Miami's been a leader in the electronic dance music industry for decades. So it's only natural for a local to have a hand in the beatification of the online streaming world.
Erik Velez is a Miami guy, entirely dedicated to spreading the joy of dance throughout his city and the world. He put in 13 years programming for Cox radio stations. He spent a few years mixing at Power 96. And he can still be heard on Hits 97.3 FM.
"It's a big sacrifice to get that mix show done, and I do it because I love Miami," he says. "I wanna make sure I do whatever to keep dance music out there."
Now, he's also the vice president of programming for Beatgasm, the latest contender in the fight for music-streaming dominance. It's totally free, and it's still in beta, but it's already making moves the rest of the pack can't match, like being all EDM, all the time.
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"I know that this is definitely going to be very groundbreaking. It's something that's finally going to cover everything that dance music is," Velez says. "I can't wait to be standing next to someone and see them use it without saying a word, in the trains when I'm in New York or D.C. or San Francisco. I see them walking with their portable devices all the time. We go to the beach in Miami, and I always picture them listening to Beatgasm."
The full launch comes in January with apps for both iPhone and Android devices, but early adopters can already begin navigating their way through mountainous peaks and deep drops via Beatgasm.com. The service is fully functional, save a bug here and there, but Velez and his team are working 'round the clock to create the perfect sonic experience.
"It's a very time-consuming thing," he says. "But at the end of the day, we want to be sure when you click on something, it delivers exactly what you want it to deliver."
Why so time-consuming? Aren't these streaming services based on algorithms? Yes, most of them. But Beatgasm has assembled a mob of active DJs, with Velez in charge, to carefully curate every station and tag every track according to mood, energy level, genre, subgenre, city, style, lyrics, rhythmic patterns, instrumentation, among other characteristics.
In the beginning, there was a lot of argument over simple things like: What is progressive house versus deep house versus electro house? Is a song "hot" or "crazy?" After some long battles, an agreed-upon formula has been established.
As Velez says, Beatgasm "found our sound."
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It may take two minutes to tag a song, or it could take 10 or more, but the result is an array of channels and stations unparalleled by existing technology. Beatgasm offers the standard artist and genre stations, like buttons and skip buttons included, but it breaks every genre into a multitude of subgenres as well. For DJs like Velez sick of hearing umbrella terms, this is more than just a neat tool. It's a necessity.
"The kids now, they say they like EDM music, and they really mean electro," he says. "It always kind of boils my blood, but it is what it is, and that's what we're here for."
Beatgasm is the nicest music snob you'll ever meet.
"It's educating people," he says. "This is progressive house, this is deep house, or this is funky house, and these are the artists that do some of these songs. That way, you're getting familiarized with some of the subgenres within some of the main genres, and hopefully one day people won't be calling it 'techno.'"
Genre stations only scratch the surface. Like Beats by Dre, Beatgasm offers mood stations but takes it even further with varying energy levels based on a one to 10 scale, varying from a low of Zen to a mid of Louder and ending with the ultimate Beatgasm. The service remembers your stations like some kind of musical diary. You can go back in time to find songs you liked or vibes you want to re-experience as the mood hits.
Another cool feature is the city stations. These too are hand-curated like FM stations designed to capture the spirit of a big city scene. You can jam to New York drive-time mixes in L.A., or hear the sounds of Chicago from San Francisco, and vice-versa. Obviously, Velez took the Miami station quite seriously.
"I take a little more time to program that one," he says. "I want to make sure Miami's edgy when it comes to all the music I put in there. I take pride in that station."
There's a flashback station, dedicated to bringing old favorites and forgotten hits some nostalgic love, and then there's Beatgasm live, which bring a little bit of everything to the table, as long as it's hot. It's one of Velez' personal faves.
"It's not meant to be cool," Velez says. "It's meant to be edgy in a way that anyone can click on it and like and love everything that's on it. It's a very educational station and it sounds like a party all the time."
But perhaps the most interesting feature of the whole site is the discovery engine. While listening to whatever channel, the user can decide how deep they want to delve into a given genre, mood, or scene. You can play it safe and stick to "hits" or "surging," stray a bit to find up-and-comers on the "breakout" setting, or go full in with "discovery" to uncover acts on the cutting edge of EDM. The best part? Anyone in the world can upload their track to Beatgasm, and the team will personally curate and tag it, then create an artist page for you, so you can be in the game.
"We had some pretty great tracks submitted," Velez says. "We pride ourselves in that, we want to make sure we find the next set of big producers and artists."
With so much going on, the at Beatgasm is never really over, but Velez is really excited to move things forward. Talking about the app, he's like a giddy, wide-eyed kid. He's planning a hotel takeover during WMC, talking to top Beatport artists about getting involved, and constantly checking his Skype to see what the team is grappling with next. His whole life in 2014 was Beatgasm, and in 2015, he wont' stop until your life revolves around it, too.
"That's the ultimate goal," he says, "to ensure that people get an amazing experience out of what we're doing, and that they can trust us when it comes to electronic dance music so they don't have to keep finding their music anywhere else."
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