There’s no refuting the fact that radio has taken somewhat of a backseat since the inception of the Internet. Before the birth of the World Wide Web, radio was the forum for artists and aficionados alike to hear new music. Today, the industry is different. In an attempt to keep the balance sheets in the black, corporate-run radio stations flood the airwaves with countless amounts of advertisements and fail to accommodate the less mainstream genres. Subsequently, listeners are forced to go online for a more efficient, streamlined and simply less laborious user experience.
The aforementioned are just some of the reasons why Los Angeles based on-air personality DJ Skee announced his resignation from radio after a decade-plus tenure within the field. Nevertheless, despite his commentary on the state of contemporary radio, including his now illustrious “radio sucks” remarks, DJ Skee isn’t going anywhere. Just a week removed, Skee announced DASH Radio, an Internet based platform, free of advertisements and established to represent all genres of music, specifically the under served categories including, among others, EDM.
“There’s very few EDM stations in the country. There’s no definitive EDM outlet,” explains DJ Skee in an exclusive interview with HipHopDX. “When you look at a lot of those guys they don’t get — we always say [that] they’re incredible [and] they sellout hundreds of thousands of people yet they’re not on any pop radio. The best you get is a mix show play. They’re not in rotation. It’s crazy! These are some of the biggest guys in the world.”
This appears to be just the beginning for the DASH network as new stations are slated to be added weekly to the original 50 stations already available.
As Skee goes onto detail, he’s assembled a passionate team that houses a diverse array of industry experts. Co-founder Matt Michelson, Chief Marketing Officer Thuy-An Julien (formerly head of Urban Marketing at iTunes), Key Advisor L.A. Reid and various investors including Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson have all embroiled themselves in what Skee describes as “the future of radio.”
Prior to the public announcement of DASH, DJ Skee spoke with HipHopDX to discuss the birth of the platform and why he thinks it’ll become the leading radio broadcaster in the world.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JUSTIN HUNTE
DJ Skee Details The Origin Of DASH Radio
DX: Congratulations, sir. This is a big idea. Where did it come from?
DJ Skee: I appreciate it. Honestly I had the idea for a while. I’ve known where radio is at and everybody’s seen the video and everybody kind of posted about my resignation [but] it came before that. For years I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve seen where radio has been going [and] how the format is changing. To me, it’s really less dominant music and entertainment business to a large extent that’s still stuck in analog, it hasn’t gone digital, nobody’s come in and claimed that throne. I don’t consider Pandora [streaming service] radio at all. It’s just playlists. It has its own thing but ours is a total different lane in terms of real radio with real deejays, user views, real stations, real personalities, real music discovery there’s nobody [who has] claimed that.
I’ve been [on] Clear Channel to Sirius [XM Radio] and those guys were great to me. They helped give me a platform but I felt like I’d hit the ceiling with what I could do. I tried to do other things and it’s corporate run so it’s not the people that I worked with. It’s the top of the ladder. I felt like [if] somebody was gonna come in and do this—to really bring the power and magic back to radio—why not us? We have the most passion. We’ve put together an incredible team from Silicon Valley, from Hollywood, from entertainment, from the banking industries and it just made so much sense. I just wanted something that I could have fun with in radio, be passionate about. Yes, I think it’s an incredible business model and [I think] we’re gonna be wildly successful, but for me it’s really about saving radio. It’s about doing the right thing. When I go to these schools, kids don’t even listen to radio and they claim not to like it’s not cool anymore. We need to bring that magic and the feeling that I had when I grew up listening to radio [because] kids don’t have that anymore. I wanted to bring that back.
DX: How long has this idea been in the atmosphere? How long have you been thinking about this?
