Positiva Records – Jason Ellis Interview

Positiva Records has been a unique influence in the music industry since its birth 25 years ago, known best for its eclectic roster of artists and breathtaking productions. With all the support Positiva has garnered over the years, the imprint has become more than just a label, but a flourishing platform for artists from all over the world to share their creations. Positiva Records has released it all – from Vengaboys’ UK No. 1 single, “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!!” in 1997, to Martin Garrix‘s big room, chart topping, “Animals” in 2013, the label has amassed major worldwide success with several number one hits on the UK and international charts.

Jason Ellis has served as Positiva’s A&R director for over 15 years, and through his time at Positiva, with patience, perseverance, and expertise, he has developed the label to what it is today. He has kept the label diverse by choosing a wide array of artists and not confining the brand to one specific genre of music. Jason has given countless artists a foundation for their musical growth, allowing up-and-comers as well as renowned musicians to reach a massive audience of avid listeners.

Jason started his journey in the music industry at a young age, collecting vinyls from numerous artists, developing his keen sense of spotting talent by listening to many different genres from a variety of musicians.

“I was an avid record collector in my teens with quite broad tastes – Talking Heads, Tears For Fears, Japan, Simple Minds were very influential to me at the time. I worked for HMV in Birmingham for several years, and as a singles buyer in the early / mid 90’s had to be across what was big in the dance world. I started to take more interest in the scene around 1992, started DJ’ing and was hooked from then on, really. As for many of us in the dance world, Pete Tong become the main inspiration for me and I’m thrilled that he will be hosting the Positiva panel at IMS for us.”

As Jason has perfected his craft for finding and featuring producers, he sheds light on the process of choosing artists saying that the way to select,

“It depends on where they are at in the career really, but certainly talent, ambition, a certain level of commercial appeal and a good understanding of where they are as an artist and how we can help get them to where they want to be. Signing to Positiva isn’t right for every electronic producer / artist – we know that. We just want to work with talented, respectful people and help grow their profile and business.”

Along with the prosperity Positiva has earned, there have been challenges along the way. The internet, for example, has influenced both the way we consume and perceive music. “Understanding the shifting market and continuing to have hits is always a challenge,” emphasized Ellis on this new beast. “Keeping the label operating on the front line of a major label for 25 continuous years is something I’m very proud of – no one else has come close to that.”

“The anniversary campaign is a great opportunity to remind the industry and the wider public just how influential the label has been over the years and highlight the amazing artists and tracks we’ve had the privilege of working with.”

The imprint’s “ace-in-the-hole?” Jason asserts that much of Positiva’s success stems from giving artists from all genres of electronic music an opportunity to be featured on the imprint. “We’ve never been confined to one (sub) genre of electronic music, so have always been able to reflect what is popular in clubland at the time.” Competitors often lack in diversity, and when their sound goes “out of style,” it could spell a premature ending unless adaptation is involved.

That said, making a hit isn’t the most important, all-consuming thing for Ellis. Artistry is key as well, and sometimes the underdog releases end up having the most longevity. “Being part of a major label means that we’re ultimately judged on success and having hits, but it’s important to get the balance right,” he notes. In fact, he even admits that, “some of the most important and influential releases over the years haven’t always been the biggest sellers.”

“We’re no bandwagon jumpers and have always lived and breathed the electronic music world, even when it may not be fashionable to do so. I also believe strongly that how you behave and are perceived as a label during the tougher times or when things don’t always work out well can pay dividends when things pick up again.”

Jason says that the most important thing he has learned over the years, in addition to the pillars of “passion, commitment, and respect,” has been following his intuitions. Trusting oneself, in his opinion, is essential in the path of success. “Always trust your gut instinct,” he advises. “I’ve been talked out of signing a few records over the years that have gone on to be huge. Not a great feeling!”

“Be true to your word – it’s all well and good promising the earth when trying to sign a track or artist, but you have to back that up with your actions. Communication is key – even if the news is not positive.”

Some inspiring events during his career at Positiva have shaped Jason’s perspective as an A&R director. When recalling these events, he points to 2003 as a particularly developmental year. This was when he first signed Paul Van Dyk. “He was one of the biggest DJs in the world at the time, and very much an album artist as opposed to just putting out singles.” As a result, he says, working with the German superstar, “helped broaden my approach and skill set considerably.” His new skill set “paved the way for working with the likes of Deep Dish and David Guetta, plus Swedish House Mafia and deadmau5 once we joined Virgin in 2009.”

As for his own, personal strengths as an A&R director, Jason feels his ability to “balance between an undeniable passion for the scene and being able to navigate the major record company structure and politics on behalf of our artists and releases” are what put him ahead in his role. He points out once more just how much digital consumption has dominated and changed the industry in a more global way, and mentions that his experience with Positiva as a major music force makes him “well-placed to take advantage” of this change.

“On most occasions, we’ve been associated with artists during a really pivotal, positive part of their career – Morillo and Reel II Real, Guetta and ‘When Love Takes Over’ and more recently, Martin Solveig and his return to form with ‘Intoxicated’ and ‘Places’. So many key artists and moments where we have helped broaden the awareness and appeal of the genre that we all love.”

