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Bas van Leeuwen

Chillhop Music is a music label based out of Rotterdam. They work with artists who primarily make relaxing beats and music to help you, well, chill. They stream this wonderful and mellow music 24/7 on YouTube. And over the years, have amassed over three million subs.

Beats, marketing, and Chillhop Music
Beats, marketing, and Chillhop Music

Beats, marketing, and Chillhop Music

Ep
114
Dec
30
With
Bas van Leeuwen
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Beats, marketing, and Chillhop Music

Streaming great music is easy to come by these days. You can search for almost any artist you want on Spotify or Apple Music and listen to them in a few seconds. The Beatles, Metallica and even Tool all have their discography up in the proverbial cloud.

But there’s one place online that’s home to a unique genre of music. Music that’s streaming all day, every day. Whether you're listening or not.

Chillhop Music is a music label based out of Rotterdam. They work with artists who primarily make relaxing beats and music to help you, well, chill. They stream this wonderful and mellow music 24/7 on YouTube. And over the years, have amassed over three million subs.

In today's episode, we talk with the man behind the music label: Bas van Leeuwen. Bas majored in international business, but is slowly and deliberately finding his way back to creativity.

He and Chris talk about where Chillhop came from, how they work with artists and, of course, the business behind it all.

Special thanks to Montell Fish and Ezzy for allowing us to use their wonderful music in this episode.

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Episode Transcript

Bas:
I really think the creative side is the most important for us. And I think that's the foundation and the marketing and the business side around it is like a multiplier of that creative side.

Greg:
Welcome to The Futur Podcast, the show that explores the interesting overlap between creativity, business and personal development. I'm Greg Gunn. Streaming great music is easy to come by these days. You can search for almost any artists you want on Spotify or Apple Music and then be listening to them in a few seconds. Even the band Tool finally put their discography up in the proverbial cloud. But there's one place online that's home to a unique genre of music. Music that's streaming all day and every day, whether you're listening or not. And coincidentally, I'm listening to it right now, while I write this intro.
Chillhop Music is a music label based out of Rotterdam. They work with artists who primarily make relaxing beats and music to help you, well, chill. And they stream this wonderful and mellow music 24/7 on YouTube. And over the years, have amassed over 3 million subs. In today's episode, we talk with the man behind the music; a man that majored in international business, but is slowly and deliberately finding his way back to creativity. He and Chris talk about where Chillhop came from, how they work with artists and, of course, the business behind it all. So kick back, relax and please enjoy our conversation with Bas van Leeuwen.

Chris:
I'm fascinated by creative people who found a way to build a business around what they love. And your story is kind of a little different than most of our guests that we have on our show. So for those people who don't know who you are, can you introduce yourself, give us that 15-second bio, if you will.

Bas:
My name is Bas van Leeuwen, I run a music label called Chillhop Music. I'm from the Netherlands and been doing this for seven, eight years now.

Chris:
And so from what I understand, you're a business guy who actually has a degree in international business. So we don't have that many people who have business backgrounds, it's usually creatives who then try to figure out the business part. But this is the interesting thing I learned about you that you like design, you play video games, and you're a self-described computer nerd. And you're finding your way back to creativity. And so can we kind of pick up the story from there in terms of like you're out of school, you're kind of figuring out things, and then you get into this thing that we're going to talk about. So can you take us to that point, please?

Bas:
Yeah, so when I finished my degree, and I got my bachelor's degree, I was living in the southwest of the Netherlands in the countryside. And I didn't really know what to do. I had a few job applications at some corporate companies, and I wasn't really feeling it. So I went to work at a factory. I was working night shifts, and I just picked up a book on SEO. And it was just randomly because the atmosphere there was prompting me to learn something or to spend my brakes learning about something. So I learn about SEO and then I was spending a lot of nights with my friend that still live there listening to this music that I found, which was the music that we put out now.
And I was like, “Okay, so I'm learning a little bit about SEO, I like this kind of music.” There wasn't really much to be found about the music. So I was like, “Yeah, I might as well start a blog or something and help the artists find more of an audience and help people sort of find out about this music.” I started as a blog, writing about the music, then I figured if people don't know this music exists, writing about it is few steps too far ahead.
So I started a YouTube channel where I would just combine the music with visuals, so I would talk to the artists, ask them for permission to upload a track. And as you mentioned, I was always a computer nerd, so I had spent some time in Photoshop and in Adobe Premiere, these kinds of programs. So it was actually pretty easy for me to pick that up. And I really liked combining visuals with the music. So, yeah, that's kind of how it started. And I run it as a promo channel on YouTube for the first three years before I started the label.

Chris:
Okay, I want to spend the bulk of our conversation talking about this company that you've built from relatively nothing. But before I do that, I think almost all of our audience, they'll bug me later and say, “There's this part in his story where he makes this big change in his life.” And I want to spend a little bit of time there so that we understand and set the context for what comes after. What compelled you to study international business? It seem like marketing is more suited for you, or computer animation or music production or something. But why international business? And then why did you make that shift or how did you come to the decision like, “This isn't for me”?

Bas:
I wish I had a very sort of contextually, or a very deep story about it. But honestly, international business offered the opportunity to go abroad for internships and for studying. And I was 17 years old at the time when I started this study. So it was like I always had an affinity for economy. So the classes that I had, my teacher would use to say like, “Yeah, you're very good at this stuff.” And then I was like, “A few friends are going there. I'm good at that stuff. I can go abroad. Let's just go do that.” So to be honest, that's actually what prompted me to study international business and so on.
And also, to be honest, when I studied this, I didn't really see the practical use. But now as my company sort of develops, I'm finding myself using frameworks that I learned back in college, where at that time, I was like, “I'm never going to use this.” And I'm like, “Oh, yeah, this is super interesting,” which is funny.

Chris:
So did you get to travel a lot when you were in school?

Bas:
Yeah. So I spent half year in Barcelona studying... Well, I should say, studying, I spent most of my time skateboarding because Barcelona is a skateboard Mecca of the world. So I spent most of my time skateboarding. And then I did an internship in Munich in Germany as well.

