Every morning when I wake up and check my Soundcloud feed, almost without fail, I find that I have been followed by a user with whom I have absolutely no prior association. Occasionally, I will take the time to check out the user, and more often than not, I find that their profile generally contains information that goes something like this (might want to swallow down a grain of salt real quick):
- Producer/DJ is between the ages 15-23 and is male.
- Has been producing for 1 month -18 months.
- Is a self proclaimed maestro of whatever the hot (already overplayed) genre of the moment is, be it trap, dubstep, moombahton etc.
- Major influences include, Avicii, Skrillex, Porter Robinson, Zedd and Madeon.
- Has numerous “edits”, “mashups” and/or “remixes” on his page. Most or all of these are erroneously labelled and have nothing particularly striking to differentiate them from the original tracks.
- Recorded DJ mixes are not even an hour long and are poorly mixed, 256 kbps regurgitations of the Beatport Top 100 charts.
- Has a dreadful follow to follower ratio, and follows seemingly random users.
- Has yet to do anything worthy of note or praise, yet already has listed separate email addresses for management, press and booking.
After gathering that information from his Soundcloud page, I tend to also draw the following generalizations about this particular person (probably should grab a nice big handful of that salt now):
- Probably lacks a lot of background knowledge about where electronic dance music came from and how it’s developed, with very little desire to attain that information. But hey, he’s been a big fan of it since 2010!
- He is getting into EDM for the money and fame, as opposed to doing because it is a passion. Being an EDM producer seems like a fashionable and lucrative alternative to going to school or traditional work. He does not comprehend that making music is work too and hard work at that.
- He spends more time torrenting cracked software (that he has no idea how to work properly) than he does working with what he already has, and refuses to purchase any software or music (production/DJ software currently take up eight spots on the top 100 most pirated Windows Applications on The Pirate Bay).
- Uses FL Studio….
- Spams the life out of everyone who happens to come into digital contact with him.
- Does not know how to correctly approach labels and blogs with his music. When he gets ignored, he takes it as a sign that he needs to go even harder on the spamming grind.
- He lacks any resemblance of originality and artistry, because he is essentially copying the Beatport Top 100
- …did we mention FL Studio already? Haha.
FIRST OF ALL, I have nothing but love for FL Studio. It’s a great piece of software, with a reputation that speaks for itself, which I feel has been unfortunately abused by a hoard of aspiring producers, who wish to imitate some of the artists mentioned above. The anecdotal lists above are partially tongue-in-cheek, and in no way am I saying that they apply to all teenaged EDM producers, however, there is still a disturbing amount of truth in them (I have examples for days for those who care to disagree). Furthermore, it only begins to scratch the surface of the numerous stereotypes that bloggers and music industry employees attach to the massive population of young EDM producers. You may wonder why I even give a blow about this epidemic of mediocrity. Since there is so much good music coming out anyways, why not just ignore what you don’t like, and focus on what you do, right? Wrong!
I don’t think the problem is that there are too many young producers. I think the real problem lies in the toxic attitude of naivety and entitlement that has been internalized by the community of young producers. This attitude does in fact exist, and I believe it could eventually come back to bite the dance music community in the hind regions. Now I am going to attempt to explain why this is with a concept I like to call “The Porter Robinson Paradigm”.
Before we continue our discussion, please watch this road documentary from Porter Robinson’s Youtube page.
What teenager/young adult in their right mind would not love to have that kind of a lifestyle? I mean, come on! One day Robinson is just a normal 18 year old living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who happens to love making electronic music. Less than a year after the release of his first single he becomes the honorary wunderkind of EDM, getting to travel the globe with the biggest DJs the planet has to offer (Skrillex, Deadmau5, Tiesto, etc.) and to top it all off, his debut EP,”Spitfire“, smashes the Beatport charts by selling over 27,000 tracks in the first two weeks of its release (via Billboard). Not too shabby at all from our point of view! This idyllic ascension to EDM bliss has been overly romanticized by a this new generation of producers. It is what I mean by the Porter Robinson Paradigm.
