An exclusive interview on EDM Cave with Panagiotis Panoudis, Label Manager of Sound Best and Senior A&R of Dancewood Records.
Firstly, before we start our wonderful conversation, I would like to warmly greet all music lovers, friends and readers of EDM Cave, as well to thank you so much for the invitation! It is a special honor for me to support new projects, but more so when I see that in these new projects there are, among other things, positive mood, happy climate and very careful work – this is one of the main reasons why I give very few interviews and for the fact that I am very selective about where I am giving and if I will eventually accept an offer for an interview.
– We know that you were one of the most important persons in Greece in the field of music promo and artist scouting – mainly, among your professional dexterities – on well-known record companies in the Greek music scene, so we would like to tell us about your first steps in the music industry, as well as which projects had you participated in before establishing your own record company?
I first noticed that I had a penchant for music arts in 2006, when I was 19 years old, through my collaboration with an upcoming actor who was also performing rap, was writing lyrics for budding hip-hop artists, and was a guitarist in small rock bands. Before I could even realize how fast the developments were going, in a very short period of only a few months, a collaboration was achieved out of nowhere with the well-known Greek band Goin’ Through while I had just taken over as a manager my first artist. Three years later, my collaboration with the urban pop group VEGAS, as their Assistant Manager, is added to my artistic CV, while over the years and at the same time was opening a new chapter in my professional career. Then I became Head of International Repertoire of a newly formed label co-founded by the members of the pop-dance group OtherView and simultaneously I was an active team member of the Independent Partners of International Repertoire of Feelgood Records, which was a division of the record family of Sony Music. Highlights of this period were the #1 place in the charts of MTV HitList Hellas in the spring of 2015, as well as the achievement of a very important collaboration both, for me, the artistic project I was representing and for the domestic international discography of that year, since our collaboration with the internationally renowned Romanian singer Ela Rose was one of the most frequent topics of discussion in Greece’s music venues and media.
Closing this brief summary of my first business steps in the music industry, it is worth mentioning that my company Sound Best, several years before being further developed and acquired its current form, was running its own series of club events called “Living On Video”, had launched one of the most popular radio mixes of the ’10s Greek Radio, “iSexy Radio Projects” – collaborating with the world-famous record company Spinnin’ Records as part of the first exclusive radio broadcasts of its new releases – which consisted of iSexy MixShow, iSexy ClubShow, iSexy CandyShow and iSexy GreekShow. Also since 2017 my company had included in its artistic activities, radio promo, on behalf of its signed and third music producers/singers, as well as respective promotional and advertising services provided to external partners and third-party record companies, such as the Greek label Siganos Music – Siganos TV.
– When did you start your first label and what exactly inspired you to start it?
The first release of Sound Best as label took place in 2014 – I mention the word ‘label’ to point out to people who read us and may not have understood the basic difference between a label and a record company; a label usually does not proceed by itself to the direct release of its tracks and for this reason assigns the role of its distributor to a (larger) record company. Consequently, Sound Best initially entered in the music industry as record label (in 2014) and in 2016 its legal and corporate form changed and has developed into an independent record company. Now as we speak, Sound Best operates 11 record labels – including Uttermost, Sound Real and Sound Red – while providing digital music distribution, support, music consulting, management and A&R services to third-party companies and external partners, such as Dancewood Records, where Sound Best exclusively undertakes the 100% of Dancewood’s business activities since its foundation in 2018.
The truth is that there were more than one things that inspired me to establish and start Sound Best as a record company… The main reason was that I am not at all happy with the methods and the often unorthodox way that record companies in Greece operate. I dare to say that I was many times annoyed with them as they worked and continue to work till today at a very slow pace, offering a lack of services and most times they do not even help their artists on development, as they normally should. Instead, they focus on their own profit while consciously and methodically choose to cage their ‘small’ artists, mainly, either on vague terms in their contracts or by asking them for unprofitable sums of money for services of lesser value which under normal circumstances they should never have to charge or by withholding a useless commission from their few live performances and so on. It is self-evident, to give an example, that during the period when a new release was playing as first radio broadcast on selected FM stations, the record company should have taken care in advance that this new release will be already available on Shazam, in order for the fans to be able to discover it, right? And yet, for the ‘experts’ of the domestic record companies, even in 2021, it is something that has not occurred to them yet and it goes without saying that most of them keep not applying it. Not to also mention that the Greek record companies which distribute on Beatport have absolutely no idea what metadata means; it is funny and unacceptable at the same time not to list at all and/or not to link the featuring artists and the remixers with their artistic profiles(!)