Chris:
I see. Okay. And then I guess, in a way, your story isn't that crazy in that you meet people, you have an affinity towards things. Somebody says, “You should do this, you should do that.” You're like, “Okay. I'll just do that.” And you just kind of go with the flow. Right? So that part, I understand because I did something similar myself. You're out of school. I don't see a guy who's got a Bachelor's in international business working in the factory. What kind of job did you do in the factory?

Bas:
So they make carton packages, if that's an English word.

Chris:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bas:
Yeah, so for drinks and yogurt and stuff. So just the job that paid well, I could do night shifts, and spend... I had a lot of breaks at that company. So within an eight-hour shift, I had two hours of breaks. So I spent a lot of that time, like I said, reading up about SEO, and reading up about web development and exploring the internet. So while I was there, I kind of made my plans or made my start with what I'm doing now.

Chris:
Okay. What did you literally do in the factory? Were you on the line? Were you a designer? Were you an executive? Were you-

Bas:
Yeah, I was on the line-

Chris:
You were on the line-

Bas:
... in this factory. Yeah.

Chris:
... putting stuff together-

Bas:
Yes. Exactly.

Chris:
... with your hands? Okay. So this is relatively unskilled labor. Right?

Bas:
Yes. It gave me a lot of time to think, let's put it away.

Chris:
Okay. But what's fascinating to me and people in America, where I guess most of our audience is, is that when somebody describes a factory job, it doesn't come to mind, “Pays well, lots of free time, and gave me time to think.” That's usually not what people associate with factory jobs. Usually in America, a factory job means minimum wage, hard working conditions, and it's soul-sucking. So they must do differently there in the Netherlands. Right?

Bas:
Yeah. So if you work night shifts, you get paid more, so that's one advantage. I think I've always been a person that liked maximizing efficiency. So I used to do that at that job as well. So I would just do the stuff that I had to do. I did it really well and fast and I could spend the rest of my time thinking or relaxing.

Chris:
It sounds like even then you kind of had a plan in mind like, “I'm going to do this, but this is not forever. This is just till I figure out my next step.” Right? And then you mentioned in telling the story there that you picked up a book on SEO. How did this book come into your hands. And why were you compelled to read this?

Bas:
It's hard, I just kind of looked at what I did in the past and I was like web development was... I don't know if it was upcoming, but it was a big thing then already. So I was like, “I got to start somewhere.” I have two brothers, and they're also very entrepreneurial. So I think it also came from them sort of the influence to do something for myself. So I was like, “I got to do something in this break and all this spare time that I have.” I just picked up a book. I don't know where it came from, but I was like, “I'll probably be good at this.” So I did that.

Chris:
Do you remember the name of the book that you read?

Bas:
Oh, that's a hard one. That's a hard one. But that first book started me off. And then I started with The 4-Hour Workweek, these kinds of things, the usual books.

Chris:
Okay. Well, maybe we'll figure that out later because I'm sure... because here's what I think, your life is going one way and then it takes a detour, you're going to school to study international business, and then you work in the factory. And then you pick up this book on SEO. And then that gets you to start thinking about writing blogs and then YouTube. So it's like this one pivotal moment, I'm trying to understand because a lot of people struggle seeing these moments. Right?

Bas:
I'll take it back a little bit. So when I just finished college, another friend of mine also just finished college. And we were like, “Let's travel.” So we worked in a perfume factory for three months straight, 12 hours a day. And then we traveled throughout the US for three months. And I did a lot of couchsurfing there and I met lot of people that also started their websites. And so, me being somebody that had affinity with computer-related skills, I struck up a lot of interesting conversations with other people that had done similar things or had similar interests.
So, for example, we stayed over at the guy's place, and he ran, what was at the time, one of the biggest sort of vinyl trading websites in the world. So I was like, “Yeah, this guy is making a lot of passive income, and he's just working on this website a little bit. And apart from that, he's just inviting people over and showing them...” He lived in Cleveland, Ohio, “Showing them Cleveland.” I was like, “Yeah, that's something I want to do as well.” So that definitely played a part as well.

Chris:
I see. That's starting to make a little bit more sense now. That's a pretty critical part of the story. So you're out of school, you're kind of just exploring life, and it takes you where it takes you. Right? And it seems like you're the kind of guy who's got a free spirit. There's not a lot that you're attached to. So you see this guy's business, you're like, This is pretty cool.” And maybe that's when you start to think, “How do I build a business like that?” Because that's pretty cool from the outsider perspective, what he's able to do. Right?

Bas:
Yeah, exactly. I think that played a part as well.

Chris:
Okay. And when you get out of school, what year is this? I'm trying to get context for this.

Bas:
I was done studying, I think, early 2012. And then, in 2012, also went to the US. And I think the very start of 2013 is when I started Chillhop.

Chris:
Okay. All right, this is perfect. Let's get to Chillhop. Okay, for people who don't know, what is Chillhop?

Bas:
Chillhop is a music label at its core, but it grew out from a promo channel on YouTube. So we have a pretty significant channel there with about 3 million subscribers. We focus a lot on the visual part of things as well. And it came from sort of instrumental hip-hop beats. So it's mostly a label, we do some stuff on the side like clothing and publishing services and stuff. But at the core, we're a music label.

Chris:
And Chillhop an official way of describing a musical genre, and how is this related to lo-fi hip-hop?

Bas:
Yeah, so when I started Chillhop, I was at a friend's place. And I was like, “Yeah, I want to start something for this music and promote it.” And we were like, “What would you even call it?” And we were like, “Chillhop.” And then I checked the domain name chillhop.com, and I noticed that it was available, so I bought it, and it sort of grew out from from there. And I kind of try to avoid talking too much about genres because I feel like it's not really having too much of a function and it's more limiting than sort of giving room for discussion. When you compare it to lo-fi hip-hop, lo-fi hip-hop is a term that became popular a few years ago for this type of music.
It's technically not really... So nowadays, every sort of instrumental hip-hop beat that's somewhat chill gets labeled lo-fi hip-hop. But it's not really what lo-fi hip-hop started as; lo-fi hip-hop started as really pretty crazy, pretty roll beats. But then, you know how it goes when people adapt something then everyone adapts this term. And now, instrumental hip-hop beats is called lo-fi hip-hop.
So it is what it is, I don't know, it's kind of weird that Chillhop Music served quite a good purpose at the start because it described the music pretty well. But now, it's sort of growing out into a genre. And you get into this awkward sort of situation where a lot of people use the word Chillhop to describe the music. And you're like, “Okay, to what extent are we still distinctive within it all?”

