The Great EDM Dream: Your Favorite DJs Are Making Close to Half a Million per show


As festival season begins to wind down, talks about the worth of the EDM culture nonchalantly begins to creep up on us. The Electronic Dance Music industry’s value is estimated at $15 billion. An impending IPO for SFX Entertainment has the company listed at $200 million, all on its own! Some of us have been wondering just where all this money is coming from (aside from Ultra Music Festival‘s ticket prices) and to find the answer we look to none other than The New Yorker and their article Night Club Royale. Interestingly enough, the prestigious publication backs up the recently publicized Will.I.Am comment: “They should call it look-at-the-d.j.-and-get-drunk music.”

In the article Josh Eells sits down with Afrojack to discuss everything from money to music, and comes away with a handful of quotes like this:

“When Afrojack played his most popular song, “Take Over Control,” a column of waitresses appeared, carrying a thirty-litre bottle of Armand de Brignac champagne that a customer had just bought for a hundred thousand dollars.”

Who would spend that kind of money on alcohol at a show/club? Isn’t it supposed to be about the music, the people, the vibe? Apparently not:

Last year, XS earned more than eighty percent of its revenue from alcohol sales. A bottle of Grey Goose that wholesales for forty-five dollars costs more than six hundred in the club—a markup of more than a thousand percent. The biggest customers often spend half a million dollars on drinks in a night.

Yeah, about that…but c’mon, DJs are still doing it for the love of the music, right? That ever-long pursuit of the dream they had from when they were young to bring people together by the sound of the beat?

Afrojack liked the vocal line [of a song he was working on], but he wasn’t sure about the song’s structure. “It’s a thirty-second verse, a thirty-second pre-chorus, and a thirty-second chorus,” he said. “Is that right for a radio song?”

“You don’t go by time,” [songwriter Antony] Preston said. “You go by bars.”

Afrojack cocked his head. “What’s ‘bars’?”

Alright, it’s easy for us to hate on Afrojack, and one has to only assume he was being sarcastic (right?…right?)(Ed.: before you, the readers, go nuts, yes, Afrojack was most definitely being sarcastic) but it really does go to show the state of the industry to those of us who aren’t a part of the PLUR lifestyle: what is the formula for a hit song? How can I make it? How can I get popular? How can I cash in? How can I get a piece of the pie? These are the questions that artists are asking themselves more often these days, as opposed to something along the lines of: “I would like to make my type of music and hopefully find success along the way”. We are seeing EDM turn into a business, and by breaking down radio hits into a ‘science’ (which has been done long before EDM, but is starting to really show it’s ugly head now) we only further water down the content we already have.

…These days when [Afrojack] writes a song his ambition is to create a hit. “I know what people like, and I give it to them,” he said. Although he has no formal training, and cannot read music, he has an intuitive talent for assembling the parts of a song so that they deliver the maximum impact. To illustrate, he played a song called “Beyond” from the latest album by the French duo Daft Punk. “It’s cool,” Afrojack said. “But where’s the hook? Where’s the drop?” Then he played one of his own unreleased songs. “Sonically, it’s not half as genius as Daft Punk,” he said. “But the kids are gonna love it, because it has all the elements they love.”

The culture of EDM is walking on thin ice. It is becoming one of the most lucrative cash cows in the world of entertainment. This of course begs the question: will we be able to find a balance between the production of quality music and the concept of the mainstream sellout?

In January, the Wynn announced its d.j. lineup for 2013. Calvin Harris, Tiesto, and Deadmau5 were all decamping for Hakkasan, and Skrillex had signed a contract with Light. Waits said that, despite his years of building relationships, it had all come down to money: Hakkasan would pay Calvin Harris roughly three hundred thousand dollars per show; Deadmau5 would earn even more. (Neil Moffitt, the C.E.O. of Hakkasan, declined to discuss specific figures, except to say that Waits’s numbers were “bullshit.”)

$300,000 for one night of Calvin Harris. That’s the world we live in today, where DJs who literally don’t know how to read music are raking in more money than they even know what to do with. “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with all of this money,” [Afrojack] (Ed.: It may be key to note here that Calvin Harris does indeed know how to read music, however, the same cannot be said for Afrojack, apparently, solely according to this interview). 

What does the future hold for electronic dance music? Expensive tickets for DJs playing what we want to hear, which, conversely, is the same ten songs over and over again? What do we really want to hear? What will happen to the dark warehouse party where there are barely any lights, the drinks are reasonably priced and people are there for the music? Will it almost completely disappear? Will real dance music find itself firmly back in the underground, as mainstream acts take up too much room for their own good? We’re buying the lie, hook, line and sinker. The question is, how much is the lie going to cost us? Only time will tell, although some may pay the ultimate price (which we’ve equated to about 1 VIP pass to Ultra 2014).