– Who were the first artists that you collaborated as record company?
A few months before the founding of Sound Best, I had started to include artists in the company’s roster, to come to the necessary agreements and to prepare the schedule of the first releases until 2017, including all promo campaigns, radio shows, DJ sets and playlists, music video shootings, etc. I will be completely honest in saying that it was a very intense, difficult, and extremely demanding period of time, which, despite all the adversity, I believe it was crowned with complete success. Of course, there were also cases of artists who refused to collaborate with us, played hard to get with them, pretended to be divas, inaccessible or even tried to avoid us using various diplomatic tricks. But when world-famous names such as Soulshaker (#1 Billboard Producers of “Deborah Cox – Let The World Be Ours Tonight” in 2017), Luca Debonaire and Simon Le Grec trust you and release their new music stuff on your newly formed record label, you are automatically equipped with extra good mood and even more appetite for the long-awaited hot sequel!
– When did you start releasing compilation albums and how many labels work with your record company?
The scheduling, creation and release of our music compilations was a sub-project that I started working on since mid-2018, initially by using tracks only from Sound Best‘s music catalog and in the coming future we started including tracks from third-party labels and other record companies which we already had active collaborations with. It is important to mention here that the second type of compilations written above, were applied to Dancewood Records, a Balkan record company that we entirely manage as Sound Best, whose C.E.O. Mr. Mihai Pandov was from the beginning very positive and willing to implement our compilation project starting from his company and run it exactly as described in the business plan we had proposed to him. His trust in Sound Best was rewarded in the best way, as according to the financial results so far, as well as our goals for 2021, the partner companies and labels on behalf of Dancewood Records are expected to exceed the 70 and of course are coming from every geographical point and continent of the world.
– Based on the experience you have all these years in the field of discography and in the music industry, in a wider range, what would you recommend to an up-and-coming artist to pay attention? Also which are the biggest mistakes an artist may make during the beginning of his or her career, in your opinion? Do you consider as important for a newcomer artist to have properly prepared his/her social media pages before he/she starts sending demos?
I consider that the first must, not only for an artist/producer/DJ but for any person who is involved with entertainment and media, in general, is what we call public image. There is a large percentage of the music-loving audience who may first come in contact with an artist, before even listening to a sample of his/her work, usually through a social media post or a YouTube video. It is very important the public image of an artist keeping pace with his/her music style while representing his/her music stuff as well as possible. I can remember countless of examples from artists that their promo photos do not flatter them, neither as professional artists nor as outward appearance, while it is not uncommon for their social media setup to be at least bad. So the first mistake an up-and-coming artist can very easily make is the bad choice of promo photos – which is often due to the fact that the photo-shooting has not been made by a professional photographer. The second mistake is the careless set-up of the social media pages, the non-listing of basic information such as a concise artist CV, the inconsistency in managing and sufficient updating of those information and the sparse frequency of new posts or the sparse uploading of new music stuff on them. Also, the third basic mistake, is a huge damage for their social media pages when adding hundreds or thousands of fake likes and followers, especially since there is a combination with the first two mistakes I’ve mentioned above. It is much preferable for an artist to have a page with only one promo photo, the basic information properly completed and an average of 100 likes/followers for a start, rather than an amateur set-up with 10.000 fake accounts following it! A well-standing record company will never reject an artist if he/she has a small but well-set page at the beginning – as long as his or her songs are neat and sound properly of course. In Sound Best we have signed artists with only a double-digit amount of likes/followers sometimes, firstly because we believe that the temporary low traffic in socials does not negatively affect anyone and secondly and most importantly because music always has the leading role!
We are now leaving the public image and social media – I am sure we have fully covered it by giving a few valuable advices in the best way – and now we go to the real essence, namely the music of the artist. There are no specific rules on how to make an awesome track – everything comes as a result of love, right mood, hard work and good aesthetics in the production of each track. Of course, the experience, which is gained gradually over time, is able to add multiplicative value to the final audio result. But the mistake here at this stage, the fourth mistake that an up-and-coming artist can make, is the incorrect usage of the royalty-free vocals, that are usually available for free or at a very low cost into various music libraries over the internet. My advice here is simple, on the one hand to read the license agreement very carefully – for each package separately – before including them in the final track. In many cases, their commercial exploitation and the fully free usage are not allowed, which among other terms means that the artist does not have the right to release them as part of his/her track! On the other hand, once the artist decides to use them, it is self-evident I think, the royalty-free vocals should be properly edited so that they fit perfectly into the track, in order of course not to bring an unpleasant audio result to the final track.
