In many ways, electronic dance music is designed with losing yourself in mind. The ultimate listening experience is often described as melting into the music and going on hedonistic autopilot while you allow the energy of a performance to flow through you. I think that’s the true power of a DJ set. You’re going on an hour-long journey that smoothly transitions from one phase to the next, as opposed to, say, a rock concert where each song stands on its own.
I think this, really, is the reason EDM has become so popular. We all crave a moment to let go of the finer details, stop worrying about what people think about us, and become part of a collective that allows us to be bigger and more powerful than we ever would be alone. This unique feature has allowed me, and many others like me all over the world, to truly fall in love with EDM.
There have been hundreds of incredibly creative, dedicated people over the years who have sacrificed day in and day out to create these experiences. They’ve done an incredible job ensuring people have the opportunity to feel what they’ve felt; to have a chance to fall in love, too. At times, it may be the equivalent of a blind date. Many first-time attendees aren’t really aware why they go, but it’s the popular and trendy thing to do.
Every day, I see more and more people sharing the same love I have, and that makes me hopeful not only for my music, but for my world. The lessons learned from EDM and the surrounding culture are beneficial to our every day lives. Namely, not to judge a person’s character by their outfit, to always know where your next drink of water is coming from, and most importantly: one kid armed with a laptop CAN change the world.
These admirable goals have left us either unwilling or unable to see some crucial truths right in front of us, and it’s crippling our scene. There are major misconceptions about our scene, and only by being honest with ourselves and each other (about who we are and where we are) can we ever hope to move forward.
The truth is, we’re all being misled constantly in a grand fashion. Only recently, as I’ve gained more and more insight into the inner workings of the industry, have I really begun to understand the level of total mass-deception taking place. I feel a bit like Dorothy, pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz, only to realize he is a frail old man with a microphone, some smoke and mirrors. For the good of the fans, and the good of the industry as a whole, there are some things that need to be said:
First and most importantly, our scene is tiny. This sounds simple, but it’s the single most important thing you need to realize (and the last thing anyone in the industry wants you to think about). The truth is, EDM is largely a hobby for people (unfortunately) white 16-25 years old in the middle or upper classes. This is not to say that there are no fans of EDM outside this demographic, however, it does categorize the vast majority. This automatically reduces the target market to a small fraction of society. A lot of buzz was generated when Forbes listed the highest-paid DJs, and Tiesto came in first at a whopping $22 million for last year alone. That certainly is an impressive figure until you consider that Elvis Presley last year earned about $58 million, despite the minor handicap of having been dead since 1977, when Tiesto was 8.
EDM has made incredible progress in recent years. That is to be celebrated. But if we are not honest with ourselves about where we are, we will never be able to take the steps necessary to grow. This total exaggeration of EDM’s popularity has gotten out of control. Mixmag did a recent article on how marketing teams for producers buy facebook likes from fake people in order to boost their initial popularity, but that’s only the beginning. Fake Twitter followers, programs that boost your play counts on Soundcloud and Myspace, and of course, this whole controversy about cheating in the DJ Mag top 100 DJs Poll. The arrogance of trying to assign any value to some ridiculous ranking system for artists is astounding.
(Side Note: I know who cheated, because the idiots all hired the same programmer. They have until the end of the week to announce it before I do. Let’s see if they have the guts to shame a big artist. I doubt it.)
These tactics are founded on a very powerful marketing concept called social proof. Essentially, the more people that appear to like and support something, the more likely you are to like and support it as well. But their half-baked marketing team has totally misapplied the idea. By making all of these numbers totally unreliable, they have devalued exactly the thing they have been investing in. If I tell a girl there will be 500 people at a party I’m throwing, and she ends up being the only person there besides my drunk Uncle Harold, I have lost all credibility. Likewise, if you keep inflating these social media numbers with completely fake profiles, no one will trust them. You’ve cheated yourself.
