Music industry pioneers and business leaders converged on The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas last week for the second annual EDMBiz conference. Presented by Pasquale Rotella and his Insomniac Events team, the conference featured two days of presentations and discussions among managers, agents, promoters, artists, labels, publishers, producers, advertising agencies, brand execs, and technology platforms.
On the front-end of North America’s largest dance music festival, Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas, the 600 EDMBiz attendees discussed and debated pressing topics, including best practices, advertising and branding, licensing, social media, technology, festivals, direct-to-fan engagement, and sustaining community and credibility with massive growth.
EDMBiz host and co-curator Jason Bentley of KCRW radio kicked off the event by introducing a one-on-one discussion between co-founders of Lollapalooza Marc Geiger and Perry Farrell. Geiger, head of music for William Morris Endeavor, and Farrell, former Jane’s Addiction singer, have had a unique working relationship since Lollapalooza was conceived and created in 1991. Farrell, the dreamer, and Geiger, the shaper of dreams, have strategically built Lollapalooza into the one of the top music festivals in the United States, and even expanded to South America. Being in Chicago—the birthplace of house music—Farrell’s dance music tent has grown faster than any other part of the festival. Farrell shared with attendees his vision for the future: immersive theater. As dance music fans outgrow the “fist pumping” era, Farrell envisions that the next wave of festivals will include an interactive experience with live actors that make fans a real part of the show.
Farrell set the stage for what would become a recurring theme throughout the conference: dance-music innovation. As the genre and culture evolve and everyone from Wall Street to Madison Avenue embraces dance music, industry leaders need to find a balance—between underground music and commercial mainstream; between die-hard enthusiasts and a new generation of fans; and between media, fans, labels, and artists.
The On the Beat press panel featured journalists from mainstream and independent media discussing challenges and strategies for covering the evolving genre. One interesting point that came from the discussion was that primary readership for blog Dancing Astronaut is 60-70% male (though In the Mix reported more balanced 55/45% male/female readership). The stat did lead to a brief discussion on why dance-music is a male-dominated genre, with a majority of top DJs currently being male.
The conversation was a perfect segue into the next panel. Stephanie LaFera, owner of Little Empire Music, and Kerri Mason, In the Mix GM and Billboard contributor, introduced their latest collaborative project, SkyLight, which seeks to support aspiring female entrepreneurs that want to work in dance music by providing connections to a mentorship program, networking opportunities, and fostering a community of like-minded beginners and veterans alike. LaFera and Mason are well positioned to usher a new generation of female entrepreneurs into the dance music community.
Tech was a hot topic throughout the conference. The rise of dance music’s popularity among youth in America has coincided closely with the rapid evolution of technology. Ticket sales for events have quadrupled in the last year, and the industry shatters the old business model by cutting the barrier between artists and their fans. Fans can download music directly from artists via social media sites like SoundCloud. Artist Kenna noted that we live in a curator-driven world. There are so many sources of new music—Beatport CEO Matthew Adell reported in a later session that 22,000 new songs are released on Beatport each week. People want to be led to the best things and need curators to help them. Even the most tech-savvy teens still rely on media like satellite radio to discover new music. How can we as industry leaders help curate and deliver good content to the fans?
One way is by creating compelling content via a YouTube channel. According to Elliott Walker, manager of music content and partnerships at YouTube, everyone should have a YouTube channel. And when it comes to monetizing your content and tracking plays or shares, it’s all about the metadata. By monetizing plays for music on YouTube or Spotify, artists can actually earn more money per song if fans play them over and over again.
Dance music hasn’t had the top-down marketing support that pop, hip-hop, and R&B have had. Because of the increased participation through social media, artists can grow very quickly. Music is actually driving technology. Advancements with the iPod or YouTube have been fueled by artists and fans using technology to download, listen, and share to music.
How big will dance music get? Panelists spent some time debating the growth curve. Are we seeing a steep incline that will continue into a large, durable market? Or are we near the peak now? There are many factors to consider. On the “physical” side, dance music in 2013 is a better entertainment experience. That’s why people are attending festivals; it’s a relatively new market. On the digital side, fans are very plugged in, there’s quite a bit of disruption—which is attracting venture capitalists. “When a VC sees disruption, we move in because the dinosaurs will fall,” said Todd Chaffee of Institutional Venture Partners. Investors like Chaffee have millions of dollars ready to invest into the culture and industry and are actively looking for opportunities.
What exactly are investors looking for? Something that solves a real problem for fans and consumers. Do you have unique insights? What kind of traction do you have? Can you differentiate your product? What’s your business model? How good is your management team? For new dance music to have legs, it’s going to have to evolve both creatively and musically. The US market is only in the beginning stages. Some countries like Holland have six to eight music festivals every weekend. The panelists agreed that dance music is a cultural phenomenon that will affect us all on many levels.
