EDM Artists: Success Through Identity
No matter what you want to believe, EDM artists are brands. They may not be brands like Nike, Audi, or Sol Republic. But they do have distinct artist identities that they market.
Above, you can see Dash Berlin standing on the DJ booth; this is one of the staples of his live performances.
Specifically within the EDM industry, artists spend most of their time building three distinct skills.
These three distinct musical skills form the basis every EDM artist’s identity; ultimately their brand.
1. Production: The artist’s ability to create music in the studio.
2. DJing: The artist’s ability to be a turntablist (technical mixing skill).
3. Performing: The artist’s ability to engage and entertain a crowd beyond the confines of the music.
Now that you understand the three main factors that distinguish every successful EDM artist today, let’s discuss some current news.
Last month, DJ Times Magazine and Pioneer DJ announced the results to their annual “America’s Best DJ” poll. The competition is completely determined by the voters, and ranks America’s most popular top 50 DJs. Similar to DJ Mag‘s Top 100, “America’s Best DJ” is very much a popularity contest where the fans decide who takes home the cheese.
America’s Best DJ Top 50:
Markus Schulz surprised a lot of people by taking home first place. Big ups to Schulz for scooping first! Right below Markus Schulz are two very successful EDM artists, Steve Aoki and Skrillex. Although most fans were supportive of Markus Schulz taking home first place, many fans were disgruntled by the fact that Steve Aoki and Skrillex came in 2nd and 3rd, respectively.
Some members of the online EDM community expressed their disapproval of the two runners up with replies seen below.
nb, claims to have never seen Steve Aoki actually DJ even after seeing him three times. buzz agrees with nb and states that Steve Aoki and Skrillex are of the same breed and do not have mixing skills on par with A-Trak’s or Diplo’s.
It really frustrates me to see these types of opinions voiced online, not because I am a believer of PLUR or because I don’t agree with the statements, but because mainstream media is the direct cause of these types of sentiments. The direct cause of these sentiments has to do with a HUGE misconception of EDM artists that has been facilitated by mainstream media. I completely agree that when it comes to DJing(actual ability to mix), Steve Aoki and Skrillex probably aren’t the best turntablists out there, but because mainstream media continues to label every single EDM artist as a DJ these misleading and almost useless popularity contests continue to be published as “top DJ polls”, infuriating EDM fans everywhere.
The catastrophic misconception that has been nurtured by mainstream media is the perception that all EDM artists are DJs. Well, the truth is, not All EDM artists strive to be amazing DJs(techincal turntablists) and some don’t even consider themselves DJs. deadmau5 has always said that he is a producer and not a DJ.
If this is a new idea for you, then you’re a perfect example of the effects directly resulting from the media’s carelessness to label all EDM artists as DJs, if this is old news, great, you’re what I like to call an EDM enthusiast. Armin van Buuren once said on his “A State Of Trance” radio show, that it’s natural for humans to label things in order to understand it; this is the exact same reason why the media labels EDM artists 99% of the time strictly as DJs.
For the EDM enthusiasts, we know DJing is actually turntablism and the ability to mix using decks and a mixer; this is the true and literal definition of a DJing. But in the eyes of the majority(mainstream), every EDM artist is a DJ. We know this isn’t true.
If you want a more clear cut distinction between a producer and a DJ, check out my previous editorial titled “EDM Artists: More Than DJs” that explores the differences between the producer and DJ.
The online community is and has been expressing disapproval towards Steve Aoki and Skrillex for landing in the top three of the “America’s Best DJ” poll. The opinions of these individuals may be a bit rash but they do have some merit. Steve Aoki has been known to leave the boundaries of the DJ booth and concentrate more on interacting with the crowd (entertainment). Skrillex has been known to use Ableton Live and an APC-40 instead of Pioneer CDJs and concentrates the majority of his time towards touring(performing) and production.
Ableton APC40 vs Pioneer CDJ-2000
I’m more than sure that Steve Aoki and Skrillex can beat match and could learn to use a mixer and CDJ-2000′s flawlessly if they really strived to. I’ll even go as far to say that if they tried to, they could be among the best turntablists such as A-Trak and Laidback Luke (“it only takes 10,000 hours of practice to be a pro”). But instead of becoming the best turntablist(DJ), they’ve consciously decided to concentrate their efforts towards being the best producers and live performers. This conscious decision is what makes EDM artists different from each other and allows them to have unique identities.
