It’s 2008, and the Deadmau5 remix of “The Longest Road” has just been nominated for a Grammy. Legends like Tiësto, Armin van Buuren, and Above & Beyond are leading the European fervor for Trance, but the dance scene in the United States is still very much a niche interest. Ultra isn’t a three day festival yet, and the US music tastes are at a crossroads.
Britney Spears is being awarded “Best Dance Track” nominations, and rap, pop, and punk rock are all at a stand still with no clear vector to the forefront of the millennial generation’s ever multiplying interests. Meanwhile, a 27 year old from Vermont named Morgan Page is navigating a hit single that will be the beginning of a long, career—hard won through persistence, talent, and the impending explosion of electronic music in the US.
If you ask Morgan Page when his career started, he would tell you that it was in the back room of the University of Vermont’s student run radio station, all the way back in ’96.
At 16, he’d discovered the channel thumbing through the jam bands, classic rock, and hip hop that cluttered the FM dial in his hometown, a suburb of Burlington, Vermont. Before long, Page was filling in as a host and DJ for students too hungover to make their shifts. After a stint managing a channel in Boston, Page scored a summer internship at a hot New York record label where his job duties included taking out executives’ garbage.
It wasn’t until Page released “The Longest Road” in 2008 that Page had his ‘breakthrough moment’ as an artist. After years of effort behind getting a club residency, he enlisted Deadmau5 to do a remix for his new single, hiring the superstar producer outright. This decision would earn Deadmau5’s first Grammy nomination, and produced the song that could be heard in every club and radio station nationwide.
“That was before [Deadmau5] had the mousehead and was at the earlier stages in his career arc. His stuff was just starting to blow up on Beatport, and Beatport was a real outlet and a real tastemaker then. I remember that remix being played when you went to any club in Miami. Every shop that you walked into, even the pizza store, was playing that song. But that was a different time where one song would really just plaster the continent.”
But the world in which Page first became a household name in the electronic community is so starkly different than the landscape of electronic music in the US now. Ultra has careened into a 3-day two weekend event, superstar DJs are filling arenas on the merit of their own productions, and the electronic music industry was valued at approximately $7.1 billion. It’s an evolution that hasn’t escaped Page’s scrutiny.
“My first reaction is ‘What took so long?'” asks Page of EDM’s current world dominance. “A lot of politics got in the way of that.”
“There was this rave act that took all of these huge festivals that were happening and squashed them. No one could be a part of these for several years. That was like this false start for a lot of festivals, and I wasn’t DJing at that point, but I was starting to get into music then in the late 90s and early 2000s.”
“It took several tries, and then major labels started putting in a lot of money and investment into Daft Punk,The Prodigy, Crystal Method, and all of these sort of electronica artists. It’s really humbling and great to see that it blew up. I think now it is all about maintaining that, and now it has matured and it is still doing great, but now we look into where does it evolve now? Does it just turn into hip hop? Where does it go next? That’s what it feels a little bit like now- that it is reverting to hip hop.”
Unlike other artists in the industry, Page has found a way to experiment with his sound as electronic has turned commercial without compromising the core of what makes him unique as a producer. He has not caved to the trends, pivoting to pop/rap collaborations that are sure fire radio hits. Instead, he’s has managed to stay not only relevant, but popular, despite a staunch disinterest in infusing hip hop into his music.
“As you have heard, my music has been been pretty diverse. ‘Other Girl‘ was a little more tropical focused, and “Fight My Way” is a little more my usual style of Progressive House. I think this is the time to really try different BPM’s, so that is the biggest difference you will see with future releases.”
“To me, it’s not so much about teaming up with 2 Chainz. I like to surprise people, and I’m talking to guys like Kaskade about teaming up for a song, but for me it’s more about changing the framework rather than just famous guest appearances. There won’t be any DJ Khaled on there, and making songs that have strong vocals that last is the backbone of songs that will stick around a little longer.”
Another dynamic of the evolving music industry that has affected Page’s decision making not stylistically, but strategically, is the evolution of how to successfully release music to fans. Page has shifted his focus from album releases to singles, with the acknowledgement that singles can be missed when they stand alone. Contrastingly, releasing a full album all at once puts the songs at risk for having one hit single on the album overshadow other great releases that may have made more of an impact if not released alongside other songs.
Despite changing his release strategy, Page has remained consistent in his approach to making music. He discusses at length how he has managed to diversify his production process through collaborations as well as what goes into making a hit in the world of modern day dance music.
“My main criteria when I make music in the studio is goosebumps. How do you get that serotonin rush and the endorphins from making the music? And when that wears off from hearing the song too many times, is it still a good song? That’s the challenge- still staying objective with a song after you have heard it a lot. A big thing about what I am doing now is teaming up with a lot of younger producers to have that extra ear in the studio. I would just be very stubborn and work by myself, but you can see like the remix with Deadmau5, the collaboration adds so much. It just pushes you because you can’t work in your own vacuum.
“I think the hardest part is that I think every song is going to be amazing and be a hit record. Sometimes that is not the case, and other times some songs have done better than I thought it would. When you release a song, you’re hoping that all of the variables line up because a hit record is a million things going right. The bar for a platinum record is so high now- it is 150 million streams, and that’s crazy. Success depends on things like the good placement on a playlist because not everyone has access to the music. That’s something that has been really nice with Armada. They are important and really come through in these situations in an oversaturated market through making you a priority when it needs to be and pulling back where it’s good to do that.”
Page was unique in that he remained on a smaller label for years before joining electronic giant Armada in November of 2016. Armada was not his first run in with big record labels, however. Page and his team had a slight mishap with Atlantic when the label created electronic imprint Big Beat Records and tried to get him on board as the first artist to join.
“I was going to be the first artist with [the] new electronic label. A lot of people don’t know that, but creatively it just didn’t pan out with what we wanted to do. But it was funny, Craig Kallman, one of the heads of Atlantic, was all excited and we actually flew to this hotel and had a big meeting. This was before ‘In the Air,’ and they didn’t even know ‘The Longest Road,’ which was funny. It was just one of those things where you were like, that doesn’t add up- that’s a red flag. They liked “Call My Name.” It’s strange if they don’t know your body of work.”
As Morgan has navigated record labels, an evolving production and release process, and staying popular amidst changing fan desires and genre popularity, he attributes his success to a variety of factors. He also has definitive opinions on his place in the electronic community. He wraps up our conversation by talking about the challenges that many artists don’t publicly confront, along with how he has been able to not only survive, but thrive in the ever-changing journey of being an electronic producer in this day and age.
“It is very easy to get lost. I see a lot of guys do a 2-year thing where they blow up and then disappear. It’s a lot of work. I’ve never been an artist who has done that hockey stick exponential growth thing and been like the hot current artist of the moment. It has always been a slow burn, and I feel as if my strength is in my consistency. I think it’s good for people to have perspective because there are some artists who have never worked a day job before. I hope they don’t take this life for granted. The hard part isn’t blowing up. The hard part is sustaining it, and keeping that fire going.”
Photos courtesy of Morgan Page.