How This Swedish DJ Signed His First Record Deal at 16-Years-Old

Meet John Dahlbäck, he’s a 29-year-old accomplished swedish house music producer and DJ. Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Dahlbäck was raised by a family of musicians. His dad was a drummer, his mom was a singer, and his cousin is fellow producer Jesper Dahlbäck.
Ironically, Dahlbäck was actually more of a hip-hop fan and disliked EDM when he was younger. It wasn’t until his cousin Jesper Dahlbäck shared with him one of his tracks that he “forced” himself to like it.
With the right support system and hard work, Dahlbäck was able to sign his very first record deal as a teenager. Since then, he’s gone on to create some industry classics like “Blink” and “Pyramid.”
We recently had the pleasure catching up with John Dahlbäck in an exclusive interview. Here, we discuss his early success, how he stays relevant in such a competitive industry, and his upcoming album.
You got your first major deal when you were 17. What was that like for you?
It was actually when I was 16. It was amazing and also everything around it was so cool. They faxed the contract over to my parents’ house, and my dad had to wake up in the middle of the night to accept the fax with the contract. I remember the label putting me on their website — that was huge for me — and then getting the record home was very nice to hold your own record. It’s something I really miss today. Before, I got sent home vinyls with my name on it. It was something special; it felt like I had released something. Now it’s all digital so it doesn’t really feel like it’s out.
You’ve mentioned in the past how the EDM has become more structured now. Why do you think that?
Well, you have to be more focused, especially when you’re doing an album. There’s so many other producers out there today that you have to stick out and be original, and you have to prove to everyone that you really know what you’re doing and stuff. Before when I did albums it was basically me just doing a bunch of tracks; there was no real thought behind it. Now it’s much different. You have to have a clear picture of what you’re doing to do and stuff. It was easier before when it was just like, ‘I made this track. I’m going to sign it away and then off to the next one’ — no clear picture of what the future was going to be like.
You mentioned it’s really competitive among DJs out there fighting for attention. Does your creative process involve thinking about how to make a track stand out or become a hit?
I always have the belief that the more simple the track is, the bigger it’s going to get. I never wanted to focus on super melodic tracks. It needs a simple melody — I think that’s the key to a track becoming a big song. But it also needs to be the right melody, so a lot of work gets put into the thinking of an original melody that hasn’t been done that’s still catchy enough for people to remember it the day after they heard it. It’s quite challenging in the studio. I’m playing around on the piano and seeing where it ends up, basically. I’m very quick on judging [whether] I’m happy with a track. If not, I just throw it in the trash. If it’s something I really like, I’m going to finish it as soon as possible.
There definitely seems to be a lot of passion behind every single track that you do.
Yeah. I have to have that when I’m in the studio. If I don’t feel it 100 percent I’m not going to send it to anyone. It’s the same with DJing. I don’t play tracks that I think are just OK just because they’re super hits. I need them to give me something back when I’m playing them.
Do you have a certain place that you go to where you feel the most creative or the most melodies come to you?
I think in the studio. Sometimes I can come up with ideas and then record them on the piano at home and then take it to the studio. It’s when I’m in the studio and trying to take a track further is when I’m just creative, just browsing through sounds and seeing where the angle is going to go and that sort of thing.
To have success starting at 16, it’s hard not to let that kind of success get to your head. How have you been able to continue to keep yourself down to Earth?
I think it’s because of where I grew up. Sweden hasn’t had that big of a club scene, and the one it had, it had a really bad rumor about it that it was mostly drugs. It was drug music when I started making it. You know, when I went to school and telling people that I did house music, they thought it was a really bad eurodance kind of thing. It was never like, ‘OK he got his record deal when he was 16. He’s the coolest guy in school.” It was like, ‘Well the music sucks’-kind of vibe. The first couple of years it was always a constant battle against — since my cousin was much older and he had been doing stuff — it was like, ‘John is only getting into the scene because of him.’ Sweden has been very non-supportive for many years, so that’s why I never felt the need to become like a diva.
What are some things in the EDM industry that you would like to see changed, if any?
I think what is actually changing now is that when EDM became popular in the U.S., for example, most people listened to Avicii’s “Get Up” and House Mafia and stuff. I think what’s good now is a lot of those people are diving into everything else that’s around — house music — and they found subgenres that they like more. I feel like subgenres are coming up quite good now in the States. I’m really happy about that.
Are there any artists that you take inspiration from that are not in the EDM scene?
I sort of listen to my dad’s music from the 70s and stuff. It’s sort of the same vibe. It was progressive rock, instrumental progressive rock, so it’s based around melodies. So it was basically just one hook, but the track could be seven minutes long. Drum solos and whatever. I always feel very inspired by music that just has one hook and that’s it.
You’ve said that in your younger years you were into hip-hop and didn’t like EDM very much. I think you said you “forced yourself to like it.” How did that come about?
I guess it’s because it was my cousin’s music, I felt the need to — I always felt he was very cool as a person, and if he did this kind of music I was like, ‘OK I need to like this.’ It wasn’t hard; it took a few listens and then I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t that difficult. I know a lot of kids listened to Prodigy and Daft Punk in the beginning — I was never into that. I came into pure, pure deep house.
You’ve said that in five years, you see yourself “either on a private island or in a dumpster.” Do you feel constant pressure to always perform well?
To be honest, I don’t think that much when I’m making music. I’m more like, if a track becomes a hit, it becomes a hit. If it doesn’t, then I guess nobody liked it. I sort of see the whole career as the same thing. If I don’t become the biggest DJ in the world, it’s fine because it wasn’t meant to be like that — I was supposed to do something else. But I’m always going to do my best. The thing is, when I do music, I don’t do music to sort of satisfy someone else or fans. I need to be 100 percent sure myself with the track first.
What’s your barometer for success, personally?
Success is to make a living out of it. Keep doing what I’m doing and just doing it. I don’t have to be a billionaire. As long as I can survive on what I’m doing, that’s amazing to me.
What’s particularly special about your new album compared to the other works you’ve put out?
It’s very different because it’s a big variety of songs on there. Some tracks are like “Raven.” Some tracks are like more big progressive stuff. There’s a lot of downtempo songs on it. It’s all very musical. Many of the tracks I just wrote on the piano in the beginning, and I produced it after that. I’m really happy how varied it is. There’s not one track that sounds the same as the others. I’m really happy with the end result.
John Dahlbäck’s new album currently doesn’t have a release date, but you can catch up with him on Instagram and Facebook.
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