Positiva has become one of the most influential forces in the dance music industry over the past couple of decades. The label, with Jason Ellis at the A&R helm, has continued to make its mark on the dance world for its mastery in finding artists who are bringing novel sounds to the table. Some notable accomplishments since he took over the reins include chart-topping singles “When Love Takes Over” by David Guetta, “Wake Me Up” by Avicii, and “Wizard” by Martin Garrix. Twenty-five years since its inception, Positiva certainly shows no signs of slowing down their brilliant streak of discovering and representing the best of the best in dance music.


How has the success of Positiva over the years shaped the record label as a whole?
We’ve never been confined to one (sub) genre of electronic music, so have always been able to reflect what is popular in clubland at the time. Being part of a major label means that we’re ultimately judged on success and having hits, but it’s important to get the balance right – some of the most important and influential releases over the years haven’t always been the biggest sellers.

From it’s start in 1993 to now, what were the biggest challenges Positiva faced?
The internet changed so many things of course, particularly in dictating how tracks are consumed – moving from vinyl to CD to download and now streaming. Understanding the shifting market and continuing to have hits is always a challenge. Keeping the label operating on the front line of a major label for 25 continuous years is something I’m very proud of – no one else has come close to that. The anniversary campaign is a great opportunity to remind the industry and the wider public just how influential the label has been over the years and highlight the amazing artists and tracks we’ve had the privilege of working with.

What does it take to make a record label successful?
Passion, commitment, tenacity, respect. We’re no bandwagon jumpers and have always lived and breathed the electronic music world, even when it may not be fashionable to do so. I also believe strongly that how you behave and are perceived as a label during the tougher times or when things don’t always work out well can pay dividends when things pick up again.

What was the most important thing you’ve learned over the years?
Always trust your gut instinct – I’ve been talked out of signing a few records over the years that have gone on to be huge. Not a great feeling! Be true to your word – it’s all well and good promising the earth when trying to sign a track or artist, but you have to back that up with your actions. Communication is key – even if the news is not positive.

Tell us about one of the most inspiring events during your career at Positiva? How has this changed you?
There’s been several, but perhaps a good one to mention would be signing Paul van Dyk and going to the Berlin Love Parade with him in 2003. He was one of the biggest DJ’s in the world at the time, and very much an album artist as opposed to just putting out singles. It helped broaden my approach and skill set considerably, and paved the way for working with the likes of Deep Dish and David Guetta, plus Swedish House Mafia and deadmau5 once we joined Virgin in 2009.

When choosing artists for the label, what qualities do you look for in them?
It depends on where they are at in the career really, but certainly talent, ambition, a certain level of commercial appeal and a good understanding of where they are as an artist and how we can help get them to where they want to be. Signing to Positiva isn’t right for every electronic producer / artist – we know that. We just want to work with talented, respectful people and help grow their profile and business.

What is your greatest strength, and how has it helped you in the music industry?
Tough one! I would say having the balance between an undeniable passion for the scene and being able to navigate the major record company structure and politics on behalf of our artists and releases. For many years, successful dance labels around the world were almost entirely independent. But as digital consumption has taken over, release strategies had to become global rather than local, and I was therefore well placed to take advantage of that.

How did Positiva shape the dance music scene from 1993 to the present? i.e in your eyes what has Positiva contributed to the industry as a whole?
We’re making a documentary about the history of the label at the moment, and have done some amazing interviews with many of the key artists, DJ’s and contributors to the label’s success over the years. One of the key things that stands out to me from the interviews is that on most occasions, we’ve been associated with artists during a really pivotal, positive part of their career – Morillo and Reel II Real, Guetta and ‘When Love Takes Over’ and more recently, Martin Solveig and his return to form with ‘Intoxicated’ and ‘Places’. So many key artists and moments where we have helped broaden the awareness and appeal of the genre that we all love.

How did you get started in music? What/who were your greatest inspirations?
I was an avid record collector in my teens with quite broad tastes – Talking Heads, Tears For Fears, Japan, Simple Minds were very influential to me at the time. I worked for HMV in Birmingham for several years, and as a singles buyer in the early / mid 90’s had to be across what was big in the dance world. I started to take more interest in the scene around 1992, started DJ’ing and was hooked from then on really. As for many of us in the dance world, Pete Tong become the main inspiration for me and I’m thrilled that he will be hosting the Positiva panel at IMS for us.

Have you ever produced music before or have a musical background?
No, not really. I played bass guitar for fun when I was younger – Mick Karn from Japan was a big inspiration. But I sold that to buy a pair of decks and the rest is history…!

What are you most proud of and why?
As I said before, 25 years on the front line of a major label is no mean feat and I’ve been here for 18 of them. I’m very proud of having helped develop and break so many great artists and tracks – highlights would be Spiller, The Shapeshifters, Axwell / Swedish House Mafia, Guetta, Avicii… and now Jonas Blue.

Hear more about Positiva’s evolution on Friday, May 25, at IMS Ibiza:

25 YEARS OF POSITIVA RECORDS – THE CHANGING FACE OF A&R with Jason Ellis, Dave Lambert and Nick Halkes Interviewed by Pete Tong.

Author: Arthur Millar

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