From local podcast to a Beats 1 audience of millions, L.A.'s Soulection breaks big

When Joe Kay, co-founder of the Los Angeles DJ and production team Soulection, delivered his weekly radio show to his online listeners last week, he used the three-hour set of electronic beat music to make an announcement.

Streaming Episode No. 214 from the Soulection headquarters, an attic-like space at the top of a tight staircase in Highland Park, the 25-year-old Kay traced an ascent that belied his age, one that started with a podcast created in his grandmother's South El Monte den and a club night at a little Santa Ana venue and along the way has accrued thousands of listeners.

Show No. 215, he told Soulection's 235,000 followers on the Soundcloud music platform, would arrive through a new partner: Apple Music's much-touted radio initiative Beats 1, an around-the-clock radio station recently launched to great fanfare. The show was streamed prime-time Saturday night to a potential audience of millions across 100-plus countries. Kay sounded like a pro.

Since launching Soulection in 2010, Kay and co-founder Andre Power have gradually expanded, and it's now a quintet of empire-building partners. The brand's club night and touring arm is dubbed "The Sound of Tomorrow," and the Apple arrangement suggests it may be on to something.

With its bass-heavy, groove-oriented blend of hot new remixes of rap and soul tracks and guest sets, Soulection's downtown Los Angeles party regularly sells out the 1,100-capacity Regent Theater and venues twice that size in Europe. Its record label releases EPs, compilations and remixes by upstart producers from around the world.

Kay describes the Soulection demographic as being in their late teens and early 20s, many of whom were "stuck on a lot of 'turnt-up' contemporary music." Kay's still young too, but his obsession has transformed him into what he describes as a kind of educator. "They may hear a Drake or Migos remix, or a Fetty Wap song that's remixed by one of our artists. They recognize the vocals and then all sudden they go to the artist's Soundcloud and they realize, 'Oh, it's a whole other world of sound.'"

The soundtrack to this tomorrow-world? "To put it simply, it's electronic, soulful, house-y, jazz and has elements of hip-hop — everything combined, a melting pot of a lot of different genres in one," Kay said. Articulate and handsome, he's an excellent spokesman. He often dons a gentlemanly fedora but still looks way younger than his age.

Its label's roster offers varied productions by artists including Esta, Mr. Carmack, Lakim, Jo Def and Iamnobodi. In the spring, Soulection issued a digital compilation called "Love Is King," which features producers reworking the songs of smooth British-Nigerian singer Sade.

Its DJ roster too is a celebration of diverse tastemakers, many Los Angeles-based. Notably, in a male-dominated DJ culture, more than half of Soulection's 10 DJs, including Eden Hagos, Kronika, Sasha Marie and Hannah Faith, are women.

The company's heavy presence on social media helps spread news about its DJs and producers, who, through the connections of booking director Julio Galvez, are now a worldwide draw from Moscow to Cape Town to Tokyo. The brand's merchandising wing sells gear featuring the eye-catching Soulection logo festooned to a variety of shirts, hoodies, hats, stickers and iPhone cases. The crew has been shocked by the volume of logos in the crowds at every stop.

In August, Soulection will embark on its first New York yacht party and book a stage at the Dutch electronic music festival Appelsap.

30 million songs

To succeed, Apple Music needs to tap Soulection and other similarly minded organic communities. After all, helmed by executives including Jimmy Iovine, Dr. Dre and Trent Reznor, Apple Music's multibillion-dollar investment is as inorganic as genetically modified corn. The platform launched at the end of June with an arsenal of more than 30 million songs, a major design overhaul and Beats 1.

Apple Music's sights are on old-school terrestrial radio, satellite radio, Pandora-style online radio and streaming competition including Spotify, Rdio and Rhapsody — all through a portal featuring all the star power Apple can hire.

Thus far the Beats 1 roster includes dozens of shows aired out of Los Angeles, New York and London by high-profile artists and selectors including DJ Zane Lowe, Pharrell Williams, St. Vincent, Elton John and Run the Jewels.

Soulection is both the outlier of Beats 1's initial offering and a model for the future. None of the five principals is a household name. The team includes Kay, Power, Jacqueline Schneider, who handles strategic communication and development, and Galvez, who DJs as the Whooligan and directs worldwide bookings — "He basically made our Internet presence global," Kay said.

Based in Virginia, Montalis "Monty" Anglade, director of technology and innovative marketing, connects the various platforms, manages social media and strategizes with artists on communicating with audiences via technology. (He's also singer Ginuwine's nephew.)

The result is an efficient unit in the midst of an electrifying transition. Said Schneider of the challenges, "We started as a culture and now we have to be a business."

They're doing so while wading into uncharted territory, Kay said. "Once you hit your plateau on one platform, where do you go? That's a big part of the story for us right now. We haven'treached our plateau, so to speak, but we've definitely garnered a big audience and we're looking to build it in other ways."

A huge fan

"You never know who's listening," said Kay, describing the path that led him to a meeting with Beats 1's Lowe. Until his position was announced earlier this year, Lowe was best known for his taste-making BBC Radio 1 show, which propelled him to become one of the most influential new music curators in the world. Kay was a huge fan.

Unknown to Kay, the feeling was mutual. Lowe had been following Kay since he was the student program director at the Cal State Long Beach station Kbeach Radio and listened as Soulection moved up to influential London music hub Rinse.FM, then to a relationship with Red Bull Studios. With each step, the show added more ears.

Said Lowe via email of his desire to slot Kay and company on Beats 1, "Soulection are a brilliant and tasteful crew. Joe is a clever and thoughtful guy, and the program is an incredible listen."

When the call came from Lowe's office for a meeting, Kay was caught off guard. "I thought it was going to be over a partnership or some kind of collaboration with headphones." Now he and Lowe are colleagues. Soulection declined to discuss the finances of the Beats 1 relationship.

On Saturday night from 7 to 9 p.m. Kay greeted his old and new listeners and delivered Episode 215 through this new station. As promised, the show was nearly identical in style and structure to the episodes that preceded it, part of what Schneider described as a hands-off collaboration between Beats and Soulection.

"They didn't really want us to change anything," she said. The main drawback so far? Because Beats 1 isn't yet archiving shows, those who miss the live streaming will have to wait a few days before each episode is uploaded to the Soulection page on Soundcloud. Kay and company hope this is temporary.

The trade-off? A prominent Beats 1 logo on Soulection-related programming, access to professional recording studios and engineers and the backing of the world's most enviable brand.

"Little did I know," said Kay of the ride he's experienced. "From my laptop Mac — and now this show is going to be broadcast on Apple's network."

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