For every prosperous artist out there, you’ll often find an accompanying group of competent team members who have worked equally as hard to ensure the success of everyone involved. Sander Landsaat, manager to Nicky Romero, currently one the top-tier DJs of the EDM scene, has played a central role as a part of such a team.
As the man who helped create and run Romero’s Protocol brand, consisting of Protocol Recordings and Protocol Management, he’s been instrumental in contributing to today’s ever-growing electronic music scene by guiding the career of one of it’s biggest names. We were recently able to have a chat with Sander about his work as Romero’s manager, as well as learn about his background and views on the industry.
Hi Sander. Thanks for being willing to talk to us. Can you start by telling us about your background in the music industry?
I’ve done everything from renting out sound/light equipment, to DJing at my local football clubs, to working as a club bouncer/security, as well as doing sound for theater productions. During one of my theater production gigs, the promoter forgot that he had to pick up the booked DJ, Laurent Garnier, from the airport, and no-one else was available to do it. So I ended up driving there to fetch him in exchange for some free tickets to the gig, and with that as a start, I was able to begin building my company. My first company provided local tour management and logistics for DJs. We drove inbound international DJs to the popular Dutch summer festivals like Mysteryland. We expanded on that to include stage production for festivals, and I worked with that for about 10 years.
I enjoyed my tour and logistics work, but after all the night-time shifts and busyness, I started to want to explore other things. Fortunately, I bumped into Roger Sanchez’s then-manager, Olga Heijns, who looks after Laidback Luke now, and I became her assistant. I still owe that woman a lot, because she made sure to give me all the knowledge that I needed in order to grow as a manager. She introduced me to the management game and gave me lots of responsibility through working with people like Roger Sanchez. Within her setup, I also got to work with label management, so music rights is something I learned a lot about. She was my mentor, and when it was time to spread my wings, I did that, and started a company called Sorted Management. You guys have already interviewed Anna Knaup, so you know about the company. Anna used to be my partner, but there came a time when we felt it was best to for us to separate our business, and I went my own way, and started working with Nicky Romero. In a nutshell, this is how my career has progressed.
What do you feel was the most important that you learned under your mentor about the music industry?
In order to get my head around the legal lingo, I had to read a lot of Sony contracts and other old-school major label contracts. You have to know what you’re talking about when it comes to music rights, as many artists sign over a lot of their rights. I also learnt that this is a relationship business, and it’s about networking and not burning bridges, though it’s unavoidable sometimes, as it’s a small industry,
What’s it been like running the Protocol brand over the past few years, and in what way does it differ from your past jobs in the music industry?
It’s a lot more responsibility. I don’t just run the Protocol brand; I also own a big part of it. Nicky and I partner up on a lot of things. Because we have multiple branches in management, recording, radio and events, it allows us to cater to a wide spectrum, and give our artists a broad podium from which to propel them into the market. Our conviction is that we work alongside people, and that we strive to maintain good music rights decisions for our artists, and not take it away from them.
When you set out to be a professional soccer player, you might be scouted at a young age, and be put into a training project, and you progress as you get older. That’s our angle as well, but from a music perspective. Our goal is to make as much out of our artist’s careers as possible, without taking an unreasonable chunk of their income from them. It’s a lot of work.
In keeping with the subject of your artists, can you talk about how have you’ve expanding your artist roster beyond just Nicky Romero?
Everything we release goes through a scrupulous process. We have 3 people who handle our A&R, and Nicky’s our main one. We get abut 2000 demos a week. So our team will listen and sort through it, and then deliver that pre-listened package to Nicky, who decides on what we sign. If we release a successful record, and have a good click with the artist, we would then decide if we can sign them exclusively to our label or for a few future releases, which could then progress to a management deal. So we like to take our time with things, not just take on any artist that reaches out to us, just because we work with Nicky Romero.
I want to avoid what tends to happen to a lot of management and booking agencies that have a big-name artist attached to them, which is that it creates a certain type of interest from the artist community. We don’t want that.
Do you have managers that you employ to your team to take care of different artists?
Yes we do, but I tend to be very picky about who I let work as a manager. I expect them to know about music rights, distribution, new media, etc. When you have someone popular on your roster, a lot of people get attracted to that, and a signing frenzy starts. What we’ve seen with certain management companies is that artists just moved to them very quickly as soon as one of their clients blew up. I don’t really get it. Signing with a company on the back of them having one big artist doesn’t mean that it’s going to benefit you as a smaller artist. So we try to tailor our plans to the artists that sign with us.
