When Sharam Tayebi and I met in 1991 and formed Deep Dish, we had modest aspirations of launching a local label with the hopes of realizing a few of our musical ideas at the time. Little did we realize that nearly 15 years later, we'd still be ranked! Now, in addition to Deep Dish, we have three record labels — Yoshitoshi Recordings, Shinichi Records and YO! — and a DJ agency, Bullitt Bookings. To sum up this wild journey, I'd have to say that it was simply a lot of hard work and plenty of inspired ideas. We also managed to work and collaborate on many levels with some of the most talented individuals in all facets of our core industry, many who are an integral part of our team today. After our first mix compilation, Penetrate Deeper (Yoshitoshi), was released in 1995, we went on do 11 mixes as Deep Dish and two each, separately. My latest is my new Global Underground: Taipei (GU31) release this year. Sharam and I have had both incredibly easy and virtually impossible times in terms of licensing the music that has appeared on our compilations, so I can relay some advice.
What's the protocol for licensing tracks?
The first step in licensing music is to put together a wish list of all the tracks you are considering for the CDs. And you'll have to do this plenty of time in advance of your deadline because it can take weeks, and in some cases months, for certain labels to respond to the request or for your label (the licensee) to engage in lengthy back and forth negotiations with them (the licensor).
Are there any hurdles you've had to jump over to get permission for using a track? Do you have Plan B tracks lined up in case the answer is no?
You always need to have a Plan B and often a Plan C in case you don't get the license, as sometimes you won't know the status of a track until the 11th hour, when you are finalizing the mix and when you're dangerously close to your deadline. Representing me, I have one of the best lawyers in our industry, Kurosh Nasseri, who has, in the span of his career, done countless deals, made many alliances and has been instrumental in not only serving our interests but also in helping the label contact and acquire licenses to facilitate the process.
A label may need to rely on the reputation or clout of an artist's lawyer, or even their own, to secure a license. But you should always put together versions of the mix with substitute tracks. There are also digital rights restrictions that labels will impose (typically, the labels do not like to grant single-download rights), which conflict with digital-format requirements that online stores — particularly iTunes — have enforced. That causes limitations, which you will have to contend with. In the case of my new CD, this resulted in almost an entirely different tracklisting for the online release as opposed to the physical CD release!
How can DJs who are putting together their first mix CDs ensure a return on their investments after paying licensing fees?
We've never been in a position where we had to do the licensing ourselves, and typically, the label putting out the CD — not the DJ — will be the licensee. In many cases, though, such as Subliminal Records' boss Erick Morillo, he is not only the one mixing the comp, but he is also the one licensing in all of the music, as his label will be releasing the CD. If you're the one who's been hired to mix the CD, you aren't really concerned with the “cost” to the label in obtaining the licenses; you just want that particular track cleared for your use. But if you're like Erick, then obviously you have to do a number of cost-and-return projections to ensure that you do not lose money. And please bear in mind that in addition to the cost of licensing in each track, you will also have manufacturing and marketing costs.
How important is it to put your own stamp on a mix CD, such as adding your own edits or putting together original, unreleased tracks (or covers, as with your version of Love and Rockets' “I Feel Speed”)?
Well, you have to remember that with so many DJs and so many compilations out there, the only way that you can stand out is by differentiating your mix or overall sound from others. So re-editing and sometimes remixing some or all the music on your CD (as in the case of Sasha's Involver album) will not only give you an edge but is also a newsworthy angle that your publicist can use to secure features in trade and online magazines. It may be extremely time-consuming or difficult to endure such a task, but it will ultimately be creatively satisfying and render your mix truly unique (as opposed to just sounding like you slapped together a series of your favorite tunes).
What are some ways a DJ can get exposure for a mix CD aside from press and ads?
Just like a band puts together a comprehensive world-wide tour to support an upcoming or newly released album, so should a DJ. That will ensure that not only the CD but also the DJ and his or her sound is heavily promoted, which will help establish the DJ in various markets.
What are some mistakes young DJs make when working on a mix CD project that you'd like to see them avoid?
Mixing live in front of an audience and in a club setting is far different than putting a cohesive mix together in the studio. Some tracks sound perfect in a club environment, while they may be too linear, instrumental, boring, etc. for inclusion on a CD. So try to anchor the mix by choosing great songs first, and then you can sprinkle it with the “filler” or “segue” tracks.