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April 14, 2011 7:40 AM   Subscribe

Everything Popular Is Wrong. Stefan Goldmann on the state of electronic music.

You may also be interested in the Little White Earbuds podcast series. Stefan runs a record label.
posted by mkb (62 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
gah. The title of this article makes me insta-annoyed, but LWE usually hosts good content. I'm going to take a moment to forget about the title, and then read it and hope this isn't Adorno 2.0
posted by LMGM at 7:43 AM on April 14, 2011


yeah i read this earlier today and thought it was quite an interesting piece but ignored the title.
posted by mary8nne at 7:46 AM on April 14, 2011


It's worth reading; he has good insight from the POV of a longtime maker. Title does suck: ignore.
posted by everichon at 7:51 AM on April 14, 2011


Yeah I was inclined to dislike the article based on its title, but the content hit close to home. Good stuff.
posted by cloeburner at 7:55 AM on April 14, 2011


Stefan Goldmann's a really interesting producer: his remade version of Stravinsky's The Rites of Spring didn't get quite as much attention as it probably should have, probably because it was classical/conceptual art released on Macro, which is very much a house label. His interview with Resident Advisor is worth hearing.
posted by with hidden noise at 7:58 AM on April 14, 2011


tl;dr: Beware the Majority Fallacy
posted by Pastabagel at 8:06 AM on April 14, 2011


Fantastic article. Thanks for posting.
posted by tiger yang at 8:14 AM on April 14, 2011


It's an interesting article, it seems to be predicting a decline/death of indie labels and basically a vast divide between major label acts and the one-man/band production label. This seems to be essentially related to the reduced barriers for entry into the market leading to a glut of music.

Because nobody is making money at the low end of the spectrum nobody can afford to hone their craft and spend a couple of years making a masterwork unless they have other sources of wealth.

I do like that he's searching for the silver lining; because there is no real roadmap to success you don't have to follow and existing formula (it probably won't work) and you can go wherever your muse takes you. Basically the truly great stuff will continue to rise out of the vast ocean of mediocrity. I'm not sure what will happen to the great artists and the author seems to be vague as to that point as well. Maybe some will get major label contracts and live nice comfortable lives (the age of incredibly wealthy artist seems to be on the decline) and others will manage to fund their existence through alternative means.
posted by vuron at 8:19 AM on April 14, 2011


The title actually makes sense; you just have to ignore the implications you might put on it and drive through to the last paragraph, where it's explained:

from article: “Today it’s actually so much easier again as long as you can get your head around the notion that ‘anything popular is wrong.’ Especially in mainstream media like Germany’s Der Spiegel or UK’s BBC (in features, not the usual playlists), I’ve only been covered because of totally odd projects. For the same reason new opportunities follow, which artists who cling to functionality and marketplace consensus never encounter. I don’t play techno clubs exclusively now, but also find myself scoring a ballet, performing in museums or getting calls from classical performers for collaboration — my techno background makes me stand out in these settings as well. In return, crossover encounters of this kind add that edge to the artist’s profile which feeds back into the club scene. It’s definitely more rewarding than spamming the internet with ‘listen to this track’ emails.”

As Pastabagel points out, this is sort of an application of the majority fallacy – the notion that the largest market segment, far from being the most lucrative, is actually the most fought-over, and therefore not profitable.
posted by koeselitz at 8:19 AM on April 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Nthing that it's interesting to read despite the title.

Also, I don't know whether it was the author's choice or the translator's, but I noticed the default artist pronoun 'she' in places in the article. I don't know a lot about electronic music but I didn't think it was a particularly woman-friendly field: not that it's woman-hostile, I just didn't assume it was comparatively friendlier to women than other musical genres.
posted by immlass at 8:20 AM on April 14, 2011


I know a bunch of people in exactly the situation he describes. Making music in their spare time, sometimes even charting with singles, and getting no gigs and making no money from it. And not one of them ever tells me that they wish they were getting more money from it. When they ever get a royalty check it's a nice surprise, but what really gets them excited is when DJs play their songs at clubs. Anything else is a nice bonus.

Despite all the predictions of doom and gloom and the end of music if artists can't make money, there is more (and imo) better dance music being made than ever. Production quality blows away anything that was being made 10 years ago when dance music profits and sales where at their peak (probably because almost all of them are taking advantage of thousands of dollars worth of pirated audio software to make their music). Dance music is dominating the charts all over the world, and guys like Deadmau5 are selling out arenas.