I have day-to-day managers that look after my artists on a daily basis. In addition to that, we also have specialist pool, which consists of in-house people that specialize in different things like new forms of media, ways to best utilize an artist’s music, etc. If someone is paying you a sizable chunk of their income as a commission, then they should be catered to, so the day-to-day managers manage a maximum of 2 acts. Part of the work of our specialists involves giving recommendations on where they feel our artists are lacking, and this info is then integrated into our artist plans. We make one and three-year artist plans, which have evaluation moments in-between.
What kind of criteria do you have for working with new artists? Is it just about having good music?
No, not always. We’ve seen a shift in the electronic scene. I’m from a generation where we used to go see Carl Cox play, who wasn’t particularly known for his music production, but was famous for being a chess-master of showmanship and DJing. So we look at things like an artist’s live show and see how they perform as well.
So what happens in the event of you taking interest in a bedroom producer that hasn’t performed a live DJ set yet?
We’ll talk to them about it. This is why we have our Protocol Nights, and we might even put them on the bill to perform and see how they fare on stage. Usually, people will have had experience with DJing at wedding parties and such. If someone has no experience at all, we can give them in-house coaching, and we have people for that. Even Nicky might be able to help. We can help in other ways too, such as by drawing their attention to the quality of their MP3s or WAVs on their USB drives. People can hear if low quality files are being played.
Given the fact that you’ve been with Nicky Romero since the start, what do you feel have been the most important things that you focused on as a manager to help him become successful?
You have to be able to anticipate things, and involve yourself in the right scenes at the right time. The basis of our success is that my artists are super talented. If you have the ability to evolve as an artist, that’s good. I never tell people to adapt to the scene or conform to the market. Nicky was on a roll, and he gave me the ammo I needed to shoot with. I got involved right after he dropped Groove Armada’s “My Friend” remake, which was the start of everything. Following that, “Toulouse”, “Symphonica”, “Iron”, “Legacy” and “I Could Be The One” all helped things to fall into place. When things start going well, the major labels start asking for remixes and the live shows start to evolve in a positive way.
Nicky was recently making headlines for remixing One Direction’s “18”. Tell me about that. Is that something major labels reach out about?
One Direction were featured on The Netherlands’ biggest talk show, and reached out to Nick about remixing a track off their new album, and you often find that these kinds of unofficial remixes are the biggest successes. So we’re trying to get the remix to be released officially on the label, and maybe perform it with them on a live basis.
Given how the artists of 2010s have integrated social media into their brands, particularly within electronic music, do you feel like it’s been something that’s helped in Nicky Romero’s career?
Absolutely. We’re very active on the back-end of social media. Output-wise, everything is curated by Nicky himself. Back in the day, you used to only be able to do top-down communication from the artists to fans, and hope that it landed right. Now you have a bigger responsibility. You might need an editor to not only proof-read your output, but also monitor what happens after posting that output.
It’s disappointing to me that some live events promoters will book DJs based on Facebook likes. They think the number of “likes” indicate your stature. But I can tell you that in terms of things like Gross Rating Point (GRP), and the return on investment we get from your social media campaigns, that we kick almost everyone’s ass, to be blunt. Nicky Romero is one of the best performing brands within electronic music, and we’ve been able to determine through scientific methods that the potential value of Nicky’s media network for other brands is over 150 million Euros. So we’re very strict when it comes to social media, especially when doing commercial stuff. You’ll never see Nicky smiling at a bottle of branded alcohol in cheesy way. This is because our fans deserve better than having that sort of marketing forced onto them.
One of the big topics within the music industry of late has been whether or not streaming services are beneficial for artists. Can you tell us how streaming has impacted Nicky’s career?
As a manager, I’m always thinking of ways to maximize our revenue streams, as earnings from music sales continue to decrease. Streaming services is one of those. Though it’s been slow to catch on, and isn’t as lucrative as music sales, I think it things will change once data usage on your phone is no longer an issue. When it becomes easier and cheaper to access, we’ll be fine.
Streaming is out-performing our downloads by 25%. Regions like Scandinavia are doing ridiculously well. It’s so easy to use. You just sign up for something like Deezer and Spotify and you have access to huge amounts of content.
When you get to Nicky’s level of getting millions of plays, it’s an attractive bit of income, though by far not as much money as you’d make back in the day, when you’d have a #1 single and sell units. But as one door opens, another door closes. The establishment tends to be fight development, but we’d rather bend with it.
What do you guys have anything in store for the rest of the year?
We have an end-of-year tour in Vegas and New Years in Miami. 2015 is going to be insane. We’ve set the bar very high, and it’s going to be our most professional year.