It is no secret that at this point in time, EDM is more popular than it has ever been in America. Techno/Dance/House/Trance/Dubstep artists are all drawing huge crowds and playing sell-out shows across the country, no longer just in select locations such as Las Vegas or Miami. Artists that have been around for years such as Benny Benassi and Tiesto are more popular now then they have ever been, despite making music for years.
With so much of EDM being downloaded and pirated online for free, the vast majority of their revenue comes from live performances and guest appearances. Obviously, this does not pertain to the top DJ’s in the world, such as Avicii and Calvin Harris, who are getting paid loads of money to be featured on the Radio and are making a killing on iTunes. However, for every DJ you’ve heard of, there is about 50 you haven’t, some of which are actually pretty good.
With the rise of technology in music, many are questioning the musical ability of DJ’s as a whole. The origin of the Disc Jockey was a really intricate job that not everyone could just pick up and do. Having two vinyls and mixing them together and making it sound seamless to make a new track is a hard thing to do on the fly. Also, the DJ needed an immense knowledge of music, which was much harder before the Internet. Now, you can take tracks, combine them, change the BPM, equalize the tracks, add vocals, change the pitch, and do almost anything else you can think of with a simple computer program. Instead of learning how to play an instrument like the guitar or the piano, more kids are turning to their computers to try to make their own music. Now, basically anyone can become a DJ. Just ask Paris Hilton, who debuted as a DJ in Brazil last week. Not to be outdone, Kim Kardashian has been hinting at maybe even doing a DJ Tour thanks to the help of fellow reality star DJ Pauly D. No one has been a larger opponent of DJ Pauly D than Deadmau5, which has been very well documented on Twitter.
Without a doubt, Deadmau5 is one of the leaders of the EDM movement in America (although he is Canadian). Deadmau5, whose real name is Joel Zimmerman, is one of the most outspoken, eccentric artists in music today. He has shown just how far EDM has come by gracing the cover of Rolling Stone and giving a very candid look into how he makes music and his views of other people in the industry. He attacked artists whom he called ‘button-pushers’ who essentially don’t create live music at their live shows. According to him, a lot of DJ’s just go up there with pre-recorded tracks and make very minimal changes to the studio versions of the tracks, and sometimes no changes at all. What sets Deadmau5 apart, which is covered in the article, is that he choreographs the lights and visuals that go along with his show with his music, making it a much more live experience with something different every night.
After receiving some backlash regarding his very honest opinions, he went to his Tumblr page to write another very candid look into EDM. Take a look at what he wrote below, verbatim (spelling mistakes and all) from his post called ‘We All Hit Play’:
its no secret. when it comes to “live” performance of EDM… that’s about the most it seems you can do anyway. It’s not about performance art, its not about talent either (really its not) In fact, let me do you and the rest of the EDM world button pushers who fuckin hate me for telling you how it is, a favor and let you all know how it is.
I think given about 1 hour of instruction, anyone with minimal knowledge of ableton and music tech in general could DO what im doing at a deadmau5 concert. Just like i think ANY DJ in the WORLD who can match a beat can do what “ANYONE else” (not going to mention any names) is doing on their EDM stages too. have a look, then let me explain:
okay, so heres me, in a big silly mousehead.. twiddlin a knob or somethin… okay so heres how it works…. Somewhere in that mess is a computer, running ableton live… and its spewing out premixed (to a degree) stems of my original producitons, and then a SMPTE feed to front of house (so tell the light / video systems) where im at in the performance… so that all the visuals line up nicely and all the light cues are on and stuff. Now, while thats all goin on… theres a good chunk of Midi data spitting out as well to a handful of synths and crap that are / were used in the actual produciton… which i can tweak *live* and whatnot… but doesnt give me alot of “lookit me im jimi hendrix check out this solo” stuff, because im constrained to work on a set timeline because of the SMPTE. Its a super redundant system, and more importantly its reliable as FUCK! And obviously, ive done the show a couple hundred times easily by now, so the focus over the past few runs with the “cube show” has been more revolved around adding new audio / visual content to keep it current.
so thats my “live” show. and thats as “live” as i can comfortably get it (for now anyway) of course itll evolve, and change up, but im sure a few key principles will always remain the same.
