Since first unearthing trance music in Amsterdam at the young age of 16 years old, this influence is easily decipherable throughout each set Chris Blackburn performs, portraying his own fresh, foreign style of trance music. As the co-founder of Estrella Recordings, Chris Blackburn balances his role in the global trance community as the director of operations for MJR Entertainment, booking agent and of course, the renowned DJ and producer he has established himself to be today. All the while, Chris preserves his respected reputation as a father figure and husband to his wife and artist manager, Jen Blackburn, and their three sons. As a power duo playing their part as full-time, rockstar parentals, Chris and Jen make evolving into the music moguls they are, look like a breeze.
Chris Blackburn has been preoccupied performing gigs cross country, internationally and even on the surface of the sea itself. Since debuting his talent on the Trance Sunset stage while attending the music festival, Shipsomnia, known to EDM fans worldwide as, “the Tomorrowland of the Seas”, Chris brought forth his best while performing for crowds of fans on the voyage of a lifetime, departing from the coast of Spain and ending in France. As a local legend to the Minneapolis nightlife, Chris Blackburn has and continues harmonize life as a prodigy in the trance community, reppin' Midwest trance, worldwide.
What first initially inspired your realization that music was what you wanted to base your creative career around? How has this realization motivated you to establish a creative career in the music industry?
Music is a big part of mine and my wife, Jennifer, lives, and that shows even in our family life. I never had any music classes growing up and never learned any instruments, so ensuring that my kids have that experience is important. While my day job is IT, my wife graduated with a degree in music business and after a decade she’s able to put some of that to work in helping to manage me from a business perspective, as well as provide some invaluable input on my mixing and my producing.
When did you first get involved with the production and/or mixing of EDM and why?
I've been listening to Electronic Music since the mid 90s and for years it was a dream to learn how to mix. Then about 10 years ago my wife, Jen, got me a set of Denon CD players and a mixer that always intimidated me to even touch. Finally, back in 2015 when I had an outdoor party to celebrate spring, a friend left his brand new Pioneer CDJ set and mixer at my house for a few weeks. At this point, I finally took the plunge and haven’t looked back.
Aside from mixing, it was only about two years ago that I started diving into production in Ableton and working on mashups as a means to familiarize myself with the art for my project, Ragebeards.
Where is your hometown and where do you live now?
My family is from Ohio but we relocated to Tennessee when I was one year old and grew up there, then moved to Minneapolis, MN 13 years ago for a better place to raise our three boys.
In what ways has the music scene in Minneapolis helped shape and mold your creative career?
Connecting both myself and my wife Jennifer to some truly amazing people. We don’t have any other family in Minneapolis right now, but the people we’ve grown to know and love have become our “framily”. It’s something amazing about EDM that’s not only here but that I’ve had the privilege of seeing throughout the Trance scene particularly all across the world, in that it builds some absolutely wonderful families in cities I’ve seen such as Chicago, Denver, Dallas, LA/San Francisco, Seattle, and more. There are some awesome people that, even though they may be hundreds or thousands of miles away, connecting with them has made them family.
What do you enjoy about DJing in the Midwest music scene?
I love the Midwest vibe, and I think within EDM as a whole most people are genuinely there to connect to the music and with people who also love the music. It makes for an amazing community.
Who are your influencers and how have they influenced you while successfully establishing your creative career in the music industry?
Being a big trance guy for the last 20+ years, I’ve “grown up” listening to artists like Ferry Corsten, Armin van Buuren, Markus Schulz, BT, Sean Tyas – all I’ve had the privilege of either meeting or actually getting the opportunity to spend time with and get to know them as people. At the end of the day, you are only as gracious as you are to the fans that support you, and these are all names who have shown a lot of love to their fan base for their support.
What genre of music would you classify your style and sound to?
Trance is my first love when it comes to electronic music, having discovered it with my first trip to Amsterdam in 1996. I had the privilege of going back there in 2017 and 2018 for Luminosity, one of the biggest trance festivals that is held on the beach each year, and was able to both see and meet a lot of the artists that I’ve listened to year after year.
What attracts you to the style of the genre of music you are known for producing and mixing?
The uplifting and melodic nature of Trance, as it has been said, is from the heart and soul that is at the root of the genre.
Do you have any genres of music you'd eventually like to mix or produce that you have yet to dabble in the production or mixing of? If so, what genres of music and why?
While trance is my first love as my Chris Blackburn project, under my Ragebeards project I’ve had the opportunity, with my buddy Sam Shacter, to perform electro, house, even some trap. It’s for everything else non-melodic.
What do you think separates your style of music from other artists producing the same and/or similar sub-genres of music as you?
At this point in time I’m just out there loving being a part of the industry and getting out there meeting people as well as actually playing at some cool gigs (both locally, nationally and internationally).