People make dance music because they love dance music and they want to contribute to the scene and get recognition. They don't do it for the money, and the best of them never did. Every talented DJ or producer I've ever met who 'made it' almost did it by accident, and never intended to do anything except make records to play at their favorite club for their friends.

Do you think all the guys who created dubstep intended to create a world wide phenomenon that would take over dance music? There was absolutely NO money in dubstep when it started. They were making music for tiny clubs in london for a small, hardcore audience.

The blockbuster, superstar formula, for the most part, has only produced lowest common denominator garbage. The only people who have ever made anything worth while did it because they had something to say.

Wake me up when people stop making music. There's nothing in this article that indicates that anything but the opposite is happening.
posted by empath at 8:24 AM on April 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


Because nobody is making money at the low end of the spectrum nobody can afford to hone their craft and spend a couple of years making a masterwork unless they have other sources of wealth.

This really isn't true. If you're willing to pirate software, you can have a home studio as good as anything the pros have for about $1000.

The ability to make a professional quality song at home means that you can dedicate hours and hours daily to making music while still having a full time job. I know lots of music producers that do this, and some of them are actually ghost writing songs for 'full time' djs. Amateur might be a dirty word for some people but it just means someone who is motivated to do something out of love rather than money.

You can also focus on learning particular skills. I know someone who gets paid $50-100 to do the final mix downs for other producers. Some producers just make loops or engineer synths for other DJs to use.
posted by empath at 8:32 AM on April 14, 2011


Metafilter: Everything Popular is Wrong.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:33 AM on April 14, 2011


The situation that is only marginally addressed in the article is the people who are making electronic music who traditionally haven't played live, or even DJed. There are a handful who are doing well, mostly due to lucking into being recognized and distributed by a label or canny marketer, but the entire argument of "well, you'll make money playing live" just doesn't hold up when there's no live show.

I've "lucked" into seeing a few live sets or DJ experiences that were pretty perfunctory or flat-out bad from people who are otherwise great musicians. I don't know what the solution is, but making everyone into a live performer isn't necessarily the answer.
posted by mikeh at 8:35 AM on April 14, 2011


So I guess what I'm saying, and empath is implying to a point, would be: Don't quit your day job, kid.
posted by mikeh at 8:37 AM on April 14, 2011


Worth noting that the title, which seems to be giving people trouble, is not necessarily Goldmann's. The piece was originally in German, where it was given the much less incendiary title "Musik in Zeiten des Web 2.0".
posted by with hidden noise at 8:37 AM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


with hidden noise: “Worth noting that the title, which seems to be giving people trouble, is not necessarily Goldmann's. The piece was originally in German, where it was given the much less incendiary title "Musik in Zeiten des Web 2.0".”

True. Though he still uses the phrase "Alles Populäre ist falsch," it's much less prominent.
posted by koeselitz at 8:42 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


So I guess what I'm saying, and empath is implying to a point, would be: Don't quit your day job, kid.

Right, the trade off to lots of people making music is that music making is not going to be something that most people make a living at.

And btw, this applies to DJing as well producers -- an unbelievable amount of local djs play for free or next to nothing. It used to be difficult (and expensive!) to collect enough records to be able to play gigs, so there was some rarity. Now it's easy. And DJing is fun enough that people literally beg for the chance to do it for free. Unless you're doing something really special or you have a shitload of facebook friends that reliably turn out for gigs, there's no reason for clubs to ever pay a local DJ.
posted by empath at 8:43 AM on April 14, 2011


immlass, I didn't notice the pronouns, but I did notice the footnote: This article, which first ran in Silo magazine, is translated from the German.

"The German" made me smirk, but I thought it was translated in a very natural way until that one bit.

I was also amused that the vision of "successful musicians" per this article died before "club music" of the electronic sort really existed. That is probably due to the fact that someone with a serious studio set-up wouldn't let random kids come in and start fucking with synthesizers, feedback and loops for fun. The Roland TR-808 came out in 1980 and was $1,000, and it was intended for inexpensive demo work, not intended to create new genres of music.

