Why EDM Is Thriving While Other Genres Are Sinking

Categories: EDM

Christopher Victorio
DJs are the new rock stars? Maybe. (Although chefs are already the new rock stars.) Still, the big name DJs do seem to be living pretty large, what with the constant travel to exotic locations, goofily-clad fans, eager women, drugs and parties. Just swap MacBooks for guitars and it doesn't look so different from the way Zeppelin rolled in 1973.

See also: Why Is Everyone So Pissed About the EDM Reality Show?

What's missing, however, are album sales. Despite the genre's re-emergence in recent years to gargantuan crowds, you won't find most electronic artists on the mainstream charts, at least outside of the marquee names like Skrillex, Deadmau5, and Swedish House Mafia. Albums and singles are rarely certified at the gold and platinum levels. (Skrillex's "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites," which introduced a whole generation to dubstep, just recently passed a million in sales -- more than two years after its release!) And while streaming services like Spotify and Rdio are earning artists a few dimes here and there, much electronic music is given away for free online.

And yet, many EDM DJs are richer than God. From SF Weekly's Ian Port in his (excellent) story on Bassnectar:

Local promoters estimate the act earns around $75,000 to $100,000 per show, and Bassnectar plays about 150 shows a year. "I'm in the 1 percent, for sure," [he] says. "I pay a fucking sickening amount of taxes - sickening."

While the shitty state of today's music industry has artists in most genres struggling to pay their rents, EDM is healthy -- in fact thriving. It's not just because the music is increasingly popular, it's because the players are milking live shows for all they're worth. Promoters and booking agents know that name DJs will sell out festivals and clubs, and the DJs can thus charge big fees for appearances.

But that's not all: DJs can moonlight at smaller clubs, after parties and private events. Diplo, for example told Rolling Stone that he pulled "like, $75,000 for an hour set" at a private event for a video game company. Then there are licensing deals and endorsements.

"Before DJs were touring mainstage acts, they were entertainment for clubs," says Matt Goldman, founder of long running downtown Los Angeles club night Dance Right and a partner in Production Club, the company behind Skrillex' stage production. "If you were a good DJ, you made that bar tons of cash because you kept people there spending money. With a band, it's all about ticket sales. With a DJ it's about playing the kind of music that holds people in the room."

Las Vegas especially has been on the the forefront of the EDM trend, with clubs booking artists including Deadmau5, Diplo, Avicii and Steve Aoki for weekly residencies, thus basically guaranteeing their venues fill up week after week. Creating the parties that fans consistently want is one of the primary reason DJs can charge big money for sets.

"If you're going to play for a thousand people and those thousand people are buying bottles and drinking," Goldman says, "that building is going to make ten times more money than if they're just selling tickets and rum and cokes while people stand and watch a show."

Even DJs without big names can often make a profit, simply because they have less overhead than a standard band. An artist with a plane ticket, a laptop and a friend's couch to crash on are basically a one-person show.

In this atmosphere, younger acts can make money and create a name for themselves without signing a record deal. The deals that do exist often sidestep the trappings of the old music industry. Mad Decent imprint Jeffree's, for example, gives its artists' music away for free and then keeps a percentage of each artist's licensing deals.

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help

I simply don't get it. I don't like EDM for the reason I don't listen to classical. It doesn't relate to my culture or lifestyle. When Lynnyrd Skynnrd sings a song about a mother telling her son to be a simple man, that relates to me because my mother did that. When Metallica warns of the dangers of hard drug abuse in "Master of Puppets" or raves against the horrors of war and slavery like in "One" or "Unforgiven", I can relate to all that.

Electronic Dance Music is specifically designed to do one thing. Provide an audio assault on the senses in order to increase the effects of psychedelic and hallucinigenic drugs. It has no viable message, no structure (as proven by the million "subgenres") and it just strikes me as mindless zombie music with no rhyme or reason other than to make noise. 

If your entire subculture is based around such a mundane and unimportant activity as dancing, then you have a lame and usless subculture that has no cultural values or message other than generic youth naiveté.


@Drivebycommenter "… unimportant activity as dancing…"???  Dancing is unimportant?  Tell that to the literally millions of people who belonged to various dance scenes in the big cities from the 60s until present.  I'm an old-school raver from the mid-90s.  If you ask any one of the people who I used to party with about their time in the rave scene, they'll tell you that it was the high point of their life.  It's not so much about the music as it is about the feeling of aliveness and freedom and sublimity.  Yes, sublimity.  In my quiet moments I probably listen to the same kind of music as you do, so it's not as though meaningful songs with beautiful lyrics have taken a back seat.  But I get it, though.  You said techno (I hate the term "EDM") doesn't relate to your culture or lifestyle.  That's fair, and that's probably true for most people's music preferences.  In the end, I say do what you love, do what makes you feel most alive and connected.


@Drivebycommenter there is beauty though in it, mabye not it what's popular but it sure is there with big artist like Pretty lights and Porter Robinson.


@Drivebycommenter Listen to Language by Porter Robinson and tell me you don't feel something, EDM is about loving life and living free. I hope you can at least relate to that.


@Drivebycommenter there are many EDM songs with topics, all be it mostly underground artists but the main thing EDM is about is enjoying life.

Now Trending

New York Concert Tickets

From the Vault