking at a piece of art. The more you keep looking at it, the more details you see. You keep watching it because you keep discovering new things in the same piece of art.
Sam: It might not be more beautiful, but for the time, it might just be more different.
I think that’s another tip for producers. You learn a lot more from starting a brand new project and putting your creativity in that, then working for months and months to perfect a specific kick drum or whatever.
Joey: And with the releases, how many records do you want to put out every year? Is there a goal, or does it come organically to you?
Sam: It’s quite organic. I usually work a lot with vocalists, so I’m not a traditional dance producer. I don’t produce a lot of club records. I rarely start in front of a blank screen. So that helps me pretty much produce a lot of songs and always have a selection to choose. That’s also why I did an album with 24 tracks two years ago; there was so much music on the shelf. So no, I don’t have a goal. And also when a record goes well, for example, my latest single is going really well on Spotify, we kind of postpone the rest. A new release was planned for the beginning of August, but we’re postponing that to September to give the previous track some more space.
Joey: So you keep track of the statistics and see how well it’s performing, and as soon as you see the stats going down, you start planning the next one?
Sam: Also, we’re working with the label. So, in this case, Warner Music has a whole radio plan, and they’re expecting the track around September. As long as I see that they’re putting in a lot of effort, they’re still actively working with the track, I think it’s always best to have one track as a priority – especially for radio and stuff.
Joey: Right now you’re at a higher level where you’re working with partners and have to deal with radio stations and long term planning. Whereas in the beginning, I can imagine it was different for you as an artist.
Sam: Yeah, I think that was a different strategy. When you’re coming up, you don’t have to pay attention to radio yet. You can pretty much release one track every month if that’s your creative process. I think that’s also something that a lot of upcoming producers don’t get right. Make sure you have a buffer. If you have a track that you put out, and then it takes you three months to come up with a new record, people are already going to forget about the first one. I would say finish six tracks and make sure that you release a track every month. Half a year later, people will know you because you just put out six tracks.
I heard briefly in your podcast with Steff Da Campo that before, he had a strategy where he would release more than two tracks every year. He then found a way to release a record every month, and now he’s starting to get some recognition in the industry. You want to stay relevant by releasing a lot of music. I think that’s the music industry right now.
Joey: Where does your main success come from? Is that streaming mainly?
Sam: I would say so. I’m currently the 140th most streamed artist on the planet on Spotify. I think streaming wise I’m doing relatively well compared to other DJ’s. And I think that’s because I make tracks to listen to. I don’t make tracks for people to jump around or dance to. Which is also tricky because when you’re playing your DJ set, are you going to play Spotify?… So that’s always been a challenge: finding the right balance between energy and making people recognize you when you play the DJ sets. To solve this, I usually make club mixes for my records.
Joey: I was watching your Instagram. You have great posts where you create different kinds of videos of you playing the club mix of your last single.
Sam: That’s one way I get recognition. Just because people know the track on Spotify, doesn’t necessarily translate to people coming to my shows. They think I’m going to play that chill-out hangover track that they listen to on Sunday mornings. How’s that going to work out on a club? But by doing club mixes and showing that online, I think people are going to see that my sets are high energy.
But that’s been a challenge with having streaming success. People know you from the tracks that they listen to back home. It also limits the creativity in my DJ sets. If I don’t play ‘Show me Love,’ people will be disappointed. I’ve played it so many times.
Joey: So you think about it from the audience’s perspective when you play?
Sam: Well, I think that’s what the job of a DJ is all about. I think a lot of people in the industry take it very seriously. But in the end, you’re just a guy entertaining. Especially on Twitter, I see so many people take it so seriously as an art form and hating on other people that play too commercial or whatever. I’m like, come on, guys! The only reason you’re there behind the decks is to show people a good night. If you have to do that while playing 50 Cent, you play 50 Cent. That’s what you do – in my opinion, that’s what a DJ is for. Yes, I always look at it from a crowd’s perspective. I can’t just play what I want to play, because I might feel like playing some underground techno since those are the parties that I usually go to when I have a night off. But if people buy a ticket to see my show, and I just had a new track that’s streaming very well, they want to hear that track – that’s what they know me from. I think it’s important for people to recognize you when they go to a club or festival.
