The State of EDM From An Industry POV
Op-Ed Submitted by BitTorrent
It’s hard to Google an article about electronic music in 2014 that doesn’t include the phrase “the sound of a generation.” A genre that grew up in garages, bedrooms, and basements is now a $6.2 billion dollar industry; the sonic underpinning of everything on the Top 40, the beat behind a 400,000-attendee live show. Electronic music is our rock, our disco, our hip hop. It’s absorbed all these genres, endlessly splitting and refracting them into micro-things; tumblrwave, chilltrap, witch house and the like.
The "sound of a generation" - in its current iteration, electronic music is the sound of growing up online. For every kid who came of age in the post-Netscape, the world was more vast than it had ever been. It was at our fingertips, a search away. It was infinite, and it was isolating. The forever struggle of young adulthood was once about finding yourself. Now, it’s about finding your community. And as a result, the soundtrack of youth changed. Music today is as much about social connection as it is about self-expression. Electronic emerged the first genre to embrace P2P (peer to peer) as a philosophy. Electronic emerged the first genre to embrace P2P as a philosophy. Bands became BitTorrent.
During an era of record industry upheaval, electronic music is thriving. In August, we sat down with Hooks from Zeds Dead, Morgan Page, Fools Gold’s Nick Catchdubs, and OWSLA’s Blaise DeAngelo to talk about the state of EDM, and what makes this industry such a flourishing place for artistic expression.
The History of EDM is a Personal One
“I saw that through DJ’ing I could take the stuff I liked across all these genres and connect the dots and tell my own story.” Nick Catchdubs
Nick Catchdubs: I had always loved music from a purely fan perspective. Not just the songs and the energy, but the whole world of records. The covers, the liner notes, remembering the little logos you see on stuff and tracking down weird, hard to find music, and circling records in catalogs. Stuff like that. The entire process was super-fascinating to me.
When I graduated from college, I wasn’t really doing anything. Then I got a bunch of DJ mixes from Mark Ronson and Hollertronix. That was like an “Aha!” lightbulb moment. I saw that through DJ’ing I could take the stuff I liked across all these genres and connect the dots and tell my own story. I felt like I had a perspective that was different and that I had a personality to put out there.
Zeds Dead (Hooks): I always had a piano and guitar in my house. I messed around a lot as a kid, and my dad would teach me a thing or two sometimes, but I never took it seriously. I think it was jamming with friends in middle school that made me want to arrange and record our sessions. We used to rap for fun over instrumentals we found. I guess I wanted to make my own.
I remember having trouble deciding whether I wanted to be a DJ or a producer at the time. Whether I was going to buy turntables, or a new computer. At that time, I thought DJing was all scratching. I had no idea about mixing, really. But I ended up buying a new computer with Garage Band.
Why EDM is the Anti-Sound of a Generation.
"Electronic music is such a big generalization. I think that’s really oversimplifying things, because there’s such vast differences in the genres within electronic music. In other words, the generation isn’t united under one sound." Hooks, Zeds Dead
Hooks: DC and I teamed up after a couple years and made mainly old school New York style hip-hop beats under the name Mass Productions, eventually putting together an instrumental album called Fresh Beets. Around that time we were getting exposed to a lot of different types of music. I had some friends who I would do graffiti with that listened to a lot of drum n bass, and I would get playlists from them.
Hooks: Some other friends of mine were getting really into the electro house scene with Justice and stuff like that. Those sounds made me want to learn more, and make different things. We messed around with synths and distorted sounds for about a year before we decided we were ready to show the world anything. That’s when we started Zeds Dead.
We’ve always just tried to make what sounds good to us no matter the genre. It’s just about exploration and creativity and expressing a moment or an intangible feeling. I guess that could describe all art.
The Collective Spirit of Electronic Music
“I love the collaborative aspect – how many bands do you see doing that many collaborations and side projects? The nature of working on computers and sharing projects changed everything.” Morgan Page
Morgan Page: There are a lot of factors that make EDM unique. It became popular by social media and college students, it’s more social than other genres, and it spreads through technology much faster than other genres – just look at the top podcasts on iTunes.
DeAngelo: Artists are changing their sets each night, songs are morphing and evolving into new versions and mixes, and everything is fluid. And the fans feel like they are a part of it. They’re not watching, they’re participating. And that’s why electronic music is so much more exciting than rock or country or hip-hop or anything else right now.
Making a beat and sending it to your homie across the world and him adding a synth line and so forth. Then sending the finished song to 5 of your homies and asking them to interpret it in their own way for 5 different remixes. That’s the essence of dance music today, and the essence of digital. Vinyl is awesome, but you obviously can’t do that kind of stuff with vinyl. To me, the idea of digital is about much more than MP3s or streaming – it represents the idea of fluid and seamless creation and collaboration.
