Run DMT and the Independent Musician Revolution

| | @awfullybrittish

We are in the midst of the independent musical revolution. With music streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and even Soundcloud looking for licensing and monetizing strategies, the independent artist is left out in the cold.

But there are so many out in the cold— like a waddle of penguins battling the harsh arctic winds of the major corporate music companies —the group will survive.

“There’s two options you have: you can either chase coattails around and really try to keep up with trends; or you can get your foothold and make your own platform and not worry about what anyone else wants you to do,” says 31-year old John Robbins, the birth name of bass music producer Run DMT, an artist who is for the first time taking his career into his own hands.

Robbins was born and raised in Dallas, Texas, but stakes claim that Austin is his home. He moved to Boston, Massachusetts shortly before the end of last year, and following his upcoming tour, plans to relocate himself and his girlfriend to whatever location they find to be the most satisfying.

He also recently fired his entire management team and booking agency. Gone. The level of success that so many producers aspire for— having all the business dealings handled by someone else so you can just make music— he got rid of. Seems crazy, right?

For someone who on the outside seems at a reasonable level of success in a music industry that asks so much of the artist and gives back so little, why would he just up and change things?

What Robbins values these days is originality, something he feels is lacking in the current music climate. He values his career as a musician, and he values the experience he’s gained from being burned by shady promoters and booking agents who “don’t give a crap.”

But after five years of watching his career go in a direction he did not deem acceptable, Robbins took back control. With his girlfriend Sarah Surprenant, whom he moved to Boston with, Robbins started Kill Your Ego, an entertainment company of sorts that will allow him to handle all his own business dealings. This includes merchandise, apparel, licensing, and maintaining the rights to his music. The two operate the company jointly. Under the KYE umbrella, Robbins is helping to develop two other artists by offering a guiding hand based on his experiences while still relinquishing absolute and total control to the artist.

He believes that his experiences over the years can shed light on the darker parts of managing one’s own career. For instance, Robbins just recently played a show that saw the promoter leaving without paying. “If you can handle getting stiffed and go to sleep not angry, that’s a big step in the evolution and maturity of an artist,” he reveals. He added that money comes and goes, but the scales are always tipping toward balance. But that’s not easy knowledge to bestow upon the lesserseasoned artists who rely on $100, $200, or $300 for a night’s work.

“Essentially, the EDM world became this capitalized market where everyone is trying to get a piece of it and not considering the plight of the artists,” he says. That plight, which ranges depending on what level of success the artist has reached, can be anything having to do with agencies promising exposure, album releases, and deals based on the viability of the popular music at the time. With EDM bleeding into every genre possible—rappers collaborating with EDM megastars, pop stars tapping the buzz-name DJs to remix a track, et al—it became a field day for managers to pluck up every potential rising star. Those promises are only as valid as the popular genre of the moment, but the contracts are withstanding. Dangerous territory for a, say, 21-year old DJ who thought he/she was about to be the next big name on the marquee only to find out he can’t even release his own music without approval from a management team that has already found another buzzing artist.

“These kids growing up are vastly more talented than the guys who were making music five years ago,” Robbins adds, “but what they lack is the originality.” Robbins references Pretty Lights, Bassnectar and Skrillex as the real pioneers of original trailblazing sounds. The irony, though, is that Pretty Lights was releasing all of his music for free because he was using unlicensed samples, sometimes upwards of 40, in his songs. The same goes for Bassnectar who found his way into the ears of a hungry generation by remixing popular songs. Not to discredit Bassnectar, but the man is admittedly a fan of “fuckin’ brutal, satanic death metal,” so the overlap into the world of electronic productions came at the perfect time. What Robbins does acknowledge, quite truthfully, is that these artists created their own worlds around them rather than catering to a music industry that homogenizes artist’s sounds to fit a certain mold of marketability.

What Robbins fears is that this new generation will base their inspiration and influences off of the EDM of the last five years, which will largely reduce the dissemination of original music.

“The bands I grew up with had nothing to do with electronic music, so when I write it’s more or less trying to translate my inspiration from Pantera, or even early drum and bass stuff,” he says. He fears that when he sees producers now who think of Skrillex’s “Scary Monster & Nice Sprites” as a throwback, the future is limiting itself to only the recent past.

But for all his influences and inspirations Robbins is still an electronic music producer at heart. Whereas he found himself gaining traction in the EDM as a bass music producer, he’s starting to lean more on the ambient and psychedelic side of the encompassing genre. And sure, why not, with a name like Run DMT it makes sense.

“I am a fan of psychedelics,” he says bluntly before adding “but it was never a party thing for me. It was always about the learning experience.” Those experiences, in whatever altered reality he found himself mentally and visually traveling through, have led him to PPL PRSN (People Person), a new musical project he’s developing to showcase the artist he has become.

“As I grow older, the apprehension of bass music these days… it’s meant to set you on edge,” Robbins admits. His appeal for the heavier and more resounding bass lines has dwindled as he seeks out something more in the style of acts like Shpongle, Flying Lotus and Eskmo. Moving from the heavier bass music scene into more toned down trip-hop stylings leaves his future in a strange limbo: Bass music has infiltrated the clubs, which will mean temporary longevity in his genre of choice. The psychedelic side of music appeals to a different audience, one that has quickly moved beyond the club scene and into the realm of transformational festivals, and looking at music as something more than simply entertainment, but something that can truly precipitate change.

Neither is right or wrong, but the decision to abandon the music that put Run DMT on flyers to begin is a risk. And with his recent decisions to own his art absolutely, that risk seems more than worth it for the producer who is about to embark on a tour under the famed moniker.

Robbins now sits with his destiny in his own hands, and he has no problem declaring that. His most recent tour, which has more than 20 stops booked, was handled entirely by him. One of the biggest things he feels he’s accomplishing to taking on the responsibility to accept his own failures by removing the middle man (manager) with which he could have easily placed blame in the past.

“For me, it’s freedom,” Robbins says with pride, “who I am now, I want to be free with this.”

Therefore, ye heavy bass lines, play on. !


Run DMT plays The Blacklight District at Limelight on Friday, July 17. Tickets to show are $8 presale and then $10 at the door. Show starts at 10 p.m.