Issue No 17

#WINNING – A Look at the First Year of Sean Glass’ Win Empire

With Sean Glass’ label, Win Music, receiving a Grammy nomination seven months into business for Duke Dumont’s “Need U 100%”, I think it’s safe to say that he is changing the game. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with Sean since I first walked the hallowed halls of Sony Music, five years ago. Bumbling past the likes of Sade, Clive Davis, and Frank DiLeo (Michael Jackson’s last manager) any day of the week, the office was a place where I had to pinch myself from time to time, and work to maintain an air of confidence. However, Sean on the other hand, being literally born into the musical framework, is finding his way with natural finesse subscribing to the cliché “decide what you want to do when you wake up in the morning, then figure out how to get paid for it." Bringing a cerebral approach to an industry that requires feeling, he is juggling both sides well, accomplishing something that many executives attempt, but have a hard time executing.

To be more specific, he leverages his strongest and most unique skills—A&R and Strategic Marketing in music--onto other verticals. He actively creates music as a DJ, he produces events, consults for tech companies and brands, and runs Win Music: a company that does all of those things and also functions as a record label.

Sean is driven by a need for expression and connection, which explains why his first aspiration was always to be a DJ. In Sean’s words: “When I was a kid, I used to watch movies and see the DJ conduct the room, and it was like he was using his skills and sensibilities to speak to everyone. It's a really cool feeling when you can get a hug from someone you've never met before, and both of you just know you're on the same page--because I was DJing and they were dancing. That is fucking dope.” His label, events, brand and tech consultation are now an extension of that passion.  

Kellie Marie Iranon: What comes first? Music man, tech guy, film critic, dj/promoter?

Sean Glass: A few weeks ago, I spent Monday and Tuesday in LA working on this Clams Casino and Vic Mensa livestream production for HP, we released the new Tiga and Audion "Let's Go Dancing" remixes by Solomun, Maya Jane Coles and Breach, and then threw a huge bath house party Saturday night (it made Business Insider somehow). That kinda diversity is normal. Just like I'll go from playing some fancy club at 10pm, get into an Uber and head to Bushwick and play from 3-6am at some warehouse.

I credit DJing as being the main driver behind all of my decisions. I wanted to be a DJ before anything else, and I still DJ as much as I do because it helps inform all of my other decisions in ways that my peers don't think about--keeps me fresh.  

KI: Tell me about “EDM” and why do you despise the term so much?

SG: EDM is a marketing term. It's a package that is more about molly, furry boots, selfies, and really, really expensive festival tickets. The music isn't even really “dance music”. I always say vertical vs. horizontal dance music. Fist pumping music has no roots in actual, traditional dance music. The guys making the big festival bangers did not grow up on House music or Techno. Maybe Trance a bit. But Progressive House culture was something completely different that very few of them experienced. They have merged Trance and Progressive House to create a niche form of pop music now. It is literally the most formulaic music to ever exist. The scene itself is formulaic. It is the first scene in history (that I can think of) to pride homogeneity to such an extreme. 

This is going to sound really pretentious and obscure, but EDM culture is an extension of B team culture that flourished when I was a teenager. Everyone needs a trophy, nobody can be told they suck, everyone just wants to be unconditionally accepted into a group--just wear the uniform. It's really wimpy. This isn't rock and roll. We need to remember some notes from Hip Hop and Punk Rock culture.

KI: And what about drugs?

SG: Drugs are shitty.

Straight up-- and feel free to never pay me those millions of dollars some day because I refuse to recite the party line --I completely blame the promoters for overdoses at festivals. What causes kids to OD on Molly is that they see all the marketing for "EDM" and feel that in order to have as much fun as everyone else, they need to be rolling really hard. Security up everyone’s ass is nothing more then public relations—the promoters pretending to be doing something about the “problem” that without which they would be out of business.

One of my favorite stories: 

So I've never done drugs in my life. I drink, but that's it. I've never had coffee or cigarettes either.