Why Electronic Music Lives IRL
"Touring is the bread and butter of how I earn a living. Music is the loss leader, which seems backwards — but that’s just how things have evolved. People value the live experience more than the physical recording." Morgan Page
Hooks: Touring has been extremely important to our growth. It’s helped with our exposure, as well as legitimized us in the eyes of festivals, I think. It’s like, we don’t have #1 Billboard hits or magazine covers, but we have a huge fanbase that comes to our shows, even more so than a lot of artists that get much more media attention.
It’s been really interesting developing a unique live show like the 3D Tour. It’s a whole new canvas to work with, and I think audiences really enjoyed seeing something fresh. The process takes a long time as you have to organize animators, VJs, set designers — it’s like you’re a director instead of a DJ. Pairing immersive visuals with music definitely takes things to another level. It’s challenging because you need to figure out which colors, textures, sequences, and landscapes are going to elevate the song and take it to new heights — while still providing the necessary energy for a live show.
As we get on bigger stages, it’s become important to make our sets more of a show, something more than just two guys behind computers on stage. We’ve done a tour with rapper Omar LinX which was basically a live show. On our last bus tour we had these big LED diamonds developed that used mirrors to give the perception of an infinite tunnel. We also had LED walls with lots of psychedelic content triggered in sync with the beats. We want to create a feast for the senses.
“I think that the artists who have succeeded are the ones that understand that it’s not just about being able to have cool production, it’s about being able to literally speak to a crowd.” Nick Catchdubs
Catchdubs: Being able to play shows is the cornerstone of dj’ing. You’re there to work a room, whether it’s a festival or a club with 50 kids. You do things that you feel are going to express your likes and your personality in that context. It is easy to make stuff all in the box, in your computer, as a bedroom production genius. A lot of people you can then get onstage and bang it out from there. But being a performer is a skill unto itself. I think that the artists who have succeeded are the ones that understand that it’s not just about being able to havecool production, it’s about being able to literally speak to a crowd.
Page: I think the music and technology go hand in hand, creatively – how it’s made, and how people gather together for the events. It’s not simply to see music, it’s to experience something as a group. You can’t say the same for all genres. Other concerts are social, but maybe not with the same intensity or group size as a large electronic festival.
A Sustainable Future For Electronic Music
Hooks: Today, it’s very difficult for independent artists to get any radio play. I’d like to see that change. Radio stations are often owned by the same larger companies that own major record labels and are fed the songs to play. Most radio DJ’s who have prime time spots in North America can’t really play what they want and have to adhere to what the labels want.
Catchdubs: Whether you’re selling an 8 track tape or an mp3 or whatever the future holds, you still have to be the artist. You have to figure what you do that’s special. I don’t think there’s anything I necessarily want to see from the industry, I just want to see more people being true to themselves and knowing that you don’t have to copy what’s popular, just do you. Find your personal approach. More authentic personalities is the short way of saying that, I guess.
“I don’t think there’s anything I necessarily want to see from the industry, I just want to see more people being true to themselves and knowing that you don’t have to copy what’s popular, just do you.” Nick Catchdubs
Page: I’d like to see streaming music achieve more volume in BRIC countries, so that it provides a more viable living for artists in the middle class. I’d also like to see more brands working with artists of all levels, not just top tier blue chip names. The future of music will depend on natural brand relationships, unforgettable live show experiences, and the fan-artist connection.
Catchdubs: I think change is going to be a constant. When mp3’s first started disrupting the way music had traditionally been sold, people didn’t know what to do. Then they kind of figured what to do and now they’re trying to figure out what streaming is going to be. Who knows? In the future stuff will be beamed into a microchip in your nose or something...I don’t know. Stuff is always going to change. The key is figuring out what you do as an artist and what you do to be different from other artists.
In the End, It's All About Expression
“It’s just about having a conversation with people. Being able to present something to fans in a cool way.” Nick Catchdubs
Hooks: It started as something we did for fun, and that’s still all it’s about for us. We’ve always just tried to make what sounds good to us, no matter the genre. It’s just about exploration and creativity and expressing a moment or an intangible feeling.
Catchdubs: It’s just about having a conversation with people. Being able to present something to fans in a cool way. A lot of guys get into creating their own memes and having funny Instagram pictures, almost like treating their music roll out like a form of stand up comedy, which is fine. If that’s naturally your vibe, go for it. But it does start with the music itself. You can put a cool font in front of it, but if it’s a whack song, who cares?
Page: Every song needs to make an impact. My criteria is that the song needs to give me chills, which is a tough thing to accomplish and can be subjective. But my theory is that with the right elements, you can create a universal reaction with your music, that will work for almost any audience. I don’t want the music to be some subjective thing that only a small niche understands, and I don’t want to make a million compromises so that is appeals to everyone. It’s all a balancing act.
Written by Straith Schreder and Austin Briggs