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Dance Business Asia: Dance music fans, stop being such’s bad for business

When did tastes become so rarefied and specialised?

  • Otto Clubman
  • 29 June 2020

Welcome back to Dance Business Asia, Mixmag Asia’s monthly column focusing on the business of dance music in the region. Dance Business Asia dives deep into the business issues confronted by artists, managers and promoters. We look at the economics of dance music in Asia to see what’s working, what isn’t, and how issues can be addressed. The column also features interviews with movers and shakers on the business end of the industry in the region. Your guide, Otto Clubman, is a music industry executive with over twenty years of experience in the dance business.

Remember the Billy Joel song 'It's Still Rock n Roll to Me'? Well, if that’s from before your time, let me remind you of the lyrics. Billy throws open his arms to all forms of the genre, explaining, ”Hot funk, cool punk, even if it’s old junk, it’s still rock n roll to me”. Whatever you think of his music, The Piano Man knew what was good for business. (Mansions in Amagansett don’t come cheap). Rock was rock, no matter what dusty or freaky corner of the genre you found yourself in. Billy wasn’t a snob; he knew that a bigger, more accepting market was good for everyone. Grow the audience. Don’t alienate. Don’t judge.

Dance Music World, please take note. In my humble opinion, you are a bunch of insufferable snobs who are moving in the wrong direction. (I’m sorry, I’m sorry, that came out all wrong…but I needed to get your attention to make this important point). Dance music fans recently seem to have become increasingly “specialised” (i.e. snooty) in what they will listen to, and are turning their backs on genres they formally loved and admired.

"Dance Music World, please take note. In my humble opinion, you are a bunch of insufferable snobs who are moving in the wrong direction."

Exhibit A: Recently, I met up with a DJ-friend that I hadn’t seen for a few years. When I first met him a decade ago, he was a friendly, affable trance music fan; but was also quite willing to at least listen to other forms of dance music, when forced, and feign slight interest. When I asked him over coffee a few weeks ago what trance DJs he was now listening to, he looked at me in horror. “I would NEVER listen to trance!" he almost shouted, barely concealing his rage. “That stuff is garbage. I only listen to dark tech step now.” What? And everything else sucks? I’m sure next week he’ll come back and say, “DTS is junk! Tripe! Now I only listen to Southwest Philly reverse bounce trance”. Or, tri-point modulated upside down house. And, even then, only if it’s being spun by a DJ that has a PhD in Mathematics from Carnegie Mellon University. Because, otherwise, it’s crap.

What’s going on here? When did tastes become so rarefied and specialised? Or is it a race to out-snoot each other, to show we only like the most esoteric of all genres, and that fans (are suckers for liking anything even one-percent more mainstream).

Pop music fans never went down this sub-specialization rabbit hole of snoot. I never heard a Top 40 fan say, “Oh, Ariana Grande just doesn’t fit my profile. I only listen to mid-tempo East-of-the-Mississippi Max Martin-inspired pop written in ¾ time”. And hip-hop fans, who admittedly can be somewhat specialized, usually won’t’ say, “No thanks, that’s not for me. These days, I exclusively listen to East Atlanta psychedelic twerk-hop”. At least they’ll give a different segment of the genre a fair shake.

So, back to you Dance Music Fans. Fine, your tastes may have changed; yes, you are allowed to like something new. Fine, some genres actually aren’t actually that great after all, and do flame out in a natural and well-deserved death. And I get it, when the wider mainstream market started discovering EDM, you had to flee to the cooler, less accessible parts of the dance music landscape so those unhip fans of Top 100 DJs couldn’t follow you there. You needed a place of your own again. Fine.

That said, take it from Billy: We need to cast the net wide and embrace the entire dance community and all its interesting nooks and crannies, without judgement. Why? Well, first off, it’s just not great, as a human being, to be exclusionary and snobbish (I’ve been told). But, even more importantly: It’s bad for business!

As for the “Be a Good Human” thing: actually, I don’t care. You can worry about saving your own soul; I’m not getting involved in that. But, let me explain why it’s bad for business.

In short, for any industry to be truly successful, it needs to achieve critical mass of some sort, and achieve economies of scale. Think of it as an aggregation of eyeballs and / or spending power. Yeah, it’s nice to find an artist that speaks directly and only to you and your roommate; but that artist is going to need to find a day job pretty quickly, unless the two of you are willing to be his / her benefactor.

"Let me be blunt: Budweiser isn’t interested in you and your three buddies in the basement who are the only followers of a new genre that you’ve made up yourselves and, although super cool to you, nobody else knows about."

Business needs scale. The race to segment and sub-segment the dance music industry into tiny esoteric verticals prevents any sort of critical mass being reached that can sustain a long term healthy industry. Let me be blunt: Budweiser isn’t interested in you and your three buddies in the basement who are the only followers of a new genre that you’ve made up yourselves and, although super cool to you, nobody else knows about. Crass as it sounds, business needs scale to survive. The more bifurcated a market becomes, the more challenging it gets for sponsors and advertisers to “find an audience”, and the dollars soon are diverted to other fields — pop, rap, country, whatever — where the audience is more consolidated.

Ok, you are thinking, isn't this going to favor the superstars and crush the more niche artists? Actually, achieving critical mass isn’t only good for the Big Stars; it’s good for the smaller artists lurking in the more obscure corners of the genre, as well. A profitable music festival can afford to present a few emerging / specialized acts that are great, but not otherwise commercially viable. Similarly, a record label earning enough money on its mainstream acts can then afford to sign a few less commercial artists, nurturing a different part of the genre. The excess profits of a healthy industry can trickle down to create opportunity not only for the most commercial artists, but also for the least commercial. In other words, a super-healthy “top end” ensures the survival of the “esoteric end” of the spectrum. DJ I’m-So-Special-Only-Three-People-Understand-My-Music’s ability to eke out a living depends on the continued success of DJ Mr. EDM-Big Shot, in a circle-of-life symbiotic sort of way. A rising tide lifts all boats, so to speak.

So, get out there and support the industry as a whole. Maybe sub-classifications are a useful guidepost, but don’t over-identify; it doesn’t help you (as it makes you look snooty) and it weakens the overall business (which ultimately reduces opportunities for that obscure artist you love so much). We are stronger together. Talent can be found in every sector of dance. Let’s not paint ourselves, and the industry, into a corner.

Billy Joel summed it up best, “Next phase, new wave, dance craze, anyways…it’s still rock n roll to me”. How about we all take a cue, and try humming, “breakbeat, psy trance, EDM, let’s dance!…it’s all pretty good to me”.

Trust me, it's good for business.

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