From the Outside: EDM and Advertising—Not Mutually Exclusive?
Summer’s here (not technically, but the weather says it might as well be) and great shows and festivals are happening everywhere. And I’m not at any of them. I’m sort of unemployed right now and the time off is great, but the funds needed to hit the bigger shows and festivals just isn’t there. However, there are always the smaller and more local shows, which I fully intend to check out at every chance I get this summer. In the meantime, I’ve still got the EDM world at my fingertips by way of the Internet, and this week’s research turned up something fascinating.
As soon as something becomes popular, someone is always going to try to exploit it to their benefit, and EDM is no different. That seems to be the unspoken sentiment behind a recent Forbes article titled “Is Electronic Dance Music The Ticket To Reach Millennials?” On the one hand, it’s an interesting article that contains some useful information for EDM newbies like the forty-something journalist who wrote it—and myself. On the other hand, promoting EDM in Forbes because it might be something businesses can use to market to a younger audience is something I approach with caution.
The author, Will Burns, is clearly even more out-of-touch with the genre than I am, as he actually thinks it’s something new. “I can’t ignore the ferocious upswell in popularity of this little thing called ‘electronic dance music’ (EDM),” he writes. “It’s the fastest growing genre of music, leaving hip-hop and rock in the dust.” That’s no surprise, given that EDM is actually a mashup of countless other genres that seem to be multiplying at a much higher rate than rock or hip-hop genres. But the idea that its massive popularity is something new seems a bit wrong. What about all the raver kids of the 90’s and early 2000’s? Sure, the popularity of EDM seems to have a snowball effect, growing exponentially year by year, but it’s not exactly new on the music scene. A forgivable mistake, I guess.
Burns (I really want to call him Mr. Burns, you know, like the character from “The Simpsons”) then notes that Millennials are “driving the EDM surge and, let’s face it, Millennials are an important nut to crack from a marketing standpoint.” In the hopes of figuring out what exactly he’s talking about, he then goes to an interview with the co-founders of LEDM Group, which apparently is a business devoted to “help[ing] brands navigate the EDM space.” This sounds a little shady to me, but maybe it’s just my innate distrust of corporate culture and America’s oppressive capitalist system (this might partially explain why I’m unemployed right now, actually).
They start by giving a simplified definition of EDM, which doesn’t sound entirely correct to me. They’re right, it’s made on computers, but claims such as, “In their own mixes, both on the radio and live, EDM artists play each other’s music, thus filling these mixes with unexpected content and bringing novelty to performances not seen in other genres,” don’t feel quite right. Yes, sampling happens, but with all the fierce competition between well-known DJs, are they really playing each other’s music that often? But the LEDM guys later say that they’ve been in love with dance music for years, which drove the idea to start a company in the first place, so they should know what they’re talking about. Maybe it’s just that it’s hard to succinctly summarize everything that makes EDM what it is.
Burns’ third question is, “How can brands participate in this movement?” and it’s here that things start to get interesting. LEDM gives a somewhat unexpected response: “Brands can participate in this movement by aligning with the EDM culture, not exploiting it,” citing the fact that the innate counterculturalism of EDM fans means they won’t react well to marketing schemes that “[do] not provide value to the culture.” They have a good point, although I don’t think it’s exclusive to EDM: fans of any genre of music aren’t exactly going to be pleased if businesses look like they’re just throwing random songs and artists out there without any real collaboration.
Burns concludes, “Electronic dance music might just be the “cheat code” we’ve been looking for to effectively reach Millennials,” but concedes that it has to be done right in order to succeed. I still don’t love the idea of using art to sell stuff, but it’s kind of inevitable in the world we live in. If EDM culture is going to push businesses to do it right, through healthy collaborations rather than blind exploitation, that’s cool, and the fact that EDM fans are driving businesses to respect the art and artists they want to put in ads says something significant about the culture itself. As popular as it is, EDM is and always will be an “underground” movement in a sense—the clothes, the parties, and the elaborate stage acts are just too wild to fall too far into the mainstream. If companies are going to try to use it in marketing, they have to recognize that they’re not exactly working with a tame audience, and that keeps them accountable. Let’s keep up the good work, guys.