I was in Vegas with a bunch of friends for a festival. My friends were fucked up on Molly and whatever else. I was particularly wild that night, dancing like crazy. They kept laughing at me. I thought they were just laughing because I was dancing so hard.

The next day they told me I was in such a great mood--because they had dosed me with Molly. I flipped out on them- that was the first time I had ever had any drug.

Later that same day, we found out that the drugs they bought were fake--sugar pills.

So not only were they assholes for drugging their friend, but I'm that much fucking cooler than they are because I was able to have so much more fun than them--completely sober--and they were actually pretending to be fucked up.

KI: What wisdom do you have to pass down to those just getting into the industry?

SG: Focus. And do something really well. Do one thing well. Don't try to do 50 things at once. Do one thing well, and either scale that, or use that skill to lily pad to the next one, and then do two complementary things well. The core principles of my business are Constantly incentivize ourselves to do cool shit and Diversify. But that doesn't work for everyone, at least not right away. You need your niche--your relevance--before you can diversify, or before you can just do things because they are cool.

KI: Out of all of the lovely major label conference room meetings you’ve been in…what did you most want to say, but never did?

SG: I said everything I ever wanted to say every time I have ever been in a major label conference room. That is why I am no longer in major label conference rooms.

KI: Ha. Good. I’m glad you spoke your mind. As we know, silence is very dangerous for these corporate entities trying to be creative, when new ideas are their creative capital.

KI: What’s been the most influential, pivotal experience for you in the last year? Something that gave you perspective?

SG: Happens all the time. I structure my business under the assumption that I am going to want to pivot constantly--and I do.  

The bath house party was actually a pivotal experience for me. Well, the reaction to it really. I didn't think people would care so much. But they did. Because it was different, sincere and really fun. So I'm going to put a lot more focus into creating those kinds of experiences, there is a hunger for them. 

The Grammy nomination has completely changed the game for us. Now I’m a little validated and fucking ready to conquer the world.

The most influential movements for me over the last few years have been dance music and technology. Five or so years ago, I went to a few shows and I realized that dance music was going to explode--so I dedicated myself to becoming entrenched in it (even more so than I was from growing up around my Uncle Mike, Nervous Records). Then a few years ago, I got exposed to the Technology industry and found my kindred spirits in the form of entrepreneurs. Same thing can be said for Bang On! Brett, Gene and Tim are amazing at what they do. I have known them for years, but there was one party that I played in a disgusting basement, where they shot a porn video simultaneously, and after that night, I saw what it could be, and I really came on board to build this. There were maybe 300 people there that night. A few years later, we had 7500 people at Elements Festival this Summer, and Tim is turning down offers from every gigantic promoter out there.

KI: What made you want to start your label, WIN Music?

SG: I was DJing and doing A&R. Venues and parties asked me to not only DJ, but start booking artists. I started to get booked on bigger gigs because I could help curate, plus I'd get paid for both services.

I was always trying to book emerging artists, but promoters wouldn't do it because, for instance, they didn't have enough Facebook Likes.  So I did those shows on my own. Those shows became the biggest ones I worked on at the time, and then the promoters would come back and want to book the same artists, and we would do crazy business.

I realized that the artist development I was already doing was the job of a label too. And everyone was asking me to do it anyway. So I figured I'd look into setting up my own shop. I was further excited over time when I realized nobody was really doing it the way I wanted to do it.

But I took a long time—years—to learn the business, my strengths, and figure out how best I should fit in and then kill everybody else.

KI: What’s different about Win? Why do I want to go there if I’m an artist?

SG: Earlier this year, I told Duke Dumont there would be no other executive who could be in the DJ booth with him at 6am, and know every song he played…and also get him to The Grammys. Admittedly, I meant, that like over the course of his career. Haha, did not expect it to happen this soon, but we worked really hard to get there, and here we are, quite excited.

