Recently I spoke to the legendary DJ Sweetpea and DJ Stretch to learn how to build your jungle/d&b brand. Read on to get their insider knowledge on building your brand online and offline, and how to stay true to yourself and true to the people…
Before you build your Jungle D&B brand, define what it stands for. Stretch: When it comes to AKO, it was important to identify the sounds I wanted to be associated with the label. Jungle is important to me, it’s a sound that has played an important part in my life. Although I love all forms of drum & bass, jungle has a really special place. So I wanted the label to identify with jungle in its purest form. And I always believed that if I love it, there’s gonna be a few people out there who love it as well. That’s how I’ve always seen it, and talking to others about AKO, they say the same thing.
A music brand should come from a love of music. Sweetpea: Do it because you love it. I never in a million years thought I’d play in Croatia or the USA. When you start mixing in your bedroom it’s not the thought of that that gets you there. It’s the love and the passion and the vibe. But don’t get me wrong, there’s a whole lot of graft too. You’ve gotta work hard at it. Cos that’s what shines through. It’ll get you anywhere.
Your personal brand is part of your music brand, so be true to yourself. Stretch: I’ve never seen myself as a brand. I’m just me! I appreciate life. I was always happy in the 90s because I got to be a part of something I loved, tour the world and put music out. Got to be part of an unbelievable label, Reinforced Records. Learned from the bottom up. That taught me how to present myself, how to build my crew and look after everyone in my circle. I’ve always had a good grounding from Reinforced.
Sweetpea: Yeah I just enjoy life and engaging with people. I dunno if it’s the handful of vitamins I take every morning or what. But I do really love life. We ain’t here very long so enjoy it. Do the things that make you happy.
Make time to interact with your following, online and offline. Stretch: I always communicate and I’ve always been a people person. So I get loads of messages, and I never leave any unread. I always respond to everybody or at least try. That is very important. It’s time-consuming but if I didn’t set out to do that, the AKO brand wouldn’t be what it is now. When I’m out I stay calm and try not to get as wound up, as I go out to have fun. Be happy and talk to people who wanna talk to you.
Sweetpea: In a time where you know we’ve got social media that connects us to thousands of people at the touch of a button, there are still people who feel very lonely and isolated. So I love nothing better than meeting a new person who might be a bit nervous and getting them to come and meet everyone. That’s what jungle/d&b is about. It’s a big family and about getting everyone involved on the same energy.
Use consistent visual motifs that anyone can connect with. Sweetpea: Social media both is and isn’t a reflection on who you are. In that respect, you can play around with it. I don’t take myself too seriously. I like having a giggle taking the piss, making people laugh and being a bit of a clown to be honest! My recent release with Ronin Ordinance has a massive circle in the middle so I put a silly face on it. Or running with the whole pea thing. Every Valentine’s Day or Christmas, you get a happea. M pea 3. Peaness. Luckily I picked a name it works with. Everybody likes a funny silly picture to comment on.
And with the birds as well. The amount of bird pictures and videos I get sent. I mean I do really love birds haha. It’s something people can connect with on the same level. So you’ve got something in common and people can talk to you about it and tag you in stuff.
Encourage user-generated content. Stretch: I think I have the most fun when I do the AKO Halloween events where everyone dresses up. Cos you can take it anywhere. I do a plan of what I want to promote it and at the event. I get Malx involved. He’s one of the most underrated people in the scene from the 90s to now. He does a lot of quirky stuff, he represents the brand. Malx understands when there’s a concept you have fun with it. You make people get involved, it gets people excited. I make sure I interact at some point when I can on comments. It builds hype.
Remember Instagram is a visual platform. Sweetpea: When it comes to Instagram stories, I love taking videos. There’s nothing more personal than a camera in your face haha. Then there are the DJs who do all the Instagram selfies, who get their 300 million likes. Everyone loves a hot picture. So if you’re feeling yourself go for it. Those pictures do better than my bowl of peas pictures. They don’t come out very much but tactical stuff like that does make a difference.
There’s a fine line between pushing your music and spamming. Sweetpea: I’m not a fan of when people tag 98 people million other people in a mix. It doesn’t feel like a very personal way to build your brand. Just another mass spam. People search for good music people share good music. I think people will find you a) if they want to and 2) when they need to. It’s good posting on different groups, but not the same thing in each group. No one likes spam out of a can. Keep that ham fresh. Haha!
Build up hype for your next release or show with teasers. Sweetpea: I like doing a little build-up, you can share from Soundcloud to Instagram. Little feelers and teasers are good. For example, writing something simple like “EQ50 radio show next week is gonna be a big one”. No details but with jingle bell rock playing and snowflakes falling down. It builds interest.
Avoid being a keyboard warrior. Stretch: People are not fools. They can see right through the bullshit. If you’re posting nonsense they’ll see right through it. So don’t take ’em for fools. It’s that simple.
Sweetpea: Personally I try to keep my opinions on stuff like politics offline. And never slag off other people on Facebook. People see that. And it gets noted. People do talk. We’re all connected. Be a bit professional, a bit savvy. There’s no need for running your mouth online. It ain’t a good look and it won’t get you nowhere.
Stretch: And once it’s out there, it’s out there. You can’t take it back. I guarantee you, even if it’s out there for 10 seconds. Somebody’s got a copy of it. So think before you speak hahaha. And know when to speak. Opinions can be touched on but do it for the right reasons.
Track what’s doing well. Stretch: The people will let you know. Part of that is sales and part of that is interaction. People are gonna comment. It’s easy to say don’t get upset cos you’re never gonna please everybody. Before you put it out there know the criticism can be constructive. Sometimes people might be right, but not all the time haha. Just go out there and kill it. Build your jungle D&B brand and know what it stands for. Be true to yourself and be true to the people. Learn from your mistakes and that’s that! I can’t give all the secrets now…. 😉
David Stretch (AKA the vibes man) is the founder of AKO, a jungle label running since 1995. His sold-out events, releases, and merch are a testament to the instantly recognisable brand he’s built over 25 years.
Natasha Sweetpea has been shelling down D&B for over 10 years. And thanks to her infectious energy is massively loved and followed in the scene. Both as an artist, and by running social media for EQ50, the support network for women and non-binary people in drum & bass.