Satellite is the new digital download site for dance music founded by the original owners of legendary NYC, Boston and Atlanta Satellite Records stores and satelliterecords.com. The NYC store opened in 1993, followed by Atlanta in 1996 and Boston in 1997, while the pioneering website satelliterecords.com was launched in 1996.
Bringing decades of music retail experience along with our commitment to customer service to DJs, fans, and producers the new store creates the vibe and experience of what it was to shop at Satellite while getting great customer service.
To help customers find and discover new, high-quality music that is not being featured or presented in other venues, Satellite offers Hot Picks and Curators. A Satellite tradition since 1996, Hot Picks are Satellite's way of showing you the best tracks based on their musical quality. It doesn't matter if they are made by the biggest producer or someone you've never heard of before, if it's a hot pick, it's a quality track.
Satellite curators are the top tastemakers in their genre, making recommendations in their genre specialty the day of a track's release. The DJ charts feature far more information about the DJ than anywhere else with their bio, location, picture and the DJs comment about why each track is on the chart.
We caught up with Scott Richmond to get the grand Satellite tour over drinks on the Lower East Side.
Mr Richmond, we've come a long way from selling vinyl. Tell us about the new site.
What makes it special?
To me things have gone too far away from how vinyl was sold. In fact, the values that came from record stores is what we want to bring back. Our vision for dance music and dance music stores has always been about breaking new artists and getting the music to as many people as possible - which means great customer service and guidance. We've never subscribed to the whole elitist notion of keeping it underground - it's such great music everyone should hear it. The other thing that always struck me as the buyer for Satellite was that the lifeblood of dance music was discovering that gem - that new artist or record, that you might never have heard of... Sure a new track from the big guys who are the flavor of the moment is great, but what always made me excited and my customers too was finding that track they might never have found.
When everything went digital I though that things would actually open up. Instead what I see is that the digital stores only feature the top 5% or so of artists (the big sellers) and leave the labels, artists and customers to fend for themselves for anything else. That's what inspired us to re-create Satellite. We've always been known for "selection, presentation and guidance" (which has been our mission statement for over a decade) and it was time to carry that vision to online download retailing.
You added some unique features to your site that is sure to attract many people.
Lets talk about that, and where you think it will take the site?
A lot of the features we created are online translations of what it was like to be in a record store. Ironically all the market leaders in digital downloads never owned record stores and it shows. They lack any personal touch.
First, we have hot picks - this is how we express, with all our content managers and everyone involved in Satellite, what the great new releases are. I've heard stories about labels begging to be featured at other sites - and if they don't, no matter how good the release is, it gets buried. This actually happened to me. I discovered this great artist and put out his single in a joint venture with Strictly Rhythm. It sold like 50 - 100 copies!! one of the executives at Strictly said "A&R doesn't work anymore you have to use established DJs and artists" - I was shocked and wondering if I lost my touch in finding artists. 2 months later Kanye West posted a track of that artist on his blog and 125,000 people downloaded it, and his video had 250,000 views on Youtube.
I knew I hadn't lost it - just that the system does nothing to reward good music. Things have been reduced to it being all about marketing instead of it also being about quality. With the Satellite hot picks we reward great music. Period. You can't beg for it, buy it, advertise it - just make a great record and you'll be on there. This is exactly what I did with the physical store and it's what made us great. People would say "Scott can you hook me up and get my record on the wall (or the hot picks list on our emailer and website)" and I would always say "just make a great record and it'll be on there." It didn't make me any friends because ultimately I didn't play the game of "you scratch my back I'll scratch yours" like a lot of people have done in our industry... but for sure it gave the store the musical integrity it had, and ultimately contributed to the enormous reputation that we ended up having.
I enjoy the Curators sections. Brings us back to what a taste-maker is all about.
It's a great little story. Cevin Fisher and I go to the same gym. We were walking out one day and he said "What I wouldn't do to have you hand me the stack of records every week." and I thought "yeah why not?" So I thought about it and came up with a virtual way to do it. What about me creating my "stack" of recommendations every week online? And then not only can you see what I recommended this week but then if you like it go back to the other weeks - sounds good right? Then "follow" me and you can find out my picks every week. We've found other tastemakers to do the same on Satellite and we're adding new people as we build and grow.
Oh and the other thing you can do with curation that's missing from online sales is cross-polination. You check out a curation that may be mostly deep house - but they recommend you this minimal record, that tech-house record, and this other disco house record. That's how it used to go in record stores and people are totally missing out on that experience. Online they get stuck in a genre and it's up to them to search around - and frankly it could be a huge waste of their time to find that one track that might apply to them and they miss out.
What are the top selling artists currently featured on the site?
We are not as concerned about the top selling releases - that sorts itself out. What we work really hard on is finding new releases to feature on our site that are noteworthy which you can find on the homepage in our featured releases or hot picks sections.
How does running the site day to day differ from running an actual record shop.
It's really nice not having to lug records all around hahahaha. Well it's quite different. In some ways it's much easier - like listening through all the music - they send you the music digitally and you hear it and sell it. I would have to take every record out of it's sleeve and audition every single thing - physically I was listening to 400 records a week. Then have planes, vans, taxis and trains get it to us. I used to order from almost 100 companies all over the world and everything was physical. We'd be waiting for customs to clear and have a pricing team price everything (Quinton Harris was one of them, crazy enough)
Also now that things are digital, it's kind of crazy to me that people steal music when it's only $1- $2 each. Especially stealing music made from the very artists they love - of course we didn't have that going on. So the economics are very different. I feel like music has been devalued.