Chris:
Right. Okay, this is getting interesting and complicated too because I understand your reaction to labels because it limits... it's shorthand. Right? So that we can tell another person like, “I'm really into this without having to explain it on so it becomes a shorthand. And the danger there is because your company's called Chillhop. And if it becomes the genre, it becomes ubiquitous, and the uniqueness of your name starts to go away. Like how people say, “I'm going to go to the Xerox copier,” and they mean the photocopier. And it starts to be diluted.
And it's one of those things where you want people to use your name as a verb, or something like that, like Google, it's just Google it, but then you start to lose the specialness and the uniqueness of your name. I totally get that.

Bas:
Yeah, and it's also a problem nowadays is that people can put music on Spotify very easily without very much control. So when you search for Chillhop on Spotify, for example, you'll have hundreds of people that just call themselves Chillhop something-something just to show up in the top of the search results. So it gets really hard to battle in that regard. So that's been a little bit of a challenge. But I see, when you look at EDM, for example, it also became a term to label all electronic music, but I listened to EDM is kind of it's so broad. And I'm like, “It's not really saying that much.” So, lo-fi hip-hop, I think it's also so wide at a certain point that it's more of a umbrella term.

Chris:
Well, you'll be happy to know this, I did search Chillhop on Spotify last night, while I was working, and you did come up first. And I was like, “Okay, this must be you.” And I'm listening to your playlist. Okay, let's get down to the next part.

Bas:
Awesome.

Chris:
So you're still ranking very high, I think. Let's get to the next part, which is the part where you're using this, what you've learned from what I can gather in SEO, and you're finding an application for it, which is, search engine is driving how people find and discover things. So if you master that, you just need an application. So you found this intersection between this genre of music that you like, and you're thinking like, “Let me use blogs.” And then ultimately YouTube, which I think was a pretty brilliant play because obviously blogs you can't listen to, but on YouTube, and then you add some artwork to it. And then I see you're doing really well on YouTube. And it was really smart like, “I will do marketing for you artists for free,” I think at the beginning. Right?

Bas:
Yeah.

Chris:
And how did people respond when you said that? Because if people ask me to use my content, I'm a little suspicious. I'm like, “Well, what are your intentions? Are you going to make money on this?” And what was your reaction when you reached out in the beginning?

Bas:
So I think I really thought a lot about how I could offer value to the artists, these were all artists that were relatively small. So I didn't go to artists that had a huge social following. So there was sort of a match there. Furthermore, for the first two and a half or two years, I didn't make any money off of YouTube, I just didn't put any ads on. So it was just for the love of the music and getting them more followers and then description we would link to their Bandcamp, which was then the most popular platform for these artists or their SoundCloud.
So it was nice, and I really got to know all of these artists very, very well. So, at a certain time, they were just my friends. So if they would release something new, they would just send it to me and be like, “Yeah, do you like it? If you want, you can upload it to the channel.” So it was really just sharing stuff that friends released.

Chris:
So how did you make money doing this for the first two years?

Bas:
I didn't then, that's why I worked in the factory.

Chris:
Okay, so you do this during the day and then go to the factory at night and do your factory [crosstalk 00:20:38]?

Bas:
Yeah, I also did some newsletters for restaurants and stuff, I just design their newsletters, pretty basic stuff. But it earned quite well, I would spend a few hours per day on this or every other day, and that would make me enough money to pay for food and stuff. I also moved back in with my parents so I could fully focus on building this Chillhop thing. So it was a combination of everything.
And to be honest, I'm very fortunate to have a family that really supports me. I think my parents at that time didn't really understand what I was doing in my room all day. But at this point, they're like, “Yeah, he must have done something right.” So I'm happy with that.

Chris:
Okay, I'm glad you brought up the parents because I was going to ask you, so this is really important to hear You go study international business, then you travel a little bit, but then you wind up working in a factory job, and then building content for free for other people. What were the discussions like at the dinner table? Did your parents take an interest in this? Were they curious? Or were they thinking, “You know what? [inaudible 00:21:48] you and we trust you to figure it out”?

Bas:
Yeah, so they trust me, I'm always very open towards my parents. I think my mom is a little bit more tech savvy than my dad. So my mom's like, “Oh, yeah, I understand this.” And I was working a job and I made enough money and so they didn't really have anything to worry about, and they didn't know what I was doing. But it started to build up and at the time where I had 100,000 YouTube subscribers, they were like, “Oh, yeah, there's this many people listening to what you do. This must be something.” And, even at this time, when I speak to my dad, the thing he asked is like, “Okay, how many YouTube subscribers do you have now?” Because after seven years, this is one thing that he kind of understands.

Chris:
Right. And so how long did it take you to get to 100,000 subs?

Bas:
I think the 100,000 was 2015, 16, something around that.

Chris:
Okay. So a couple of years to get there. Right?

Bas:
Yeah, the first few years were really slow. But I had a great time just connecting with the artists. And I spent a lot of time with artists from the US as well. So I would be up until 3:00, 4:00 AM, and wake up the next day at 11:00 or 12:00 in the morning, and I was just on time to have my breakfast and lunch for my parents combined. So my sort of schedule was kind of flipped upside down. But that time was, I think very detrimental because I really learn a lot about the artists and the music and really learn how I could offer value to the artists because I think that's the most important part.

Chris:
And that's something I think people need to hear because I think a lot of people see an opportunity and they never think about what's in it for the other person. Once you build up an audience, people will come up to you like, “Hey, promote this, mention this, shout me out.” It's like, “Well, why would I do that?”