Do you play any instruments? If so, what instruments do you play?
Never have, while my wife is the most musically inclined and had 10+ years of music education through high school and college while playing the flute. This is the driving factor to get our kids engaged in music and why my oldest son Ian has taken up trumpet and is finishing the 9th grade, rounding out his 5th year already in band. Right now just Ableton since I’m a PC guy. I know people rave about Logic but I’m just not a Mac guy.
What is one of your favorite tracks that never gets old no matter how many times you've heard it?
Being a big trance fan I think of the tracks that I’ve “grown up” with over the past two decades (even though I’m almost 40 haha), like Beautiful from Ferry Corsten (which by the way my wife and I have matching tattoos of on our arms) Daydream or Destiny by Markus Schulz, Shivers (and the Airport Shivers mashup) by Armin van Burren as a few to scratch the surface of favorite songs.
Do you have a favorite track you've released so far? Which track and why?
The only original production so far is under my Zero Station project but it doesn’t have an official release. Everything else under that and my Ragebeards project would be either a remix or mashup. No favorites yet!
How has your style of music changed and/or progressed over the course of your creative career as an artist?
I wouldn’t say it’s actually changed, because I’ve generally loved all kinds of EDM (from even back when everyone called it “Techno”), I was around for the birth of Dubstep in the late 2000s, and have even seen Trance go thru it’s “Trance”formations (thru the advent of Big Room, Progressive, even Above and Beyond morphing their sounds and Anjuna becoming its’ own “genre”). With music it’s either keep up with the times, or get left behind!
Do you have a favorite show you've performed at? If so, where and when was this? Why was this an especially favorite show of yours to perform at?
One of my all time favorite gigs was on Shipsomnia in 2017, playing the Trance Sunset stage overlooking the Mediterranean, and opening for some of my favorite trance artists. Plus we had about eight friends travel with us to port out of Barcelona while making new ones there, and just overall, having them there for support is a memory I’ll never forget. Close behind that would be my set on Groove Cruise as Trance Jesus.
Do you have a favorite artist you've especially enjoyed performing and/or tagging with? Who were they and what did you enjoy about it? As far as playing support for other artists, what artists have you especially enjoyed playing support for and why?
Besides my buddy Sam on our Ragebeards project, I’ve always had a blast playing with one of my best friends and mentor Nhia Her aka Child’s Play, amongst others who have made their way to my place for some spinning, to then follow up at places like Retox at Cowboy Jacks, etc. From a support perspective, both have come by way of my Ragebeards project – both providing direct support to Chocolate Puma and Ferry Corsten at Rev.
Tell us about your collaborative projects! Have you collaborated with other artists? If so, who?
At this point the only collaborations have been as part of Ragebeards or the Zero Station projects from a production perspective. My own individual ones are fairly limited right now with no releases yet.
Are there any local, up & coming and/or mainstream artists you want to collaborate with in the future? If so, who and why?
I think any artist’s dream is to work with someone big in the industry. My hope is that my production will reach a level where my own unique sound is acknowledged and appreciated by widely known artists. I see it happen all the time in the trance music scene, being close to both the artist and the agent side of the business.
Are there any artists in the music industry that have influenced your creative career? If so, who and why are they so influential to you?
Creatively I’m still trying to find my “sound” on my personal project, but the biggest influences from a production standpoint would be someone like Sean Tyas, BT, and other artists that take the time to do live streams, videos, etc on how to make their music. Just like feeling comfortable in front of CDJs, and then feeling comfortable performing in front of a crowd, they’re both something that takes time and won’t just happen overnight.
Do you produce and/or mix music under any other artist aliases? If not, have you ever considered doing so or would want to do so in the future?
I mentioned my personal trance project, Chris Blackburn, and my more mainstream project, Ragebeards with Sam Shacter (aka Raptor Rage), but I’m also part of another purely psytrance project called Zero Station with a friend who has moved out to the West Coast. I’ve entertained a few other projects with some other friends / artists but currently there’s just too much on my plate.
Have you worked with any labels, artist management agencies or promotion companies in the past or are currently working with any now? If so, tell me about your overall experience while working with other industry professionals in the music business.
When I’m not doing the DJ / producer thing, the family things, or the day job, I actually am part owner of a booking agency, helping manage some great artists that are both here in the US and internationally. So between working with a lot of promoters around the world I’m also working with other managers as well as networking with a lot of artists, labels, etc.
As an up and coming artist actively working in the industry, what are some strengths and weaknesses you have personally experienced while establishing your creative career in the music industry that you have found valuable?
