Twelve Questions With Beyond The Beats
Early in the morning on one of the last Sundays of 2020, Samir and Alec – the founders and hosts of “Beyond the Beats” (BtB), the most informative and entertaining EDM-themed podcast – carved out time in their busy schedules to speak with Moon Lvnding about their exciting future, and most importantly their storied friendship.
We met so early in the morning as Alec was in England at the time of the interview, Samir is on the West Coast, and I exist in Mountain Standard Time. As an added wrinkle, I thought it would be fun to provide Samir and Alec identical questions to be answered individually before the call, and then for us to spend some time going over the answers together. Please, Enjoy this interview and make sure to catch Beyond The Beats, returning for 2021 on January 28th.
Subscribe to their show here www.beyondthebeats.co/listen to stay up to date on the latest episodes. See the links here for every podcast platform BtB is available on. Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Deezer, TuneIn.
Question One: Let’s start with a potentially dark question. Was there a low point, maybe back in 2019, where you thought you might want to work on a different project, or where you effed-up with the podcast show process as you were getting started?
Samir: Working on Beyond the Beats has been one of the most rewarding projects of my life. We came in knowing absolutely nothing about running a podcast and learned the process along the way. Alec and I would definitely agree that we did not realize how much work it would be to run this thing on a weekly basis.
Back in 2019, we were releasing our episodes every Wednesday. We would record on Sunday and only have 48 hours to turn around a 90-minute to two hour-long episode. And that took a serious toll on me in terms of balancing everything else going on in my life. At times, I’d be up in the wee hours of the morning trying to get the episode done and be able to sleep only a few hours before having to go to work. And when you’re first starting off, it’s a slow arduous climb to build an audience and at times it can be discouraging; it made me want to close up shop. In 2020, we decided to release episodes on Thursday so we could each balance our lives better and that helped TREMENDOUSLY. I feel much more relaxed and balanced in my life because we realized what we needed to do to make this more sustainable.
Alec: Absolutely not.
While at the beginning, and to some extent throughout 2019, running the podcast was very straining on Samir and me, we pushed through and figured out a workflow and release process that gave us more time to decompress and live other aspects of our lives. For instance, while scaling the podcast in 2019, I co-founded a company in Palo Alto. Building two things at once is very difficult and I ended up barely sleeping during the week. Considering that Samir has an incredibly intensive full-time job himself as well, neither of us was sleeping much in order to get the podcast out on time, and then our bandwidth to grow the podcast further was severely inhibited. But once we moved the episodes to Thursday and started operating more like a business (in terms of creating processes, goals, meetings, etc.) we’ve been able to juggle more without overextending ourselves.
This, combined with our unfaltering passion for dance music and creating a community of EDM champions, has allowed us to push through adversity and do whatever it takes to keep pushing the boundaries of Beyond the Beats.
Question Two: What is the hallmark of a good dance music track?
Samir: I love this question. I think above all, I want to feel the passion from the artist. I know this is a really cheesy reply but have you ever listened to an artist’s track and felt like it was lacking something? Or it was just too generic to what they normally do? To me, that signals an artist wasn’t passionate about the project and makes it lose its overall effect.
Dance music and the growth of the scene is anchored in passionate people pushing it from underground illegal warehouse raves to dominating massive stadiums like Madison Square Garden. As the scene grows, the passion needs to grow with it to ensure it stays exciting and ever-changing.
Alec: A few things. Cohesion - Each phase of the track should flow into the next, even if switching “vibes” or energy levels. Passion - I want to feel the artist’s emotions from when they produced the song and the emotions they intended the listener to feel (if they aren’t just expressing themselves). Creativity - Not every track has to be revolutionary or unique, but I think the best tracks have clearly been the product of a producer trying to do something impactful, new, or deep. You can tell when an artist is leveraging creativity versus putting something out for the sake of putting something out.
Question 3: Do you feel a sense of freedom doing the podcast, or are there points that feel routine or confining? An example being the spotlights and sessions you guys do.
Samir: Oh absolutely, there is an immense amount of freedom in creating your own platform. The best thing about it is that we are not very scripted. What you hear is two best friends talking about what they love, freely. Having those conversations and having that creative outlet just feels good. Especially for me because I work a corporate nine-to-five job, so I appreciate this outlet. Are there times when things feel a bit routine? Absolutely. But that’s in any project or aspect of life. The spotlights and sessions are some of my favorites because we get to connect with truly talented artists. That inspires me immensely because every artist and industry professional has a story and a grind for how they got to where they are. We hope that people find value in hearing about the hours and hard work these folks have put in to achieve their successes.