Bas:
Yeah, exactly. My mom always says, “Honesty takes the longest,” and I believe that, so if you think about all parties, I think it's best for the long term. So even within the label, we take a percentage of royalties, but I always look at that percentage and judging whether the percentage that we take is worth the value that we offer. So if an artist would be better off releasing the music by himself or herself or going somewhere else, I would also sort of honestly say that to the artists as opposed to thinking like, “Yeah, if he releases with us, we get this and this.” I always think about what's the best for everyone?

Chris:
Okay. I got to ask you this question. So you're doing this work for free. It sounds like you're very passionate about it, especially in the beginning, and it's slow-going in terms of getting an audience. So you got to remain patient, you're thinking value first and play the long game. Did you really have in your mind that eventually this was going to become your business? Did you know then?

Bas:
No.

Chris:
No, okay. So when did it become real for you like, “Hey, I think there's a business here”?

Bas:
Okay, so when I started, I was like, “Yeah, I would be a creative. At some day, I could make money from it. I was laughing with my friend because I never imagined that it would actually be possible. I think after two or three years, when I turned on YouTube AdSense, I started earning 50 cents a day. And I was like, “Oh, nice.” And then within a few weeks or a few months, it was a few euros a day. And I was like, “Oh, nice. I can buy a beer every day from the money I make from YouTube.”
And it kept sort of ramping up. And at a certain point, I was like, “Oh, yeah, I have to work less now because I'm also earning some money on the side on YouTube. And it grew sort of exponentially for a while. And I think that was around the time where I was like, “Oh, yeah, this is really starting to become something.” And at a certain point, we started the label. So instead of just promoting the music, we also released the music. So we signed the rights to the music. So we also got a percentage of the royalties from that moment for the music that we released. And that's also when it started growing exponentially.
Another thing I have to mention is that we were one of the first channels on YouTube to start a 24/7 livestream. And I think that also gave a huge boost. Also, I like tech, so I like combining everything. So I was like, “If I put an extra computer in the spare room that we have at home, and I just run a live stream and just have it running 24/7, and I just play a playlist, then people have a sort of radio channel ran by us, that would be cool to do.” And I didn't really see much of that on YouTube yet. I think there was one channel doing this. So I think being one of the first to do that also gave us a huge boost.

Greg:
Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back with more from Bas. Welcome back to our conversation with Bas van Leeuwen.

Chris:
Do you mind if I asked you some business financial questions? Is that okay?

Bas:
No worries. Go ahead.

Chris:
All right, so you're seven years into starting your YouTube channel, as you mentioned, you're somewhere on 3 million subs right now. And with a 24-hour livestream, I'm starting to think revenue like, “Dang, the AdSense revenue must be pretty good these days.” How much are you pulling in a month on average?

Bas:
I think on the YouTube channel, it's about 30k a month.

Chris:
Wow.

Bas:
Some something around this.

Chris:
That's significant money then.

Bas:
Yeah. At the moment we have a lot of people working on this as well. So it's not like the operation crew significantly sort of costs kind of like skill with that. We currently have a workforce of about 25 people worldwide.

Chris:
Okay, so the next part is, so you're making money doing AdSense. And then you transition into becoming a labeled now. I used to work at Epitaph Records a long, long time ago when The Offspring was blowing up all over the world. And so I got a sense of what a record label does in the old days. But in two-thousand and whatever, 15, 16, what does the music label do these days? Because the music landscape has changed so much.

Bas:
Yeah, I think it's a good question because it's changing a lot. I think us having our own sort of platform to promote the music plays a big part in that because where in the old days, people would provide recording studios, radio promotion, that kind of stuff, people can record the music from their home, so they don't really need help there. One is that we were in a unique position because we had our own platform, so we could guarantee sort of exposure and traffic.
The other was that we helped the artists with artwork, and even with the music itself, so I think a large part of the success is also just my taste in music. And this is why the promo platform grew to what it was as well. So the artists would always ask me for feedback and I would give them feedback. And I was like, “Maybe you can do this, maybe you can release it like this.” So I was getting creatively involved more as well.
And then at that time, people were still having struggle, getting their music on Spotify, and kind of stuff. So that was something I helped with as well. And then we started doing vinyl releases pretty early on in 2016 as well. So I did all of that as well.

Chris:
And do you help them sell their music? I mean, look, because I guess the artists have to make money. Right? So it's confusing how artists make money, especially if you're a composer.

Bas:
Yeah, so nowadays, most artists make the majority of their money from streams on Spotify and Apple Music. So, yeah, that's basically the biggest part of their income. Then you have things like Bandcamp, where people pay for the music. Yeah, vinyl records also sell for quite a bit, so, yeah, that all contributes. But I think for most artists, streaming is the biggest source of income at the moment.

Chris:
If I'm a mid-tier artist, how much money can I make from streaming?

Bas:
If you're a mid-tier artist, I think the funny thing with our music is that because people listen to these playlists when they're studying or working a lot. And I have to say that I think it's more than just studying music, but we can get into that later.

Chris:
Right.

Bas:
I think because people listen to these playlists when they're studying working, it really ramps up the place very quickly because people just put on a playlist, they work for a few hours. So you see a lot of these artists, they have quite some place, but they have not too much following because people just listen to the music in the background, they're not a huge fan of specific artists. I mean, people are, but generally, it's not as much in line with the amount of streams as in some other genres. So I would say a mid-tier artist, a million streams on Spotify makes an artist makes about three... Wait, no, a million streams makes about 3.2k dollars.
So there are some artists that have... mid-tier artists is two to 4 million streams a month, two to 5 million. So I think they have half of that is costs. And if they release through a label, that's generally the cut that the label takes as well. So at the moment, it's quite a lucrative business for a lot of artists.

Chris:
And that's really cool because once they record the track, there's relatively low costs to them. All the distribution is done through the streaming networks, you're helping them to promote. And so you, as the label take a percentage of their revenue stream, is that the idea?

Bas:
Yeah.

