Swap Deals: Stars of the Pop World and Their Pet DJs

by Marcos Colón
06.17.2010

In the pop music world, there have always been collaborations with artists in different musical genres. One of the earliest and pivotal moments came in 1986 when Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” was covered by rappers Run-D.M.C. The trend continues today as recent as B.o.B’s latest single “Airplanes,” featuring Paramore’s Hayley Williams. Recently, collaborations between pop and electronic dance music have been catching the attention of mainstream America. What many may not know is that EDM producers have been lending their talents to the pop music world for over two decades now, but their new efforts have these DJ-producers in the videos, and taking a majority of the credit for the song itself, which they should certainly be doing.

We’re talking about DJ Pets, ladies and gentlemen—the newest fad in the pop music world that has the biggest stars picking their new producers off of DJMag’s Top 100 DJs list rather than working with other producers who their managers or labels would prefer. If you’re a pop star who’s looking to spice things up in your sound and career, then the answer is a DJ Pet, and by the looks of acts like The Black Eyed Peas, Lil Jon, Tommy Lee and even Madonna, their new little friends have either worked out in their favor, or turned around and bit them in their ass.

It’s a simple process, really. Nightlife around the nation is a business that will never die. Sure, the economic state of our economy may be in shambles; however, if a man has a dollar to spare, you know damn well he’ll spend it on a beer if he’s having a tough time. There’s always a “party fund” in everyone’s budget. This past Winter Music Conference, promoters and club owners around Miami feared that the state of the economy would affect their annual numbers for the nearly weeklong event. But at the end of it all, it proved to be one of the best in recent years.

While these crowds stay consistent, so does the pay of your average DJ, the man who either makes or breaks the party. He controls the crowd, and many times decides what is or isn’t a hit. So why not get in good with the DJ? That’s where the whole “DJ Pet” relationship begins to build. The artist sees a massive audience that he normally can’t tap into, but he can do so if he gets in with the DJ (and ultimately make them into their mascot, or… pet). Next thing you know, Akon’s vocals are being heard in clubs like Mansion in Miami, Santos Party House in New York City and Playhouse in Los Angeles, and we’re talking about their house music nights.

We’ve all heard the mega-hits being cranked out by French DJ-producer David Guetta. The man catapulted the career of The Black Eyed Peas into global superstardom, and gave the media something to talk about in regards to Kelly Rowland (and we all thought Destiny’s Child was going to be the last we saw of her…although, it kind of was). When we caught up with Guetta last August after his colossal collaborations with the Black Eyed Peas and Akon, we asked him about his involvement with these pop acts, seeing as he’s broken a lot of ground with his hits by doing so. He simply said that any one DJ-producer from the electronic music world would do it given the chance.

“It’s not that the other DJs don’t want to do it, it’s that they don’t have the opportunity to do it,” Guetta said. “I just had this incredible opportunity to do something. Since things went really well with Kelly and then Will (Will.i.am), they just spread the word and the next second I have many artists calling me and asking me to do a swap deal.”

So, it boils down to a swap deal: the pop artist has a cool new face in their videos, and the track gets played in the club by that new face. The DJ also opens up their career to a whole new audience and a whole lot more money. For the DJ-producer it’s a good deal as well. They finally start getting the recognition they’ve always wanted by the mainstream audience. The radio play, endorsement deals and big record contracts that the pop artist is used to have now become available to the DJ, and they’re taking it and running. The voice of one of the most popular dance music radio shows in the world believes it’s a positive time for the genre.

“For the first time there’s quite a lot of music that’s getting on the radio,” said Pete Tong in a recent interview. “You have artists now like David Guetta who’s made himself more appealing to American radio by working with the likes of Akon, Kid Cudi and Kelly Rowland. It’s definitely in a very positive time.”

But sometimes it’s a bit of a sad situation. Not all of them make it out like Oakenfold did with Madonna, or Guetta with the Black Eyed Peas.

There are some train-wrecks out there as well that haven’t exactly panned out from some artists. Let’s take, for example, the collaboration between Diddy and German tech-house DJ-producer, DJ Hell. Sure, the track isn’t the worst thing in the world by any means, but it didn’t have the commercial appeal that a Guetta/Akon collaboration had. Then there’s the project that Tommy Lee, DJ Aero and Deadmau5 collaborated on, WTF? Well, that’s exactly what we’re asking ourselves since we haven’t heard from this project since Winter Music Conference 2008. Hell, even Steve Aoki’s buddy, Lindsay Lohan, has been seen hanging out in the booth a bit too much. She’s probably doing her research and trying to decide if her new pet should be either A) an English 30-something with a knack for acid house or B) a Dutch producer who prefers Ed Hardy behind the booth and Welch’s grape juice with vodka on this rider.

It’s truly a win-win situation for the pop artist and for the DJ-producer as well. But who ends up winning more? Well, it may seem a bit odd, but the pet actually wins this one. When it comes to the pop artist, they’ll add new fans to their already growing list. The electronic artist may lose quite a few or be shunned by some markets depending on how much they fall in everyone’s “sell-out” chart, but at the same time they’re opening the doors for a whole new audience to come in and be introduced to their sound.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. They each make money and they’re each able to share the music with more and more people. But, while Paul Oakenfold may have been seen as Madonna’s DJ pet some years ago, things have shifted on the scene and now the DJ is beginning to get more of the attention.

Nightclubs, once the weekly workplace of the DJ, are now beginning to turn themselves into concert venues. The audience that once showed up to dance and pick-up women/men, are now coming to the clubs to get a good place on the dance floor, and hold their cell-phones to the air in luck of catching a good solid minute of the DJs set on their iPhones (which later end of on YouTube). But that’s another topic in itself. For now let’s see how this DJ Pet trend ends up, and if electronic music will grow in the U.S. as much as it has in Europe as a result of it. As long as guys like Lil Jon and Diddy keep jumping into the booth when Guetta or Benny Benassi play a club in a big market, the DJ Pet saga continues, and until that ends, EDM artists won’t be seen the same as pop artists any time soon.

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