Armada’s global senior A&R director Jason Ellis has spoken to Music Week about the huge opportunities for both frontline artists and catalogue at the dance music label.
Ellis has become a key part of Armada as the UK office celebrates a chart breakthrough with DOD. The highly experienced exec joined the independent label in the summer following two decades in charge at Universal Music UK dance label Positiva.
“I had a really inspiring conversation with [CEO] Maykel Piron, and from that point it became clear that it would be the place for me in the next phase of my career,” said Ellis, who is based in London.
In his role, Ellis is responsible for sourcing and developing talent.
“We are a global company and we’re not defined by one sub-genre, sound or one territory,” he said. “So it’s important to have a global perspective on our signings and our campaigns.”
He also consults on future acquisitions for BEAT Music Fund, Armada’s recently launched dance music investment arm. It plans to invest at least $500 million in the years ahead.
At a time when the dance music genre has been booming, Ellis is confident that the label can capitalise on that market growth.
“We’re the biggest independent dance music label in the world,” he said. “We’ve got over 40,000 tracks in the catalogue now. There’s been a lot of catalogue acquisitions over the years, even before the recent announcement of BEAT.
“The repertoire that the company controls, and the breadth of the artists that we represent, puts us in a really good position to keep evolving and keep growing. We want to maintain the best-in-class service that we have.”
Acquisitions include recordings from house and techno legend Kevin Saunderson, the master and publishing catalogue of duo Chocolate Puma, and dance label King Street Sounds.
“Dance music has always been based on sampling and revitalising historical recordings – that’s been part of its DNA from its inception,” said Ellis. “So it makes sense to have a bigger catalogue and as much repertoire as we can to call upon for our current roster of artists.
“As an A&R team, we’re certainly sharing the resources, swapping ideas and utilising the catalogue as best we can.”
During his tenure, Positiva generated more than 80 million single sales, 3.5m album sales and four billion streams in the UK. Ellis served as MD, in addition to senior A&R duties at Virgin, Virgin EMI and EMI Records. He signed Swedish House Mafia, Eric Prydz and Jonas Blue, and oversaw campaigns for Avicii, David Guetta, Deadmau5 and more.
Ellis had previously worked on joint releases with Armada, which has evolved from its trance origins.
“The majors do a great job at what they do,” he told Music Week. “But it’s nice to be in an independent company that’s fully focused on the genre and [where everyone is] pulling in the same direction with the culture and the music – that is really exciting.”
Armada has become an indie giant with more than 120 staff members based in Amsterdam, London and New York. The UK team, including GM Ben Malone, was set up in 2019 and has grown to 15 people across A&R, marketing, PR, product, promotions and digital.
“The company is 20 years old this year, but just getting started in many ways,” said Ellis. “It’s a young team [in the UK] who are really keen to grow and develop. I’m happy to bring a bit of experience and maybe a slightly different perspective on some of the campaigns.”
The company is 20 years old this year, but just getting started in many ways
Although the label has played a role in hits in the UK – including with label co-founder Armin Van Buuren, Lost Frequencies and Loud Luxury – Armada secured its first Top 20 single by a UK signing this year with So Much In Love by DOD. Peaking at No.15, the track has spent several months on the chart and has sales to date of 336,067, according to the Official Charts Company.
“The UK company is now taking a lead on new signings and making sure that we’re relevant and across emerging talent,” said Ellis. “Recent successes such as DOD, Ben Hemsley and Matt Guy have really shone a light on what the UK company can do. Part of my role is to help educate the artists, management and lawyer community that we’re open for business across all sub-genres.”
Ellis highlighted the global ambitions for Manchester-born DOD (real name Dan O’Donnell) following recent success.
“His last two or three releases with us have all been improving his profile and position within the community, and it all came together on this one [So Much In Love],” he said. “With the return of clubs and festivals, a lot of clubbers out there experiencing the record in that environment has helped turn it into a proper anthem.”
DOD has recently collaborated with Jax Jones and Ina Wroldsen on Won’t Forget You (Polydor). He shares management with Jax Jones at Loving Alliance: founder/CEO Dan Stacey and Josh Neal.
Armada has further DOD single releases lined up going into 2024.
“We’re aware, and he’s aware, that just because you have one huge record doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve cracked it,” Ellis told Music Week. “He’s got to keep delivering great tracks, great music, and if that’s the case, we’ll make sure we’re there to do what we need to do to keep growing his profile.”
As part of the company’s UK growth strategy, Armada is set to open a bigger London office in 2024.
“It will mirror the Armada Amsterdam set-up with radio studios, production studios and an event space,” said Ellis. “I think that really shows the commitment that the company has to growing in the UK over the next few years.”
Armada also has a global publishing operation and runs its A State Of Trance live events.
Looking ahead, Ellis is upbeat about the strength of dance music, following the club and festival shutdown imposed by the pandemic.
“Through Covid, the live area [of the business] was decimated for a couple of years,” he said. “But it allowed a whole new generation of DJs and producers to hone their craft away from the public eye, and we’re starting to see the fruits of that now.
“It does feel like a big reset. Some of the legends and bigger names have managed to come out of the other side intact. But there’s definitely a lot of new talent on the horizon that needs our attention.”