Chris:
Okay, this is really interesting. There's a couple things that you brought up here, and I want to circle back to real quick and just mentioned so that in case somebody's not paying attention, they understand what's going on. In the old days, there was pretty strong separation between the label what they did in terms of nurturing and helping artists and how they actually helped them to sell CDs and whatever other vinyl. And one of the best ways was to get onto radio station.
So in the path that you took, you kind of went the other way, you became the radio station first where you bring an audience who has an appetite for this style of music. And then you're like, “Okay, let me go find artists. And so I'm already promoting a bunch of people, I want to promote my own artists.” And then you said that you also did, I guess it would be called producing, right, where you creative director, you give advice or feedback to people so that they can tweak their music, so hopefully, more people like it.
And then you're the art department because you're generating art for them. And then that gives a visual to the music, so it's starting to become something here. And then you help to facilitate the rest of the stuff because some of it can be a little technical frustrating for people to get the different platforms. And maybe there's some tricks there and how you have to classify the music, whatever, so it could be discovered. Okay, that's the stuff I'm just recapping here.
One thing that you told me was really interesting, this style or genre, as much as you don't want to put it in that kind of box, it's just really easy to listen to. And because it's instrumental, you're not distracted. It's kind of like a modern-day classical music that you can get into maybe the alpha waves of your brain or whatever and just kind of focus, be creative and not be distracted so people can listen to this on a loop and not go mad. And I think that's one of the genius things because any other pop song, if you listen to it for a while, you can only take so much before you go bananas.

Bas:
Yeah, I think that's the good and the bad part. So while that is nice, it also moves people to make music just for that purpose. And then my question is, is the music still art or is it a product? And it's sort of commoditizing of the music and backed with sort of the increasing popularity of the music. Whenever something becomes popular, people jump on it because they see that they can get something out of it. And it starts to have less and less character because the same thing is being done over and over again.
And to be honest, for me, I see what we're doing. I focus on the creative part, the business part is nice to sort of, it's needed in order to have the resources to do what we do. But the most motivating for us as a company, it's to make new steps creatively. Now, that this music is becoming popular, we're like, “Okay, how can we make sure that we showcase the personality that's behind it?” Because this is the thing that people make the beats, it doesn't have lyrics, it gets put on a playlist on Spotify, there's actually very little room for storytelling in there, which makes the music distinguishable.
And this also plays in with why people listen to lo-fi hip-hop instead of a specific artists a lot of the times because things follow the same recipe. So we're thinking what's the next step? How can we make sure that it's something more than just that background thing that you're listening to?

Chris:
Right. Well, one thing that you pointed out again, here is that the people like the music, and for the most part, though, there's kind of low brand awareness. So I think something needs to be done there, perhaps because we want to be able to listen to this music, say like, “Oh, that's got that signature, style, or sound or instrumentation or arrangement or something.” And then that's x, y artists, and this is x, y artist's visual and kind of oral brand. Right?

Bas:
Yeah, but I think it's just because the music industry and the way people listen to this music is the way that it is, which sort of pushes artists will also be like, “Oh, yeah, I just need to make this music, I need to get it on to a label that has a big platform, they'll provide the traffic for it. And we'll get into a playlist. And then a few weeks later, I just release something new, just because the tracks got taken off the playlist and I need to provide something new in order to provide that sort of steady stream of income.”
And the way Spotify does it as well, Spotify, for example, Spotify is pretty good because they fire a lot of analytics and statistics that you were, and in this day and age artists, they're looking at these statistics, and they're like, “This many streams, this is my worth,” because this is the way that they measure their worth, “How many streams am I getting? Is it more than I got last month?” So that sort of prompts them again to make music that fits onto a label or a playlist and sort of gets the tech companies to orchestrate how the artists make the music.
And at a certain point, I feel like it's not the best situation because A, I want the artists to also come to us and be like, “Yeah, I did this. This is really cool. This is really me and this is the story behind it.” As opposed to like, “You guys have the platform, here are some beats, do with it what you want. And let's put it in a playlist.” And I understand it, and the artists see their thing as they run a business as well. But for me, it's most inspiring to really work with stories and we're moving into a direction where we have more room for that as well.

Chris:
Your channel, is it exclusively tracks from artists that you represent, or it does include artists you do not represent?

Bas:
So on our main Spotify playlist, our biggest Spotify playlist, we try to have a good balance between releases from the label and releases that are not on the label, just because I feel it's nice to not just fully focus on the label. And also showcase music from others that we really like. There are some tracks in the past that are just, in my perspective, sort of classic tracks for just the style of music that we're doing. So you want to create room to promote that as well.
The other, YouTube at the moment, it's mostly our own music just because of some copyright issues we've had in the past where the artists gives us permission to use the music, that the music contains a sample, which is not cleared. And then the original rights holder is like, “Here's the copyright strike.”

Chris:
Right.

Bas:
And you know how YouTube can be pretty strict with that kind of stuff.

Chris:
Yeah. That makes sense. I wondered that, so that answer that question. I noticed that there's this recurring character, a raccoon. At first, I didn't notice it, but I'm looking through the art, I'm like, “Oh, there's a raccoon everywhere.” So I'd love to hear about where the raccoon came from, its origin and its evolution as part of the artwork that we are seeing.

Bas:
Yeah, so I think for one, the raccoon is a cool animal. I like it. It looks cute, but it has an attitude. It's not the nicest animal, and let's keep that out a little bit. But also, it's an urbanized animal. Right? It's an animal, came from nature, but it adjusted to the city life in a way. And I think that also aligns a lot with the style of music and our personality as a brand. And when you see a fed raccoon, or a raccoon with some food, they always look sort of happy. And I don't know, they're very cheeky animals that I just like. I just think their attitude is sort of similar to what my attitude and the attitude of the company is as well.
So I had it in mind for a while to have the raccoon as a mascot, but I wasn't quite sure. And then I was with our creative director, I was in Canada, I was visiting another label there. And we stayed in some Airbnb somewhere in the mountains, or close to the city, just out of Vancouver. And we were discussing the mascot thing. And I looked out the window, and there was actually a raccoon outside of the window standing there just looking at us. So at that point, I was like, “I just got to go for it. This is a sign.” And I think the raccoon works really well. And I think it fits the brand really well. And I think that's the most important thing for us.

