Dance That Funky Music, Rock Boy; An Outsider’s Visit To A Panel On Electronic Dance Music

AAs a rock musician who has to pause and think carefully before pronouncing “Skrillex” (I usually flub it anyway), I was quite curious to cover the panel on EDM for DottedMusic at the Future of Music Coalition’s policy summit in Washington, DC.

The mood of the panel was optimistic, a contrast to the very legitimate worries of many of the previous speakers concerned about vanishing royalties and a changing business model. It was apparent that the genre was making money, and creating success as it went. The audience was hungry to know how and why, and the panelists where glad to talk about it. Sitting at the table were Ben Hogan, promoter, Pete Kalamoutsos, owner of clubs Glow and Echostage, Michelle Katz and Kurosh Nasseri, attorneys, Jeff Rimmer, manager, and Fox Stevenson, EDM artist.

An Outsider's Visit to a Panel on Electronic Dance Music

EDM Concert

The theories and philosophies they presented during the discussion left me with the impression that EDM was a noteworthy example of how to rock it in the new music industry.


One of the first questions asked was: “What made the success of EDM possible in American markets?” Answers included: the breakdown of MTV, switching reality shows for music videos, coupled with the monopoly of radio, drove traffic to the rising platform of YouTube, allowing exposure of new music videos. Artists like David Guetta, with savvy, musical collaborations with pop stars, and all-ages music festivals brought the tunes out of the clubs into the general population, and let the kids in. EDM stars are now seen as pop royalty in Europe, and conversely, pop stars are using EDM to great effect. The point was made that when Skrillex started winning Grammys, and EDM appeared in major commercials, the music officially crossed into the mainstream American markets.

“What about the accusations of a bubble?” someone asked, venturing the fear that the genre is a short-lived fad. “It’s been a bubble since 1995” shot back Kurosh Nasseri. “It will be OK because of the creativity involved” seemed to be the consensus. And speaking of expression, while it goes without saying, it was nice to hear the panel agree on the point that the love of the music was a necessity, and that that those succeeding in the business felt this way.


An Outsider's Visit to a Panel on Electronic Dance Music

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In short, there’s lots at live events, and EDM excels at this format. With $4.2 billion (USD) out of a total of $6.2 billion in global revenues (late 2013 figures), the concert is where it’s at. The social aspect, welcoming community, and immersive experience all add up to something that can turn concert going into a hobby. Of all the ideas presented, this concept intrigued me the most. (As a side note, check out event staffer Mary Willson’s column on EDM that elaborates on these themes, and opened my eyes further.) In the world of rock, this is a novel idea, with “support live music” mantras being chanted by everyone, seemingly more of a guilt trip to do the right thing, rather than an invitation to an experience. Earlier in the day, KC Fox from Eventbrite had mentioned that in a recent survey, 78% of millennials said that they’d rather spend money on a live experience versus a desirable thing. The idea of creating a hobby around the experience of an art form opens up tremendous frontiers of monetization and engagement.

Fox Stevenson went on to outline how FATdrop delivers new tracks to a worldwide audience of DJ’s, allowing them to premier songs to a club audience. When the song is available for consumption, people will want the track “because they’ve got memories” from dancing to it in the club, stated Stevenson. When it came to light shows and atmosphere, “The way you hear it is just as important” was the prevailing idea.

The traditional model of the tour/album has been flipped: now the song sells the show. This isn’t a new idea, but interesting to hear how it’s being applied in this specific way.


A big PR problem for EDM is illegal drugs at shows. Ben Hogan pointed out that it’s definitely not limited to the style, and asserted that, of all genres, country music has the most ambulance takeaways at concerts. The panelists felt both that it was a disproportionate amount of bad press for EDM, but that, as in any situation, steps had to be taken to solve the problem. And from a personal standpoint, Fox Stevenson wondered aloud, only half joking, “Man, I see these people at my shows, and I think, do they have to take drugs to enjoy my music?”


I was impressed with the picture painted by the panel. By embracing technology, creating buzz for the music, building galvanizing live experiences, and reaching out to a broader audience, EDM has not only monetized itself while many others struggle, but has also done something even more impressive; built a home in the mainstream. Artists of other genres would do well to look to the success of EDM for inspiration and ideas to take back to their home fields. EDM musicians should smile, and then redouble their efforts. The party is rockin’!

Josh Urban is a freelance writer, rock musician, and entrepreneur living near Washington, DC, USA. Say hello @DontJoshMe