Want to be a superstar DJ? Join the queue.
In many ways, there has never been a bigger or better time for dance music. America has dived head first into its self-styled 'EDM revolution', with huge stadium events bursting with neon-clad ravers. It bears a faint echo of 1990s UK dance culture, except with multi-million dollar budgets and dazzling light shows. Then there are YouTube channel networks such as UKF Dubstep that boast over a billion plays, topping the charts in overall channel rankings in some countries — embodying a new incarnation of MTV-like hysteria and the mass market appeal it spawned in the '80s.
There are parallels between the performance of huge guitar-driven bands of the past and the current crop of dance music acts. For example, while huge bands such as the Beatles, Pink Floyd or U2 dominated, the vast majority of smaller bands were condemned to the pub circuit. Exactly the same thing is happening to dance music, with top-name DJ/producers charging as much as half a million dollars for a show, their 'live' performances now often consisting of not much more than a laptop with some elaborate flashing lights and a bit of playing with a filter while playing back a pre-made set. Dance music is now a serious business, but due to its inherent technical accessibility, it seems everyone wants to be a superstar DJ.
Making dance music on a computer is nothing new, but, in the last five years or so, there has been enough of a leap forward in technology that virtually any new computer is now powerful enough to hash together something resembling a house or dubstep track. Before, you would need relatively specialist equipment to produce music, but this just isn't the case any more. Most people now also have lightning fast Internet connections, and pirated music software and sample packs are only a click away. This has opened the floodgates to quite literally millions of hopeful Deadmau5es, all of whom believe (quite rightly, in theory) that with enough perseverance it's possible to be a successful producer and DJ. However, what quite obviously is not going to be possible is for everyone to succeed — basic market conditions of supply and demand will not provide for the hordes of hopefuls to sustain dependable careers — and, as with the pop music and major-label scene, we end up with a case of an increasingly widening gap between the wildly successful and those who fail. The effect of all this now is an unprecedented level of noise (often quite literally), clogging up Soundcloud profiles and record-label demo inboxes worldwide. Where record labels in the past may have acted as a filter for quality control, it's now so cheap to set up a label (or even to self publish) that this no longer has much effect. In the clamour for success, many other miniature gold rushes have reared their heads, such as ready-made sample packs emulating the sounds of successful and prominent artists, and 'construction kits' enabling people with little music ability to be able to contribute to the pile of questionable music clogging up social media posts and email inboxes. With more and more artists sounding like the sum of a sub-genre, rather than existing for the primary purpose of self-expression, it's arguably becoming an egocentric scene where fame and profile matters more than musical originality.
Of course, this isn't the first time we've seen a genre of music become over-hyped, or commercialised for the primary focus of monetary exploitation, but what makes it different is the unprecedented level of ease and speed with which a track can be regurgitated. As there's very little money required to produce dance music tracks, there is inherently very little of the conviction or long-term commitment required in order to create some kind of end product. Whereas in previous years you might have had to save up for a certain guitar amp, pooled your money for studio time and paid an engineer by the hour, there is now nothing to be lost.
Of course, the widespread availability of music production tools is a wonderful thing, and one could easily argue that this dramatic explosion in content generation will separate the wheat from the chaff. However, as any emerging artist will likely find, trying to be heard through the wall of noise is becoming an increasingly arduous task.
Rob Talbott works as a DJ and producer under various aliases including Dodge & Fuski and Mediks. He also co-runs Bristol-based independent label Disciple Recordings.