Chris:
So in terms of the artwork, when did you start using the raccoon? And was it your artwork or was it somebody else making that?

Bas:
So we started using it... This is a hard question, I think it was two or three years ago. And we had somebody design a very basic version. So it's just black and white, very minimal. It's their black and white raccoon... the icon we still use in a lot of places. And from there, we had somebody design the livestream animation that we use on YouTube. So we had one illustrator doing the very basic version. And then we had somebody really building it out into an animation. And from there on now we have a lot of different illustrators throwing the raccoon sort of in their style, but with our raccoon as the baseline.

Chris:
And is there a certain style in terms of the artwork and the way it looks? Because when I see it, it feels kind of westernized anime a little bit and really rich colors and gradients, and there's a certain style to it.

Bas:
Yeah, I think there's that certain style to it, we're trying to make it... So the way we do things, or the way I do things is that I really want the things that we're putting out to be us. I don't want to be like, “The audience likes this, so let's create it like this.” I just want to be like, “Okay, this is who we are.” And we look at the record and we're like, “Okay, does it represent us in a way?” So the last year I've been working a lot on our brands. I'm really focusing on our brand to make sure that the raccoon which is a large part of our brand really represents us.
So the visuals that we put out really match the atmosphere of the music, it's very chill, relaxed and very pleasant on the eyes, which I think is what you're getting at. So in that regard it works really well as well with the people. But now we're also trying to create some variety in there because I feel like a lot of people are creating stuff in this style. And we're like, “What's the next step?” So we still want to keep it relaxed and communicate what one job is about. But we also want to make steps in there.

Chris:
Okay, let's jump to what's going on right now, 2020. You've been at this, I think for about seven years now. And at the beginning, you had to move back home, you made some smart financial decisions, I think. Where are you today? Are you in your own studio? Get us caught up to speed with what your life looks today.

Bas:
So we're in Rotterdam, we have an office. There's 15 people working here. And might be a little bit more now even, we have some people working abroad. I'm focusing a lot at the moment on a new umbrella brand that we're starting. So we're opening a cafe here in Rotterdam. So that's been taking a lot of my time and effort because it's like starting a new business. I kind of underestimated it, but we just want to bring that atmosphere of Chillhop into a real-life place because I feel like I usually do things from something that I would like to see or that I have a need for.
I come from the countryside. Now, I live in Rotterdam in the city. So I was like, “I need to have a nice place that helps me escape the city,” escape sort of like the fast-moving even digital life as well, where people are always connected, it's nice to go back to simpler times and have a home away from home, a living room that feels like an escape, like a place where you can brief or do a bit. So I'm working a lot on that as well.
So that's been taking up a part of my time. We're starting a clothing line, also related to that brand, to that lifestyle umbrella brand. And the way I do clothing, or the way we sort of approach those things is that I don't really want to print a logo on a Gildan t-shirt and sell it as clothing. We also want to make sure that we put out good products, and that we actually put the time in creating it in the right way because we also want to work sort of sustainably instead of just printing a logo on a T shirt, people wearing it three times, it being faded and ending up in the back of somebody's closet.
So we've been doing a lot of work on setting up our clothing line. I think we've been working on it for more than a year. But if you've ever done clothing, you know it takes a long time with sampling, with communicating with factories, that kind of stuff. So I'm essentially starting two new businesses while also keeping Chillhop afloat and sort of exploring new directions for the creative side of Chillhop because I really think the creative side is the most important for us. And I think that's the foundation and the marketing and the business side around it is like a multiplier of that creative side. So this is what I'm focusing on mostly.

Chris:
So tell me more about the café, when is it supposed to launch? And is it a good idea to launch in the middle of a pandemic? I mean, maybe those decisions were made before, and you're going to go through with it. But tell me a little bit about that. And I want to know a little bit more about conceptually what is the theme or the through line? If I walk into a Chillhop cafe, how's it different than any other cafe?

Bas:
I think the fact that we have a music label as the foundation gives us a little bit more of a backstory. So I think a year ago or a little bit longer, I was thinking about what else we can do. I think in the music industry, and I think in a lot of industries, there's a few... there's a common thread of a few big tech companies that start to sort of dictate what people do. So people, like I said before, Spotify and Apple Music and stuff, they sort of dictate how labels should move or should function. I was like, “It would be great to take one step outside of the music industry so we can have more creative freedom.” So a year ago or a little bit longer ago, I was taking a step back and looking at Chillhop as a brand. It's like, “Okay, we release music, but what's the purpose?”
And for me, I like to create these atmospheres that just help me relax a little bit more. Or I think there's an increasingly hectic everyday life, people are more connected than ever, everything is going at a higher pace than ever before. So finding a sort of escape from that a little bit was what Chillhop provided to me as well. So if you see Chillhop as an expression of that idea, then you could express that idea in different ways as well. So a cafe is, for me, the perfect thing to extend it in that way. And the cafe will have the artwork that we put out, it will have some small concerts, these kinds of things. We will be able to film stuff there as well for Chillhop. So it's not going to be called Chillhop café, but there's definitely going to be a link with Chillhop and what we do there.

Chris:
Okay, is it going to be open 24 hours? Because it seems like that's the kind of... it's like, “During the morning, where I'm going to go? I'm going to go here, and I'm going to read a book and have a cup of coffee and have a sandwich or something.” I mean, are there other ways that you're integrating that kind of the vibe that you get from listening to this music and the people who consume it and the cafe itself? Or are there any other ideas you want to share with us?