I've read a number of stories about early electronic "pioneers," kids who scraped together enough money to record some tracks on vinyl and get 500 copies pressed up. Their goal was just as empath mentioned for today's producers - make music they like, and share it with DJs and the like. The few who created accidental hits were stoked, and some became legends. Others were one-hit wonders, coming and going with a song or two remembered.

But there was a time between the 1980s through early 1990s and the present, when DJs became Superstar DJs, and someone could have the (unreasonable) goal of becoming the next Paul Van Dyk, Oakenfold or whatnot, playing to stadiums instead of clubs. Before that, you were a local hero, or a national star at best.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:48 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


“Unique” is the most valuable word in a crowded environment of generic ideas and overwhelming redundancy.

I'm so gonna try this.
posted by monospace at 8:50 AM on April 14, 2011


the problem is that most of this kind of music is disposable - it doesn't have words, it doesn't have a story to tell, it doesn't have a lot of distinguishing things that make it different than the last hundred records that got put out, and it doesn't have what the majority of people would call a song - people dance to it for awhile and then they find something else to dance to - those who come up with a twist or a magical hook may manage to stand out from the crowd and be remembered

i'm not saying it's bad music, i'm saying it's too interchangable to make a great impact - which is why djs can mix the stuff live and why so many of the artists change their names frequently - unless you hit big, there's not much point in having a career identity

and he's right, lots and lots of people are making this music and the differences, once you get past sound design and engineering quality, are often subtle

the author has the right idea, though - do something unique, do things that other people aren't doing, take some chances - and i would add consider the benefits and power of songs, words, story and vocals

it just doesn't seem like the kind of scene that lends itself to long term professional status unless you're really lucky
posted by pyramid termite at 8:50 AM on April 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've "lucked" into seeing a few live sets or DJ experiences that were pretty perfunctory or flat-out bad from people who are otherwise great musicians.

Yeah -- BT, who is a complete genius as a producer, is an awful DJ. His sets are just boring and aimless, and only saved at all because his own songs are brilliant. But almost every other DJ that plays his songs at clubs knows how to use them better than he does.
posted by empath at 8:50 AM on April 14, 2011


Speaking of Paul Van Dyk, I was a college radio music director in the early 2000s, and while we mostly got indie rock, Mute Records sent us promos, too. They were promoting the newest Paul Van Dyk thing, and I asked their promoter how PVD fit alongside the rest of their distinctly non-trance roster. The promoter got really defensive, and he said PVD paid for all the little artists who didn't make the label any money.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:54 AM on April 14, 2011


i'm not saying it's bad music, i'm saying it's too interchangable to make a great impact

I dunno. This music had the biggest impact on me when I didn't know any of the artists or how the music was made and I didn't even know when one song stopped and the next song started.

Dance music is a feeling crafted by a collective. It's not the individual producer or the singer, or the DJ or the crowd, or the promoter, but its all of them. It's decentered and anonymous. And that's how it should be. There's nothing about those moments at 2am when you've completely lost track of where and who you are that would at all be improved by knowing who wrote the song that you're dancing to, or how it was made or 'what it's trying to say'.

It's interchangeability, the continuity, between songs and eras and artists is almost the point of the whole enterprise. At it's best, it's timeless and faceless.

The promoter got really defensive, and he said PVD paid for all the little artists who didn't make the label any money.

Yep. PVD was pulling down $40k a night as a DJ, too, at one point. People would drive all up and down the east coast to see him play when he toured the US. He was like the grateful dead of trance djs.
posted by empath at 9:00 AM on April 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


pyramid termite: i'm not saying it's bad music, i'm saying it's too interchangable to make a great impact - which is why djs can mix the stuff live and why so many of the artists change their names frequently - unless you hit big, there's not much point in having a career identity

I'm a big fan of electronic music. My wife says I only like songs without words, and that's a fair statement to make - words get dull, there are only so many things you can say. For me, if you're not a great wordsmith, why sing? I cringe at trite phrases and cheap rhymes, even when coming from a beautiful voice. A friend said there are some songs she wished were in foreign languages, so she wouldn't hear how dumb they sound, and I agree with this view.