This brings me to my second revelation: In general, the people working in the EDM industry full-time are unprofessional, uneducated and vastly under-qualified for their roles. They go to great lengths to appear too important to deal with or respond to you, so as to keep up the illusion that their job is more glamorous than it is. It’s an economy of desire, and it relies on keeping the average fan in the dark. I had always assumed the people with special badges standing backstage were creative geniuses. Watching these people go to such lengths to seem unique and important would be funny if it weren’t so disappointing and sad.
The truth is, these people are simply the previous generation of EDM fans (pre-2002) that decided to turn partying into a career. The new generation of fans and industry job-seekers are miles ahead in terms of talent and ability. They could take over the whole industry overnight if they were organized and motivated, but the illusion the old guard has created keeps them in power.
Everyone wants to get a boost from someone in a position of power instead of simply beating them in direct competition. If it came to that, it would be a short fight. I really have seen it all from these people: using drugs and large amounts of alcohol while handling important business tasks, ignorance of basic business concepts like accounting and finance, using promises of job opportunities to have sex with young fans, and more things that I can’t even bring myself to put into writing. And I haven’t seen it from just a few people. This seems to be the norm.
Now, I don’t claim everyone is this skeezy. That’s not accurate. For all my criticism, Insomniac is one of the most professionally run organizations I’ve come across. Also, the corporate-based people in the industry seem to take their jobs much more seriously than the previous independent promoters who have seen and done it all. The old guard got into this when it was underground, and now that the popularity of EDM is exploding, they hope that they can make enough to retire before anyone realizes how useless they are.
Personally, I am not patient enough to wait several years for them to fumble through EDM’s big shot at mainstream appeal on the basis of “respect the people that started this scene.” I am a firm believer in the ubiquitous rave motto, PLUR: Peace, Love, Unity, Respect. I have a large amount of gratitude and admiration for the people that rode through the tough times and helped raise EDM to where it is. But if you are going to subscribe to that motto, you have to be willing to follow all four tenets, with the last being the key: Respect. I am certainly not going to sit idly by while lazy, entitled industry veterans ignore the key aspect of our culture in order to profit off of the first three. No way. If you don’t have enough self-respect to get the education and skills necessary to run things properly, or at least take your job seriously, then you don’t respect my scene. I owe you nothing.
I think what bothers me the most is that I feel like a fool. I feel like this is my fault. I never tried to judge the music for myself, I just went to the popular stage where the big names were. I never questioned the image I was presented by these big DJs and producers. I shudder to think how many incredibly talented musicians I missed out on because their marketing wasn’t as good. I fed into the hype, I got the butterflies in my stomach meeting a famous DJ.
Then, over time, as I saw more and more, I realized: these are just people. They have fears and weaknesses and shortcomings just like everyone else. From that day on, the big stages got a little smaller. I started really listening to the music instead of just saying it was great because I thought I was supposed to. The Wizard of Oz was just a man again.
I want EDM to grow just as much as anybody else. I am not an enemy to the industry, but something is wrong. I feel guilty that the atmosphere of acceptance I admire has made people complacent. They got the idea that accepting who you are meant you never had to improve. In the past, I’ve written about my concerns with corporate influence in EDM. Maybe a little competition is exactly what we need. I think a corporation that prioritizes keeping the magic of EDM alive (while still being professionally operated) will dominate this industry. Let’s hope one rises to the challenge.
To the new generation of fans: Understand how small our community really is and how important each and every one of you are. It was pointed out to me that the casual fan really doesn’t care what I have to say. Good. I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to the people who care. You are the future of EDM. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do in this industry. If you want to throw a festival, do it. If you want to make music, don’t give up because some idiot agent didn’t like it.
Now, to those of you in the industry are doing things right: Thank you so much for caring enough about this music, and yourselves, to put in the hard work necessary. I know how difficult it is not to cut corners, but it will pay off in the long run, immensely. And to the lazy, the complacent and the entitled:
My generation is coming for you. Sober up, so this is a fair fight.