How Wasserman VP Steve Goodgold Helped Usher in the Era of the DJ
John von Pamer
Since 1998 Steve Goodgold has spearheaded the growth of dance music culture. As one of the first to manage the US bookings of top-tier electronic talent like Paul Oakenfold, the Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, and Underworld, he helped legitimize the idea of DJs and live dance artists being viable touring acts. Now a Vice President and agent at Wasserman Music, his roster boasts some of the industry's biggest names, including Duke Dumont, Alison Wonderland, Flume, Lane 8, and The Glitch Mob.
When he was hired at Chaotica, a boutique agency run by music industry legend Gerry Gerrard, in the late 90s, the thought that a DJ could fill anything other than a club was unheard of. However, they realized that the ever-growing dance music community would follow their beloved DJs anywhere. And while most of the industry still viewed it as a niche market, they understood that a fan base existed for these artists outside of clubs. Within ten years, he helped grow Chaotica into one of the game's largest and most well-respected agencies.
He eventually moved on to the Windish Agency (Chaotica became part of WME) to help found their New York office when the EDM boom began. He brought a wealth of dance music knowledge to the independent agency started in Chicago by Tom Windish. He helped usher the company through explosive growth as they merged with AM Only to become Paradigm Talent Agency in 2017, combining the power of two of the most potent dance music agencies in the world at a time when EDM was reaching its peak.
When Paradigm was brought under the umbrella of Wasserman in 2021, Goodgold and his team had grown the agency to become an industry leader. And with Goodgold helming a stable of agents and artists who continue to change the way dance music is understood, he's helping a new generation understand the power of dance music as a powerhouse and positive changemaker.
Currently, Wasserman's roster takes the lion's share of festival bookings in dance music. According to @EDMnumbers, a Twitter account that crunches music festival data, at Electric Forest this year, 38.4% of the lineup is from Wasserman, Bonaroo 33.9%, Coachella 24.2%, EDC Vegas 20.6%, and Ultra 24%.
We sat down with him to get some insight on his journey from hip hop DJ to fledgling agent and ultimately one of the most influential people in the space. He shared his thoughts on the growth of dance music culture, the importance of new artist development, and how diversity in dance music is paramount to his team.
How exactly did you fall in love with dance music?
I was a kid of the 80s. I was around at the birth of hip hop. I was breakdancing. I bought myself turntables and started DJing when I was in sixth grade and fell in love with that culture. I became sort of like the DJ of town. Back then, I had all my gear and like seven crates of vinyl records in my mom's trunk. That's what got me involved in sort of the club culture very early on, even before anyone knew what it was.
That's so interesting that you started as a musician. Nobody wakes up one day and says they want to be an agent. So, why did you decide that you wanted to make a move into a behind-the-scenes role in the music industry?
Yeah, that's a good question. It carries on from the start. I have a cousin who is a little bit older than me. He was producing dance music pretty early on. We both started DJing, and we decided [to] start a record label. I was about to graduate from high school. So, I said to my parents, "Hey, I'm gonna not go to college, and I'm gonna go start a record label." And they were like, "What on earth are you talking about? No." So I went to college to waste time trying to figure out what I was really going to do with my life.
All the while, my cousin stayed in the scene. He started an electronic leaning band that was sort of in the Nine Inch Nails universe and got signed by my very first boss, Jerry Gerard. He was an agent who was booking probably the world's deadliest electronic music roster at the time the Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers, he was the agent. He had just left to start his own agency and needed help. I was like, "Dude. I will come to work for you for free. I don't even know what you do. But I have to be a part of it."
I didn't aspire to be an agent. When I'm talking to some of the younger agents, I always make a joke. Why on earth would you ever want to be an agent? You know, it's the worst job in the world. And I kind of laugh. But then I say in the same breath, if I wasn't doing this, I don't have any idea what I would be doing with myself because outside of music, I don't know what I would ever do.
Dance music was really in its own lane in terms of how artists were represented. They weren't really signed to big agencies. How did the explosion of dance music change how you do business?