Alec: “Routine” is the complete opposite of how I would describe running the podcast. It is 100 percent freeing.
What I’ve realized through doing this podcast is that having a set routine in and of itself doesn’t mean that it will feel confining. A routine will only feel that way if what you’re doing does not tap into your passion and energize you.
The podcast does exactly that for me. Not only because I am passionate about the topics and music, but also creating a platform that serves and connects like-minded people is incredibly rewarding. It’s the best feeling in the world.
Moreover, Samir and I are both highly ambitious people. We don’t accept the status quo and want to push this as hard as possible. This makes it very easy to keep things feeling fresh as we are constantly ideating and planning for the future.
Thomas: Does one of you procrastinate more than the other?
Samir: I am a huge procrastinator, huge, and it’s been like that ever since I was a child. If there’s anything that BtB has taught me it’s that I need to manage my time better. I hate coming into Wednesday thinking I have so much to do. The biggest piece about BtB, what makes it truly unique, is that each episode is unique in its own right. It’s in the conversation, it’s in the content, it’s in the jokes and the laughter and the friendship.
Alec: I will say, just to hop in there for a second, Samir does have a tendency – and it's one of his best and worst qualities – to be very humble and modest, so when he says that time management is an issue— perhaps for the average individual, but he was already overperforming in terms of time management, so I’m— I dont know what the fuck you were talking about there man. This guy gets more shit done than anyone I’ve ever worked with in my entire life. I mean that genuinely. Somehow he edits the podcast by himself!
Samir: [humbly smiles] Thank you, man.
Alec: I’ve talked to other people and tell them that you think you need to work on time management, and their minds are blown! So what, maybe he procrastinates for what five minutes cuz he’s on his fucking phone for five minutes checking Facebook? If that’s the thing he has to work on then he’s golden otherwise; it’s just unbelievable. Just seeing how he’s been able to take on the media arm, and do the editing. I mean, it’s always on time, every week.
Question 4: How much do you cut from each episode? And why?
Samir: After almost two years of doing this, we’ve got the episodes down to the time limit we like and just inherently know how much time to spend on each section. For the editing, I listen through everything from beginning to end and if I find the conversation trailing off on a topic then I cut that. I’d say we generally record about 70 minutes and I cut out about 15. There are times where Alec and I just burst into laughing and I have to cut that so people don’t hear too much of our cackling.
Alec: I bet Samir was considerate to me in his answer to this, but I tend to go on tangents and sidebars haha!
While we agree that it’s good to have open-ended conversations, and in an ideal world we wouldn’t have to cut any of our side conversations. We want to keep the episode to around an hour and to stay mostly on topic so that our Champions don’t get confused or lost. Since we cover a lot in 60 minutes, sometimes we have to “trim the fat.”
In 2020, though, we’ve really gotten the formula down in terms of keeping it to 60-75 minutes, so my tangents are now kept within the time we have.
As such, the only thing that’s really edited out now is the laughing. Since this isn’t scripted, we sometimes say things that make us burst out in laughter. We keep some of it in but the Champions don’t need to hear all of it haha.
Thomas: Alec, why do you feel Samir is being considerate of you here…?
Alec: In this respect? It’s because I ramble like crazy and I go on tangent like nuts, and I thought in his answer he wouldn’t mention that to be kind to me. The truth is I have tangents like a motherfucker, I’ll go down rabbit holes and do whatever. It’s fun because he’s started to figure out when to keep parts of the rabbit hole in the conversation and when to cut me off. I have no idea how it’s under an hour. I’m sitting here thinking it’s going to be a 12-hour episode. I know he’s not going to call me out for that.
Thomas: What about a bonus Patreon episode where you both talk for 12 hours?
Samir: Absolutely, but I don’t think I have the BANDWIDTH to talk for that long. Alec can do a 12-hour speech on the Nordic Vikings of the 1400s’ effect on modern-day Dubstep if he wanted to. He’ll find a way to connect all of that shit together!
Alec: Give me a week!
Samir: In all seriousness, Alec is very, very detailed, and what I love about him is he doesn’t talk out of his ass. He finds articles, first-party sources that back up what he’s talking about.
Thomas: Which is why people have flocked to your show!
Alec: Look—at the end of the day, if you have any type of platform, you should be held accountable for what you say. Especially if you’re saying it to a mass number of people. So that’s why we have that there, to keep us accountable but also to inform people if they want to do more of their own research into it.
Question 5: Do you feel you were uniquely positioned to keep making podcasts during quarantine due to being on two different coasts prior to COVID-19? What are your thoughts on that organic in-person convo versus the more clinical over-the-internet?