But I'm also impatient for new sounds. I love being a (college) radio DJ for that exact reason, there's always something new, and you're always playing a different song by a different artist. Even with vocal songs and non-electronic music, I need it to change. Sure, a good DJ will make a seamless "musical journey" from 50-200 songs in a set, but the great songs can still stand out from the crowd. I'll get hooked on the good songs and want to know what it is, electronic or not.

In short, there's a lot of interchangeable music in all genres. There are only so many notes to play, styles to use, ideas to sing about.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:03 AM on April 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


This music had the biggest impact on me when I didn't know any of the artists or how the music was made and I didn't even know when one song stopped and the next song started.

exactly - and that's the best thing about this kind of music, that it can flow like that and go a lot of different places

but it's not something that lends itself to individual stardom - and it probably shouldn't; it works better that way, as a collective thing
posted by pyramid termite at 9:13 AM on April 14, 2011


Further note of .. something. I'm not good at following any given artist, but I know many by name and style, and I browse Mixriot for background music. I've now found two artists who have podcasts, that have subsequently been uploaded to Mixriot: Marco Bailey and John B. In Marco's mix, he talks about all his followers of his podcast, which seemed really weird, but I realized it's another way to connect with fans and remind them of the music that they have for sale (he lists of the forthcoming releases on his label). Web 2.0 keeps surprising me, when it probably shouldn't. Podcasts aren't anything any more special than audio recordings in a handy package, but I still think of them as a geekier package than the usual mixset.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:15 AM on April 14, 2011


And DJing is fun enough that people literally beg for the chance to do it for free. Unless you're doing something really special or you have a shitload of facebook friends that reliably turn out for gigs, there's no reason for clubs to ever pay a local DJ.

A. This is really cool. A night at the club becomes less a big deal event wherein the godlike DJ type lays down untouchable sounds, and more about a bunch of friends all raving together, sharing drugs, drinks and saliva -- who really cares if the beats and breaks don't perfectly match up, or aren't the BEST DAMNED BEATS AND BREAKS AVAILABLE ON THE PLANET AT THAT MOMENT?

B. This is all rather uncool. In being unable support artists who dedicate themselves FULLY to their art, we can't NOT be losing something important. That is, if the future (the now?) is all about amateurs (however committed, even talented they may be), then the future (the now?) will be less than it could be.

So ideally, rather than lose the pros entirely, we (the audience that is, the paying customer, the ones with THE POWER these days -- it's true) need to figure out how to somehow keep them in the game (some of them anyway). This is a point I've found myself stumbling onto for better part of a decade now ... and not just with regard to beat-based techno music, or even music in general. That is, the reality that is filesharing (coupled with massively reduced production costs) has forever tilted the age-old supply-vs-demand dynamic in the audience's favor.

So audience, I ask you, because you really are the Boss now. How do you want things to work out? Do you want the sloppy, silly party that never really gets beyond amateur hour? Or do you want a few shockingly innovative, daring, accomplished, effective Masters in your mix as well?
posted by philip-random at 9:18 AM on April 14, 2011


I disagree that music in mixes is anonymous - there are still huge tunes that can work the crowd into a frenzy, that get rewound and replayed more than others. Some songs stick out of the masses, but there are many that just fit into the mix. As Stefan Goldmann said, there are still people who make music that stands out from the rest. Sometimes it's sheer name recognition (*cough*Deadmau5*cough*Justice*cough*), sometimes it's a really unique style that can still fit into a mix.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:19 AM on April 14, 2011


Or do you want a few shockingly innovative, daring, accomplished, effective Masters in your mix as well?

... and if so, how do you propose getting a few bucks in their pockets so that they can continue to imagine, to focus, to practice, to explore, to produce?

Thought now feels complete
posted by philip-random at 9:24 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The difference between the original German title and the new (and more belligerent) title in English kinda reminds me of a similar story behind Milton Babbitt's "Who Cares If You Listen?" essay (1958). Babbitt claims that the original title was "The Composer as Specialist," and that the editors of the magazine High Fidelity put the new title on there without his knowledge. In any case, it was amazing how this change of title turned the essay from "I want to argue for the value of making music that isn't necessarily fun, catchy, or pleasing" to "Fuck you, common man on the street. I'm making music for smart people and that doesn't include YOU." To this day, getting a classroom of students to read this essay always elicits intensely negative and defensive reactions, even if you tell them what the intended title had been—the exception being the students who identify with vanguardism, for whom that sort of thing totally creams their twinkies.
posted by LMGM at 9:27 AM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth, I read this article because of the title. I like to be provoked sometimes. And having read it, I think it's a pretty good title -- accurate in terms of what the whole thing's about. That is, the popular is very often the enemy of the good, particularly when the popular represents a narrow margin of what is possible ... which is almost always the case with regard to beat-based electronic muzik.
posted by philip-random at 9:36 AM on April 14, 2011