DJ Skee: I’ve shared this whole concept and where I thought radio needed to go with these big corporations that I was working with and they never really reacted to it. It’s funny [because] I pulled up some old emails and I’ve had it on paper for years now. Really it kind of got serious once we did the SKEE app. We launched our SKEE app with no expectations. It was just something for fun. We came in, no rules, and very quickly I realized [that if] we can duplicate this whole model and this whole concept, that’s what the leading broadcaster for the future would look like. I’ve spent a ton of time in Silicon Valley. Obviously I’ve connected with a lot of people in the industry over my years and we’ve been able to get together an A-list team from Matt Michelson who is one of my partners who runs Backplane to people like L.A. Reid and Thuy-An Julien who was at iTunes. We’ve put together an incredible roster. We’ve got Julio G doing what he wants to do with freedom for our classics Hip Hop channel. It’s all come together and really been serious pretty much all of this year.
DX: Who was the first member of the team that you reached out to join?
DJ Skee: It was really myself and Matt Michelson who is the CEO of Backplane. He’s one of the most connected guys in Silicon Valley. [He’s] best friends with everybody. [He] did all the [Lady] Gaga stuff. We kind of sat down and put this together. I did what I did best and he did what he does best and the rest is now gonna be history.
DJ Skee Explains How DASH Differs From Terrestrial Radio
DX: In the [Dash] marketing deck it says that 60+ million impressions are already built-in.
DJ Skee: Yeah. We have an agency where we represent people ranging from AT&T to Google to you name it and so on. We have a built-in platform between our TV shows, between the out-of-home screens that we control in places like 7-Eleven to our YouTube channel where, without even trying [and]—it’s a great business advantage for us—we reach the masses every single month just with our video content. We’re gonna rely heavily on that especially to launch it and spread the word.
DX: It’s interesting to hear about this in the shadow of the Beats sale to iTunes which is, in my opinion, the cornerstone of Silicon Beach which Los Angeles’ been trying to build for a while.
DJ Skee: 100 percent, dude. Saying that, music is such a hot space. Everyday you see a new music app pop up but we’re nothing like anybody out there. There’s only a couple of people that really compete with us and those guys just simulcast the same FM stations that people are already dissatisfied with. They claim thousands of stations. It’s just the same thing that people can already get on FM with commercials, with the lack of variety. It’s just syndicated shows and stations over and over with the same 10 formats. And other ones are just like Pandora. Pandora to me is not radio. I think there’s room for that if you wanna have playlists or set a mood or something. It’s not personally my favorite but they’re not radio. They call themselves radio, but it’s not that. Then you have Spotify and Beats, which I don’t think we compete with at all. I actually want those guys to be extremely successful because the bigger that they get, the more people are going to listen to us and hopefully discover us. It may not be equivalent to your music library [but] it’s another subscription-based model. You pay for those. Ours is real radio that’s free where you can’t choose what you want to hear. We don’t do anything that they do and they don’t do anything that we do. We’re in a unique position where there’s not really anybody in our lane that’s done anything exclusively digital. It’s really interesting. The Beats sale, to me, was a huge inspiration. Jimmy [Iovine], [Dr.] Dre, Ian [Rogers]. Dre is one of my idols. All those guys over there are great friends of mine and I love what they do. I think we work very well with them but there’s nobody else that’s interesting. Nobody’s done true radio yet.
DX: One of the problems with radio now obviously is, in my opinion, consolidation within the space, which always leads to a lack of options. How is DASH separate from any of the pitfalls that actual terrestrial radio has gone through where all off a sudden there’s a pay-for-play format?
DJ Skee: Absolutely. Well traditional radio is limited because just the cost of entry is so high. In L.A. an AM signal just sold for $9.8 million two weeks ago and that only reaches 30 square miles. Because of those costs and because it’s monopolized by a few corporations, [radio] is just looked at as a business. So there’s all these underserved genres. One of our stations is Tech N9ne’s Independent Grind. So we teamed up with Strange Music. Tech N9ne is a guy that’s on the Forbes [Cash Kings] list every year, he’s on the road for 300 days of the year, he’s one of the most successful, not even in Hip Hop but artists in music in terms of financially that gets no radio play. And then there is a whole group of other people, if you look at Rhymesayers [Entertainment]. We’re gonna put all the biggest independent Hip Hop artists on that station. And then we have other stations.
