Real Talk: Alan Fitzpatrick
What are the dangers of overnight success?
Real Talk: Alan Fitzpatrick
What are the dangers of overnight success?
Alan Fitzpatrick released “We Do What We Want” in August 2016 via his own We Are The Brave label. Since then, it’s amassed nearly three-million Soundcloud plays, four-million on YouTube, and over six-million on Spotify. In early 2017, it made an appearance on Match of the Day—rare for a cavernous, frenzy-filled club techno track. It’s had three times more streams than Fitzpatrick’s second most popular track, “They Call ‘Em Garys,” and over six times more than almost anything else in his catalog. “I would never say I went into the studio with any intention of writing “We Do What We Want,” it just sort of happened,” he says. “I had this infectious rave riff in my head that I knew would appeal to a wider audience and blow up during the festival season.”
This success is something that so many producers crave for—a track that connects. Fitzpatrick is no different: he’d been hoping for this ever since he first appeared on 8 Sided Dice Recordings in 2008, but it took this 2016 debut on We Are The Brave for his name to trickle into a more mainstream consciousness. “I acquired a sea of new fans and enjoyed a lot of success in my career off the back of this track,” he recalls. Booking requests started pouring in, as did label and media requests, exacerbated by social media and its facilitation of communication.
It all sounds good, and it remained so for some time. But the opening of these new doors closed other ones and brought various problems—criticism for “selling out,” expectation to churn out more “We Do What We Wants,” and a pressure to please his new-found fans who insisted that Fitzpatrick play it whenever he was DJing. Some fans requested refunds when he didn’t abide; various clubs stopped booking him; and artists once within his orbit turned their backs on him. While on paper his career seemed in better shape than ever, Fitzpatrick struggled with the hype that surrounded him—and only now has he felt ready to explore the topic in detail.
It’d be easy for me to get in to a bit of a rant about this and say some things that could be misconstrued, but I really want to try to avoid that. My personal experiences with hype have left me with some pretty strong views on the topic so I think it’s important for me to choose my words carefully and properly convey my message.
It’s probably easiest if I take it right back to the beginning. In the winter of 2015, I was spending a lot of time in the studio, churning out releases for different labels. This period really marked a change in my attitude towards my music; I think I’d just spent so long producing darker more underground tracks that I wanted to experiment a little and focus on making a summer track. I would never say I went into the studio with any intention of writing “We Do What We Want,” it just sort of happened. It certainly wasn’t a clever plan at this stage, only an idea. I had this infectious rave riff in my head that I knew would appeal to a wider audience and blow up during the festival season. It didn’t take too long for me to finish the track and I first played it at Junction 2 and Hideout Festival in 2016. The reaction from the crowds was unbelievable—real goosebumps moments for me. It’s a reaction you’d expect when playing a well known track of yours that you know everyone loves—but this was only a demo; at this point it didn’t even have a name!
That’s when it all started: hype took over. A couple of fan videos went viral and someone actually ripped the audio from one of the videos that was circulating and uploaded it to Soundcloud, so before I had even mastered the track it had over 400,000 plays. My track was accumulating more plays in a week than other respected artists were getting in two years. It was even used on BBC Match Of The Day; surely that’d be a milestone in anyone’s career. Fast forward two years and the track has over six-million plays on Spotify and I couldn’t be more proud. The track has played such a massive part in the success of my label and the brand awareness it created was phenomenal. Without it, we probably wouldn’t be where we are today, or at least the road would’ve been much longer.
I see this happen at lot in the industry at the moment, where hype is created around an artist or a track. It’s not a new thing but I think the downsides of it are exacerbated by social media. This new generation of techno fans is so competent in using social media platforms. Their interactions and engagements, whether it be a comment or a video upload, spread like wildfire. The activity going on in some of these music groups on Facebook is mental. It’s the same with profiles like TechnoBible or Techno&Chill: they upload a fan video from an event and suddenly it’s all anyone is interested in.
I’m not complaining about this because it’s not entirely negative: fan uploads are essentially free publicity for an artist and can generate amazing results, arguably better than traditional PR. But I think social media can create a hype and demand for tracks and releases that sits outside of the producer’s original marketing strategy so they’ve got to constantly make changes and adapt to what the fans are wanting. From an outsider’s perspective it almost seems like overnight an artists status has changed, and with that comes a much larger following, more gigs, better gigs, better billing, higher fees, constant praise and support.
“…social media can often create a hype and demand for tracks and releases that sits outside of the producer’s original marketing strategy so they’ve got to constantly make changes and adapt to what the fans are wanting.”
