The U.K. pop-house duo are one of my favorite acts in dance music, and one of few still making full albums in a world of singles. So when their latest track, “Omen,” debuted earlier this year, featuring Sam Smith on vocals and songwriting by Jimmy Napes, it seemed poised to become another smash. After all, this was coming from the same dream team that gave us “Latch,” the worldwide phenomenon that took about two years from its release to become a hit here in the U.S.
Remember “Latch”? Last summer, it was everywhere — all over the radio, featured on commercials, and with a music video that most likely jammed your Facebook feeds for weeks. It was the song that initially launched Sam Smith’s career, his big introduction to the world. And every DJ was playing it.
As it turns out, "Omen" didn't share the same fate. Was it not as good of a song? Personally, I think it's great, a perfectly chilled-out house track that would have fared well playing out over many a summer rooftop jam. Maybe it just didn’t have the same magic that “Latch” had — or maybe it was something else.
Turning a song into a hit in 2015 is a very different proposition than it was ten, or even five years ago, but the major labels are acting as if nothing's changed. They're still working off of the assumption that having a huge marketing budget and paying to get radio play will be enough and completely ignoring one of the most important ways music spreads now — via word of mouth, online.
Much has been written about SoundCloud’s legal battles with the major labels over copyright infringement, so I don’t need to get too deep into it here. In a nutshell, the labels are angry that SoundCloud isn’t paying them proper royalties for all the copyrighted material that gets uploaded to their site via bootlegs, covers, DJ mixes, radio shows, etc. This has led to SoundCloud attempting to pull as much copyrighted material as their algorithms can detect and, in some cases, completely removing users' accounts in violation of their terms.
It is well within the rights of the labels who own the material to get paid for every single stream of their tracks, and to punish music fans who break the rules. But, in this DJ/writer's opinion, labels are only shooting themselves in the foot. They should know better, since they went through this once before with Napster.
Record labels have created a “chilling effect” — a term usually associated with issues surrounding freedom of speech, in which citizens essentially censor themselves before speaking on controversial issues for fear of being punished — specifically on producers and DJs who might normally take a song like “Omen” and remix it, share it on their mixes and radio shows, and use their influence to get the song heard.
With the exception of one "official" remix by Swedish producer Jonas Rathsman released by the band on their YouTube channel, there have been no remixes for "Omen." No one wanted to feature it on their podcast; it just wasn’t worth the risk. One of the best parts about having so many producers out there producing in so many different styles is that you can almost always find a remix that fits your personal style. “Latch” had millions of remixes — everything from down-tempo to big room EDM to trap. These producers did most of the heavy lifting for the labels, helping make the "Latch" the global hit it eventually became.
With “Omen,” there has been no revved-up club version released that DJs could seamlessly drop into their larger commercial venue sets. With the threat of legal action from big labels hanging above their heads, no one has put the time in to create their own remixes to disseminate to their own fans. So instead of becoming the slow-burner of the season, despite the radio play and the marketing push behind it, "Omen" just kind of fizzled, dying out far earlier than the summer did.
Hopefully sooner rather than later, big labels will wake up to the reality of the music business in 2015 and stop punishing the people who help spread their music around the internet and nightclubs all around the world. They’re not the ones deciding whether a song becomes a hit anymore — we are.