filthy light thief: “Speaking of Paul Van Dyk, I was a college radio music director in the early 2000s, and while we mostly got indie rock, Mute Records sent us promos, too. They were promoting the newest Paul Van Dyk thing, and I asked their promoter how PVD fit alongside the rest of their distinctly non-trance roster. The promoter got really defensive, and he said PVD paid for all the little artists who didn't make the label any money.”

That sounds so weirdly 1995 to me. Why doesn't Paul Van Dyk have his own label? Hell, why don't all the "little artists" self-produce? I though we'd left this odd model behind, but I guess it makes sense that it's still with us.
posted by koeselitz at 9:42 AM on April 14, 2011


This seems to be "Changing Models Of Distribution Are Hard" week on Metafilter; while the details of the music industry are different, I feel like this essay is addressing exactly the same things as these two posts about the state of comics.

And really, I can't say that I have much nostalgia for the old days when you had to have a big company behind you to get an audience outside of your personal circles. As this article points out, the cost of more and more creative efforts is dropping to pretty much zero if you pirate your tools while you're a hobbyist (or use open source; either way if you do go pro I hope you stop pirating, or donate to the project). The hard part is getting enough time outside of the daily grind of Working For The Man to do your thing. Oh, and spending 5-20 years holed up in your studio honing your craft until you finally feel like spending some time promoting it instead of making it. (Developing a unique voice during those years in the studio and figuring out what you want to say with it helps a lot too.)

It ain't easy. But if you've got to do it, you've got to do it.
posted by egypturnash at 9:45 AM on April 14, 2011


Some songs stick out of the masses, but there are many that just fit into the mix. As Stefan Goldmann said, there are still people who make music that stands out from the rest.

Yep, they're called anthems. And as I learned the hard way you can't play anthems all night. Sophisticated dance floors don't want to hear them. They literally don't even want to recognize songs. It pulls them right out of the moment and demands they pay attention.

That sounds so weirdly 1995 to me. Why doesn't Paul Van Dyk have his own label?

He does, and has for like 10 years. The DJ as label boss was something that Paul Oakenfold pioneered and it's still the model that most dance labels follow right now.
posted by empath at 10:08 AM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


He's losing his edge, those damn kids are coming up from behind and getting all up in his lawn business. World's smallest electronic violin...

I love electronic music. I first heard the Moroder/Summer "Love To Love You" when I was a kid and recognised dimly that something... vast... had changed - in myself, and as it came to unfold, in pop music. When I think back, there are certain stand-out tunes which, when you hear them, are able to reach in and twist your perception of what's possible, what's permissible, within a genre. They stand out like beacons. My perception is that I can name several from the 1970s, more from the 1980s, many from the 1990s, and from the 2000s on it becomes difficult to name them individually, not because there are so few but because there are so many. If you care to look, to search and to find, electronic music has changed from a trickle to a tsunami of creativity within a bizarre and exciting multiplicity of hybridising micro-genres and rapidly mutating DJ and producer names and aliases. Yes, this means that it's more difficult, as he states, to tower above the rest for a significant period of time. But this is because the spread of accessible technologies of production has enabled the broadest range of music making and publication that we have yet seen. This is a great time to be into electronic music.
posted by meehawl at 10:37 AM on April 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sophisticated dance floors don't want to hear them.

I'm not sure I like the idea of sophisticated dance floors. I mean, c'mon, it is -kind of- nice when that one song comes on during the night and the whole crowd goes mental. Anthems have their place.
posted by lemuring at 10:38 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I like the idea of sophisticated dance floors. I mean, c'mon, it is -kind of- nice when that one song comes on during the night and the whole crowd goes mental. Anthems have their place.