Bas:
Yeah, so we want to do things on a Thursday night have a Super Mario Kart tournament on the Super Nintendo. And the winner gets free beers. We want to have board game nights, we want to have a Sunday, it's going to be called [inaudible 00:51:45] Sunday. So just the idea of a Sunday of not having anything on the agenda, that's a feeling that's very special to me. And that's what we want to have represented there as well.
And we want to play into all of the senses, we want the smell to be something like coming to your grandma's place, and having that perfect comfort food dish that she makes, that feels home. We want the couches to be nice to sit in, we want the food to be something that reminds you of home, we want the people to be super nice, and not like they're selling to you, but feeling like they're just a friend that's there as well. So that's sort of the idealistic view of the cafe. So it's going to be definitely open also in daytime, but nighttime as well.
You got to be flexible in these times because here in the Netherlands, we were supposed to open in a few weeks, but it's looking like it's not going to be opened in 2020. So we're looking at 2021 opening.

Chris:
Si this having an adverse effect on your finances? Because you're paying for a space that you can't actually use.

Bas:
Yeah, we got to be smart and creative with that as well. So it's a little bit of a challenge when I try to look at things positively, and looking at how we can make it work. So next year there's going to be challenges for sure, but we've always found solutions to challenges. So I'm certain we can make this work as well.

Chris:
And I suppose that's where you can also get merge, you're talking about the artwork, music and merge. So it's this whole integrated experience. Right?

Bas:
Yeah. And I think that's the fun part. So the more things you do, the more room you have to move creatively as well. And the more you can have all the dots connected to each other, the more easily it is to justify putting resources into something. Because if we can do, for example, a gig in the cafe and it pulls some people there, and at the same time, we can film it and upload it on the Chillhop Music channel, we have a local audience. We might have a local artists as well. And we can showcase it on our Chillhop Music channel. So these are the things which I think is great about having different sort of businesses in different directions.

Chris:
Okay, getting back to the label for a second, I think you're really smart and how you executed this, it's kind of freaking my mind out that in 2013 Chillhop was still available as a URL. So you're definitely on to something there.

Bas:
Yeah. Exactly.

Chris:
But I think about what else you can do, you seem to have figured out the SEO game. You're kind of owning YouTube, this is really cool. Is there anything else that you're thinking about in terms of how to get attention for your artists?

Bas:
Yeah, we're really focusing on just pushing the artists to really dig into themselves and to really express their personality. There's a lot of artists that are just fine just making beats and putting them online and not really building themselves as a brand. And that's fine. But I think in order to be distinguishable in the long term, it's great to work with personalities and have some personal stories to share there as well. And I think then the umbrella sort of lifestyle brand that we're starting creates room to tell these stories as well. So this is another way where we can combine all of that in a way.
And I think, for the long term, what we see now is that there's a lot of artists that just release on different labels. And then it gets harder to distinguish label A from label B because you mentioned your word for a label a while back and I think sort of the traditional label model is that a label signs an artist, so the artist just releases on that label. So then the artist becomes a staple for that label as well.
The way we've done it in the past is that we just signed releases. So the artists could then just go to another label just because it gave flexibility to the label and also to us. But now that the music is becoming popular, artists just release on different labels. And then, what's the difference between Level A and level B? So we're really focusing on the stories, the context, in order to have something that really touches people, as opposed to having music to listen to in the background. So I think sort of the stories also empower the music and give it meaning.

Chris:
Are you thinking about possibly changing that down the line where you sign the artists and not just the track?

Bas:
Yeah, but you need to find the right artists because we don't want to make up stories for the artists, we want the artists to share their story and for us to play into this because then it creates a way better dynamic, as opposed to us making stuff up for the artists. So it's a commitment and we're really spending the time now to get to know the artists better, and the artists that are fitting with us for the long term, we're really exploring that as well. And this is why it's great to have the cafe and to have things centralized here in Rotterdam as well because then we can invite people over and really get to know them because there's only so much you can learn about each other when it comes to just online relationships.

Chris:
It's very interesting because from my own background as a guy who is fascinated by brands and helps other companies to establish their voice, this sounds to me like an opportunity to do a little talent management because talent is what I can't fabricate. But everything else in terms of helping to maybe help them find their style visually who they are and how they show up, that seems like a pretty cool opportunity.
I had some thoughts for you, though. I was thinking about this, would you consider doing a couple things like maybe having live concerts? I don't know if this works, or a music festival, or making docufilms, they have for the biggest artists in the world? Like Prince back in the day, or Michael Jackson, where you can tell the story through video and imagery and get a slice of who they are and where they are at in the world. And one other idea is perhaps there's the Chillhop Awards, an annual thing like best new artists, best track or something like that, where you can be the person, the company, the brand that really is pushing and promoting artists in this genre.

Bas:
Yeah, that's for sure, that's definitely the direction that we're moving towards. And a big part of what I'm doing is sort of shaping the workforce to have the people that have this sense, like you say, the talent for spotting the creative concepts and the artists that we should work with. So I'm really working on shaping the workforce in this way. And it's also creating the channels and the outlets to supply this or to facilitate it. So the cafe is a great place because this is where we can do the concerts and where we can film stuff and really create content, and this is very important and once the music starts to have more real faces in there because if you look at the music, it's a lot of illustration and animation.
And I think it's a step-by-step transition to showing more of the personality and more of the people behind it. So we're definitely moving in that direction. And the Chillhop Awards is actually a great idea. And this is something that has come up over the last couple of years, but we haven't given it shape yet. So thanks for the reminder there.

Chris:
I'm just curious, are there superstars in this genre where people kind of know them by name?

Bas:
Not too much, or at least not as much as with other genres. And if you compare the amount of streams that artists get to their brand, their Instagram profiles, and these kinds of things, it's the artists are relatively sort of held back. A lot of these guys are producers that just want to make beats in their bedroom. They don't want to show their face in front of the camera every day. They don't want to have this sort of commitment to always create content, filmed content, and that kind of stuff.
So I think this type of music generally, has more a laid back and a more held back type of personality when it comes to artists. But I think definitely in the next couple of years, there's going to be artists that jump out in a way. So I'm excited to see that because I think that's something that's been missing in the music. But at the moment, the artists are still relatively small in terms of actual brand.