Although royalty-free vocals have become an informal trend in music production within the last years, I personally prefer the new recorded vocals for many different reasons, mainly commercial. The cost for recording original vocals and/or assigning to an independent singer to perform a song, may be assumed as high to some artists, but it is by no means prohibitive or impossible. Especially if we take into account the value of an original music creation and the benefits that will be gained later, it is undoubtedly one of the best investments an up-and-coming artist can make, the golden pass in the glamorous music industry with a very promising career in the global discography.
– What can we expect from your record company in the near future?
I am very happy and I look forward having childish impatience to repeat the successful recipe we’ve ‘tested’ and applied in the case of the music compilations of Dancewood Records, this time in Sound Best. We have already laid the necessary foundations for this project since we first started the “music compilations business” back in 2018, by the creation of the Sound Best Compilations label. Currently we complete the takedown of all the compilation albums we have released until a few months ago, while we are ready to proceed with the partial re-release of Sound Best’s music compilations. From now on we are going to apply even more contemporary practices, updated tracklist and of course a total remodeling that also includes the launch of over 30 new compilation series, which will be added to the existing 8 series that are in commercial circulation, both for the Sound Best Compilations label and for the other 10 record labels our company operates. In 2022 Sound Best will have further strengthen its strategic presence and activity in the field of music compilations internationally, taking advantage of its constantly growing music catalog, as in addition to its own in-house compilation labels, Sound Best will continue to renew its active collaborations with the leading compilation labels worldwide. In very simple words, all this means that an artist through his collaboration with Sound Best will be able to distribute his music to more than 1 million new music fans through compilation licensing!
– Which are the music genres that you have set as a direction for your record company? Because you have been dealing with various music genres in the past …
In Sound Best we release almost all genres of electronic dance music, some of them are electro house, future house, big room, trap, deep house, etc. We also release electro-pop, pop-dance, future bass as well as a very few selected tracks from the hip-hop and R&B music scene, as long as these two genres could fit to our company’s music style. That’s why we operate separate record labels so that we can effectively support each individual music genre.
– What kind of music do you listen to in your free time and which artists besides your own?
The love I have for music and my continuous occupation with all Sound Best projects, unfortunately do not leave me as much free time as I would like, which when there is, I always spend it either out of office or with my family and friends. The music styles I listen to are usually the same to those I meet at work, without being limited to any specific artists or record companies. Like it or not, the music I listen to is influenced by or directly related to my business, that is the nature of the work, after all.
– How do you think that the electronic music industry was affected by COVID-19?
For more than a year now, all of humanity has been experiencing unprecedented situations that the vast majority of the world has certainly not experienced again in the past. As in all extreme and non-extreme cases, there are the least favored and the most favored persons. In my opinion, I firmly believe that the field of electronic music and the digital music industry, not only were not negatively affected by the pandemic, but I dare to say that they also had a marginal rise! My opinion is confirmed not only by the statistics of Sound Best but also by several associates and industry’s people I am in frequent contact with. Giving you an example, from January 2020 until now as we speak, Sound Best receives up to x4 times more demos compared to 2018-2019 and as a result has almost double-increased its music catalog, all the above within just one year! Approximately the same numbers exist both in the case of Dancewood Records, which had achieved to gain more charts on Beatport and Traxsource, compared with us – Sound Best – who manage it entirely!
I am one of those entrepreneurs who believe that times of great crisis and great reshuffle bring new great opportunities and favor only those who really dare and do not rest on their sofas or on what they have already gained.
– Perfect! Closing this interview, we would like to thank you for your time and your answers. Would you like to suggest us two of the most characteristic new or even previous releases of your record company to check them out?
One of our latest releases, which I have even ‘stuck’ myself with, is “Keep Your Eyes On Me” (https://edmcave.lnk.to/KeepYourEyesOnMe) by the Belgian producers P4sc4l and Sher M@n, which has been released by Uttermost. One of our company’s timeless releases, through Sound Red this time, is also “Like Me” by Adam Davenport and MFJ – in this point I have to mention that Adam Davenport holds a significant world-record; he is the first Afro-American artist who has been ranked in the Billboard Dance Charts!