I guess it goes without saying - being able to come up with something cool to share on almost daily basis is not something which happens randomly. The scout process does get better with time mainly because you know who, what and where to look. Projects, labels and artists who you eventually trust because of... previous experience.
One of those places is Chillhop - a platform focusing on... chillhop music! They also have a label, which I am very fond of. With releases like Aso, Handbook, Brock Berrigan and Bonus Points, the guys are an oasis when it comes to good beats.
I hope you enjoy the mix below and our talk about music and... stuff.
Hi Bas! Before anything, tell us a few words about yourself?
Hello world, my Name is Bas and I run a platform called Chillhop Music. I’m 26 years old, from the Netherlands and just recently I made the step to fully dedicate myself to the platform so you could say Chillhop Music is a fulltime endeavor for me at this point. J
How would you describe chillhop.com to someone who has never been on the website (in a sentence)?
Chillhop Music is a place to find smoothened and chilled (mostly instrumental) Hip Hop, perfect for studying, work & just chilling out.
What's the story of the website? How did you start and what was the path until today?
The idea started early 2013, when a friend and I were listening to a lot of artists with a chilled hip hop kind of sound like Nujabes, Blazo, Kondor and so on. We figured there wasn’t much to be found about those artists apart from Bob42jh (big shout out to him) working hard to distribute this kind of music.
We joked about the word “Chillhop” being a good name for it, and I found out the domain name chillhop.com was still available so I decided to make a blog for this kind of music doing album reviews, interviews and so on. I had just gotten my International Business & Management college degree and had no idea what direction to go in, so I figured starting a blog would give me a lot of experience as well as allowing me to get a feel of what I wanted to do. At that point I didn’t know anything about web design, programming and so on, so I often spent more than 10 hours a day learning everything and talking to people involved in the music.
It grew into a more audiovisual media oriented platform over the years, focusing more on YouTube and SoundCloud uploads rather than text posts on the website. After a few years of just sharing music, I felt like I wanted to do more than just promotion and get more involved in the whole, so since October last year we started Chillhop Records which is a perfect addition to our existing network as we have a good feel of what the audience wants and have a good way to reach people with our growing fan base. It also allows us to explore new ways to distribute the music, because with release on our label we actually have the rights for the music as opposed to promoting music not released by us.
After a couple of years of doing close to all of the work myself, Brandon (Birocratic) recently joined the team as a Creative Director focusing on overseeing Chillhop Records releases. It’s a perfect fit as we have the same vision and I’m personally lacking the music technical expertise that Brandon has. He’s also simply a very talented musician and just gets it on a level that goes further than just the music. It’s been hard to find someone who fits the platform in all aspects, but the addition of Birocratic has been a very valuable development for the platform so far and I’m excited to see what we can achieve in the near future.
How does your average day look like?
I usually wake up at around 10 / 11 AM, and go through my E-mails and messages. We usually have a few projects in the works with people from all over the world, so when taking into account all the different timezones, I wake up to messages from a lot of different artists and fans that I take some time to answer. The first few days of every week we have a YouTube uploads planned in the afternoon, so I usually spend some time to find some visuals for a track if I haven’t done so earlier. I usually plan uploads in advance so it’s just a matter of finding visuals, which can actually take me up to 2 hours sometimes. I guess I’m a perfectionist in that sense, haha.
Apart from that I spend a lot of time on building out new features and talking to people who we can collaborate with as well as set up concepts with artists.
As the platform grows, coordinating everything and exploring new ventures takes up more and more time and I slowly but surely try to outsource things that take up too much time for me and try to spend my time as efficiently as possible. It’s been a challenge since we have to streamline these things with our growth and have to set priorities, but it’s also what keeps it interesting. I always keep time to communicate and just chat with artists as well as fans though, since I think keeping it personal is a very important aspect and we’ll always keep that in mind. It is starting to become very hard & time consuming to reply to every fan’s question though.
At night I usually go out to skate for a bit and be away from the computer for a bit. Later at night I usually do some work as well as a lot of artists from the US are active when it’s around 20:00 – 04:00 for me, so I tend to go to bed pretty late. I should really try to go to bed a bit earlier and wake up earlier now that I think about it but that’s easier said than done, haha.
One of the most awesome features is your live stream - it definitely helps me find new artists and it just never disappoints! How do you select the music which goes there?
It’s mostly music from friends & artists that we’ve been working with in the past, as well as new music I stumble upon on Spotify / SoundCloud / Reddit / YouTube. Nowadays, we also have a lot of listeners suggesting albums that should go into the playlists as well as artists sharing their favorites, which really helps because a single person tends to kind of stay in a certain corner of the internet, so when other people suggest something it’s often something you would never discover by yourself. We have a music playlist of over a 100 hours, but we try to update the playlist every few weeks.