But of course the thing that's the most missing is the community. Besides the fact that Satellite's staff was quite large and it was in itself it's own community, not seeing the customers and not having the store as a place for them to hang out and socialize is a sad thing to me and I'll always miss it.
However, I always knew that having physical product meant that it would be limited only to the most dedicated and who had serious money to spend on it. I really, really love this music, and always, in my mind, was that if anyone is given a chance to listen to it, they would love it (one style or another would appeal to them). In fact I always said you can find me any person in the world and I will find a track that they would like/appreciate regardless of who they are. I think the digital format finally gives us a chance to reach beyond our little niche. It hasn't been done yet at the other digital stores, but it's something I will set out to do.
Technology plays such a hugh part on any digital store web-site. What kind of team do you have in place on location?
We're all in house, as Satellite has always been. That's how you always stay on top of things. We are an agile development company, meaning that it's our intention to release new features all the time (kind of like Facebook). We will always be adjusting to the needs of our customers and be able to deliver a better and better user experience all the time. I'm very fortunate to work with Steve and Will our two IT leaders who have worked for the top technology companies and bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Satellite team.
On another note about technology you can also see that through our technology we have addressed many of the frustrations of the other sites. Instead of constantly being taken to new pages and losing where you are at (which makes no sense in list-based merchandising) the track detail opens right in the list, and if you open a new page it opens a new tab for you right in the site rather than losing where you were.
Are you still active as a DJ? Do you feel it's important to do this to stay in the loop with the pulse of the people.
It's funny you ask that. I think being a DJ is at the core of who I am. My stores have been as much of an expression of my DJing as any actual set. As you know, I have always stayed involved in the scene. I've always had record labels - Central Park, Pitch Black, Calamity Jane (another expression of my DJing as well), thrown events (everywhere from small lounges to the inside of Brooklyn Bridge and the Roseland Ballroom), and DJed as well. There's no way you can sit in an office and get what it's like to be part of the dance music scene. Like I said before, community is one of the most important things about this music. It's what makes it beautiful, that people come together to love and experience it.
I'm always listening for what's new and exciting... whether it be a breaking genre or a breaking artist. People may not know this but Satellite (our event arm) were the first people to bring Basement Jaxx, Laidback Luke, Ian Pooley, Ashley Beedle and many more to America; we were the first people to bring Cajmere/Green Velvet, DJ Sneak, Glenn Underground and many more to NYC. Of course our store was ground zero for breaking these artists. People take for granted that they are big producers, but I can tell you these guys first records and we were all over them. Now it's the same thing. We are on a constant search for what's new and Brilliant.
Once upon a time in 1993 - 95, I was turning on every DJ I could onto Grant Nelson. I sold Cada Vez to almost every big DJ in NYC personally from Louie and David Morales to Danny Krivit and everyone in between. Now he's basically the #1 producer on Traxsource. They mostly hadn't heard of him at that time. I turned on Danny Tenaglia onto Adam Beyer and that track ended up on Danny's Global Underground CD. (Also Cevin Fisher, Victor Calderone, Jonathan Peters and many more were turned onto his productions on Satellite). Now he's one of the biggest sellers on Beatport. This was before these guys were famous and had some big promo list. We did it because we could hear they were great.
The next great producer is already out there making great tracks, and we're going to put them into people's hands just like before - based on them being great. We help the talent before they even ask and it's made for some great relationships.
Who do you consider your audience demographic? The site looks like it will appeal to more than just DJs.
Anyone who enjoys dance music. Of course we're launching with the intention of reaching the current DJ market that Satellite was always a part of, but my ultimate goal is to create a platform where everyone and anyone will be comfortable checking out dance music and not feel like they have to be an expert to find something that they will like.
The online store industry is very young still. people forget its about 7-8 years in. Where do you think we will be in another 10 years?
I think that the reason we are launching is that download stores are "new" BUT selling music isn't. I think in these first few years the people who really knew how to sell music - Virgin Megastore, Tower, or specialists like Satellite or Sonic Groove, didn't get to launch digital stores because they were devastated by the economics of a 1,2 punch of internet bubble burst and illegal downloading. So many of the values in the transition were lost.
It's very important for an online record store to have had experience selling music in the physical realm. If not, they don't necessarily know how to connect to the customer in that uniquely human way. They don't know what it feels like to put a smile on the face of a person who has been searching for a record, or to hand someone a record that blows their mind that they never heard of or expected. There's a magic in that. It's no coincidence that the music industry was healthy until digital happened, because the humanity was taken out of music and it started to become disposable.
To me, this is what Satellite is going to strive for, bringing humanity back into the retail experience, and hopefully that's where we will be going in the next 10 years. Rather than how it is now, where labels have to beg stores for features and only the most popular or biggest selling get taken care of, will be a market open for anyone to have opportunity in it; labels, artists and customers treated with respect, given guidance, help and a personal touch. A market where retail champions great music,
Famous last words?