Culturally, we’re focused on what is next and telling the stories of why. Structurally, we’re focused on scaling skill sets and services that we do better than anyone else out there, and for the rest,  partnering with some of the best people in the industry until we can match them. We’re diversified in ways that dispel the myths of the 360 business model that has hurt our industry. I am capable of signing artist-friendly deals in ways they are not used to.

KI: Do you think you’d still pursue music the same way if you grew up not having a dad in the business? (Sean’s father, Daniel Glass, is a music industry veteran and the founder of Glassnote Records, of Phoenix and Mumford & Sons fame.)

SG: I could not possibly say, because I've never experienced what it is like growing up having a dad in another business haha. This is basic human stuff, some nature, some nurture. It's no accident that I'm doing what I'm doing. 

We are well aware of the ways in which we complement one another. I wouldn't know one percent of the shit I know if my dad hadn't forced me to go to the country with him every weekend and sit and listen to his boring motherfucking phone calls for hours and hours on end. I wouldn't be good at A&R now if I hadn't been that 12 year old kid who said that "Truly, Madly, Deeply" was gonna be a fucking smash. I wouldn't be interested in weird shit if my grandparents hadn't brought me to the Win warehouse when I was a kid and let me watch horror movies.

KI: And your Grammy Nomination with Duke Dumont. I’m so proud of you!

SG: I literally jumped up and down when I found out. I got word a bit early, and was completely surprised. I was physically DJing, put a long song on, walked outside and was literally jumping up and down when I was told. The party we threw that Friday night was a true celebration. There were so many people there who have helped us get here, it was a night full of hugs and smiles, tons of love.

I learned from my Dad though—celebrating is not for us to do. That’s for Duke. So I got home at around 5am and Olyvia and I did about four more hours of work, lining up our press, radio, and licensing pushes. You can look it up online, writers actually noted how our press release was the first one they received. That was no accident. We have an amazing team working on this and spent a ton of time preparing.

My fantasy: I play Duke Dumont's "Need U 100%" at a wild party filled with all my friends (wearing minimal clothing, lots of glitter, some onesies floating around) at some weird non-traditional venue that I produced from top to bottom in my style; the party is subtly sponsored by a brand that I love to use everyday, and I created an activation with that brand partnered with a new app that I am a founder on, that allows everyone in the room to capture the night and relive it the next day. And then we all go skinny dipping at Rockaway Beach at dawn. And Gawker doesn't even find out about it.

KI: Hear that ad agencies & brands? Sean Glass, wants more experiential, branded music events. This sounds like your birthday party, Sean. Haha

KI: Underground bath house parties aside, what’s next?

SG: Lots of new releases on Win. I have a new deal that will restructure the company that I’m announcing in January probably. I'm very excited about that growth.   

Bath house is going on tour. 

So many exciting tech companies I'm working with. Bang On! is going to be even doper and we're going to do it more often. I am seriously excited that resident DJ culture is coming back in New York, and I’ll be partnering as resident for some very exciting new promoters and venues this year.

I'm launching a t-shirt line--but just for myself. I'm making five of each and not selling any, just giving the others to friends who the shirt is meaningful to.

I have this web interview series I've been developing that will help me scratch my film itch a bit.

Biggest change by far though is that I'll be putting out some of my own music for the first time.

Maybe I'll get married to my ex-girlfriend too. Who knows?

KI: You’d be so lucky… (no, I’m not his ex-girlfriend)

KI: Who are you today?

SG: Geez, that's deep haha. I don't know. I'm happy. I'm in more control of my life than I've ever been before. But I can't define myself really. Ask Lara.

KI: What else, Sean?

SG: Wanna make out?

KI: What’s in it for me? You know, Sean, singing is my first talent?!

KI: And what about those calves? I heard they’re the best in town.

SG: You tell me. 

KI: Rumor has it, Sean Glass may or may not have calf implants, but that’s yet to be determined.



Photography by Vicente Muñoz