It’s hard to break through without a lot of time and a lot of effort available – two things which unfortunately from an artist side I don’t have much of. But from the agent and management side, if you’re working with an artist who “gets it” from a production standpoint, and can crank out some quality tunes, it’s a necessity in the industry to get your name out there and get support from the upper echelon of artists who are touring 8-10 months of the year (where the REAL money is).
What concert venues have you especially enjoyed performing at and why? Are there any concert venues and/or music festivals you have yet to perform at that you want to perform at in the future?
Thanks to SIMshows and Jack Trash for believing in aspiring artists, like myself, and helping them bring their dreams to life. I’ve had the privilege of playing many times at Rev Ultra Lounge, as well as Skyway Theater on a number of the stages – still hoping to get on the mainstage someday as well! Another favorite spot is the Seven Rooftop, especially during the summertime. The vibes are amazing!
Outside of region getting to take my Chris Blackburn project to the next level as my Trance Jesus persona to play Groove Cruise has been an unreal experience. People love that persona and the amount of people looking for blessings, etc is a blast.
What single night out has been the most memorable for you? As a performer and as an attendee?
I’d have to say my favorite as a performer and as an attendee was opening for Ferry Corsten in 2017, being my all time favorite DJ and at that point being probably the 30th time to not only see him, but the first time getting to play in support of him. It’s been great to see him from the crowds over the years but to talk with him on the level as an artist and producer is definitely a surreal thing I never would have dreamt of when I first saw him live at Myth in 2006.
What is one thing you can share about yourself with Turntable Talks that you believe your fans don't know but would want to know more about?
As much as we love music in our household, there are plenty of other things that take priority, and being a family of 5 with 3 boys (plus our dog Jake) putting a roof over our head and food on our table is the most important, so the day job takes priority. Secondly, family is important so spending time at baseball games, kid’s recitals and band, field trips, and more always take priority. Then finally our hobbies come last. This includes shows, festivals, and side businesses. Along with the DJ gig and Artist Management gig, we also have our own event planning and transportation business that we manage. So we have a busy household and priorities are key
Do you have a specific destination you'd want to live and/or travel to in the future? If so, where and why?
Minnesota is not the end game for my wife Jen and I, but it’s a great place to raise a family – much more so than where we grew up in Memphis, TN. We have serious wanderlust and take at least two to four trips a year on vacation (withstanding any as festivals, gigs, etc) to see new places, etc. As much as I’d love to live somewhere in the Caribbean or Europe, feasibly I don’t see that being realistic. So probably somewhere warm in the southwest like Arizona would be a nice place to live, especially with it being close to LA (which has a huge music community).
What is one valuable lesson you've learned while coming up as an active artist in the music industry? Why do you believe this was such a valuable learning lesson for you?
Being in the artist management field along with having worked as a promoter and an artist, as much as the fans and the artists are there for the music, the industry is really only 50% music and 50% business. Marketability of yourself and your brand is key, and while you can be a basic DJ with little production experience, if you put the effort into your brand and into networking that brand, you can be successful.
How has the music industry influenced your creative career and your life as a whole?
I feel the music industry has brought it full circle to where I’ve put more into the business of the music industry than the creativity around the music industry. I’m never going to be a Tiesto or Skrillex or Carl Cox, because of the priorities in my life, but want to do more in helping people reach their dream thru connecting with others in the industry. That’s part of the reason I went into artist management – I can have more impact behind the scenes.
Where do you see yourself in this industry 5 years from now?
Honestly probably in the same position as today: IT guy by day, industry entrepreneur by night (well, and by day too during festival season!)
What do you believe those who are active members in the music scene can contribute to providing a better environment for local talent, industry professionals and live music events alike?
I think it’s going to be the same no matter where you go, in that you have to look at the music industry as 50% creativity & 50% business. Ensure that as you approach each opportunity, have that perception of what you’re walking into so you can continue to build your brand.
What three tips of advice do you have for local artists looking to pursue a successful creative career in the music industry?
1. Focus on what you want your brand to be. 2. You can’t be successful unless you get engaged with the people and the promoters local to you. 3. Reach out to people you look up to locally to seek out their feedback and advice, both positive and negative.
What about the music industry do you believe to be both positive and/or negative for up & coming artists looking to establish a successful career in the music and entertainment business? What makes these variables positive or negative and how do you believe the industry can improve these said variables?
Try not to get sucked into the drive to be successful. Focus on where YOU want to be, both from a professional development and a time perspective around DJing / production. It’s not going to happen overnight, so stay dedicated in building yourself personally and your brand professionally.
Overall, how has the EDM scene influenced your creative career?
Creatively, it’s connected me with people who have not only been able to help me reach a life goal of learning how to DJ and play some amazing events but also those same people who have taken the effort of their time to slowly help me learn how to produce. Both of these aspects, as an artist looking to make a start, are very critical to have while working within such a tough industry.