As electronic music grows and faces a new set of challenges, many discussion focused on providing direction and leadership. Bill Freimuth, vice president of Awards for The Grammys, announced that The Grammys now has a nominations review committee for dance music. Beatport CEO Matthew Adell emphasized the need for the Association for Electronic Music, a global advocacy group, to help push the culture of dance music forward.
“I care about one thing. Transcendental moments in front of the speaker. Those moments change people’s lives. Time stops. I leave those moments a better person,” Adell said. “Those moments can’t happen without events; they can’t happen if artists don’t get paid. We all have very different agendas but we believe in the power in what we all do. With power comes responsibility. This group came together to push for a global advocacy group to help move the culture forward.”
AFEM Advisory Board members Martin Gontad, the producer of Creamfields Argentina, Maria May, agent for CAA, and Liz Miller, GM of Big Beat/Atlantic, joined Adell on stage to support the effort.
In one of the most interesting sessions of the conference, Rob Light, managing partner of Creative Artist Agency, talked about creating the next generation of stars who will define dance music for the next 30 years. His team thinks about ways to put artists in positions to win. “EDM is going through a generational cataclysmic shift,” he noted. “There is a moment in time. There have been comparisons to the hip-hop explosion 25 years ago, but I don’t think that’s what this is. This is more comparable to the ’60s. In the ’60s, rock ‘n roll was cool and somewhat underground. In 1964, television was just coming into its own, but nobody really understood what was happening until The Beatles walked onto Ed Sullivan—the world changed that day. It started a counter-culture and a youth movement. We are in the same type of moment today. The younger generation owns technology the way that generation owned TV. They are using technology with festivals and music—this is an opportunistic moment.”
Music festivals in the ’60s paved the way for hundreds of new bands and some of the best music in history over the next six to seven years. That’s what’s happening today; technology is affording so many new opportunities.
Light emphasized the importance of developing new stars by giving them opportunities to shine. We need to find ways to tie music and dancers into technology the way kids use it to make the experience richer. And we need to continue to innovate, whether that means making festivals mobile—taking the Coachella dance tent on tour to parks across the US—or doing something else nobody has seen before.
“Nobody knows what’s going to happen. We must embrace change. We’re on the verge of EDM becoming the most important genre in the world,” Light said.
Industry pioneer Pete Tong echoed Light’s sentiments. Tong has used his platform on BBC 1 Radio to introduce new talent and champion creativity. But, Tong said, we need to find a balance between underground and commercial.
Australian radio station Triple J was the coolest radio station but they were so cool and underground, they didn’t do anything commercial and ended up with a limited audience.
Tong spoke positively about radio as a media platform, saying that people like the “appointment” aspect and feel like they’re listening to the same thing at the same time—making it more of an event. “We need places to champion creativity,” Tong said. How can we take advantage of the opportunities presented by the rise in the music’s popularity?
Nightclub owners from across the country shared some of their experiences managing staff, promoting events, booking DJs and running venues. Jason Strauss, owner of Tao, Lavo, and Marquee in New York City, Las Vegas, and Sydney, said that strategies differ for nightclubs depending on the market. In Vegas, often websites are their best tool; social media sites are just ancillary. “Business owners get caught up in latest social media, but the fundamentals of the website need to be rock solid before anything else. The website provides far better analytics,” Strauss said.
Nine years ago when Marquee New York first opened, it was a scene-driven market focused on who was in the room. With the success of Marquee Las Vegas as one of the first major nightclubs in Vegas built around dance music, Strauss and his team took the risk to re-invent Marquee New York as a music-driven concert experience.
Nightclubs must re-invent and reposition their brands often in order to stay relevant. When it comes to promoting nightclub events, one successful strategy is to use teasers to feed bits and pieces of the experience to fans—including videos of artists, mixes on SoundCloud, etc. Educate the audience about the artists that are coming and the more likely they’ll want to be a part of it. Engage them. Encourage photo tagging and interaction.
Top talent agents from The Windish Agency, Circle, Ace Agency, William Morris Endeavor, AM Only, and CAA discussed their role in developing artists and helping shape the live music space. The agents covered some of the challenges they face in the current landscape, including artist black-out dates following bookings at a major festival. They also emphasized the importance of giving artists a realistic view of where they are in the market.
The conference closed with an artist panel featuring Afrojack, Dash Berlin, Dirty South, Borgore, and more. Afrojack addressed one of the main topics of conversation throughout the conference: is there a dance music bubble? “There’s no bubble—it’s simple,” Afrojack said. “If you make good music, you succeed; if you don’t, you won’t.” All the other artists on the panel agreed. The best way for new artists to get noticed is to make a good track. Have passion for dance music, teach yourself new techniques, be critical, take criticism, refine yourself.
With venture capitalists ready to invest in electronic music, brands seeking partnerships, and an estimated 20% growth in the industry annually, the future looks bright.
Photo via Billboard