Joey: I noticed you’ve been spending a lot of time on content. How relevant is content to you right now?
Sam: The thing is, when you play shows for 1000 people, that’s your audience that night. But if you get photos/videos from it, you get an audience of millions. You’re not just playing a show for people that are there. You’re playing for your fans. Your fans might not be there since they don’t live in the area, or there’s a lot of reasons why people don’t see a show.
In this industry, content may even be more important than music. I know people will hate on that. But look at guys like Marshmello who are blowing up because of content. Because of hosting events on digital games, making a cooking show – cooking with Marshmello – that has nothing to do with the music, but separates him from the rest. If you purely listen to his music, it’s not that different from a lot of other acts that are on Monstercat or other labels. The reason why he’s so big is because of the content. So objectively looking at it, it’s a big part of the industry. Do I like it? Not really. I kind of hate social media in a way. But it’s the game you’re playing, and you have to be a part of it.
Joey: Is this something you outsource? Do you schedule your posts?
Sam: No, maybe I should since it would give me more peace of mind. But I think if you don’t do it yourself, just like music, and it’s not authentic, people see right through. Thats a big lesson I got from the Dr. Papasov era. Like okay, if you’re going to outsource people to write your posts or whatever, people are going to see, and it’s not going to go as well. Right now, I do everything myself. I do kind of have a social media manager, but that’s more operationally, so like uploading a video or setting up advertisements for shows. In terms of the main content on the feed, that’s usually done by me.
Joey: And you can obviously do more on the go. Because your photographer takes a photo, and two minutes later you can post most. Otherwise, you would send it to your manager, and that guy could be asleep.
Sam: Yeah, 100%. I also have some buffer content, which is in a big Dropbox folder. Like today or tomorrow, I’m going to be home. There’s no photographer here, so I use that content. But yeah, on tour, that’s usually how the best way is.
Joey: What does your team look like? How many people consist of your regular team?
Sam: Well, it depends on how you count. I have zero people that I employ; I work with everyone freelance or through an agency. For example, my booking team is ACE. You could say I have one booker for the US and one for Europe. But he’s supported by a junior agent – the team could be five people – so do you count the one or the 5? If you count those five it could be 100 people working for Sam Feldt on the label side, press side, tour side; it varies depending on who you include in it.
Joey: Another thing I wanted to touch on was how you sometimes implement acts into your live shows. What’s the reason for you to take those artists with you in certain shows?
Sam: As I said, Sam Feldt’s music has always been very organic. From the very first track, I’ve used a lot of live instruments, especially horns, trumpets, and saxophones. They’re in maybe 70% of my tracks, in addition to guitars and pianos. I also think that sets me apart from a lot of dance music and EDM producers who are very synth based. I’m very live instrument based. When fans listen to my tracks on Spotify or on the radio, I want them to have the best experience at my shows; that’s why I get the live band involved. A lot of people bring an MC, Vjay, or a lot of effects. For me, live instruments are my ‘effects.’ I think that it’s more important right now to present the tracks in the most natural way – the way they got recorded in the studio live. The reason I don’t do it in all shows is the financial aspect; you also kind of need a big stage.
Joey: I really like what you’ve been saying and am on the same page with a lot of things you’ve said. I admire how you’ve built your career in the last couple of years, and I know you’ve been doing things differently from other people.
Sam: Right now I’m at a crossroad. I’ve been with the same label for five years and finished my contract. It just gives me a lot of opportunities. Same with management. Right now I’m not signed with a management. I have my own management, and I employ managers to do specific things. So that really allows me to finetune the people I work with. Also, if someone is not performing well, you have the opportunity to do something about it. If you’re signed to a management, you just complain to the management company, but you can’t fire them – so you’re not really the boss.
Joey: I think that’s going to bring you a lot of good stuff in the future, especially with your own label which is going to give you a lot of new opportunities. Aside from new music there, other people will drop some music there I’m guessing.
Sam: Yeah, I have my own platform, Heartfeldt, which also has a website Heartfeldt.me and a demodrop. A lot of times I get good demos but can’t put them out. I think that’s the main reason I want to start a label – to help new talent get their music heard!
Joey: Thanks again for taking the time, Sam!