You can go across genres if you look at EDM. If you look at even Teen Pop, a lot of that stuff does not get real radio play [and] people don’t realize it. We’re gonna serve all the under served markets just because we’re digital. It’s a lot easier for us to launch these stations. We’ve brought in the key curators, people who are so passionate about the music that really get it [and] that are the biggest in the field for old school Hip Hop. So guess what? We’re gonna do our old school and our classic station. We’re bringing Julio G who started KDAY back in the day. There’s nobody that can do Hip Hop like him, there’s not one person. I argue that you couldn’t find one person better for that. We’ve done the same thing across all these genres. We’re not just the same 10 formats over and over. We have such a wide variety of stations but it’s not overwhelming. They’re all programmed and they’re all real radio. They all have live people behind them. It’s programmed by algorithm. In terms of regular radio it’s not just the same formats over and over. Plus, we’ve got rid of the repetitive playlists, all the lack of variety and most importantly the commercials. The average station has 10 to 15 minutes of commercials per hour.
DJ Skee: Not zero radio play but they get next to nothing. There’s very few EDM stations in the country. There’s no definitive EDM outlet. We always say [that] they’re incredible [and] they sellout hundreds of thousands of people yet they’re not on any pop radio. The best you get is a mix show play. They’re not in rotation. It’s crazy! These are some of the biggest guys in the world. If you look at it across the board, people don’t believe it but when [Justin] Bieber came out he hadn’t got a ton of radio. People think he’s this radio magnet but radio didn’t embrace it [and] he has arguably one of the biggest fan bases in the world. And radio, just because of the way it operates, doesn’t embrace a lot of these other genres. So we’re going out after everybody and trying to create the definitive platform for all these people that are under served whether it’s Tech N9ne to EDM. We don’t judge the music. We want to provide the biggest platform in the world for people to succeed, strive and discover music.
DX: How does the artist get paid from the plays? Does this go through SoundExchange?
DJ Skee: Of course. Radio is still where 75 percent of people discover music just because it’s the easiest form of entry. It works because people are in their car [and] they don’t have to think about it. They don’t have to type in the name of an artist. They don’t have to make a playlist. They don’t have to search through millions and millions of songs on these servers. Or if they don’t know much about a genre, they don’t have to type in the name of random artists. When radio first came out it invigorated the music industry and we feel like we’re really gonna do that for some of these other genres. And absolutely artists are getting paid through SoundExchange, through royalties, through publishing and we have no problem paying that. We built up a war chest that we’re able to really go out and do that. In my mind we’re not taking away the sale [or] anything different from these guys. If you wanna hear Jay Z’s album, we’re not the place for that. You can go to any of these other ones from Spotify, even Pandora to an extent, and type it in and hear what you want to hear. If you turn to one of our Hip Hop stations you’ll probably hear a single [or] a couple of songs off the album but it’s gonna be random, it’s not on demand, it’s nothing where it’s going to take away sales. These guys don’t get paid right now with some of the streaming services. If you look at some of the big carriers like iHeartRadio and those guys, the artists actually don’t get paid off of that because they have FM signals so they’re not getting paid off the digital streams. They’ll actually benefit more with us through that while having more opportunities to be discovered and it’s not taking away sales.
DX: What’s the risk? Is there any risk here? The way it’s described it sounds like there’s no risk to this model at all right now.
