A month ago, Jeffrey and I had the pleasure of attending Amsterdam Dance Event, the flagship conference for the electronic music industry.A bustling week where influencers and power players from around the globe come together to do business, host showcases and put faces to the names they so regularly email.
Beyond getting business done, it’s the conference allows us to get a sense of the trends and sentiments that are going on in the industry. A finger on the pulse so to speak.
The general consensus this year was that EDM is growing up. Industry professionals and fans are growing tired of the “plastic” nature of the game and the older genres like bigroom. Many spoke about artist’s need to cross-over into pop and how live performances actually need to be ‘live’. Everyone’s looking for substance.
The rise of EDM and bigroom.
From 2010 to 2015, electronic music saw a surge in popularity, led by ‘progressive’ ‘electro’ and ‘trance’ coming together into what became known as ‘bigroom’ or simply ‘EDM’ by some (a wrong classification, as EDM stands for electronic dance music).
Throughout the last decade, electronic music has become part of popular culture. Going out – for most kids – means going to an electronic music show. This created a bustling live industry, creating massive festivals such as Ultra and Tomorrowland, which have become household names for the younger generations.
We think it’s because the genre evolved to accommodate the grandiosity of the events. Trance had been the most popular electronic genre throughout the late 90’s and 2000’s. It’s melodic and driving – but not hard and instantly gratifying enough for these large scale festivals. Fans just want to go wild at every successive drop, for which trance requires too much patience.
Bigroom, driven by big kicks and builds, predictable drops and simple melodies is the perfect genre for the live experience. But the traits that make it so fitting also make it superficial.
Fans today are moving on. The genre was first overtaken by melodic-, deep- and tropical-house in the more mainstream space and by dubstep in the underground. Those have now evolved into their “future” counterparts: future-bass, future house and future R&B.
EDM is growing up: Get 2 additional in-depth case studies in your inbox.
What’s driving this evolution?
More than anything, it’s the cyclical nature of music. What begins with a few hits in a particular genre, soon leads to countless artists mimicking what’s proven to have worked. This then soon saturates the tastes of listeners, who move on to newer things.
And people are looking for more sophistication – or at least pop orientation – in electronic music. We’re not talking about the niches here, but rather the lion’s share of EDM that’s listened to. The “future” genres seem to provide this.
From a live and performance perspective, the sentiment is the same. Everyone’s tired of “plastic” EDM and “live” was the buzzword of agents at ADE.
It’s no longer enough to DJ and deliver a good set. It’s about creating an experience that sets you apart from the rest. “Live” doesn’t per se insinuate that electronic artists need to quit using CDJs and play live instruments instead, but rather that a “live” experience needs to be created. This can be done through the right selection of venues, good visuals, lights and guest appearances (although real live performances can help).
The standard raver goes to a festival to “turn up”. Beyond the headlining artists that they’re familiar with, there are plenty of DJs that could play the selection of trending hits and bangers that would leave them satisfied. But event-goers want to be left with a memorable experience – and live delivers. As a result, both agents and promoters are looking for acts with live sentimentality.
Interested in how artists like The Chainsmokers and Flume transcended ADE and into the mainstream pop world? Read our case study below!
What it takes to stay relevant.
Only the leaders of a genre can remain significant in the industry without reinventing themselves. But to make a career last longer, moving with the trends is encouraged.
Consider Armin van Buuren, Excision and Deadmau5. They have all been putting out music within their own domain for a long time, becoming legacy acts in the process. But they’re no longer the most relevant.
Then there are the likes of Tiësto, Skrillex, and Diplo, who propel to the forefront of one genre, but embrace newer styles and collaborate with the foremost artists in those realms. This allows them to extend their relevancy. Consider Skrillex and Jack Ü, or Diplo and Major Lazer.
That’s not to say one cannot remain relevant by simply being the best at their own original style. But in electronic music genres seem to cycle faster than elsewhere. It’s part of the game.
Internationally, there’s longevity.
Geography also impacts the longevity of a genre and the artists’ careers.
While genres originate from specific regions, they are adopted in other territories as time passes. This affects music consumption and touring worldwide. It’s common for genres to develop in a minor market, while only reaching the masses when adopted by a major market.EDM is growing up: Get 2 additional in-depth case studies in your inbox.
Take future bass for example. It’s biggest in the USA, while it originated from Australia. Artists like Flume, What So Not, Wave Racer and Basenji have been pushing the sound before their North American and European counterparts jumped on the bandwagon.
The time it takes for a new – not originating – market to adopt a new genre can create longevity on a touring level.
While future bass came from Australia, it took time before it was adopted by the US and later Europe and Asia. We’ve noticed this firsthand with our artist San Holo, who toured Australia first. We then took that and leveraged it into touring in the US, later Europe, and Asia.
Touring may even extend when a genre is past its prime. Markets that are culturally involved with (electronic) music tend to have shorter genre life-cycles. For example, bigroom is now outdated in The Netherlands and is quickly fading in the US, but the lagging Asian market is still a major touring avenue for international artists in the genre.
There’s definitely a link between internet adoption, mobile phone usage and the genre churn of a market. Developed markets iterate the quickest, whereas Asia is currently the slowest adopter. We think the language barrier and restrictions on social media make it hard for Western artists (and their music) to penetrate the market. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are all banned there. Instead, you need to be looking at the Chinese equivalents to effectively reach fans.
Industry professionals are all starting to understand the importance of the developing markets such as Asia and South America and are adapting their social media and touring strategies accordingly.
What does this mean for artists?
Work to create the substance that both consumers and industry professionals are looking for.
As competition in the music marketplace increases and electronic music is widely adopted, the artists that differentiate themselves with unique music, branding, marketing, and performances are the ones that stand out.
That’s it for what we learned at ADE. Artists: how well you create the kind of substance that the market is now looking for? Let us know in the comments below!