The key thing to note here about Robinson and other superstars of his ilk (Avicii, Zedd, Madeon and company), is how easy they have made their rises to stardom appear. In all of their tour videos, it seems that they are living a glorious rockstar fantasy, and having a care-free time of it at that. Unfortunately, the glamorized promo videos for these young DJs hardly ever seem to realistically capture the significant amounts of strife, strategic planning, difficult compromises, hard work, and perhaps a tiny bit of luck, that have been directly responsible for the eruption of their careers. Last year, in an interview with the BBC, Skrillex had some insightful comments on the rigors of being a touring DJ/producer:
Sometimes when you are traveling and touring a lot it can get kind of…don’t get me wrong, its great and I’m not complaining but it can get really lonely and very exhausting. It is very hard. You can ask anybody else that tours as much as I do. I think I did 320 shows just in 2011. You don’t have time to really spend your money or think about how anything is going. It’s constant production. You are constantly making things.
The fact that these producers have and continue to overcome these obstacles proves (though not in every case) that these individuals are passionate about making music to the point that they have the fortitude to make the necessary sacrifices. From where we stand, this fortitude is present in only a tiny percentage of young producers at the moment. These young producers that do actually have the stomach to put in the effort are not off the hook yet however.
Contrary to the message being put out by many musical outlets (not going to mention any by name), there is a certain amount of artistic vision and talent that goes into producing quality dance music. There are many young producers who have the work ethic, but quite simply do not have the artistic sense to produce unique dance music that sets them apart from the rest of the pack. In other words, I’m saying that there are too many producers (young and old) who have put in the blood sweat and tears to learn how to replicate successful tracks of other producers, rather than cultivating their own style. Just take a quick browse through the Electro and Progressive House sections on Beatport and you will see what I mean. There is a severe drought of artistic ingenuity. Making something that sounds clean, production-wise, is not enough anymore.The true test for aspiring producers is whether they can accept outside influences without being dictated by them. Heavyweights, Richie Hawtin and Deadmau5, addressed the issue recently during an interview at SXSW:
The songs sound the same…it’s cookie cutter stuff.I’m surprised the record companies that sign these people aren’t just going home and making the music themselves. Cut out the middleman
Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk echoed similar sentiments in a recent interview with Rolling Stone:
Electronic music right now is in its comfort zone and it’s not moving one inch.That’s not what artists are supposed to do. You hear a song, whose track is it? There’s no signature. Skrillex has been successful because he has a recognizable sound: You hear a dubstep song, even if it’s not him, you think it’s him.
The flood of new producers and the lack of creativity will affect the EDM body as a whole. The EDM movement is just now coming of age in the United States which means that it’s fan base, while full of enthusiasm, is going to be less picky about the quality of music that they decide to invest themselves in. I believe that this will only lead to increasingly homogeneous sounding dance music that will make it harder for innovative dance music to get the spotlight. In many ways, dance music is following the same path that rock and hip hop took in decades past. In their respective times, rock and hip-hop were just as hot and influential as EDM is right now. Like EDM, they completely altered the musical landscape of their times. After awhile however, they reached a creative ceiling that ended the frenzy, and gradually came down to a more subdued state. Both genres are still highly influential however they do not have nearly as much pull as they once did. EDM could, perhaps inevitably, be heading to the same place.
What I am not trying to do here is suggest that young producers should just give up on their dreams. Neither am I criticizing the tools they use to pursue those dreams. If making music is your passion, then by all means do it even if its for no one else but yourself. Who the hell am I to say that you should quit just because you aren’t good at it? What I am suggesting, however, is that new producers approach things with a mature and realistic view on their own capabilities and what it is going to take for them to reach their goals. If you want to be a producer/DJ for a reason other than it is what you are passionate about, it is probably not for you. The lifestyle of a famous producer/DJ is certainly an enviable one but not one for the faint of heart. Oh yeah, and stop spamming your music!