DJ Skee: Of course. There’s risk with everything that you do. We think it’s a very obvious play. It’s not the most revolutionary idea in the world it’s just that we’re the first to really go out and do it right. I feel like my whole career is aligned with everything I’ve done from radio, to the industry, to you name it and it has all come together for this. There’s risk with anything. There’s huge risk. I could have played it safe. I was on the biggest station in the country [but] it’s just it wasn’t passionate for me anymore. It didn’t move me. I didn’t feel like that type of radio is gonna last. I don’t know how much longer FM and antenas are gonna be around. If you look it up online you can see what Disney did two days ago or whatever it was. They shut down their radio stations, they’re selling them off because most of their listeners are digital. There’s a vast change about to happen in the marketplace and I didn’t want to get caught behind. I wanted to do something right and let it really be powered by the people who deserve it. Not these big corporations that control it and are just about the bottom line. We want to create the best radio station in the world. By doing that, we’ve listened to people and taken away what they hate: repetitive playlists and the ads and offered them all the variety.
DJ Skee Explains L.A. Reid’s Role With Dash Radio
DX: Describe L.A. Reid’s role as Key Advisor? Does he just give you ideas or let you know if your ideas are solid?
DJ Skee: L.A. [Reid] is investing in it and he’s a great mind. He’s created history and everything [he does] is second to none. What he’s been able to do in this industry is absolutely incredible so he’s come on board. We got connected through a mutual friend and he just loved it. He really got it instantly and said he wanted in. He’s been incredible.
DX: What’s the value of having Thuy-An [Julien] from iTunes as your Chief Marketing Officer?
DJ Skee: Thuy-An is incredible. Her history speaks for itself. 15 years at Apple, before that running digital at Conde Nast, Sports Illustrated and so on. She’s been in the space before. She was there when they launched iTunes. She was there when they launched iTunes radio. She was there when she ran all the label relationships [and] we’ve been great friends for years. She left Apple and she instantly jumped onto it, realized the potential and came on board. It’s been a blessing to work with somebody like her who has that experience and who was under Steve Jobs [at Apple] in the meetings and can share a lot of things. People don’t realize [that] iTunes, when they launched, they didn’t spend a ton of money promoting. The promotional budgets weren’t all that and they built something incredible the Apple way. I’m hoping that not only is her stellar marketing going to speak for itself and do its thing but I really want her to come into this company so she can teach us what they did so we can do what Apple did. They changed the music industry. They changed it with iTunes without question and we want to do the same with radio.
DX: You have a Vice President of Pop and a VP of EDM but there’s no VP of any other music genre. Why those two specifically?
DJ Skee: We have people for all genres that have been signed on since then. But we have somebody for every genre.
DX: When I see this I immediately think that it’s different because there are people involved and there’s not a lot of quality competition in the market that still involves people.
DJ Skee: It’s crazy. We felt like it was something so needed and almost so obvious in a weird way.
DX: Everything is a technology company now at its core. If you don’t embrace that you’re excluding yourself.
DJ Skee: Exactly. We’re just taking what’s worked and making it digital [and] putting great people involved in it. That’s what we wanna be. And getting the support of great people like yourself, people who are passionate and get it [is great].
DX: What’s your one-year goal for subscribers or listeners and what’s your five-year goal for subscribers and/or listeners?
DJ Skee: We don’t have any numbers specifically. We’re just doing this for fun. Yes we think it’s an incredible business model and all that but we haven’t really set goals because we don’t know what’s going to happen. We think it’s obviously gonna take off very quick but we haven’t limited ourselves. We have no idea what to expect. We’re trying to be the people’s space here. There’s a risk with anything but we think it’s going to take off very fast and our goal is quite simply to become the leading broadcaster for the digital world. In lieu of a number I would say that’s what our goal is for five years from now and I think we’re gonna be on that path very quickly.
DX: Word up. Is there anything else you want to add or want people to know?
DJ Skee: At the end of the day it’s something that I feel so strongly about that [if] somebody was gonna do it, why not us? Why not people that really get it? Yes we want to make money off it and be a huge business but I want to make radio fun and save it and find the format. That’s really the goal with it. Everything that we do is with the aim of keeping the listener first. That’s the goal. We’re gonna turn down revenue. We could go in and sell ads and do cool things and we’d still probably get a lot of listeners but it’s proven that listeners don’t like it and I don’t think it’s that effective so we’re gonna find different ways to get through and do cool stuff.