Morgan Page: The state of the DJ market, tips for new talent, and JBL Fest

Whether creating new music of his own, remixing the work of others, or finding new ways to guide emerging talent, LA-based DJ and producer Morgan Page is among the busiest exponents of electronic music in the business. Headliner managed to find a rare gap in his diary for an insightful conversation covering everything from his origins in the industry, what it takes to succeed in today’s market, his recent masterclass at JBL Fest in Las Vegas, and more…

“I’ve just done a remix for Julian Lennon,” a warm and talkative Morgan Page casually throws out when Headliner asks what he’s been up to of late, as the superstar DJ joins us via Zoom from his west coast studio. “I found out he was a fan of my music and he reached out and asked if I could do a remix of one of his singles.” There is no false modesty or showy name-dropping intended, it’s merely a measure of the vast and varied projects that have come to define his 20-year career so far. At the time of our chat, the track, entitled Lucky Ones, is without a release date, although he informs us that it should be out by the end of the year.

Lennon is, of course, far from the first artist from outside the electro world to call upon Page’s remixing services, with the likes of Madonna, Katy Perry, Nelly Furtado, Korn, Alanis Morissette, Stevie Nicks, Adam Lambert, Coldplay, The B-52s, The Police, Tegan & Sara, and a great many more among those whose work he has remixed over the years.

“I think I’ve done over 400 remixes now,” he says, gazing skyward as if attempting to recall each and every one. “They are really fast turnarounds and really fun to do,” he continues, “whereas the originals take a lot longer, but can be more satisfying in the long run. Ever since the pandemic started, I’ve been doing livestreams as well. I started doing one hour mixes every week. They were livestreams that were totally on the fly. I’d pick an hour of new music I hadn’t heard before, curate it, and then mix on the fly in one take. That’s been a challenge; I have to find 20 new songs every week.”

His commitment to seeking out diverse and eclectic collaborators is matched only, it seems, by a steadfast determination to keep challenging himself technically and refining his already substantial chops. This, he explains, has always been part of his makeup as an artist, but has become especially important to him during the most restrictive periods of lockdown.

“It’s crucial in keeping your skills together and flexing that muscle,” he says. “In music we can forget to practice as much as we should. A violinist or a cellist would practice and be very disciplined because of the physicality of their instrument, but as a DJ you have to stay sharp and keep brushing up your skills. And you have to be really organised. The most tedious part of DJing is keeping your library together, keeping all the metadata well organised and tagged.”

Such discipline has evidently served Page well since breaking onto the scene in the late-‘90s/early-‘00s. His route to the upper echelons of the DJ fraternity was less than conventional, and he certainly trod his fair share of hard yards along the way.

“It was a sideways entrance into the music world,” he recalls. “I did it through radio. I was a radio DJ, and as a high school student I did my own mix shows at college stations. That lead to DJing in college and internships in the summer at record labels. I produced a little bit first, then did some DJing, and the internships allowed me to get some songs signed. At the end of high school, I was able to get some music signed early on, and I thought it would be a very quick start, but it was a long process - a 10-year overnight success, as they say.

The industry has changed. There is a lower barrier to entry now. Morgan Page

“When I was cutting my teeth on those mix shows I was doing the undesirable slots, like the graveyard shift, then as you got better, they would put you into better slots. After a while I got into managing the station, helping with the website etc., so I was weaving together the music and the technology. The first time I played live I was using a live PA, so I’d bring a MPC2000 a sampler and a keyboard and it was such a different way to do it that you almost didn’t recognise your music at that volume.”

Page’s first brush with success came by way of a “controversial” compilation of unauthorised remixes entitled Cease And Desist. He picks up the story.

“That was a bootleg remix album that was inspired by what Danger Mouse did with the Grey Album, where he did some mashups,” he reflects fondly. “It was a bit more controversial to do mash ups and illegal remixes at that time. There were remixes of Coldplay, Imogen Heap, David Bowie, Tegan & Sarah, and that led to a later collaboration with Tegan & Sarah. I sent my Imogen remix to her, and she said, “don’t put this out”! And I said, “I’m putting it out - I love it, and the reaction I’m getting is insane!” It was the song Hide and Seek, which is so good. It was a really tough remix because her vocals aren’t even on the grid, everything has gone through a harmoniser. So that was like doing bootcamp.

“I pressed up CDs of that and it was the first tipping point that led to remix work. I started to do two or three remixes a week, which was insane. And then things didn’t really get going until I put out the Longest Road in 2008 and I had Deadmau5 do a remix. That was before he had the helmet, so it was really good timing with the arc in his career, when things were getting really busy. He stripped the song down and made it really simple and even more emotional, and that lead to touring.”

According to Page, the landscape for emerging DJs and producers is very different to the one he navigated a couple of decades ago. As he describes, many of the same principles remain when pursuing a career in the industry, but the point of entry has shifted significantly.

“It’s really different because there is a lower barrier to entry,” he states. “Before it was about being able to get studio time and the gear was really expensive, so some people were able to get through that door easier if they were rich or had a friend who had a studio. It was so hard to get started with just one piece of equipment. An MPC2000 was $2,000, you had to be a drug dealer to get started! I was able to just cobble together used gear and save up my money to do one thing at a time. And computers weren’t that powerful then, Pro Tools was not affordable, they didn’t have an entry-level version. I started with hardware sequencers and things like that, but it’s very different now.

