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Essay: The Surging Genre of Electronic Dance Music (EDM)

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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Electronic Dance Music (EDM) is surging to the forefront of mainstream tastes. If you have turned on the radio, watched TV, or attended a music festival in the last several years you have likely noticed DJs and producers flooding the market. Acts like Skrillex, Deadmau5, and David Guetta have emerged from the EDM movement and achieved international popularity on an unprecedented level.

EDM has only recently stepped into the spotlight. The genre, however, is hardly young. It began as an underground movement in the 1980s. Similarly to how hip-hop crossed over into the mainstream in the late 1990s and 2000s, EDM is now coming of age, and in a big way. A generation of music fans are shifting their musical gaze from the hip-hop driven popular music that dominated the 2000s, to the polished sounds of house, trance, dubstep, glitch, breaks, and the dozens of other sub-genres that fall under the umbrella of EDM.

A quick look at Forbes' first annual "Electronic Cash Kings" list of top earning DJs confirms the arrival of EDM as a mainstream genre. Topping the list is Dutch producer/DJ Tiesto, earning a staggering $22 million over the last year and averaging $250,000 gross per show. The list continues through a handful of now-household names including Skrillex, Swedish House Mafia, and Deadmau5. Even Avicii, who closes the list at number ten, earned an impressive $7 million. As a whole, the EDM industry is worth approximately $4 billion per year. According to the International Music Summer (IMS) Consumer Report 2012, EDM is the fastest growing mainstream genre in the United States.

Festivals and Live Shows

For the electro-elite, live shows are the most lucrative source of income. Unencumbered by most "traditional" band equipment, the cost of touring for DJs is extremely low. Meanwhile, the demand is skyrocketing. Promoters are capitalizing on the live experience with wildly successful EDM festivals including the Electric Daisy Carnival, Hard, Tomorrowland, and Electric Zoo, the first of which drew 320,000 people over three days this year in Las Vegas. At the most recent Electric Daisy Carnival, attendees were willing to pay $215 per ticket.

Joining standard rock, rap, and pop acts, DJs are also steadily streaming into major slots in broader, mainstream festivals. This year's Coachella Valley Music Festivalboasted EDM heavyweights, Justice, Porter Robinson, and Swedish House Mafia, alongside acts like Radiohead, Bon Iver, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. Other major festivals followed a similar trend. Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and Outside Lands all booked major electronic acts such as Skrillex and Major Lazer.

EDM in Pop Music

The rise of EDM has influenced pop music itself and an increasing number of stars are turning towards electro beats to fuel their hits. Producer David Guetta, a pioneer in the practice of marrying EDM to pop, cultivated mainstream success by collaborating with stars including Nicki Minaj, Akon, Kid Cudi, and Fergie. Beyonce's 2011 "Run the World (Girls)" samples heavily both from the Diplo project and Major Lazer's "Pon De Floor" and features writing by Diplo and Afrojack. Other examples include the dub step breakdown of Britney Spears' "Hold It Against Me" and the Avicii "Levels" sample in Flo Rida's "Good Feeling."

According to Forbes magazine, "dance music's convergence with pop music has made it more accepted as well as opened up the genre to a host of new listeners." Pop fans are, in effect, easing into EDM through a genre they are already familiar and comfortable with. A symbiotic relationship has developed such that EDM artists gain access to a wider fan base while pop artists feed off the fresh hype surrounding EDM.

Social Media and Technology

It is also important to note the role of social media in catalyzing the growth of EDM. For a genre so inherently tied to technology, the Internet is a natural marketing platform. Tech-savvy producers and DJs unsurprisingly flourish in the online space. Danny Whittle, brand director of dance club Pacha notes, "Our musical genre embraced the Internet, all other genres fought it." As the digital music space continues to expand, EDM arguably harnesses the Internet's potential more effectively than other genres.

DJs were early adopters of the free music model, recognizing that their low cost of touring made live appearances the more lucrative revenue stream. As a result they won the hearts of legions of fans that most likely would have pirated their music anyways. The strength of the EDM online culture has even led to one of the very few successful alternatives, albeit genre-specific, to iTunes: Beatport. Beatport is a popular music store specifically for DJs that provides digital music formats and music discovery tools.

The Business of EDM

The flurry of attention surrounding the business of EDM demonstrates the current power of the genre and the direction in which key voices are betting it will go. The trend has attracted the attention of entertainment moguls and entrepreneurs across the world. One company to jump aboard is the ticketing agency, Eventbrite. Filling a gap in the market, Eventbrite services much of the live EDM scene. Grossing more than $1 billion since its inception in 2006, the company provides an alternative to giants like Ticketmaster. "EDM is really an international movement, so we've got a localized site, localized payments that expand throughout the globe, and we're seeing great traction," says Kevin Hartz, co-founder of Eventbrite. 7

Media mogul, Robert Sillerman, placed his bet squarely behind EDM several months ago, announcing his intention to spend $1 billion buying electronic concert promoters. Sillerman initially made his mark on the industry by amassing the consortium of promoters that would ultimately become Live Nation. His foray into electronic music marks a significant milestone for the mass popularization of the genre. His acquisitions already include Dayglow and Donnie Disco Presents. In early August, Billboard reportedthat he was in "negotiations with up to 50 other companies, with tentative agreements in place with around 15 of them."

Industry executives appear to agree with Sillerman, flocking to Las Vegas for the inaugural EDMbiz conference in June of this year. Event host, Jason Bentely, acknowledged the significance of EDM today as well as the conference's purpose: "The EDM lifestyle touches all corners of pop culture today and it is definitely in the interest of this music scene to create a place for music professionals to get inspired, network, and have fun." It appears as though the music industry is gearing up to rally behind this exploding genre. EDM has already cultivated a massively powerful scene, and if the progressive executives at EDMbiz have their way, it may well be this decade's defining genre.

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