Pretty Lights: "I Had No Idea It'd Get This Big, Rolling Stone and 10,000-Person Shows"
Since 2006, he's built a musical empire with his friends and labelmates at Pretty Lights Music, stirring up what many consider to be a whole new genre in the process.
His blend of natural rhythms and electronic textures has taken him to places he never imagined. But Smith stays humble amid the hype and keeps his mind locked on the things that matter most. Like music, fans, and love of the crew.
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Crossfade: How's the tour been so far?
Derek Vincent Smith: It's been amazing, actually. We've stepped up our show in lots of ways. We had to go into bigger venues and we weren't so sure that we could fill these bigger venues just because we had such a bigger production. But it's turned out that everything's worked out really well. The tour's been amazing. We've been doing crazy big shows and the kids have been superhype, and the music has kept it really fun for me because I'm playing a lot of my new music.
Tell us about how you amped up the production on this tour.
On the last tour, we had taken it to a pretty big level and I asked myself, "Do we continue to go bigger and bigger? Or is there another way to make this show fresher and different and separated from the other artists that are doing the electronic music touring and big productions?" And what I decided to do was really put a lot of time into the look of the production and the video and the lighting and the way that it matches and synchronizes with my music.
My music is very analog and very organic and soulful and vintage and nature-y, even though it's new electronic music. So we like to create a whole show of visuals to match that. So, instead of all typical visualization, animations, things you see at electronic music festivals, it's all very organic, very old-school looking, artistic, beautiful, like mini-films for each song. And then we put that up on a massive 3-dimensional cityscape on stage and we've added 3D planets that hang up. It's really dope.
It seems everyone involved in the label is pretty close. You have a family-type environment. How do you challenge each other to stay fresh and push yourselves all the time?
Yeah, definitely. That's how it started and that's how I've attempted to keep it. I grew up with two of the guys on the label, Michal Menert and Paul Basic. We even played in a band together in high school, and when I started having some success with Pretty Lights, my homies were producing music and were very talented, and I wanted to really just see if there was any way I could help and get their music out there more than it was getting out there.
Me giving my music away for free had begun as an experiment. So I decided to take that same experiment to the record label approach and get behind an artist that no one had ever heard of and say, "Hey, this is fresh, you can get it for free on the Pretty Lights Music website. Check it out." And I'd see if that worked, and it did. Now stuff no one had heard of all of a sudden had 10K downloads in a couple weeks and he's able to be on tour making money and quit his job and actually have a career in music like he wanted to. That's how it started, with crew, and that's how it continued to evolve. So everyone who's been signed to PLM has been my homie in one way or another. And we keep it that way.
You kind of lead with the question of how do we challenge each other, and that's very true. Even before the record label, that was very true with my crew. The fact that we all produced and wanted to make the fresh shit. It's the same thing with the label now. We all try to outdo each other. But at the same time, support and encourage each other.
A kind of friendly competition.
Yeah, it's not a regular record label in the sense that these artists get all the backing and funding of a normal, bigger record label. It's like, they get the exposure and the help and the advertising that comes from being on PLM. But then we're all encouraged to be extremely business savvy and run their own companies and do that. So, it's also challenging and inspirational kind of stuff that happens on the business side of things as opposed to just the artistic side of things.
How do you think your little experiment is going to evolve?
You know, it's hard to say. It's something that I look at as taking one step at a time. I've never committed to continuing that process or that distribution method passed the record that I'm currently working on. I make that decision with each successive album, whether or not I'm going to continue with that.
Right now, it's a strange time because Pretty Lights has now gotten larger than I ever thought it would, right? I gave my music away for free because I wanted to get it in as many people's stereos as possible. I just wanted people to experience it and come to the shows and really get down to a new sound, a new genre, and I had no idea that it would become as big as it's become. Mentions in Rolling Stone and 10,000-person shows, a lot of cities all over the country, headlining festivals. It's like, at this point, now I'm getting hit up by some people who want to settle on some samples that I've used and things like that, and it's become a little more complicated.
But I definitely want to continue with this method, because it's something that's been developed that's really created a very loyal and respectful connection between the artist and the fans. I'm not sure exactly how it's going to evolve in the future. But it will evolve, I can tell you that much. And we will stay true to the beginnings of the vision.
Pretty Lights. Tuesday, October 2. Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. All ages. The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets cost $32.50 plus fees via livenation.com. All ages. Call 305-673-7300 or visit fillmoremb.com.
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