Yep. One or two an hour maybe, at most. You have to earn them. There's nothing better, imo, then playing like 35 minutes of heads down driving house or minimal techno and then slowly teasing in a recognizable bassline and mixing out of it again... you can drive people into a frenzy by the time you actually let the song play. If you just play Deadmau5 or Daft Punk or whatever all night, it gets boring really quickly.
posted by empath at 10:47 AM on April 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Feh. DJ worship killed The Party.
posted by mikelieman at 10:48 AM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure I like the idea of sophisticated dance floors

They're far superior to nouveau riche dance flours who can't tell a chardonnay from a chianti.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:49 AM on April 14, 2011


Anybody got a dubstep remix of this?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:52 AM on April 14, 2011


empath: you sound like my kind of dj.
posted by hippybear at 10:53 AM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anybody got a dubstep remix of this?

Yeah but I can't tell which one it is because they all sound the same.

wob wob wob WOOB WOOB WOOB WOOB
posted by fuq at 12:07 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


fuq: "Yeah but I can't tell which one it is because they all sound the same.

wob wob wob WOOB WOOB WOOB WOOB
"

You need to express your creativity by creating another micro-genre.
posted by mkb at 12:33 PM on April 14, 2011


Threeway Handshake: “Anybody got a dubstep remix of this?”

fuq: “Yeah but I can't tell which one it is because they all sound the same.”

Every time I read a "dubstep is all the same!" comment somewhere, I sigh and think sadly to myself: 'there's another poor soul that's never listened to Burial.'
posted by koeselitz at 12:49 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every time I read a "dubstep is all the same!" comment somewhere, I sigh and think sadly to myself: 'there's another poor soul that's never listened to Burial.'

I got over people conflating the rest of the genre with the chainsaw American bullshit a while ago. Shame, but not really any way to fight when the thing was always loosely defined to begin with.
posted by sparkletone at 1:00 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


You need to express your creativity by creating another micro-genre.

wob wob wob WOOB woob WOOB WOOB

There you go.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:05 PM on April 14, 2011


I got over people conflating the rest of the genre with the chainsaw American bullshit a while ago.

That sound isn't really american. It happened when drum and bass (and electrohouse to a lesser extent) producers and djs made the jump over to dubstep.
posted by empath at 1:11 PM on April 14, 2011


mkbPoster: "wob wob wob WOOB WOOB WOOB WOOB"

I feel it's somehow urgently necessary to drop an old Strong Bad into this mix.

Bonus: The System Is Down (Techno Viking Remix).
posted by meehawl at 1:50 PM on April 14, 2011


What's such a turn-off about the title of the article? Are you defending the status quo? Or do you just consider it lame how it states the obvious?
posted by herbplarfegan at 2:16 PM on April 14, 2011


No probs with the title here. It's how DJs think. We are required to hate anybody that becomes famous. It is a shared trait of the microculture.

It's like those Reddit threads where people are all like "I fucking love Skrillex!!" and etc., but for working jocks it's more like this.
posted by First Post at 2:59 PM on April 14, 2011


koeselitz: That sounds so weirdly 1995 to me. Why doesn't Paul Van Dyk have his own label? Hell, why don't all the "little artists" self-produce? I though we'd left this odd model behind, but I guess it makes sense that it's still with us.

PvD is distributed through Mute in the US (see this Discogs "master list" of a PvD album, where Mute is the US label, but other labels cover other territories), and those smaller artists can be distributed by Mute Records, home to The Normal, Fad Gadget, Depeche Mode, Erasure, Nick Cave, Goldfrapp, Moby, and others. It's muvva-luvvin MUTE RECORDS!

NOTE: electronic/dance music follows a different pattern from other musical styles, in terms of production, promotion, and tours. Much electronic/dance music is based on the single track instead of an album, and the shift from physical to digital has been a HUGE boon to DJs, in terms of flexibility and cost. A single record with between 1 and 4 tracks will sell for $6 to $15, depending on the label and the shop. Compare that to digital tracks, which sell for less than a dollar to a few bucks for a non-compressed file, with the potential for discounts of multiple tracks (compilations, EPs, or albums). To be an indie artist in the world of guitars means you can put some tracks on a CDr and call it a demo or a limited release. Before things went digital, vinyl was necessary for DJs, so you had to have more money or connections.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:24 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Before things went digital, vinyl was necessary for DJs, so you had to have more money or connections.

