Grammy-winning DJ Afrojack says a key insight allowed him to go from performing to building and running his own company
Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
- Afrojack is one of the world's most famous DJs and has been making electronic music since he was a young teenager.
- He's the CEO of a large talent-management company and runs his own record label.
- He said separating his ego from his decision-making allowed him to progress in his career.
As a teenager growing up in the Netherlands, Nick van de Wall just wanted to play music for big crowds. When his career as the DJ Afrojack took off, he not only had crowds to play to around the world, he had a team to take care of, to ensure that his passion could also be a lucrative business.
The transition from an underground DJ doing his own thing in the late aughts to an international superstar in the the 2010s wasn't simple. "I did have to learn to trust some people, and it was very, very difficult sometimes, but the only reason it worked out is we were completely honest and open with each other" Afrojack said in an episode of Business Insider's podcast "This Is Success."
The key insight that allowed him to take the next steps in his career, including forming his own record label and running the talent agency LDH Europe, was learning to separate ego from decision-making. Afrojack said that "what I keep saying to myself and to my team, my management team, and my CEOs is be neutral." That is, don't act impulsively or selfishly.
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On a related note, Afrojack said that the biggest mistake of his career was declining a credit beyond the liner notes, which barely anyone reads, for a collaboration with David Guetta and Sia back in 2011 because he didn't want to look like he was "selling out" by becoming a pop star. The song, "Titanium," went on to go multi-platinum in 12 countries and became one of the biggest songs he ever worked on. His career worked out, obviously, but he missed an opportunity to expand his audience and risked insulting his collaborators.
He said that he learned to apply that same lesson, "stop peacocking," to his business decisions. "And that's the thing: The more you are involved with it personally," he said, referring to attaching your ego to decisions, "the sillier you look."
At this point, this insight is even more important, because his decisions not only affect him, but everyone signed to his label and working for his agency.
"Now I have all these artists signed to me and people with lives, with families," he said. "We're providing for them. They took a risk by working for a new company; it's not going to look good on a résumé if the company fails. So then we're responsible for all of these people."
Subscribe to "This Is Success" on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you listen. You can find the full Afrojack episode below.