Joe Wiseman On Insomniac Records Unique Ecosystem
Joe Wiseman, Director of Insomniac Music Group, oversees a cartel of labels that – similar to Insomniac’s festival properties – represent the expansive diversity of dance music. The artist turned industry insider joined Insomniac in 2013 after winning the Discovery Project. The producer/ DJ competition allows upstarts to perform at one of Insomniac's flagship festivals like EDC, Beyond Wonderland, or Escape. And because he entered the brand's ecosystem in a similar way to so many young artists, he's well-positioned to champion its divergent assortment of artists.
He had his sights set on a career as a musician since high school. He grew up heavy into hip-hop and spent his free time making beats. As blog house twisted into EDM, he found himself with one foot in dance and the other still in rap. But by the time he was in college at UC Berkeley, he had fallen in love with dance music and was interested in being a DJ and understanding the mechanics of the industry.
“When you're outside of this world, you go to a show, you see a guy or girl on a stage, and you don't really think about everything that goes into getting that artist there. If you really, peel the layers back, you can see, for every one person on stage twisting some knobs there's 100 people that got him or her there.”
After college, he moved to LA and worked at Live Nation just as Insomniac formed its creative partnership with them in 2013. He was moved under the Insomniac umbrella, and for a fresh-faced raver, it was great to be associated with such a legendary brand.
“Some of my first shows I went to were Insomniac shows. The first rave I went to was HARD, which is now Insomniac. I knew about Pasqual [and] his legacy. But I would say I really kind of began the relationship [when] I won the Discovery Project in 2013.”
When winners of the Discovery Project enter the Insomniac ecosystem, they build relationships with key decision-makers at the company. Wiseman says he’s a good case study for its efficacy.
“I didn't necessarily use it to go the artists path, but it opened a lot of doors for me. I created a lot of friendships from it. And, you know, I think that it really is something if you are an aspiring artist to look at as a great opportunity to get your music heard. In a in a unique kind of way that can really elevate your career pretty quickly, which is something that's hard to do.”
Wiseman was able to leverage the relationships he made by winning the Discovery Project into a career as a label manager. Something he had tried his hand once before in college. Except this time, he was backed by one of the most efficient machines in dance music.
“I kind of built some relationships from having won the Discovery Project. kept those relationships and from that found a pathway back for me to actually be a part of the Insomniac family.”
Insomniac founder and CEO Pasquale Rotella was in the process of signing a distribution deal with Interscope Records and needed someone on the inside to grab the reigns to guide the label. Wiseman seemed the obvious choice. And when the Insomniac team decided that being an independent label was a better move for the company, Wiseman was there to lead the charge.
With over 20 labels under the Insomniac umbrella, Wiseman has helped grow the label to encompass every corner of its vast network of properties. Insomniac gives representation to each of dance music's nascent genres. Insomniac Records waves the flag of the culture's most ubiquitous sound, house music. And Bassrush, HARD Records, In/Rotation, Basscon, and Factory 93 all focus on their own unique audiences. Several artist-run labels fall under the umbrella as well like Fisher’s Catch & Release which earned the Insomniac Records family its first Grammy nomination for "Losing It" in 2019.
“We want to mirror what we're doing on the live side with the label. Each brand has their own audiences already built in. Rather than putting [them] all under one label, Insomniac, you leverage the audience's already being built out by those brands, and release music underneath them”
It's a unique model, and likely one that only Insomniac can pull off given its wide range of followers. On a macro level, the label group is its own ecosystem, with each label and the Discovery Project feeding into it as its micro components.
“I think it's a unique system that we have where we can grow artists on the label side, plug them in, within everything else we're doing at Insomniac, radio, live streams, PR initiatives. But then also obviously tap into the core business, which is the events.”
It also offers an approach to artist development that few can compete with. “Not to pat ourselves on the back too much. But I think we do an amazing job at developing. And doing it in an artist friendly kind of manner where we're not necessarily tying artists down and preventing them from growing outside of Insomniac, which I think is also important,” Wiseman explains.
“We have a great system for developing in terms of our labels. We [have] starter labels, where we let artists get a foot in the door. We work within the system internally, and we can elevate them up to the next level, which then gets some more resources.” All you have to do is look towards previous winners like Dr. Fresch, SAYMYNAME, Kayzo, or Drezo to understand the power of the process.
2021 marks the 25th anniversary of EDC. Insomniac Records will completely take over the StereoBLOOM stage to showcase the sound that dance music starts and ends with, house. It’s a chance for Wiseman and company to showcase the ways they've succeeded through the pandemic.
Without events to lean on, the label found new ways to promote its artists like live streams and heavier social media marketing. Wiseman comments that in some ways, live streams have been a more potent way to market music because of their unlimited reach.
Insomniac has come back into festivals firing on all cylinders. Day Trip, the all house music festival proved to be a massively successful first outing. And Wiseman is looking forward to his first time back under the electric sky since 2019.
“I've always had these moments now having been at like, the past 10 EDCs. Where you walk out into the crowd, and you see these people having the time of their life. And waiting all year for that moment it really justifies everything that we do leading up to the event. And everything that even we do on the label side, because you know, walking around hearing music from the record label being played on the stages to people in the crowd, its what excites me.”