Samir: When COVID hit, Alec and I did not skip a beat in keeping up with the podcast because we’ve already been working across coasts. True story, we only worked on podcast stuff ONCE in-person and that was before our drive to Vegas for EDC 2019. I do think that being on opposite sides of the country from the get-go helped us to establish this sort of collaborative working relationship very early on. To be fair, COVID has given us more time to work on BtB now that we’re not commuting to our offices, and entertainment options during the week and weekend are limited.
Alec: One-hundred percent. We were already recording virtually prior to the pandemic so it didn’t really change anything. It was COVID-proofed if you will.
In-person recording though is definitely the way to go in the future. It’s a lot easier to record and edit. Especially when we have guests on the podcast.
Consider social cues. Determining when to jump in with your thoughts and when to inject energy into or slow down the conversation is very difficult to do virtually, even during a video call. People often forget how much of communication is nonverbal. Being in-person gives you access to all social cues.
As such, it would make it easier to build a rapport with people we’ve never met before and to have a smooth, casual conversation.
Having said that, Samir and I have mitigated the issues of not being in-person, both when having guests on the show and for regular episodes with just the two of us. Samir and I really know each other; we’re very in sync, almost scarily so. Each of us can predict when the other is going to speak, where we want to drive the conversation, etc.
So when a guest comes on, we’re both able to fully focus on the guest without worrying about our own timing, etc. We’ll adjust to the guest accordingly without needing to communicate. I believe that our guests feel this synergy and our ability to adjust to them. It’s one of the reasons people love coming on our show.
And for regular episodes, forget it. We’re so in-tune with one another that we honestly could record any time and in any place.
Long story short, we will one day do in-person but for now, there’s no pressing need to.
Question 6: Your friendship is a sub-story in the podcast, and is really inspiring. As busy, driven dudes with significant others to boot, what's the secret to maintaining and growing this awesome relationship? Especially as two dudes from two different coasts.
Samir: I mean, I think above all, maybe just in general, men have a hard time opening up and being honest with others. And I think it can be hard to find somebody outside of your immediate family that you feel truly comfortable telling-all to, you know what I mean? It’s hard to find that person, but when you do and you know you have— I mean, with Alec, I can legitimately talk to this guy about everything. We’ve known each other for six years now and we’ve seen so many different stages of each other’s lives.
Alec: You can say that again. He’s seen me in a lot.
Samir: Haha, yeah. We’ve seen each other graduate from college, we’ve seen each other on Spring break and had a good time. But I’ve seen his relationship with his girlfriend develop, and he’s seen my relationship with my girlfriend develop. He’s picked up all his shit and moved across the country, and he’s watched me do the very same. So every time we feel something negative in our lives, or when something emotional is going, I’ll say to him, “You can come to me, I’ll drop everything, ya know? Fuck the podcast, ya know? And he feels the same way. So when you find that person you nurture that relationship.
Alec: I know my girlfriend Victoria is concerned about me running off with him. He’s got great taste in music! Plus, a great looking dude!
Question 7: Does BTB plan to do merch? EDM Champs shirt would go down pretty nicely…
Samir: We’ve got a lot on our plates for 2021 and we are exploring some basic BTB merch. No firm details on release for that yet. But we do know that when we launch it, we want it to be well thought out, functional, and above all - unique.
Alec: Oh yes, at some point we will. Samir and I are perfectionists though so when we do it we want to do it right.
Making sure that it’s unique and in itself, an experience is paramount to us. So it’s in the works but not quite ready yet.
Thomas: So who has a better fashion sense between the two of you?
Samir: I can take this question, Alec’s formal attire taste is bang-on. Like he’s really got that shit down. This guy looks like the Great Gatsby every time he steps out, and I’ve gotta give him big ups for that one. But, when it comes to streetwear, casual wear, humbly I think I take the cake.
Alec: See, I’m an old man. When I think of fashion I think of collared shirts and sport coats, so I dress quite European. But everything is kind of moving to more street/casual anyway, so I think I need to get off my rocker. Samir will be the one designing the merch.
Samir: I do have some ideas that are going to be really dope that I would like to see implemented in 2021. A big thing for us is, when we do stuff – when we launched the website when we launched the podcast when we reformatted the show– everything is very well thought out. We think about what we are presenting to the rest of the world. Could we easily go on CustomInk and slap our logo on stuff and start shipping it out? Absolutely, but that’s not us. We want our stuff to be more practical than situational. Definitely a dog sweater.
Alec: I’m actually in England right now hammering out our deal with Burberry.