Yeah, when I was DJing regularly, I was getting records shipped over from Holland and the UK and paying upwards of $20 a piece for each song, when you include shipping. And I'd show up at opening time on new record day at the one vinyl store we had downtown. And you had to record shop constantly. If you missed a hit record, it was gone. They didn't do second printings. I bought a lot of records that I'd only ever play a half dozen times, maybe only even once and decide that I didn't like it as much as I thought I would. I even put out a bid of $100 rare white label once, but I lost the auction. Digital distribution (and especially the introduction of the CDJ 1000 to clubs) meant that I could wait until the night before a gig to record shop, and only buy what I was going to play that night.

I remember when my friends were all saying that DJing off of CDs wasn't real djing. (And I'm not talking that long ago -- maybe 4-5 years ago!)
posted by empath at 3:36 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


so the question I would have for like empath or the dj community in general is something like: so is djing really less profitable than it used to be. It seems like while you might have gotten paid more you were paid more because the entry costs were so much higher. Thats not really a great gamble. I'm not big fan of the "amateurization" of the arts nowadays but in someways its nice to have the barriers to entry low so that if one fails its not a big deal. My understanding is that a hit in the electronic music community can still generate a lot of revenue for someone in both gigs and digital sales. It sucks that the profession might have to widen its breadth to succeed* (Gui Boratto did radio jingles before he was big right?) but another big question might be: is using your skills in profitable side jobs related to music in marketing and tv more enjoyable than working a totally unrelated 9-5 to pay for those vinyl imprints and snyths every month?

*This is a common topic of debate in the design community today too
posted by tmthyrss at 4:28 PM on April 14, 2011


Well, since I was only DJing for the fun of it, I spent way, way, way way way more money than I ever earned on it. That was pretty much the case for all of my friends DJing as well. It's a LOT cheaper to get into DJing now. At worst, you drop a bunch of money on a macbook and serrato.
posted by empath at 5:23 PM on April 14, 2011


tmthyrss, for what it's worth I have several friends (and I'm sure Empath does, too) who are, quite honestly, internationally famous. They tour many, many foreign countries, remix other artists - in fact, one (JT Donaldson) has a photo of himself up on Facebook that's a fan photo with Padma Lakshmi looking all shy and excited. It's HER photo - and she's tagged him in it.

And he, for example, has toured and produced and lived literally all over the place. Same for many house and techno producers and artists locally. Now, he has a residency here, tonight actually, and I promise you -- the club will be mostly empty. Does he make enough money to live on? Yeah, but not WELL. As far as people getting paid less than they used to, it's not uncommon for DJs now to get paid in the form of: 2 names on the guest list, free drinks for the DJ (or a set number of drink tickets) and maybe, MAYBE $100. TOPS. If you're a resident, that is.

Most local DJs get paid ONLY in drink tickets and free door guests. Sometimes they owe money at the end of the night if the bar catches them giving out too many free drinks or try to get more friends in and the bar/club doesn't turn a profit.

Weird to think someone can pack 1,000 people into a club in South America or Europe and their own friends, family, siblings and even S.O.s can't be bothered to support their local gigs at home during the week, but them's the breaks... literally.

Most working DJs live off licensing fees and digital sales residuals. Residencies are disappearing in favor of buying pre-recorded sets from DJs and cycling through them on a digital jukebox, iPod or - gasp - satellite radio. I have one friend who's mostly stopped playing altogether in favor of this kind of service, because he'll 1. actually get paid, 2. not have to worry about drunk assholes requesting things/bumping the setup and jacking his mixing and 3. not have to worry about a ride to the venue and back while trying to keep an eye on equipment that might get stolen/drunk drivers/getting pulled over.

Lots of revenue, though? I can name the DJs that make 4 figures and up for a gig on my hands and feet without using up all the digits. I'm sure others here could help, but DJing = profit has been an outdated idea for over a decade. Between sketchy promoters, gigs getting busted, canceled flights, getting sick, paying fines/getting bailed out, dealing with the hassle, replacing stolen gear (laptops now instead of record flight cases)... it's not QUITE a zero sum game, but it's close.

