We speak to Deep Root Records CEO Ajamu Kambon
Ajamu Kambon, Co-Founder of New York City’s Deep Root Records, is redefining the music and event planning industry as we know it by enabling up-and-coming talents to collaborate with the hottest names in the game today. Rooted in his passion for sharing music that ignites souls around the world, Kambon’s Deep Root Records is introducing a new recording company model that will deliver more music to listeners, more options to rising talents, and more collaboration opportunities to usher in a new wave of music production.
Ajamu started Deep Root Records with music producer Francis Mercier because of his love for good music and his ability to see talent within musicians and artists. He believes they can use their music to become an integral part of transforming music culture.
Covid-19 was a real curveball for Deep Root Records, and they couldn’t have foreseen the inevitable havoc faced by the industry when forced to completely shut down. When April 2020 came around and Deep Root confirmed the cancellation of more than 120 events for the remainder of 2020 which included Spring & Summer World Tours for their entire roster, it became abundantly clear that the future of live events was uncertain.
Yet, after almost 6 years of operating the label, and amassing a community of 60+ Producers and DJs, 25+ Promoters, and 15+ Freelancers, they felt they had a responsibility to see the pandemic through and come out stronger in the end. They quickly adapted and felt expansion digitally, via the music arm of their enterprise, was the way to go.
In May 2020 they fully launched the #UnitedByMusic live stream series and fundraiser, in partnership with Paris’s Radio FG and the Recording Academy’s/Grammys MusiCares. With an audience of over 2 million people, #UnitedByMusic continues to serve as their main initiative of support to their artists and community— one of their best endeavours to date.
How did you deal with the initial outbreak, back in March, specifically regarding your events department?
I knew it was something more than the flu, but I had no idea it would last this long. We had hundreds of ticket holders for immediate events simply save their tickets for a later date in the Spring. International artists had to cancel their travel itineraries. Everything from that point became tentative.
We basically placed all operations on hold and just expected to postpone everything. However, as the pandemic seemed to become increasingly dire, we paused business as usual and took several weeks to regroup and plan for the rest of the year.
Which methods have you used to continue hosting events or fostering experiences, despite the ongoing pandemic?
Utilizing our partners to come together and create our most significant effort; our live streams. Live streams have significantly helped resuscitate some form of life into the industry. Our live stream held in celebration of our 5thanniversary with Radio FG, France’s first radio station that broadcasts deep house and electro house music, was so successful that we recognized a bright opportunity to virtually extend our Deep Root Sessions residency at Manhattan’s Public Arts.
Regarding the annual Yacht Series, what health & safety procedures were implemented, and how effective were they? Did people seem ready to party as usual?
For a brief period between late May and late July, New York was classified as Phase 3, with 25% – 50% capacity outdoor dining and nightlife, permitting us to operate our Summer Yacht Series within state and city guidelines. It helped bring back a sense of normalcy and also allowed us to employ fellow nightlife professionals who were out of jobs for months, such as DJs, promoters, event managers, security, bartenders, and hosts. It was a great feeling to show up for our community while remaining safe and regulated.
All yacht patrons were required to wear masks and temperatures were taken before boarding. Masks were also provided on-site and social distancing was enforced. For example, all tables were at least six feet apart. In addition, hand sanitizing stations were visible aboard all vessels and we noted contact information for primary guests of all tables and patrons, as a precautionary measure in the event that contact tracing may be employed. All staff was required to be tested for COVID-19 before working and were of course subjected to wear masks at all times. Later on, restrictions were updated and limited indoor venues to 25% capacity and even prohibited altogether at times. To accommodate these regulations, guests were only permitted to enjoy the outside areas of the vessel and the indoor space was reserved for only one or two guests at a time for the restrooms.
Although the new rules and regulations took some time to get used to, our consumer base seemed grateful to be able to make the most of the last, fleeting moments of a chaotic summer. Inevitably, we had to adjust the structure of our events, but people were able to get out of the house and enjoy live music with friends. I think that our loyal customers were also excited to have an opportunity to support our label, artists, and collaborators. Our mission has always been to foster an experience that provides an escape from reality, and it seems that our truncated version of events in the brief period of time that we were able to host them this summer, was able to deliver a feeling of hope in the midst of a crazy year.
Have live streams and virtual events been as successful as events held in person?
In my view, live streams have been more successful than events held in person, given the circumstances. There are no restrictions on how many people can be a part of an artist’s performance and musical journey, not to mention, the logistics are a fraction of what it takes to plan, organize, and produce a live event in person. Live streams and virtual events are the safest options during this pandemic, and also the most opportunistic. The potential reach to the rest of the world is unparalleled, and the show can go on for hours.
However, the challenge that many industry professionals are facing currently is the question of how to build a dependable revenue stream from virtual events. Labels, artists, and event companies usually end up either breaking even or possibly even losing money by producing such shows. Our main goal is to invest in our brand and artists and allow their musical performances to flourish despite a worldwide lockdown. Live streams at its core are for the people, there are no profits nor awards. The reward is allowing the world to still be able to experience an art form enjoyed by all.
How did you manage to transform your events experience into the online realm?
Ultimately, our focus on partnerships and collaborations helped to strengthen our brand and online reach. We pursued a relationship with one of the most influential radio stations in France, Radio FG, and eventually established connections with more leading platforms within the electronic music genre, such as Madorasindahouse, Pure Ibiza Radio, Data Transmission, ThatDrop.com, Koolwaters, Techno Live Sets, Clubbing TV, ASmallWorld, and many others.
Furthermore, our #UnitedByMusic live stream initiative in collaboration with The Recording Academy, otherwise known as the Grammy MusiCares, has also allowed us to create a platform that is able to provide funds and donations to those within the entertainment, hospitality, and music industries going through a difficult time. We have streamlined efforts towards featuring big names alongside our rising stars and local talent. This has proved to help immensely in regards to growing the series. We have had artists such as Roger Sanchez, Kenny Dope, Barbara Tucker, DJ Chus, Tube & Berger, Leftwing: Kody, Offaiah, CID, Moonboots, Paso Doble, Andrew Meller, Marc Vedo, Dub Tiger, and Layla Benitez all bless our live steam sessions.
What has been the most difficult thing for the label while transitioning online?
It has been challenging to re-brand ourselves in a way, and really put ourselves at the forefront of our competition. Our events in person have always been a differentiating factor from other labels. With all live events and shows being canceled, we have shifted our focus to the music department and are working towards building ourselves up as the best independent dance music label in the market. Our media team has adapted their roles to serve the music department as well. They have transformed our social media content in a way that better promotes our music and content solely online, as opposed to using events as a conduit.
Moreover, we have been navigating the digital space full-force along with the rest of the world. We’ve had to discover new ways to balance our workflow amidst different time zones, planning and organizing video calls on multiple platforms, and organizing recordings not only domestically but internationally, without meeting a soul.
Do you think festivals and club events will be different when things open back up?
Especially within metropolitan cities in the U.S., I think we will see a more Euro-centric event production style. I believe within a year or two, events and nightlife will get a total facelift and resurgence of ideas in terms of innovation within the space. It may be very similar to how the Roaring ’20s took place after the 1918 Spanish Flu. The idea of going out and experiencing the night was a lifestyle and I’m actually pretty excited for what the future holds once things are fully open again. When that day comes, Deep Root Records will be ready!