Pollstar Live!: EDM Goes Mainstream

EDM shows have definitely changed since the days when putting on a gig meant creating visuals with sheets and projectors and going to Rent-A-Center to rent 10 TVs. 

Photo: Jason Squires
Lee Anderson, Donnie Estopinal, Gregg Perloff, Ben Baruch, Hunter Williams

Donnie Estopinal – aka Disco Donnie of Disco Donnie Presents – explains he used to do everything from loading the speakers to working the front door to being the sound guy.

Back in the ‘90s the whole party might cost $5,000 and admission would be $10.

Estopinal says, “I was basically working 20 jobs. And to see now when you do a festival and there’s over 1,000 people are working on a show. I could never have imagined that.”

Another Planet’s Gregg Perloff mentioned how raves in the ‘90s in the Bay Area were held at empty houses in the funkiest neighborhoods. Perloff recalled doing a concert years ago with Paul Oakenfold at the  in Daly City, Calif.

“We went into a side room and there were two hundred 18- to 25-year-olds sucking on pacifiers and I go, ‘This is a different show. We’re going to have to figure this one out a little differently.’” Nowadays, fans are still wearing bright, eye-catching outfits, but they aren’t necessarily sucking on pacifiers. And instead of renting a house to hold raves, acts like Eric Prydz and Above & Beyond are booking shows at major venues like .

Speaking of MSG, moderator Lee Anderson of AM Only brought up how some EDM artists are moving up to the arena level – some successfully, others not so much – and asked, “Where do you see this trend going? Is this an arena business?”

CAA’s Hunter Williams pointed out that it depends on the venue. If shows are all general admission, tickets will sell quickly in some cases, as opposed to reserved seats, which you might get stuck with.

“That’s one of the things holding us back in arenas,” Williams said. “I think agents and managers need to be very fickle where we put our [acts].”

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Estopinal chimed in and said that he thinks eventually fans will understand that they have to be in the seats.

He added, “Right now there’s a big push back on that. It’s also very difficult to do a successful show in an arena when the artist wants 90/10, the expenses go way up.” Perloff brought up a run of dates he did with Swedish House Mafia at  in San Francisco. Although the 8,500-cap venue has a balcony upstairs, the whole room was general admission.

“The guys were asking, why did we do five shows? Why not just two in an arena?” Perloff said. “It’s not the same thing. In this area of music [fans] want to know where they’re going to, what kind of seating it is. … It’s just become impossible to sell a reserved seat way back in the balcony. It has nothing to do with popularity. But you have to understand who your audience is and what the artist is about.”

Just because EDM has gone mainstream, it doesn’t mean that events aren’t continuing to deal with drug/medical issues from time to time. Perloff noted that although he grew up cherishing all ages shows and doesn’t want anyone to not be able to go to a gig, APE was forced to adopt an 18-and-over policy for EDM shows.

“I wouldn’t have believed this if I hadn’t seen the stats. … The amount of people that had serious problems went down 80 percent when we went to 18 and over. And that is not true for the rest of our shows. So I would highly recommend [if] you’re in this business, you gotta look at that.”

There was a consensus among the panelists that creativity, being strategic and thinking long-term is key when it comes to EDM’s longevity. Ben Baruch, of 11E1EVEN Group/ThisSongIsSick, commented on the success that Big Gigantic has enjoyed.

“I think it’s just about really planning out your artist’s career and strategically doing it … What can we do that we haven’t done before? Let’s get back to basics. What were we doing in 2009 that got us to where we are today?

“In the spring I’m taking the band back to colleges, like literally I’m putting them in frat parties, we’re playing 500-cap rooms, in the basements, building excitement again,” Baruch said. “[We’re] also doing bigger shows as well, but it’s keeping it fresh and making sure that new fans know who we are.” Anderson noted that the question of why some acts are gone in two years while others, like Tiësto, have staying power, isn’t an EDM specific question. “Why was Nelly popular for three years and Jay Z has been popular for 15? Right? … It’s about musicians evolving, pushing things forward, changing with the times and it’s about a really good team behind your artist with a great strategy that recognizes it.”