I think a lot of artists go into the studio with the hope that the next track they write will get that sort of attention. And why wouldn’t they? It can transform your career and open doors that have been closed for years. I have experienced this first hand and it would be hypocritical for me to disagree—”We Do What We Want” gave my career a real kick—but it’s so easy to overlook the downsides of creating such a successful record. What happens when the hype takes over and starts to dictate your path? What happens when the hype fades?
This is something I’ve wanted to address for a while but I’ve sort of held off until the right moment presented itself. It’s a sensitive topic. It’s been over two years since the release so I feel comfortable enough talking candidly about my experience. While I’m still grateful for what happened, as time passed, I began to wish it would just blow over.
My career was essentially being defined by this one track—I’d introduce the crowd to 30 new tracks in a set and they would only react to “We Do What We Want,” recording it on the phones and sending it around.
To make things worse, every gig I went to, I had fans shouting at me, holding up signs and holding phones in my face all saying the same thing: “Play ‘What Do What We Want.'” I felt flattered and took this as a compliment, at least to begin with. But after a while, it started to grate on me. I poured my heart into sets, pushing my own new music, pushing new artists, developing my sound, and trying to inspire others. It was so discouraging to then see negative feedback online, all because I didn’t play that one track. I don’t really read a lot of the negative comments online because I’ve got a lot of better things to be doing with my time but there was a period where I let some of them in and it really fucked with my vibe.
I was also getting tweets from fans demanding a refund for their ticket because I didn’t play “We Do What We Want.” I also had fans publicly say if I didn’t play “We Do What We Want” then the gig would be shit. Why do fans suddenly think that DJs are jukeboxes? We are there to present our music not to take requests. It seems ludicrous to me that any DJ could be defined by one single track, especially when we’re sitting on a huge catalogue of diverse releases. I was starting to feel like a one-trick-pony but I certainly don’t feel obliged to play tracks because I’ve been told to. Actually, I feel obliged to do the opposite.
Despite the obvious support from fans and press, there was also quite a lot of negativity brewing around “We Do What We Want.” Some people saw this release as a blatant divergence from my usual sound; as a way of breaking through into the mainstream side of techno. I was receiving a lot of negative comments, and essentially being told that I was a “sell out” because my release penetrated the mainstream market.
It actually closed some important doors for me. Clubs and labels that I’d worked with for years and built a strong relationship with weren’t as interested in working with me now. There’s probably a handful of artists who have supported my music in the past who now wouldn’t want to do remix or collaboration with me . The hype around my release changed people’s opinion of me, and by people I mean my fans, my peers, industry professionals, and even promoters. And unfortunately there was very little I could say or do about it.
This whole area is massively confusing for any artist. Fans are dedicated and pay top money for tickets to their favourite artists’ events. I’m honestly so grateful for having these people behind me and appreciate every penny spent, whether that’s a ticket sale or a digital download. But it can be sticky. Some of these fans come along and they only want to hear one track and so if you don’t play it they’ll leave disappointed. Alternatively, you do play it but you end up disappointing other fans who are tired of the track and want new music. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. There’s a lot of really strong emotions involved in what I’ve just explained here and those emotions coupled with the strains of a hectic touring schedule can really get you down.
You can be incredibly proud of something you’ve accomplished and still want to leave it in your past.
A DJ’s performance should never be predictable; fans should expect the unexpected. A DJ’s role is to bring new music to people and educate them with new sounds. You wouldn’t have had Northern Soul, disco, house, or techno if DJs didn’t push new music. I’ve tried to keep everyone happy by making special edits/remixes of “We Do What We Want” and I’m not sure if this is an attempt to keep the sound fresh or if it’s me trying to be true to how I want to perform. But there will come a point when I want to move on. You can be incredibly proud of something you’ve accomplished and still want to leave it in your past.
It’s becoming really difficult for someone at my profile level to navigate the success hype has given them. My advice for any artist who finds themselves in a similar position would be to stay true to yourself. Even when the keyboard warriors have got plenty to say about it, continue to be your version of you rather than the fans’ version of you. Don’t give in to the hype and don’t try to keep everyone happy; that’s impossible anyway. You can only be true to yourself and hope that people respect and enjoy what you create and have faith in your vision.
I encourage my fans, promoters, and labels to appreciate and respect versatility in my music—I can’t please everyone. Don’t pigeonhole me, don’t label me or put me into a box. I write music for myself, this is my career, my brand, my creative outlet, and despite whatever opinions are thrown at me, I have no intentions of changing. I’ve got loads of new music to come this year, more events, more signings, new conceptual projects, it’s a very exciting time for me. I’ve surrounded myself with a strong team of like-minded individuals and I’m ready for everything 2019 has in store.