With SFX in a bit of trouble I thought this would be a perfect time to write this. Full disclosure:
Electronic dance music (referred simply as EDM) is more than just electronic music produced with instrumachines — first and foremost it’s a business term. It’s not just a lifestyle term and it’s most certainly not just a genre. EDM, these crippling three letters are used to describe the indescribable and WTF is happening right now in pop culture. EDM does not have a clear etymology; it was used as early as 1985 as a corporate marketing term and now it’s basically become a label for an entire generation’s pop music. Herein lies the MASSIVE problem with EDM and the spiral of confusion in the industry. People think that “dance music” is EDM. We are comparing apples and oranges here. If EDM was a genre it would be everything or as I call it, the unification of music, analogous to Einstein’s unification theory. Einstein was on a never-ending quest to find a theory of everything. It’s a theory that refers to the hypothetical presences of a single, all en-compassing coherent theoretical framework of physics that fully explains how everything is interconnected. Similarly, EDM is the answer to bringing an end-to-end user experience together – music’s version of “the theory of everything”. Take for example the evolution of music from the 70’s (the age of Giorgio Moroder playing at the discotheque) to the blowout festivals like Tomorrowland. Electronic music is not influencing mainstream pop music, it is pop music.
When I first told my friends that I was joining SFX Entertainment and selling my baby to the heavy weight pretty much all the young financial analysts asked the same question, “do you think this EDM thing is sustainable?” My view of Wall Street is incredibly primitive – herds following herds. Don’t get me wrong Wall Street is filled with incredibly smart people, but when it comes to things they don’t have any idea about I think about the palpable contrarian view of British nobleman Baron Rothschild who said: “The time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets.” Fear about the industry collapsing or the notion of an EDM bubble seems ridiculous to me and just plain wrong. What makes more sense to me is the evolution of EDM and it’s continued growth. My first electronic dance music festival was Mysteryland’s USA debut in Bethel Woods — aka the historic Woodstock grounds. If this does’t represent a significant symbol of evolution I don’t know what does. My parents (and I) still listen to The Who, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter and many other that played way back when. Do I think I’ll be listening to Levels by Avicii in 30 years — no idea, but that’s not the point. That was “their” music and this is ours. It’s a piece of our culture and culture doesn’t just burst like a bubble. Wall Street doesn’t understand this because they are not asking the right questions.
If EDM is an all-encompassing term for dance festivals, electronic music is ‘the experience’ at its core. If you have never been to an electronic dance music festival or another major festival like Burning Man or Coachella, just go. It’s an indescribable sense of escapism. The first festival I attended was Coachella 2013 and since then I have been building digital products and thinking, “how can I put this experience in a digital product.” While I am still trying to figure out how to do that, I have developed a whole new set of questions and observations. The thoughtfulness into every detail at these events is incredible. If this was art, Pascal Rotella – the founder of insomniac is Picasso – he cares a tremendous amount about every person and will go as far as to take personal losses on events (from what I’ve heard). These festivals are essentially products and with each product comes an experience. Sam Altman – the President at Y Combinator summarizes my next point well:
The attention to detail at these events is insane and at the end of the day it’s why they are so popular. If you think this insanity is slowing, the current state of the EDM market is close to “$20 billion, with room to grow” according to the “6.2 Billion Dollar Business” panel. The key to this growth and the fundamental underlyer to why I am so optimistic is technology. For the first time, consumers are seeing music grow with technology (just look at Splice). Facebook, twitter, podcasts, applications, smartphones, etc. are helping people come together in new and exciting ways. People are sharing and engaging with content like never seen before.
I think the real evolution of EDM is due to technology and its respective iteration. It’s human nature to find unique highs. Dance music coupled with technology has made music experimental and with more permutations we are approaching a singularity. Music is expiring faster and faster, most people don’t even know what DJ they are listening to anymore let alone the song title. Is that a good thing? Probably not, but who cares? If music is meant to be enjoyable and our attention spans are growing shorter then why shouldn’t we have an entirely new set of tracks to satisfy our primal instincts every week. I mean the music is meant to be seamlessly mixed together and iterated upon. Most DJ’s don’t even play their own compositions. At the end of the day technology allows DJ’s and producers to collaborate easier, remix faster and upload new sets for millions of people to critique. We are in a new age of remixes and much like the days of hip-hop I think that this is the soundtrack for millennials.
So what’s next in EDM? “Technology”. More specifically, I think the future of EDM is mobile and a significant platform play. The great thing about EDM is that public companies running events are not just media companies they are tech companies as well. Realizing that EDM is a blanket term is important, people won’t stop attending festivals, they won’t stop going to clubs and they certainly won’t stop listening to pop music. It’s something we have done for generations and as the time passes we will continue to try to find singularity.
If you think I’m crazy or have a little more to add, feel free to message or comment.
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