From Copyright Strikes to Digital Mirage: An Interview with Proximity

Photos from Proximity’s Facebook page

In the endless wake of cancellations and postponements, it didn’t take long for the music to take a different form. Daily live streams and online festivals have already become a common fixture in just a few weeks. Whether coordinated by production companies or streamed by an artist through their Twitch channel, it’s been a treat to stay connected and watch artists perform from their living rooms as they cook and play with their dogs.

One of the first to emerge was Digital Mirage, hosted by independent label/music channel Proximity and event producers Brownies & Lemonade. Digital Mirage featured over 50 artists across three days, including Gryffin, Kaskade, Alison Wonderland, and Said The Sky x Dabin. The event was attended by over a million people and managed to bring in more than $300,000 for the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, which provides financial aid for career musicians and industry professionals.

We had the pleasure of connecting with the man behind Proximity, Blake Coppelson, about his history with the industry, the success of the online festival, and what comes next.

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Festival Squad: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us for a bit. Most people are familiar with the name, Proximity, but please tell us a little bit about the man behind the music. Who are you, where are you from, what’s your background?

Proximity: Thank you guys for taking the time to interview me! My name is Blake Coppelson and I am from Los Angeles California! Born and raised, I’m incredibly humbled to call this city my home. I went to school at USC and was pre-med for three years before switching to a B.S. in Music Industry!

FS: Proximity for the most part is, and has always been a one man production, correct? All music selection, interaction on social, uploading is you. Is that still the case? What do/did you get out of having that creative control as a one man production? And if you do currently have more of a team behind you now, what are some of the major benefits of having more people involved?

P: From the curation to actual uploading on Proximity for the last 10 years it has always been me. I maintain that because Proximity has it’s own voice and that is my personal voice. I think that’s what has made all of this so special for me – it’s the connection that I’ve built with fans that I have talked to for this long and continue to do so. However the benefits of having more people involved let me connect and engage with my fans more because more of the tedious tasks are being taken over and that’s mainly the asset creation sides of things. Discord is one of my favorite platforms that I have been able to spend time on as a result and we have a thriving community of 6200 members!

FS: At this point you have built your brand and credibility so well that artists and labels are reaching out to you for things like having their songs premier on your channel. That is a huge success! I imagine, at the start, it was kind of like you posting something, and then just fingers crossed they don’t get taken down. Now the artists are asking you to post them. Can you walk us through that transition a little bit?

P: You are 100% right. It used to be the latter where I would be getting so many copyright strikes for unapproved uploads. At one point Proximity had 3 consecutive strikes and my channel was about to get shutdown. That was an incredibly stressful week but things have changed now to the point where we have clearances from labels, management, and artists beforehand. The transition came as a result of Proximity needing to be more professional as a result of the attention now on us. Labels essentially integrated us as part of their marketing timelines. We would go up at a certain time on a certain day and since then it has just become the new norm.

FS: I love the analogy you make of the records being your babies. It really makes it clear how much support you give and how proud of them you are. What does the life journey of one of your kids look like?

P: Well it all starts with the song. Most artists genuinely want my feedback from an A&R standpoint because they trust my ear. I love constructive criticism on how I think the song can be better. Love working on artwork and general brand direction for the artist as well. The reason why I make that analogy is because it’s so amazing to see us, the artist, and management work on something for months and follow it through to the point where it becomes a successful record that millions of people enjoy.

FS: Since you began this project, what are the biggest changes you have seen in the music industry?

P: Every week your favorite artists are releasing music, but at what cost? Artists are being trained to release content more frequently than they are encouraged to work longer on a more quality body of work. I think that has been the most disappointing change I have seen in the industry.

FS: Huge congrats on Digital Mirage. Talk to us a little about the inspiration behind it and how you went about putting it together.

P: Thank you! That actually all came from a tweet that I made asking if fans/artists would be interested in being a part of something bigger for a great cause. We received an outpour of support from both sides wanting the event to happen. Lo and behold it did because of the artists’ quick turn around of submitting a set and going live within 2.5 weeks of that tweet being published.

digital mirage lineup

FS: Because of your stream, multiple artists were trending on Twitter, both nationally and globally. This has also been happening during Insomniac’s Digital Rave-a-Thon. What do you think this kind of recognition does for the electronic music industry as a whole?

P: Not to toot our own horn, but 95% of the artists that played ended up trending on Twitter. I think the recognition is huge because it shows the power of the dance community and the social impact we are creating as well. It’s also occurring because compared to a traditional festival, you have 50-80k people watching one artist and experiencing the same thing in real time, while having access to their socials to talk about how they feel. Twitter is definitely the dominant platform for EDM fans and we are seeing this occur with a ton of streams. It’s amazing.

FS: What was the highlight of Digital Mirage for you? What is something that you would do differently next time?

P: The highlight for me was probably experiencing all of the sets at the same time with the fans. I was in the chat from start to finish every single day and literally dancing in my chair. I never stopped smiling seeing how happy the fans were, the artists, and the seeing the donation bar going up at a rate faster than any of us could have ever imagined.

FS: Live streaming of shows isn’t necessarily anything new – Ultra, EDC, Above & Beyond Group Therapy, and plenty more. How is this different (besides the obvious quarantine aspect)? Where do you see the future of streaming and digital festivals? Do you see this changing anything about physical events from here forward?

P: I think it’s different from the mentioned streams because this is the first time that this has been programmed purely for being a livestream. We aren’t a physical festival so the aesthetic and theme is for this to be consumed in a live setting vs. airing festival footage. People also loved seeing artists in their own homes or picking unique settings where they otherwise would not to be able to normally perform from – making the programming incredibly unique.

FS: Throwing it back for a minute here. In a 2013 interview with EDM Sauce you were asked, “What are your plans for the future and where do you want to expand to?” to which you responded, “Festivals. I want to hold my own festival once that becomes realistic enough to pursue; but I would want it to be unique. I don’t know really know how I’ll do it but I will.” It is kind of wild to read that statement, which was made when you were still in school, and look at it again after what you just accomplished. Obviously a lot has had to happen, and a lot of work was put in since that interview, but can you briefly explain to us what exactly it took to get to this place you are at now?

P: Haha wow. The screenshots actually resurfaced and people mentioned me in them, which made me really happy. I think it was a culmination of Proximity growing to the point from a subscriber count + relationship standpoint with artists, labels, managers to be able to pull the event off from idea to execution in 2.5 weeks.

FS: You are already hinting at more Mirage to come, both as online and offline iterations, so let’s ask it again: What are your plans for the future and where do you want to expand to?

P: The future is to keep doing online events whether Digital Mirage or partnering with others to really leverage our digital audience and provide unique content beyond just the music. Quite possibly also doing a live rendition of Digital Mirage if it makes sense. 🙂

FS: What is something you are passionate about right now that is not music?

P: Cooking! I think the quarantine gave me a lot of personal time to work on hobbies and I have really enjoyed making recipes/foods that I normally otherwise would never make/eat haha.

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We are sure to see more from Proximity very soon. You can stay up to date with Blake on his very active Twitter, Discord, Facebook, and YouTube, featuring new releases and mashups, as well as the sets from Digital Mirage.

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