Im just so sick of hearing the “NO!!! IM NOT JUST DOING THIS, I HAVE 6 TABLES UP THERE AND I DO THIS THIS AND THIS” like… honestly. who gives a fuck? i dont have any shame in admitting that for “unhooked” sets.. i just roll up with a laptop and a midi controller and “select” tracks n hit a spacebar. ableton syncs the shit up for me… so no beatmatching skill required. “beatmatching” isnt even a fucking skill as far as im concered anyway. so what, you can count to 4. cool. i had that skill down when i was 3, so dont give me that argument please.
my “skills” and other PRODUCERS skills shine where it needs to shine… in the goddamned studio, and on the fucking releases. thats what counts… because this whole big “edm” is taking over fad, im not going to let it go thinking that people assume theres a guy on a laptop up there producing new original tracks on the fly. becausje none of the “top dj’s in the world” to my knowledge have. myself included.
you know what makes the EDM show the crazy amazing show that it is? you guys do, the fans, the people who came to appreciate the music, the lights, all the other people who came, we just facilitate the means and the pretty lights and the draw of more awesome people like you by our studio productions. which is exactly what it is. But to stand up and say youre doing something special outside of a studio environment, when youre not, just plain fuckin annoys me.
First of all, I applaud Zimmerman whole-heartedly for being honest. He isn’t trying to say he is better than anyone else. He is just saying what’s what. And he makes two extremely important points.
One is the importance of creating a great track in the studio before being able to do anything live. With this type of music, making great tracks in the studio is crucial. Since its relatively obvious that most tracks aren’t made on the fly, they have to start from work in the studio. DJ’s have to make tracks that are catchy and can sell first, even though their live shows tend to be more of a draw. Without those original tracks, there is nothing to mix and alter live.
Also, there is a fundamental difference between live shows for DJ’s and every other type of music. For instance, say you go to an Avicii show, and he plays ‘Levels’ almost exactly like it was recorded in the studio: It still is a great song, and people will go absolutely berserk when he plays it and they love it. Then, people will go home and tell their friends that Avicii was amazing live. Now, say you are at a concert for a Jam Band, such as Phish, String Cheese Incident, or Dave Matthews Band. If they play exactly what they record in the studio, people will hate it. It will be shit. That is because instrumental music is all about improvisation and feeling the groove and playing along with the other artists on stage. As Deadmau5 stated above, this is something he cannot do live at this time, even if he wanted to.
The other major point is what Deadmau5 says at the end, regarding what makes live EDM shows great. It isn’t about seeing ‘live’ music necessarily; it’s about the experience. Some music purists might say that going to a live EDM show isn’t even live music and that artists such as Skrillex don’t have any real musical talent. (Side Note: People who say Skrillex has no musical talent have no idea what their talking about. Before Sonny Moore was ever Skrillex, he was in hardcore band From First to Last as lead singer. They had lots of success and were very popular in the alternative scene from 2004-2007, until Moore decided to pursue his solo career.) They might be correct regarding the lack of live musicality, but I don’t know anyone who can go to an EDM show and say they did not have a great time.
The energy at a live EDM concert is impossible to replicate. Kids just raving and raging, having fun and just dancing. Yeah, the songs you’re hearing might be relatively close to what you hear in the studio, but who cares? It’s the shared experience with others, being in a crowd of people coming together to witness something they are passionate about.
Here’s a perfect example: Avicii came to Arizona this spring. I had a few friends who saw him play during the day in Tucson, then drove down to Phoenix to see him again that night. When I asked them about it, they said that his sets were nearly identical, which is something that artists like John Mayer or The Killers or The Black Keys could never ever get away with. However, they said that the concerts themselves could not have been more different, and both were absolutely amazing. The day show was more chill apparently, with relaxed vibes coming from the crowd and just people happy to move with the music. The night show was an absolute party; just jumping and dancing and dancing until you couldn’t dance anymore. They attributed this to the lack of lights and visuals at the day show and neon lights and insane visuals at the night show. Mind you, these two vastly different shows are coming from the same exact music by the same exact artist.
So, yes, many DJs are just ‘button pushers’ up there, playing pre-recorded tracks and not improvising like other live musical acts do. For some people, that is enough to not see the genre as legitimate. However, EDM has been interwoven in American society, with dubstep appearing in commercials and Skrillex winning Grammys. Personally, I really do not think the genre is going anywhere, and that’s okay. Some people like rap, some like country, some like House. If you say EDM isn’t music, then you can say rap isn’t music because they tend not to actually sing or play musical instruments either.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. What is great about music is that you can listen to whatever you want and enjoy it however you want. If that includes paying money to watch a guy stand on stage behind a laptop and press play, then so be it. There are plenty of other people who will be there by your side.