As clarified above, DJing is just one attribute that EDM artists focus on; artists also concentrate on production and performances. Every EDM artist decides how much of their effort they’re going to allocate to the three main characteristics that create an EDM artist’s value. Some artists are much more interested in becoming the most entertaining and engaging live performer(Steve Aoki), while others are more concentrated on producing the best original tracks that they can(deadmau5).
Most artists are a hybrid of these three attributes and allocate their effort to those attributes in different ways. There isn’t a single top tier EDM artist today that is solely a DJ, performer, or producer.
Building an Identity to Gain a Loyal Fan Base
Many EDM artists these days get hated on being a “crowd pleaser”. The people who hate on artists for pleasing their crowds are completely asinine. What do you want them to do… Dissatisfy a crowd? How can you even begin to hate on an artist for appealing to the majority of their fans? Their job and objective is to satisfy and provide their fans with an amazing experience; it’s the artists’ discretion on how they go about achieving that goal.
Haters hate on EDM artists for engaging fans by throwing cakes(Steve Aoki), playing only their own productions(deadmau5 & Dada Life), not playing enough of their own originals(A-Trak), and/or playing too many “mainstream” hits(Swedish House Mafia). Each one of these artists is wildly successful because they’ve built their identities upon exactly what haters hate on them for. They’ve developed identities that attract certain types of fans looking for “The Steve Aoki, A-Trak, Swedish House Mafia, etc. experience“, and are able to optimally please the crowd because they’ve strategically built an identity as an EDM artist.
You can’t hate on deadmau5 for playing mostly of his original productions and not pumping his fist throughout his entire set. deadmau5 has built his brand upon his abstract style of music, his highly detailed stage setups, and his amazing light shows. Those attributes are what creates deadmau5 and his fans are there to have their minds blown in that exact manner.
You certainly can’t hate on A-Trak for not mixing enough of his own original productions into his live performances, because his fans are there to see him piece together a wide range of productions from various artists as a turntablist. His fans want to hear him scratch those decks until they ignite into flames, because A-Trak has built his brand as a turntablist(highly technical DJ) ever since he won the “DMC World DJ Championship” at age 15. This past year at Electric Zoo, the crowd erupted with excitement when A-Trak started scratching the decks.
Furthermore, you can’t hate on Steve Aoki for engaging with his crowds by throwing cakes, buckets of ice, and dancing around like a mad man instead of staying confined to the perimeter of the DJ booth. He’s built his brand upon his wild and raging live performances and that’s what his fans are there to see. He’ll do several stage dives, go “white raver rafting”, jump off the balcony of Roseland Ballroom, and then throw a cake at your face.
Aoki’s fans aren’t there to see him flawlessly beat match and scratch the decks, they’re there for “The Steve Aoki experience”. I attended all three days of Electric Zoo this past year and can confidently say that Steve Aoki had the most engaged, raging, and wildest crowd out of all the performances that weekend. The Dim Mak tent was way above capacity, as the entire crowd, front to back, partied in an uncontrollable rage with Steve Aoki.
As the EDM industry becomes extremely competitive as there are more artists today more than ever, the most successful EDM artists are the ones who’ve consciously built a unique identity that attracts a loyal fan base.
Ultimately, DJs, producers, performers, whatever you wanna call them, are all entertainment ARTISTS. They are there to please the crowd in their own ways. Whether Dada Life showers you with champagne, Laidback Luke displays his turntablist abilities, or deadmau5 provides you with the most epic visuals you never could’ve imagined, EDM artists are on their grind doing the best they can to give you the most memorable experience.
EDM would be extremely stale and boring if every single EDM artist was exclusively a turntablist, a live performer, or a producer. That’s the beauty EDM’s highly competitive nature; it demands artists to be different in their own ways, which guarantees that every artist isn’t an exact replica of the next, even though to the rest of the world they’re all just “DJs”.
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