Without your knowledge, the plates of electronic music’s landscape are shifting right beneath your feet. Some in the industry want to keep it that way, although throughout history an ignorant public has proven to be the death of democratic institutions and an open, free exchange of ideas. As a counter culture, EDM is at the forefront of our beloved freedom of expression and will only survive if the community of fans and producers demand liberal distribution and fair media coverage. How does this relate to your music collection and your ability to find that new beat that puts you in your happy place? To answer this, we must look at the structure used by corporate record labels to acquire new talent and how the rise of the bedroom producer threatens a label’s ability to filter the music community through a neatly designed equation that they fabricated, and we swallowed.
For many years, from the label’s point of view, pop music had a standard formula: find a voice, find a songwriter to illustrate that voice’s story, find the right beats to fill in the gaps of that voice, then market the album as a catalog of the voice’s struggles. This structure was successful because each link in the chain was clearly defined. The song-writer didn’t sing, the beat-writer didn’t write lyrics and the “artist” didn’t do either. They all complimented each other and everyone got paid. Where this becomes problematic is our obsession with celebrity. It is not an honest representation of talent in an industry where people should be judged by their diligence and musical ability, not by their face on a poster.
We are now dancing in an evolutionary time in which electronic music is widely created and distributed by independently represented, at-home musicians; instead of a hired studio producer. The birth of the bedroom studio has disrupted the previously stated relationship between artist, song-writer, and beat-maker. Technology has allowed DJ’s and studio producers to take their work home with them and command every aspect of the track. Now, all of a sudden, a producer is not a link in the chain, but the entire chain, and they are able to release music independent of the “pretty face” that defined the pop music of the 90’s to the present. One of the reasons EDM has blown up in the past few years is the sheer number of kids that are putting down the guitar and loading a Digital Audio Workstation onto their computer. The internet has allowed producers to skip sessioning vocalists and instrumentalists and go straight to the plethora of acapella and instrument samples floating around the online marketplace. This has dramatically redefined the roles of electronic artists and it is about time that we respectfully shift our obsession from the face of the music to the creator of the music.
So why should you care as long as the DJ plays your favorite song tonight? You should care because giving respect where it is due is at the heart of the relationship between fans and performers. In order to keep this train rolling, we must respect musicians by purchasing their music and tickets to their shows, and they must respect us by pushing themselves to create tomorrow’s beats and staging a live performance worth the ticket price. It is worth reiterating, that as an audience, we must push musicians to create the future of music. A label is only going to sign an act that they know they can sell. If the purchasing community is only offered one flavor, then we will grow accustomed to requesting the one flavor, and we will only be provided with one flavor. It is up to us as fans to demand, with our money, that an infinite number of flavors be provided. For this reason, it is important to acknowledge all of the ingredients that comprise an act before you purchase their album or ticket.
Ghost song writers still exist and they still feed the corporate label structure. Some of your favorite producers write tracks for the biggest pop stars on the radio and they get no recognition other than a check from the label. This is because, as the purchasing public, we care more about the pretty faced celebrity than we do the talent behind the track. This is a very immature relationship to have with an industry that we often claim to love so much.
This can be seen by one of the most dominant acts of the contemporary pop genre, Britney Spears. Her 2003 dance single, Toxic, reached a top five ranking in fifteen countries, yet she did not write or produce the track in the way that we’ve come to expect from contemporary EDM producers. Toxic, as well as a few other of her tracks, were ghost written and produced by the Swedish indie pop band Miike Snow. Not to suggest that Miike Snow deserved the credit for the success of the track, for they willingly sold the track to the label, nor would a fan of Britney’s automatically subscribe to Miike Snow’s sound, but more accurately, by today’s standards,Toxic could be considered a Miike Snow track featuring Britney Spears.
Now that a producer can create any conceivable sound from his home, artists such as Britney should be considered session vocalist, and as fans we should start recognizing them for their true roles. If one were to remove Britney’s contribution to the track they would have a catchy beat and some awkwardly sung lyrics by three male Swedes. If they removed Miike Snow’s contribution to Toxic, they would have Britney’s voice with nothing to sing and no beat to sing over. Which would you find more entertaining? One could say, without the record label’s offering to pay Miike Snow for the selected tracks the sound would have never been created. This is true, but as an audience, it is not our place to judge the motivation of an artist, but only to give praise or criticism based on the content of their work and to whom it rightfully applies. Realistically, the record label owns the track, but morally, we ought to know better.
What future does this provide the vocalist? It appears as though the ground has not yet settled for these artists. They are a necessary component to the community, but it is still up to them what role they will play as the genre progresses. Vocalists such as Anna Yvette and Mimi Page have been embraced by EDM fans and sought out by producers who are looking for their specific sound. Unfortunately, the profits for sessioning out one’s voice are quite meager compared to the before mentioned act of purchasing a track and putting the vocalist’s name on it but they should still find solace in the future of EDM. Look at an act like Krewella. The Yousaf sisters could have easily made their own careers as independent singers, but instead decided to share the spotlight with a talented producer like Rain Man. Together, Krewella has enjoyed success in the Top Ten of Billboard’s Hot 200, which implies the answer may just lie in a new era of electronic collaborative “bands” as well as solo producers alike.
The past 40 years of contemporary music have been fashioned by a handful of record companies because we have allowed it. For those in the know, it isn’t a secret that for every successful act on the market, there are 50 more with just as much, or more talent that will never get recognized because they aren’t attractive or don’t belong to the right social network. As EDM fans, we love underground music because it hasn’t been watered down by an MBA executive that wants to tell us what we will like. Some where in business school they forgot to mention that the real music industry isn’t an industry but a community and will always belong to the artists and the fans that support them. They can try their hardest to figure out what we like, reproduce what we like, and then tell us that they made a “new” product that we “need,” but human intuition doesn’t work that way. Music is emotional, not rational. The bedroom producer represents our ability to take back the music ‘industry’ and demand respect for those who deserve it. If you enjoyed Toxic (and who didn’t, that song was catchy beyond belief) than expand your horizons and pick up a Miike Snow album. It isn’t the same style of music, but the raw emotion and catchiness is still there. As fans and underground musicians, we have more power than once thought. Seek out the truth, follow the money, and try everything at least twice before you formulate your opinion.