Hardwell’s skydive to success
With the DJ Mag Top 100 continuing to play a huge role in the music industry, various producers continually enforce creative campaigns to scoop in as many votes as they possibly can. In recent years, the award itself has been ridiculed by some sections of the dance community with many labelling the accolade as a glorified popularity contest. But in the eyes of booking agents, and promoters worldwide, the DJ Mag Top 100 still carries a huge weight.
In the United States especially, and across the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas EDM circuit, promoters love to shove leaflets under the unsuspecting noses of tourists wombling up and down the iconic strip, in the bid to rope them into high-end, high-priced thousand dollar table service packages at clubs like Hakkasan or Omnia, filled with the promise of a set from ‘The World’s Number #(insert number here) DJ’. The title itself has become something of a bragging right, or a shiny gold sticker to emblazon on the CV, biography etc, of an electronic act.
But with the market more saturated than ever, how can you ensure that your own campaign hits the spot? With thousands of DJs all vying for that all-important numero uno position, many find that even breaking the top 100 can be tricky, with legendary acts like Fatboy Slim, or Pacha Ibiza resident Martin Solveig missing out on a spot. The truth is, that whilst some acts use underhand tactics to ensure a place in the list (still to this day, much controversy surrounds the 2015 crowning of Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike after representatives of the duo allegedly toured Tomorrowland forcing festival goers to vote for them using iPads) there are many creative and inspirational campaigns that can influence your own thought process on this subject.
Previous years have seen acts like Above & Beyond creative entire fantastical narratives and short-films or live stunts to boost their ranking, whilst Nicky Romero’s creative team were sparked with the genius concepts of both Call Nicky and Play Nicky. But the campaign we’ll be focusing on is Hardwell’s Skydive stunt, which not only ensured Robbert’s place as the number one DJ in the world, but also helped further his brand, and create a loyal and dedicated fanbase.
Cast your mind back to the summer of 2013 and dance music was in a very different place. Though major festivals like Ultra Miami or EDC Las Vegas had already existed for many years, their popularity was beginning to truly bubble to boiling point, inspired by the crossover EDM sound that had bludgeoned its way into the mainstream at the turn of the decade, with acts like Afrojack, Calvin Harris, and David Guetta all helping dance tracks disguise themselves as pop music chameleons, crawling into the hearts of radio listeners worldwide. Led by the influence of the mighty Swedish House Mafia, who had recently wrapped up their ‘One Last Tour’ schedule, Hardwell saw a gap in the market.
With his Dutch mentor Tiesto, a long time winner of the poll, polarising opinion on account of his move from trance to a more mainstage-friendly sound, criticism was also surrounding Tiesto’s long-time rival, Armin van Buuren, whose 2013 album ‘Intense’ had adopted a slowed, melodic tempo that fans were (initially) unsure of. In a time when Martin Garrix had yet to even burst onto the scene (still a few months away from his breakthrough hit ‘Animals’), Hardwell knew that the fall of these iconic producers, and the retirement of the Swedes, meant his only true rival for the crown would be the hugely popular Avicii, but that even Tim’s own reputation had taken a slight hit in recent months after the melody master had debuted a fresh new ‘country’ inspired sound at Ultra. As it transpired, Tim eventually won his listeners round with the blues-inspired EDM classic ‘Wake Me Up’, but in the lull, Hardwell took things even HARDER, marking the move with the #GoHardwellOrGoHome hashtag.
Following up 2012 classics ‘Spaceman’ and ‘How We Do’, the big-room producer analysed what his fans loved (huge, spacious sounding anthems, packed with mighty drops) and amplified them: Producing ‘Apollo’, ‘Three Triangles’ and ‘Never Say Goodbye’ all within the first three-quarters of the year, and crucially – through the voting period of the DJ Mag Top 100.
Whilst Tiesto promised fans he would return to trance if he finished at the summit, Hardwell made a different kind of promise, telling his followers that victory in the poll would see him commit a skydive – all the more impressive given his fear of heights. It was a proposition that seemed entirely more attractive than his mentor and rival’s, on the account that his was something new. Though Tijs fans longed for another trance album from the king of the genre, they’d heard him dominate the genre for almost two decades. The idea of Robbert falling from a plane was something entirely refreshing and unique.
With his marketing team powering into overdrive, Hardwell soon released a movie of his life up until that point, ‘I AM Hardwell’, with the trailer dropping exactly one month before the big votes reveal in Amsterdam. Of course, by the time the annual extravaganza rolled around, Hardwell scooped the accolade, but with such glory came the pressure of fulfilling his promise to voters.
Never one to back out of his word, Robbert boarded a plane along with his film crew, and documented the whole situation to fans the following summer, facing his fear head on as he plummeted to the ground, screaming and cursing through his own heady mix of excitement and terror. Not only did the video provide fantastic online content, it soon went viral – with Hardwell’s name being bandied around the industry more than ever before. Genius marketing? Absolutely. As the likes, comments, shares and retweets came rolling in, suddenly Hardwell was a household name through both the dance industry – and more importantly – beyond. The move allowed the Dutch star to move into more mainstream, and lucrative collaborations, like his 2015 team-up with Jason Derulo, whilst staying true to his big-room roots.
With Hardwell’s ability to stick to his promise, and then partake in the amusing dive, he found his popularity at an all time high and won the award again in 2014, retaining his title. From start to finish, the campaign proved that with a little creative inspiration, your can grow your brand, kickstart your career, and build your empire, all in one go. The producer remains one of the most highly sought after names in the electronic scene, headlining festivals worldwide, and scoring a wealth of multi-million streamed Spotify productions. With the voting season for the 2019 DJ Mag Top 100 just around the corner – as tradition dictates – during Amsterdam Dance Event next October, the lessons of Hardwell’s skydive can be taught to future generations when looking for a blueprint on how to form a successful, and highly viral, content spread. In a world where every DJ can ask for votes via Twitter or Facebook, video content spreads much faster, and offers a unique and individual insight into the act in question, ergo forming a personal and intimate relationship with fans.