That's the one thing that I'm most proud of. The idea of booking a DJ on tours was very foreign. We'd booked DJs who were in bands. Like we booked Underworld, so Darren Emerson would go and do DJ shows. But the first real DJ that we booked was Paul Oakenfold, and that was when Paul Oakenfold became the biggest DJ in the world. Me and my boss, Gerry, kind of pioneered DJ touring. We understood that Paul Oakenfold had a fan base that existed outside of nightclubs and that people would purchase a concert ticket to see him no matter where he performed. Paul Oakenfold was the first DJ in the United States to ever get on a tour bus and carry his own production, just like a band. And in many ways, that was the catalyst for understanding that DJ culture was more than just the nightclubs.
Being at Coachella this year was special because we had so many electronic music artists scattered about every stage. We went from trying to beg people to understand what we were trying to do, to convince them that there's a huge segment of people that want to see these artists, to basically dominating every single festival in the world right now. It took two decades, but I'm glad we're here.
How do you see Paradigm joining Wasserman as a significant market shift? And how do you see that being good for dance music culture?
We had all this momentum before the pandemic. We were doing such great work for artists, and we were building our staff and just really hitting our stride. Then the pandemic came and kind of wiped everybody out. It was not only a personal shock to deal with what was happening in the world, but from a company perspective, we're the market leaders, and we still felt like we were, but there was nothing going on. So it was just a time to reflect upon where we were going. And we're grateful that Wasserman understood that we're just such an incredible collection of humans that are great at what we do.
We've got artists here that started at the beginning. I think about Flume. He was playing the Windish Agency CMJ Showcase (in 2012) for free in New York. First one on the bill for four people. And then he went on to headline Governor's Ball.
I can list 20 artists, maybe 30 artists on our roster, who have had that kind of trajectory with the agents that have worked really hard to develop them from the start of their career to where they are now.
Being part of a large agency, how do you see yourself being able to affect changes in diversity in dance music?
My company is unbelievable in the diversity and inclusion space. It's at the top of the agenda. Diversity here is paramount to our recruiting process. But it's also very important, as it relates to the business we're in. On the sports side at Wasserman, you've got The Collective which is fighting for women's equality in sports. There's now a lot of movement to ensure concert stages are diverse. It's an important role for not only agents and managers but promoters to make sure that these things happen. I think it's happening better and more than it's ever happened before. And it's important for everybody. I think 50% of my roster is female right now.
Dance music, in particular, is very much a boys club. And you see all these powerful female electronic artists not only out there crushing it but crushing beyond some of what their competition is doing. I married a DJ. I was her booking agent before we were in a relationship. And it was a really bad time because I got emails from promoters like, "Hey, we're trying to do an all-girl lineup. Any female will do." It's a pretty disgusting way to approach a lineup.
It's a double-edged sword. This is very important to them. They want to be treated as artists, not as females, but there's an important part of the role as a female. But it's just wonderful to go from where my wife was DJing [when] these forums would say, "for a girl DJ, she's pretty good." [Now with] Allison Wonderland, or Rezz, or you go down the list of these amazing female artists, no one's saying, "for a girl, she's great." They're just saying this artist changed my life. We have made such progress, but it's still not done, and we still have so much more work to do.
What excites you about the future of dance music?
What excites me is the curve. And what I mean is, I always looked at hip hop like this one thing that had this explosive curve, and it never really stopped. It just slowly plateaus, but it's always somewhere at the top. Hip hop always feels like an important part of music, and it's never going away. I think that we finally reached that with dance music. It's never going away. People want to dance. Their souls want to feel dance music. We've proved that it's important. I love seeing that we continue to dominate these festivals with electronic artists but more importantly, it excites me that it's not just about the DJ. These are artists. These are people making their own music, making phenomenal music, and performing it live. Yeah, there's like plenty of them that can DJ, and they're great, but a lot of these "DJs" now go out, and the majority of stuff that they play, even in their own DJ set, is stuff that they've created or been a part of, either through a remix or collaboration. Alison Wonderland does that. She plays only her music. Duke Dumont, who I represent, his show is only as his own music. Fred again.. is exploding playing and writing music, and people are losing their minds to it. That's what excites me, the level of music that's being released. It's really not so much about DJ culture anymore. These people make music that impacts people's lives, and then they come out, and they perform that music for them. That's a concert. And I love that. And I hope that continues to grow.