Interview With DJ Scott Allyn

In the early 70’s the disco became the center of urban nightlife. It was not uncommon for people to pour into nightclubs around nine o’clock and party to the soul influenced music of Donna Summer and KC and the Sunshine Band. For some time, disco had become a staple in European nightlife, but eventually impacted the American music played in clubs. Early disco music was a blend of jazz, classical, funk, and soul, not an electronic style. Later on, the innovation of the drum kit would popularize and increase the appetite for beat-based music in the urban club scene.
The transformation of disco to modern day house music began with Frankie Knuckles. Known as the godfather of house, Knuckles opened the first experimental music club, The Warehouse, in Chicago. He was an innovator and was famous for mixing various pre-recorded drum beats with a variety of musical styles. Soon, the old disco classics were being meshed with new beats to create a faster-paced sound that would entice people to dance. The effects of Frankie’s music and The Warehouse in the American clubbing scene would continue to grow and create an international industry focused on urban nightlife.
House music is a type of electronic music that utilizes a bass drum on every beat. Repetitive synthesized sounds and vocal phrases are then layered on top of the beat. The beats are less harsh and more relaxed than those found in techno or disco. DJs create house music on turntables by mixing and matching sounds from various records. As technology has advanced, many effects have been designed to alter and contribute to the overall sound of the music.
Today, house music is an industry that has been brought into the mainstream by artists like DJ Mark Farina and Derrick Carter. There are many record labels like OM Records that specialize in representing DJs spinning house. In every major city in the world, there are packed clubs and lounges that headline house DJs. The house music industry has set standards on electronic music and functions differently from other music industries.
In this interview, DJ Scott Allyn describes his transition into the world of house, how a house record deal is constructed, royalty and copyright issues, and more. Scott was a popular DJ in Chicago, has played in many famous lounges like Smart Bar, and has performed with many prominent DJs in the house industry. Scott took a hiatus from spinning house music, but now performs occasionally in lounges and clubs around Chicago.
How did you get your start spinning and establishing yourself in the house industry?
Scott: I started DJing in 1993. I grew up in Grand Rapids MI, which is basically halfway between Detroit and Chicago. As you know, these two cities were basically the centers of underground music in the US. Chicago is said to be the birthplace of house and Detroit the home of Techno. In the early- to mid-90s, there was an amazing rave movement sweeping both cities. Every weekend, I would drive with my friends to either Detroit or Chicago to go to these unbelievable parties to see DJs that are still mixing today. I saw DJs that were well-regarded around the world, such as: Richie Hawtin, Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Jeff Mills, Stacey Pullen, John Aquaviva, Kenny Larkin (in Detroit) and Derrick Carter, Mark Farina, DIZ, Heather, Frankie Knuckles, Green Velvet, Chez Damier, Rush, Sneak, Traxx, Miles Maeda, and more. There were also many Famous European DJs being brought in to play at these raves as well. There was such an amazing energy to these parties. Back then they called it “JACK.” Yes, there were a lot of drugs involved at that time, but everyone was having such an amazing time. There was a sense of community and love in this rave scene that was reminiscent of the whole hippie movement in San Francisco in the 60s. I enjoyed these parties and music so much that I decided I wanted to try my hand at DJing. So I went in on a pair of turntables with a friend of mine and started buying records on my weekend trips to Chicago (at Gramaphone) and Detroit (at Record Time). I had a good friend in Grand Rapids, Kikoman, who was already a pretty established DJ throughout the rave scene in the US. He was primarily a techno DJ. Thus when I first started spinning, it was primarily techno. However, I ended up moving to Chicago in 1996 and developed a great appreciation for house music, and started buying and playing more house records. I developed a sound that was somewhat a hybrid of both the Detroit and Chicago sounds. Right before I moved to Chicago, I was fortunate enough to meet and become friends with Derrick Carter and, after I moved to Chicago, we became great friends. He became something of a mentor to me. The style of mixing in Chicago was at that time the most sought-after in the world, with a combination of the right programming and blends between records lasting 2 or 3 minutes. In 1997, after learning and honing my sound for about 4 years, I finally started getting some gigs at various establishments on the Chicago club scene. I was playing mostly alongside good friends such as JDub, DJ Heather, Dayhota, and Colette. I was playing at Smart Bar, Karma, Redno Five, Crobar, and Mad Bar. The mid- to late-90s was a great time in the Chicago club scene. House music had many loyal followers and there was a great sense of community between all of us.
Did you use a different name when you were spinning?
Scott: I have a pretty long last name, so I decided to use my middle name, Allyn, instead I just felt Scott Allyn had a better ring than Scott Heuvelhorst.
What makes house music different from other styles of electronic music?
Scott: There are many different sub-genres of house music. The style I dig the most is the more minimal, or dub, house. But I would say overall that house music just has more soul and evokes more feeling from its listener.
Who are some artists and record labels in the house industry?
Scott: Some of my favorite artists in the house industry are Luke Solomon, DIZ, Heather, Derrick Carter, and Green Velvet (aka Cajmere).
My favorite labels are Sonar Kollektiv, Playhouse, MFF (Music For Freaks), Classic Recordings, Perlon, and Black Cherry Recordings.
I could go on for days naming various house music labels. There are so many labels out there, though some great ones are no longer around.
