Did VH1 Just Say EDM and Hip-Hop Are Killing Live Music?
VH1 recently published an article from Doc Coyle, entitled "Millennium Of The Individual: How The Rise Of DJs, Solo Artists, & Technology Is Killing Collaboration". It looks at the effect that changes in the music industry, and modern approaches to making music - particularly the use of computers and inexpensive home studio tools - have had on bands and live music.
Coyle posits the idea that live instrumentalists like himself are fast becoming obsolete because musicians have a financial incentive to create music completely on their own, without needing bandmates - and affordable computers, digital audio workstations, and recording equipment have empowered them to do so. These points are certainly true, as he says,
"No one wants to pay you until you are very popular. Before that, you have to pay out of pocket for equipment, rehearsal space, a vehicle, fuel, studio time, and sometimes to even play at a real venue. All while having to rely on usually unreliable people. Even if you start making decent money, having to split your profit 4 or 5 ways after paying your manager, label, agent, and lawyer can be demoralizing."
I played bass guitar with various bands at different points in my life. I absolutely understand how making electronic music can be more attractive because you can control every aspect of your music if you choose to, without needing to rely on bandmates, FOH engineers, roadies, recording engineers, etc. It's a big part of why I started DJing and producing. But during my career as a producer I've collaborated with dozens of other musicians - other producers, vocalists, drummers, guitarists, etc. I have 2 side projects that are collaborative efforts, and I've done dozens of remixes. And some of the best times I've ever had on stage were going b2b with other DJs, or featuring live instrumentalists alongside my electronic production.
His point about the costs involved in recording and touring with a band are true, but he has some mistaken notions about the overall revenue of the music industry. He says "As illegal music downloading in the early 2000s took hold, the economic pie of the music industry became much, much smaller than it was 15 years ago." This is just false. The economic pie of the record industry has become much smaller - major labels, and the industry built on selling recorded music have seen huge drops in revenue. But overall, the revenue of the music industry has actually grown, and artists are making more than ever, albeit in different ways. And electronic music is a big part of this. Creative, hard working people with a laptop and some software can now create professional level music without needing labels. The internet has broken down so many of the barriers to success by allowing artists to get their music out to a huge audience without needing industry funding, and nowhere is this more apparent than in electronic music.
He also talks about the celebrity status that solo artists attain, and how this celebrity culture is more drawn to individual personalities,
When you are talking about stars, you are talking about the idea of celebrity, and that’s where we are at. I write for VH1, which is a site that is dominated by celebrities. They cover celebrities because it’s what moves the needle. That has filtered into how we process our music, and who we deem relevant. Without a star, you have no brand. Without a brand, your business is dead.
Again, this is not false. It's only natural that fans have an easier time relating to the personality of a charismatic individual, rather than the varied characters in a band.
But the conclusion that these factors are "killing collaboration" is just flat out wrong. He freely admits that he knows basically nothing about EDM,
I don’t even know if live DJs are doing anything more than hitting a space bar, but whether or not the emperor has clothes seems to be irrelevant to EDM consumers.
Only this ignorance could lead to the conclusion that collaboration is dying in the face of electronic music and hip-hop. Just a brief glance at any EDM genre will show you that collaboration is a huge part of electronic music. Even among solo artists, and in the most mainstream styles, collaborations are ubiquitous. Right now 8 of the top 10 tunes on the Beatport Top 10 feature more than one artist. And collaborations between solo artists are just one aspect of collaboration in electronic music. Many of my favorite acts are groups: Noisia, KOAN Sound, Shpongle, The Crystal Method, Evol Intent, Birds of Paradise, The Prodigy, etc. And the idea that the live experience of electronic music is always a guy standing at a laptop pressing the space bar is just nonsense; only someone who has little or no experience in the electronic music world would believe such crap. Check out a Destroid show, or a Nero show, or a Black Tiger Sex Machine show. Or watch a turntablist like Craze or JFB or A-Trak. Watch Araabmuzik on an MPC and then tell me more about pressing the space bar.
Coyle acknowledges that "Hip hop is still reliant on collaboration. Almost every song features a guest rapper, or a hook being sung by another prominent artist, and you can’t forget the imperative chemistry of pairing an MC with a complimentary producer," but he insists that "the overall trends skews towards solo acts." His metric for making this judgement is the Billboard charts. From where I'm standing, looking at the Billboard charts will tell you a lot about the most mainstream pop examples of any genre, and fuck-all else. So if the point is that pop music puts the emphasis on solo artists, leave hip-hop and EDM out of it. For decades pop music has emphasized the charisma and personality of a single celebrity over the talent and hard work of all the composers, producers, and studio/touring musicians that create it. This is nothing new, and the blame for it certainly doesn't lay at the feet of hip-hop or electronic music.
Also, if you are going to stage a fake DJ photo, put a mixer between the CDJs.