If you DJ, you do it because you feel compelled to do it. Those who don't and are only in it to get laid/high/travel/meet people/show off their musical tastes inevitably move on to other careers and become bedroom djs, run podcasts and play house parties for their friends. Most produce tracks as well as djing, but it mostly becomes an expensive hobby. At least, that's been my experience.

And I've seen plenty of producers that were legendary that couldn't dj for shit - Romanthony for instance, but I also agree with the BT callout.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 5:39 PM on April 14, 2011


My above comment is invalidated if you are a resident DJ for of a large, somewhat famous nightclub or party night in San Francisco, Miami, NYC, London or Tokyo, obviously. But touring acts often get paid with a hotel room, free flight, ride to and from the gig/airport and food/groupies (male or female).

Immlass, one of the most famous female DJ collectives in the US is the Chicago-based Superjane group, comprised of Heather, Lady D, Colette and Dayhota. Minx, Magda, DJ Rap, Reid Speed, Ellen Allien, Baby Anne, Lisa Lashes, Misstress Barbara, Sandra Collins and Miss Kittin have all been around for awhile and can draw in a crowd. (I'm not hyping DJ Irene, she's fucking terrible in my opinion - and I refuse to even consider those gimmicky topless "DJs" that basically are a traveling Playboy spread acting as though they play music when the real draw is their bodies. They make the scene more misogynistic than any man ever could and degrade the ladies who are trying to break this stereotype.)
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 6:07 PM on April 14, 2011


I <3 DJ Irene. I love her sets, and she's really, really nice in person.

One of the other djs on your list signed up for a message board just to call me an asshole after I made a teasing post about her being drunk all the time at her gigs (she really did get shitfaced, falling down drunk at all of her gigs)...

DJ Heidi is a big deal, too. There really aren't a lot of female DJs, though. Probably the same percentage of female DJs as there are female guitar players. I'm not sure why that is. From my experience, there's just as many creative girls as guys in the scene, but girls tend to gravitate toward graphic design, decor, management and promotion rather than music production. The big club in DC that I worked with was basically entirely run by women, and a lot of DJs are managed by their girlfriends or wives. Guys tend to get more into production and DJing and lights and audio. I really don't know why that is.

It's not because promoters aren't willing to book female DJs. Female DJs draw like hell to local parties, at least in DC. I know when I was booking for a weekly, I went out of my way to book them and they always drew people. Pretty much every girl I knew who could mix two records semi-competently got gigs any time they wanted them and got paid more than guys at the same skill level did.
posted by empath at 6:51 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, LA seems to be getting a lot better both about paying for smallish gigs - I'm regularly getting $100 and +1 now, though of course there are still gigs that "pay" comps and drinks, and I'll frequently get the same amount whether or not I'm bringing the decks - and female DJs. It's actually pretty rare that I go to an event that doesn't have at least one girl on the lineup.

Of course it helps that I frequent my friends' events and know a decent number of frequently booked females (who are all talented as hell and work their asses off on their own events)

"Producers can't spin for shit" has been the stereotype for at least 10 years. It's more notable when they CAN.
posted by flaterik at 7:08 PM on April 14, 2011


Ah how could I forget about Heidi, thank you empath! Well, we 99 percent agree - I mostly dislike trance, sorry :) But yes, the girls are fierce when they're booked (getting booked is hard; people seem to want all-girl sets, or some other weird thing) and Shannon/Dayhota could be on fucking Survivor. I've seen her shoot tequila running 101 fever and then play for hours... but yeah, seems like all the girls do end up promoting or working for labels and whatnot.

I'm not a fan or a friend of all the ladies on the list, I just wanted it to be a substantial list that represented several genres and not just USians.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:20 PM on April 14, 2011


You know what I like about MetaFilter? I read this and thought "I wonder if mkb has seen this." I suppose you have.
posted by knile at 6:02 AM on April 15, 2011


Digital DJ'ing has completely ruined it for me. My relationship with my music is spatial. I can't find shit in a giant list of tracks. I don't even know the names of the tracks I like. I know position in the record crate, what the sleeve looks like, how it feels, etc. And I am sure as hell not shelling out $500-$1000 for a new laptop and Serato or Traktor hardware.

As for the title, I think the title of the FPP (which comes from the subtitle of the article) is the real MBA-type cringe-inducing part. "Market consensus"? I almost didn't read any farther than that.
posted by mkb at 6:05 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


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