House music has acquired international recognition. Do you think house music has gained popularity? Does it have a strong fan base? Will it continue to grow?
Scott: This is where it gets a little tricky for me. Yes, house music has gained fame all over the world, but it has been, and is, far more popular in places like Europe, Australia, and Asia than in the USA. That’s probably not going to change. In fact, house is at a low point in America right now. There is just not the appreciation that there was in the 90s. I mostly judge by what I see going on in the Chicago club scene. I call it “Short Attention Span Theatre.” Kids are not satisfied with hearing a great DJ play music that they have never heard before. For the most part, club goers want to hear commercialized music that they know and can sing along to. Please realize that I am something of a snob and a purist, but I believe the underground movement and all it stands for has all but perished, at least in Chicago. I have many great friends that are amazing DJs that once made a living by DJing in the US and all over the world and have now had to grow up and find day jobs to support themselves. I think one of the reasons for this is that everyone is a DJ. Nowadays, the scene is inundated by sub-par “music selectors.” I say this because the art of the blend is becoming a lost art–it has all been watered down. Another contributing factor is that a lot of people that grew up in the heyday of house have now settled down and gotten married.
Does house music face the same troubles other music faces? Is there a lot of pirating? Are record labels losing money?
Scott: You have to understand that house music was never extremely lucrative. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between. In the house record industry, if a record does extremely well, it sells maybe 3,000 to 5,000 copies. I believe that most DJs play CD-R now.
MP3s make music a lot more accessible. In the old days, you had to drag yourself to the record store every week to stay on top of what was hot. But yes, it has succumbed to the same issues of pirating and P2P sharing as the commercial record industry. Most great labels out there are people doing it for the love of the music, not doing it for the money. The best opportunities out there right now for house artists are to get a track licensed for a TV show or Commercial. This could make an artist $5,000 to $20,000.
House DJs utilize beats and music from other artists. Do DJs have to license the music they perform in order to prevent copyright infringement?
Scott: If a DJ is going to do a mix CD that will be commercially released then yes, they have to license the tracks that they play in their mix. People sample bits of sound from commercial recordings all the time, but rarely license these samples. Since the final track will most likely only ever fall upon a handful of ears, no one is worried about getting in trouble. However, there has always been a large amount of producers that make what we call “white labels.” These are unauthorized remixes of more popular commercial songs printed onto vinyl with blank labels so the mixes are not traced back to their source. For example, a producer could track the vocal track from an Amy Winehouse song and sit it to his own beat. Sometimes underground artists are hired by major labels to do remixes, which tends to be very lucrative for the artist.
Do DJs like Mark Farina and Derrick Carter copyright the mixes they record on their albums?
Scott: There is a big difference between an artist doing a mix CD, and producing his or her own commercial release. As I said before, if a DJ is doing a mix CD that is going to be put out commercially, they will license the tracks that they play in a given mix from the various record labels that originally released these tracks. When an artist produces his own music and a label and puts it out for public consumption, this music is licensed most likely through ASCAP.
Do DJs obtain performing rights royalties from companies like ASCAP or BMI when their music is performed by others?
Scott: See previous answer. Yes, they receive royalties from others that license the music. However, these royalties are maybe a few pennies for every mix CD sold.
How is a standard record deal for house music constructed? What are the standard rates and percentage for touring, producing, and record sale royalties?
Scott: Most house music artists I know are offered between $1,000 and $4,000 to do a 3-4 track EP for any given label. Every deal is different and an artist might opt to take less money down on a project for a percentage of overall records or MP3s sold. When a bigger DJ, such as Derrick Carter, is booked to play for a club or party, the promoter of the club books him through his manager. In return, the manager gets 10-15% of the fee. Derrick Carter might get paid between $5,000 and $10,000 for playing a 1 or 2 hour DJ set. For Derrick, this more often than not also includes business class airfare to the location, as well as a 4 or 5 star hotel room.
How is money from touring paid out? Is there a standard percentage or set rate for each venue played?
Scott: A majority of larger artists require a deposit in good faith from the promoter, which might be up to 50% of their overall fee. For multi-date tours, there might also be some sort of label or corporate sponsorship. That means the DJ can profit a little more than a standard booking.
Is house music primarily distributed digitally or is there still a physical album market?
Scott: Vinyl is still around. Most people think it has been dead for decades, but I believe over the past 7 years, with the advent of CDJ turntables and programs like Final scratch and Serato, the vinyl is finally starting its decline. Vinyl is still my medium of choice. I believe the sound quality is the best. However, I have always had a day job and have never relied on DJing to pay the bills.
What do you feel about using MySpace, iLike, and to promote house music? Do you think artists are utilizing the internet to promote?
Scott: Personally, when I want to know what is going on in my town on any given night, I look at MySpace and Facebook. I do believe that artists are utilizing sites like this to promote more than ever, whereas 10 years ago you had to rely on fliers.
I also love listening to music podcasts. My personal favorite is the Basic Soul show by Simon Harrison. Some of my other favorites are Luke Solomon’s podcast, DelicaSession, the Real Tone Radio Show, the Electrone Podcast, and Live at Focus
The last mix I did was called Dirty Mitten. You can get it from the Audioplane podcast at:



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