You can't make a career on one record. You have to have a second, third and fourth. Morgan Page

“Some of the fundamentals are the same, like, you still need to have original music that stands out. If something is super polished and pretty it just passes people by, it has to have some texture on it to be sticky enough. A career can blow up much faster and fall apart much faster. You can blow up based on a TikTok video, but that rarefied air of a hit record will fade faster for most people. You can’t make a career on one record. You can keep ratchetting that momentum but now you have to be ready with the second, third and fourth hit. It’s always been like that, but it’s faster now.”

Away from the studio, Page has spent ample time drawing upon his industry knowledge and experience and finding ever new and interesting ways to channel it to those pursuing a career in the DJ market. Perhaps the most direct and tangible manifestation of this endeavour is his Quick Tips card deck - a deck of 54 cards that each contains a quick tip on how to improve your creative process and efficiency in the studio. These cards also formed a core part of his masterclass at the annual JBL Fest in Las Vegas last month.

The event, which runs over three days, is packed with everything from product demonstrations and technology showcases to masterclasses and education sessions from the likes of Page, as well as stellar live performances from some of the biggest names in music. This year saw chart-topping stars Bebe Rexha and Martin Garrix among those delivering showstopping sets to packed out crowds, with the former supported by emerging US singer-songwriter Bella Moulden.

“It’s a massive event and this was my first time doing a masterclass there,” Page explains. “I’ve done some guest lectures at Harman’s HQ in California, but this is the first time presenting all of my music making knowledge. I created a song from scratch, on the fly, illustrating my approach and techniques using my Quick Tip cards. They offer creative approaches and strategies and are based around techniques I wrote down over the years when I felt like something was working in the studio. There’s a lot of workflow stuff. There is the rule of three, which is really interesting. It’s the idea that you can only really focus on three things at once, so you have to rotate those elements. You can think of that while you are arranging or composing song.”

So how did Page find his inaugural JBL Fest masterclass?

“I found JBL Fest great,” he beams. “It was so polished and well put together – it was also a much bigger production than I'd expected. There was a real vibe to it. And what was really cool [about doing the masterclass] was that the [JBL] guys just let me do my thing; they really wanted me to track the session live, which was cool, and a fun challenge. But the coolest part was that everything went so smoothly, and because there are so many experts in audio gear [on the team], everything worked and sounded great, with no latency. And what I really like with these guys is that they see the vision. Sometimes when you have creative cards and things like this, people don't get it, but it's cool as JBL understand and everyone in the team had a favourite card. They personally were so invested in the project, which meant a lot to me, and hopefully we'll do another seminar... Maybe we'll do a book or something next, I don't know?

JBL Fest was great. There was a real vibe to it, they just let me do my thing. Morgan Page

While it may have been his first time giving a masterclass at JBL Fest, Page’s relationship with the JBL brand stretches back much further than the recent Vegas soiree.

“My relationship with JBL goes back four or five years,” he says. “I love working with brands and giving product feedback. It’s the other side of the coin, where beyond the creative side I can be helpful and analytical and ask questions about various product features. And I use a lot of the AKG mics in the studio, I use JBL speakers for my livestream. It’s great to have that relationship and have some input. Sometimes designers have very specific needs that they think of in the lab, but when you go out on the road and you’re right in the thick of it you get a different perspective of what’s needed. But I love doing the guest lectures and showing that creative process. It’s really important to do those long form presentations that you don’t get on a TikTok post or a short YouTube video.”

While there are plenty of nuggets of wisdom to be discovered in those aforementioned Quick Tip cards on developing one’s creative skills, are there any pearls he can offer up on how to navigate the business side of a career in music today?

“Business advice is so hard because it is so context specific to the person’s situation,” he ponders after a short pause. “You have no leverage or negotiating power until you are a ‘hot act’. I think it’s always a smart business idea to have remixes done, do swaps, have friends do remixes. Build intellectual property every day instead of just being precious and hoping one song will do everything. It took a remix of one of my songs to get my career started.

“So much is left up to the artist and you have to wear a lot of different hats. But one simple tip I would give is that if a manager or a lawyer can’t explain a clause in a contract to you then you should fire them. If they can’t explain legalese or something that is confusing to you don’t gloss it over, because you will pay for that later in your career. I’ve made that mistake and glossed over contracts, but it’s still on you to ask people representing you to explain things in plain English.”

With a busy schedule beckoning, there’s just enough time for Page to fill us in on what the future holds as we approach the end of the year.

“Basically, a lot of touring and a bunch of new singles for [record labels] Armada Music and Spinnin' Records,” he says before bidding us farewell. “And I'm cooking up the next card deck and where to take these next tips. I'd love to build it into something that I could take out on the road. A lot of people want to do music for fun, not even to sell or even make records... So there is a huge opportunity to teach people who want to dabble in it and just be able to learn a new skill. And I think there is also a lot of excitement around re-education: how to learn really quickly and be able to jump around and try new careers. So, I think that's a focus of the Quick Tips, as that expands.”

You can read a full rundown of Page's JBL Fest masterclass here

JBL Fest image: Getty Images