Chris:
Right. This sounds to me like an opportunity, especially because a lot of people who tune in to our podcasts are probably from the design or the branding space. So those are the people who are listening, reach out to these artists, help them develop their brand, guys. There's an opportunity here.

Bas:
Yeah, honestly... And I think, so the difference between labels and management is that labels work on the music, management supports the artists. And at the moment, I think there's a lot of labels that work with the music, but there's not a lot of management. Because a lot of these artists, they're like, “I can just make the beats and send them to a label, they'll upload it. Well, I'll get the streams, why would I need a manager?”

Chris:
Right.

Bas:
But a lot of them are not sort of building something on the long term or actually building their own brands. So they're not as self-sufficient. So I think there's definitely an opportunity there to create a better balance. And I think there might be a different way of approaching it when it comes to management that works better for artists in this time and age and for this type of music, but that's something to still figure out. And I think where we're working a lot with the artists as well.
So, we are a label, but we're helping artists a lot on their brand as well because it's nice for us as well if an artist has a brand has an audience that they push to us the releases that they do on our label.

Chris:
Right. That's mutually beneficial there.

Bas:
Yeah. For sure.

Chris:
Okay. Now, before I wrap up here and let you go. Now, this is an awkward question because you're still a relatively young person, looking at you right now, and you're still young. Congratulations, by the way.

Bas:
Thanks.

Chris:
But the question here is, what kind of advice would you give to your younger self? The keys to your success, just listening to this like, “Wow, I really love what I'm hearing from Bas. I want to learn what he's learned.” So what has been the keys to your success?

Bas:
I think the keys to my success were... This is putting me on the spot right there.

Chris:
I'm sorry.

Bas:
I think the keys to my success were always looking forward. So it's nice to stand still, but I think a lot of these being innovative and looking at the new things to do were always the things that put us ahead, just like the livestream, just like starting a label in this music, where there were really too much labels yet.
Also, turning fear into something that you can learn from. So taking back control of the fear. So I would always look at things around me happening and I would be like, “Yeah, it sucks, or this is something that threatens me,” but I think nowadays, I'm a little bit more calm, where I'm looking at things more from a perspective, “Okay, what can I learn from it, as opposed to feeling threatened or sort of rebelling against that.” So I think those were the nice things.
Apart from that, I think really taking the time for stuff and not sort of growth hacking your way to the top. And sort of realizing that slow and steady wins the race. I think that's something I did right, and that's something that I would do again because, I don't know, I feel like that just for the long term, it just works better than growth hacks, actually, taking things into account like how can you help the opposite party? How can you build relationships where you're offering as much value as the people on the other line? And I think you experienced this as well, it's like at a certain point, people ask a lot of things. And it's very hard to really cater to everyone.
But for me, I always looked at what can I also offer to the party on the other line in order to create a sort of sustainable relationship? And I think that always worked. And I think the most important thing is to keep it fun for yourself. The only thing I look at is do we have fun doing this? Do we like the music still? If there's music that I think would do well, but I don't like it, I don't put it out because we want to stand behind what we do. We want the brand to be a representation of us because then you don't have to act, then you don't have to be like, “Okay, how do I communicate?” Because it's just you.
And you can also be as transparent as possible because you have nothing to hide. And And it's just the content, being fully aligned with who you are as a person or who you are as a brand. And having people on the team that also align with that just makes it 10 times easier. So I think that's, for me, at least the most important part, prioritizing the creative part.

Chris:
Very good. Very good. Okay, I put you on the spot and you're able to do it. Good job there.

Bas:
Thanks.

Chris:
So I have a request for you that since we're talking about music, it'd be great to have some of your tracks for this episode. So we can kind of play it for our audience and maybe weave it in and out maybe, but you decide that later. And how do people find out more about you and your label? Where do they go?

Bas:
I think chillhop.com is a great starting point. I have a LinkedIn page. As a person, I try to... I've been somewhat on the background in the past just because I feel like I want to put more spotlight on the label, on the artists, as opposed to myself, but I'm thinking about doing more public speaking or just writing out more from my personal standpoint because I feel like it can help some people as well.
So my LinkedIn is, feel free to connect with me there. And chillhop.com is a good place for people that are looking for music to use as well. So for any creators, we always love people to use the music for free. For commercial purposes, people can, can hit us up as well. But I think chillhop.com is the perfect spot to start it.

Chris:
Great. Well, Bas, thank you very much for having this conversation with me. I really enjoyed hearing your story about how you went from studying international business in school, working in a perfume factory, and then packaging, and doing all kinds of things and just being open to this idea. When opportunity hit you, you found it and you went in and you played the long game, you were super patient, you put value first. And it seems like you really have this aura about you that you feel like Chillhop to me.
Like just the way you carry yourself, there's an authenticity to it, a genuineness to you. And I wish you nothing but success in your future endeavors with the café, with the clothing line. And maybe the awards, the Chillhop Awards that'll come in a couple of years.

Bas:
Thanks, man. I appreciate it. And thanks to you as well, over the years have checked out quite a lot of The Futur Podcasts. I think the [inaudible 01:09:28] stuff was very interesting. And it's a good conversation about branding. Eli Altman, we actually work with their company for the naming. So I think you've provided a great resource for me and a lot of others as well. So thanks for playing your part in our journey as well.

Chris:
Awesome. Thank you so much.

Bas:
All right, cheers. My name is Bas van Leeuwen and you're listening to The Futur.

Greg:
Special thanks to the team at Chillhop Music, Montell Fish, and Ezzy for allowing us to use their awesome music in this episode. Thanks for joining us this time, if you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Chris Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barro for editing and mixing this episode. And thank you to Adam Sanborne for our intro music.
If you enjoyed this episode, then do us a favor by rating and reviewing our show on Apple Podcasts. It'll help us grow the show and make future episodes that much better. Have a question for Chris or me? Head over to thefutur.com/heychris and ask away. We read every submission and we just might answer yours in a later episode. If you'd like to support the show and invest in yourself while you're at it, visit thefutur.com. You'll find video courses, digital products and a bunch of helpful resources about design and creative business. Thanks again for listening and we'll see you next time.

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