As for track selection, we just try to select music that's good for continuous listening and that every now and then wakes people up a bit and provides a bit of variety. At first we didn't have a clear direction, but hearing from more and more people that they put on the stream in public locations we decided to try and filter out the few tracks that have explicit lyrics in them. Luckily most of our music is instrumental to begin with so we don't have to filter out a lot of tracks.
Do you feel that in a world of heavily increasing machine learning and automated algorhytms, this "human API" way of curating music content is the main benefit for smaller projects to actually stand out in comparison to some big names in the field - Spotify, Apple music etc.?
For sure and it’s especially true for this kind of music. I feel like it’s a lot easier for artists to get noticed for genres that are more developed. But since the most common response I hear from new subscribers is something along the lines of “I never knew this kind of music existed”, a lot of our value comes from first promoting the genre and secondly the artists within the genre. The potential for this music is pretty significant as it’s perfect for a lot of different purposes regardless of people’s main choice of genre.
Focusing on a genre which isn’t that prominently represented makes it harder to grow and get noticed as artists as well as platform, but it feels very nice to know that you’re actually doing something new rather than reinventing the wheel which I feel like a lot of “EDM” channels are doing nowadays. It also feels like we fill a gap for the artists which results in being more valuable for the artists.
As for the comparison in the question, I think there’s a huge difference between different platforms. Spotify for example has this Discover Weekly playlist, which is an automatically generated playlist based on your Spotify history, but it’s an awesome way to discover new music and often contains tracks that don’t have a lot of plays. I feel like the official Spotify playlists (although manually curated), also contain a lot of music from smaller artists. We actually had a track featured on an official Spotify playlist, even though it only had around 1500 plays at the time. Now, compare that with a platform like SoundCloud which I feel has a lot of problems. The only official playlists they have are the top charts, which are often swarmed with mainstream music and mislabeled music. When I last checked, the top 50 chart for Trip Hop contained one or 2 tracks which might be considered Trip Hop. There’s no control, and the whole feature is basically useless as it just lists the tracks with the most plays. Furthermore you have this trend of “repost networks”, where you automatically follow a bunch of profiles and repost a bunch of tracks in exchange for a download. It’s getting worse and worse, and starts to feel like a very forced and spammy way to get your music across.
Nowadays with the increasing number of independent artists and less dependency on labels, being successful as an artist is about more than just making music as you have to have decent branding and market yourself as an artist. While I feel like building good branding and marketing around an artist is key and a good thing, the way the “shove it in your face” way of marketing music through repost networks is developing itself is starting to really make me lose interest in SoundCloud. That being said, there are still ways to discover good music through SoundCloud and it’s still the main way for most artists to share their music, it’s just a bit sad to see your feed diluted a bit because of the excessive download gates.
Going back to the question at hand, I think platforms like ours are very valuable at giving the artists a head start which can help them get the ball rolling on all kinds of platforms. We focus on getting the music out there by allowing people to use the music for free in their YouTube videos and Twitch streams. It will result in more people finding the artist (and us) on platforms like SoundCloud, YouTube and Spotify which will result in a higher chance to get picked up by this kind of “automated” curation.
@Brandon, you joined chillhop earlier this year as a Creative Director. This feels like a natural fit, but how did it actually happened and could you explain a bit more about your role and what you do?
Well, Bas initially contacted me about getting involved. He’d found my music online at some point, and I’d encountered his channel more than a few times, so when he reached out to me with the proposal to start Chillhop Records, I was more than happy to. We started out just by exchanging ideas back and forth – getting to know one another was obviously an important part of the process. But I think we realized early on that we’d work very well together. Our first project that autumn was Chillhop Appetizers 1; Bas really did all of the music scouting there, and I mastered the tracks. But as we’ve continued, I’ve grown to manage the releases for individual artists – such as the Warmer Winds EP that Bonus Points released through CR in May. My role is essentially to make sure that Chillhop Records’ musical output is as strong as possible, so I work with the artists one-on-one, giving them constructive feedback, mix/master advice, all that sort of stuff. I’m lucky, because I went to a university where this type of friendly critique was basically common practice, and I feel I learned a lot about how to help others sculpt a concentrated musical statement. So I’m busy handling much of the creative side of things – the records themselves – while Bas can focus on the platform, the tech, the marketing, etc. We collaborate all the time on ideas; we probably have an hour-long brainstorming call once a week at this point. It’s a highly symbotic working relationship, and I’m lucky to be in on the ground floor of such an amazing operation.
@Brandon, you also created the mini mix for this series. How would you describe it?
It’s an easygoing, summery mix, and I’m especially pleased to note that it’s 100% from Chillhop Records releases. We work with some immensely talented artists, and it’s quite an honor to highlight their musical accomplishments.