One of the partnerships we have enjoyed most through the years is the one with Fool's Gold Records. The gang at FG has had a lot going on lately with the opening of their new retail store and launching their event series, New York's Loudest. At the same time, A-Trak has been globetrotting non-stop, bringing good vibes to all he encounters. We collaborated with FG on brand-new iPhone cases for NY's Loudest and figured it would be great to give you a little something extra to go along with the drop. We were blessed for A-Trak to take a little break and chat with us 10-Q style about a range of topics. We enjoyed him sharing his views, knowledge, and experience with us and we hope you will too. So check out 10 Questions With A-Trak below!
HEX: With hip-hop being so youth-driven, shifting every couple of years, as a DJ/producer how do you navigate between what is "relevant" and what traditionally stimulates your ear?
A-Trak: Being a DJ is all about finding a balance. I’m always digging up new music and my sets have to evolve with new sounds and trends, but it’s important that I also maintain an identity, and I’ll never play a song I don’t like even if it’s hot. I think there’s always a way to keep the crowd happy without losing your own sound. It’s just a question of being clever with your selections.
HEX: As the music industry continues to further blur the lines between genres, where do you see popular music in a few years from now?
A-Trak: The blurring of lines between genres is something that I’ve been encouraging for a long time. The genre denominations that we use (rap, rock, alternative, R&B, etc) have been the same since the 80's, if not further back. But each of those genres is a living organism that changes with time. Rap is the biggest genre in the world. An artist like Drake should be categorized as Pop. The fact that he’s filed under Hip-Hop is probably a racial thing at this point, which is sad. With that said, there are definitely trends in popularity. In the last couple years, you’d be hard pressed to find any rock releases. This year though, there are a bunch of (at least indie) rock albums coming out. Pop is very shiny and clean now. To me, that suggests that the next phase will be a return to real instruments because I think people will realize they are missing the little imperfections that come with actual playing.
HEX: With mechanical royalties becoming more and more scarce, how are you trying to innovate the distribution of your label's music?
A-Trak: Mechanical royalties are an abstract concept at this point. They were invented to go with digital product, and now they have digital equivalents. What’s important with Fool’s Gold is that we’ve always been able to adapt to the way our audience listens to music. Right now, of course, digital streaming is huge, so Spotify and Apple Music are big parts of our strategies. But we are also a DJ-run label with a large DJ audience so we also press vinyl for a lot of our titles. In recent years we broke a lot of artists by making their first releases free downloads. As people’s consumption habits evolve, we stay right there with them. It has to be easy for a potential fan to have access to a song that we want them to discover.
HEX: What do you think will be the main component to maintaining relevance/popularity with your Fool's Gold retail space, in the midst of this pop-up shop trend?
A-Trak: I love the fact that we built a brick-and-mortar, permanent store in the middle of the pop-up trend. Fool’s Gold represents substance and we are not scared to make a bet on something that is meant to last many years. The store is also a hub for the community, a place where artists can do their own pop-ups with us, where we can hold art shows, even music workshops for kids. The space has meaning.
HEX: What is the inspiration behind the designs of the Fool's Gold merch?
A-Trak: We don’t pretend to be a fashion brand. We are a music label that makes clothing too, and honestly, we tend to make stuff that we’d like to wear and that we can envision our friends wearing. I love when we come up with a design that some of the younger employees are psyched to wear. They are in tune with our consumer base.
The Summer collection that recently came out was inspired by a lot of 90's streetwear shops that my brother and I used to visit as young hip-hop fans making pilgrimages to the city, coming from Montreal.
HEX: All other endeavors aside, you're a DJ first. With the explosion of EDM music, major club residencies, festival circuits etc. where do you see your DJ career going from here?
A-Trak: Being a DJ is the core of my identity. I’m able to add all these bullet points to my resumé because I’m a DJ first. Whether it be producer, remixer, label owner, festival curator, even author. I plan to continue my DJ career as I build on the other businesses too. They all feed each other.
HEX: Through the experiences that you've had thus far, what do you think has been the greatest challenge in starting and sustaining a successful independent label?
A-Trak: I think the main two challenges over the years have been: 1) scaling up an independent company, where every added expense feels like a risky leap, even while you know it’s necessary; and 2) managing to find and sign music that is in demand year after year.
HEX: What made you choose to open your flagship store in New York, as opposed to other cities like Montreal (where you grew up) or Los Angeles?
A-Trak: New York is a huge part of Fool’s Gold’s identity. We are a New York label. The ethos of the city is the ethos of the company. Also, on a more practical level, both the original store and the new one were connected to our offices. The whole staff is based in New York.
HEX: Do you plan on opening more Fool's Gold retail stores in other cities?
A-Trak: Maybe down the line. We’d love to. But we’re still at the stage of establishing Fool’s Gold as a retail brand, not just a record label.
HEX: Starting out in battle scratching, progressing to production - becoming a label executive, where do you see yourself and Fool's Gold in 5 years from now?
A-Trak: All those pieces remain. I just try to add to the reach of the whole operation. Five years from now I hope Fool’s Gold will still be a dominant record label, a trusted source for quality music and branding. We could delve further into the marketing potential of the company. Fool’s Gold is already almost like an agency. We’ll see how that develops. I’ll always be Dj'ing, I’ll always be producing. Maybe my touring might become more selective after a few years. Some of my priorities are already shifting now. That’s how this stuff stays interesting year after year.
Eric Jackson is a journeyman. He also happens to be one of the best snowboarders on the planet. But Eric has another passion: Fly-Fishing. You may remember a piece he did for us about a fishing trip he took to British Columbia. If you missed it, it definitely worth a look here.
We were blessed to have Eric share some of his thoughts and motivations behind a new project of his called Alignment and...