Technology is a wonderful thing. It drives innovation and makes life better. People live longer because of it. But the double-edged sword when it comes to music is that advancements in production and digital distribution now allow anyone with access to software and hardware the ability to produce and release music. While it’s undoubtedly a good thing that the barriers to entry in the marketplace have been significantly lowered and musicians can now better control their destinies, what’s a dance-music producer who dreams of being great — not just good — to do in this cluttered space? If you’re San Francisco-based DJ/producer Worthy (a.k.a. Sean Worthington Williams), an artist interested in exploring all styles of dance floor music who was a co-founder of Dirtybird Records, you release a few select tracks, take your time and focus on your art.
Patience has paid off for Worthy. His years-in-the-making full-length debut, Disbehave, self-released last month on his Anabatic label, seamlessly glides through deep house, bass, electro and glitch. It’s a sonic document of an artist paying attention to details and not kowtowing to fleeting trends of fads. Sure, he could’ve rushed an LP out a while ago but why add to the glut of disposable music? Worthy, who grew up in Washington, D.C. and came of age in the glory days of the U.S. rave scene, eloquently speaks about co-launching Dirtybird in 2001, the long road to self-releasing his diverse debut and why taking his time to release Disbehave was a good decision.
Worthy’s Disbehave is out now on Anabatic. Catch him at Astral Harvest in Driftpile, Alberta, Canada on July 4, Vinyl in Denver on July 5 and Effex Rooftop in Albuquerque, NM, on July 18.
It seems that every DJ has either started — or is planning to start — their own record label. In your opinion, should they?!
Worthy: Yes and no. The positives to having a label are that you are in complete control of your music. You don’t have to wait to see if someone else thinks your music is good and you can decide when it goes out. On the downside is the reality that there is a ton of work that goes into making a release go off, and there is a building process to making a label get attention. For someone who is just starting off as a producer, I would advise them to focus on making music and to try getting on other labels as a way to build themselves up. Starting a label takes so much time, so for a novice artist I really think it is best to put all your energy into creation. Once an artist is already established, I would say go for it, start a label. A seasoned producer will have an easier go around getting respect for their label and already know everyone in the industry. Being able to self-release their music will get them and their label noticed, if they are a good producer.
I think most people would agree that being a great DJ has little correlation to properly running a business. What’s the biggest mistake most artists make when they start their own label?
I would say you really need to have a brand idea and a good idea of what your first three to six months of running the label are going to look like. It will be challenging to get placement on sites if you don’t have a decent plan for your label and solid brand identity. You can’t just have a track or two and decide it’s time to start a label. Being shortsighted is probably the biggest mistake artists make who jump right off and try to start a label. If you are just starting out as an artist yourself, it will be even more challenging because there is so much competition these days. But if you do start a label, a bit of advice I would give is to get remixes from known artists, as this can help get your label some recognition too.
The music business is complex to say the least. How did you educate yourself? Did you have a mentor, or did you succeed through trial and error?
At the beginning of starting my label, I received some help and sound advice from Barclay [Claude Von Stroke] who was successfully running Dirtybird. He helped me with things like contacts at different outlets and with DJ feedback. There was still a lot of trial and error for me in the beginning of starting the label, with the art, masters and PR. To be honest, I had a really slow start with running the label, predominantly because I was so much for focused on music production. I am just entering my next phase with my own label, now after self-releasing my first full-length album. I am excited to see where it goes, now that I have a better understanding of everything it takes to make something really pop off.
“By going outside of the box that I had put myself in, I feel like I grew so much as a musician and gave myself a new level of confidence that I perhaps didn’t have before.”
You were one of the people who helped launch Dirtybird. What were the early days like?
The start of Dirtybird was about the park parties. The four of us — Christian [Martin], Justin [Martin], me and Barclay — decided we wanted to throw an amazing outdoor party. We all wanted to hear a sound that was not being played in San Francisco at the time too. By starting the party we gave ourselves the platform, with no restrictions, to play what we wanted. It was really exciting and inspiring back then. We were all trying to one up each other with some amazing new track. It was a ton of fun and a lot of work, it has been the most amazing thing to see grow. Barlcay is responsible for taking Dirtybird to the next level when he started the label. His vision took Dirtybird outside of San Francisco and he really helped all of us gain way more exposure in the process.
You’ve just released your debut album, Disbehave, after many years of making music. Why did you wait to put out the album?
I don’t think I was mentally prepared to take on the responsibilities of creating or putting out an album before. Before I started it, there was a little bit of fear around putting together an album and also not believing that I had the musical skill to put out the type of album that I wanted. I got the push from friends to do it, and I also saw how well Justin Martin’s album did for him. Those factors definitely motivated me to get over those fears and to move forward with making an album. It took me two years to complete it and a ton of focus. I think I had matured enough to truly make it a priority, and once I made the commitment it all seemed to come together over time.
Disbehave is wonderfully diverse with lots of dance floor styles well represented in your tracks. Why is exploring different styles important to you?
Thanks, I appreciate that. On the album I wanted to make it so that every track was not a banger for the dance floor and something that would keep you interested the entire way through the album. I have a lot of love for different styles of music, from the big dance floor tracks to ambient and downtempo tunes. Disbehave gave me the opportunity to really explore into some of those realms of music that I had not been making previously. It was incredibly refreshing and probably the most inspiring thing that I have done for myself creatively. By going outside of the box that I had put myself in, I feel like I grew so much as a musician and gave myself a new level of confidence that I perhaps didn’t have before.
Disbehave is released on your Anabatic label. Is it a challenge to release music on your own? What are your future plans for the imprint?
Doing a full on album took so much more planning than just busting out an EP. Doing an EP is way easier, as you don’t have as much invested in it, and it really only takes some basic PR on specific outlets to get a buzz going. The album is such a different beast. It has been challenge because there are so many pieces and variables to it working out the right way. It has been a huge learning process for me. I think the most important thing is having a proper team in place. I had two PR companies doing a three-month campaign, both in the U.S. and overseas. Project managing a release like this involves so many people and working parts that need to run smoothly together. The roll out has to be well planned and enough time has to be allowed for everything from the mastering to the album art to the PR, music videos, tour, remixes. It’s a lot to juggle and so important not to misstep on anything.
I would run the campaign a little bit different on the next one, by having certain pieces ready to go earlier, and allowing more lead time with the planning. In the end, I am so happy that I went through the process of doing the whole campaign for my album myself. I learned so much in the process, and had complete control on how my release was done. As for the imprint, I have some remixes of the album we are going to have come out in the fall as well as some more EPs from some new artists lined up too. I am moving forward with taking Anabatic to the next level. Some exciting things are coming up, for sure.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given that’s helped you to succeed in the music biz?
If you believe in your music you can do it, just keep doing what you love and take chances and put yourself out there. I have total belief in what I do and it drives me everytime I go out and play or sit down to write music.
Any final thoughts?
For any artists that are looking to get exposure and feel like I might be into their sound, we are taking submissions at Anabatic, so hit me up. You can catch me on tour this summer and watch for an EP on Trouble & Bass in the fall as well as remixes of the album too.