Question 8: How do you explain the scene, and your unique roles within it, to strangers? To parents? To bosses?
Samir: Fantastic question, because this is something I’ve struggled with a lot. What excites me about the time we’re in right now is that many people are exploring their hobbies and passions outside of their nine-to-five jobs. Companies are encouraging employees to set time for themselves to do some personal development. Go back 20 years and that certainly wasn’t the case. When I talk about the podcast and just my overall passion for the dance music scene, people around my age and younger get it, because these people have been encouraged to pursue their passions and interests. Does the scene have its own negative connotations? Certainly. The first question I usually get from the uninitiated is do you do drugs. But I take the time to explain to these people that the scene is much more than just doing drugs and partying. It’s a way for people to connect with each other, with the music, and to express themselves in ways that words cannot.
Alec: Fortunately for me, dance music isn’t a stranger to my parents. My dad actually introduced me to the mid-2000's Kaskade and to people like Moby. Funnily enough, it didn’t hook me into the genre entirely back then. But because he was familiar with it he can certainly understand, at least on a surface level, why I’m so into it.
However, I think it’s hard for my parents and for colleagues who are not as passionate about dance music to truly understand the scene. It’s something you’ve got to be a part of to truly understand it, and more importantly, to feel it.
But that’s okay. What matters is that they see how passionate I am for it. I honestly don’t care if people don’t understand it; I find that my passion exudes so much that people don’t need to understand it in order to support my endeavors.
As for friends and strangers who don’t understand it, I think listening to our podcast helps. I’ve heard from multiple people that they were never interested in dance music until they listened to our show. Since we address it in such a deep way, I think peoples’ misconceptions about the scene are lifted and they’re more open to experiencing it.
But even after experiencing it, if it isn’t their cup of tea, that’s fine. I’ve found that people only really care about whether you're passionate about it. When they see that, they can respect it, no matter what it is you’re passionate about.
Question 9: What’s it like getting fan mail or having people acknowledge on social media the topics that you two introduce?
Samir: Dude, this is everything, like truly everything. The numbers are nice but the notes from EDM Champions are what makes all this effort truly worth it. When people tell us they feel connected to the conversations, or they discovered amazing underground artists through our show, I feel fulfilled. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re all striving for—fulfillment.
Once we received an email from someone who said our show makes them feel like they’re part of a rave fam because they don’t have many friends who are into the scene, and I FELT that. I love this scene and I have friends who enjoy coming to shows with me, but I’m definitely the biggest fanatic of my group and at times it can feel a bit lonely. Besides Alec, few people understand how much I love dance music.
Alec: It’s an incredible feeling. People have NO IDEA how much it means to us. One Champion actually reached out to us via email once and I literally teared up.
To have an impact on peoples’ lives and to bring them together in a community not only brings me joy but also humbles me; it isn’t about us, it’s about the community. I’m just happy that we’re helping people connect to music and ideas with one another.
Question 10: Why a podcast? Did audio mean something to you growing up? Any favorite shows that are non-dance music-related?
Samir: Haha, I honestly think we chose a podcast format because we didn’t think it was as labor-intensive as something more video-based. Boy, were we wrong. As I said, we definitely underestimated how much work it takes to start-up and maintain a podcast. At the time, I was starting to really get into podcasts and I thought it was amazing how legit anyone can do it. I always like to try new things and luckily Alec is the same way, so we thought we’d give it a shot.
Some of my favorite non-dance music-related podcasts are
Snacks Daily (absolute favorite)
BBC World Business Report (Alec got me into it)
Alec: We realized a couple of things. Number one, the power of podcasts. They allow you to create an intimate experience with an audience in a form that is both new and old. And number two, a lack of long-form content in the EDM scene.
We wanted to fill that gap while also creating content that creates an intimate connection. Sure, podcasts take a while to grow since people only have a finite amount of time to listen to new things, but once people become Champions, they stick around and really feel like they’re part of the conversation. This is the key differentiator to radio or even TV. It’s all about becoming part of the conversation.
But video is on our radar for the future. We thought it would be easier to start just with a podcast (turns out it isn’t), but video is in the pipeline.
I listen to a crazy number of podcasts, both for intellectual stimulation and business purposes (my company is in Growth Marketing Tech). I’m a nerd. Here’s my list that I listen to divided by frequency (told you I’m a nerd).
Listen to religiously
Under the Skin with Russel Brand (LOVE RUSSEL, even though he can be a bit out there sometimes)
Behind the Numbers: eMarketer Podcast (media and marketing podcast)
AdExchanger: The Big Story (AdTech news)