You Can’t Break Its Soul: Electronic Dance Music Is Having Its Moment

Ultra Music Festival 2018
MIAMI, FL – MARCH 25: David Guetta performs on stage at Ultra Music Festival at Bayfront Park on March 25, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Sergi Alexander/Getty Images)

There is much debate whether dance music is experiencing a “Golden Age,” much as the upper echelons of the live business was declared to have in Pollstar’s 2023 Year End charts. But there is no question that the genre is making more money than ever. In next week’s issue, we’ll see two dance artists in the top 60 of Pollstar’s Q1 Top 100 Tours chart.

John Summit is due to headline Madison Square Garden, and Fred again.. recently wrapped up a spontaneous tour in Australia that sold out instantly. EDC Las Vegas remains the world’s largest music festival with last year’s event hosting 525,000 people over three days. According to CAA agent Ferry Rais-Shaghaghi, Afterlife has been selling more than 50,000 tickets per show (see executive survey).

Ultra Music Festival, the event that kicks off dance music’s year and caps off Miami Music Week, remains a major moneymaker. While the event has a fraught history with Miami — in 2019, city commissioners barred it from Bayfront Park after resident complaints; it returned three years later — its economic impact is approaching $1 billion since 2012, according to a city-funded study.

ODESZA grossed $520,560 from their Oct. 19 show at Palacio De Los Deportes in Mexico City, $674,087 at their Sept. 30 show at the Santa Barbara Bowl and headlined Governors Ball, Bonnaroo and Outside Lands last summer. As the duo wraps up their “Last Goodbye” Tour, they’ve announced two shows at Los Angeles’ BMO Stadium June 7-8, three shows at Madison Square Garden from June 20-22, three days at The Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington, July 4-6 and a date at Folsom Field June 29.

Illenium brought in $6.37 million for his two shows at SoFi Stadium, Feb. 2-3, and his July 14 headline at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, grossed $879,052, according to Pollstar Boxoffice reports. He sold out SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, Illinois, on July 22, grossing $922,200. Excision’s “Nexus Tour” has been a mainstay on LIVE75 since it kicked off on Feb. 2, its first three shows at Tacoma Dome in Washington from Feb. 2-4 selling a total of 45,917 tickets, grossing $3.29 million. His Feb. 9-10 dates also sold out with 17,453 tickets grossing $1.4 million. Rüfüs Du Sol’s August run included a $973,190 gross at Budweiser Stage in Toronto on Aug. 5, a $271,075 gross in Indianapolis and more.

Alison Wonderland (see cover story) annually brings in well over $500,000 for her annual “Temple of Wonderland” show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. As a whole, dance music generates hundreds of millions year after year.

“From an overall sales standpoint, I think electronic is as strong as it’s ever been,” Wasserman Music EVP Lee Anderson (read more in Agency Intel on March 21) says. “The heights that are being reached in terms of tickets sold by headliners – I mean, EDC Mexico had over 325,000 people. That’s one of the biggest festivals in the world. You look at these big festivals in America, which a lot of people would say your Top 5 in North America are Outside Lands, Coachella, Lollapalooza, ACL and Bonnaroo – well, EDC is twice the size of most of those.”

Festivals plays remain an important part of dance music’s economy. Artists and their teams have told Pollstar in the past that with overhead, they’re often lucky to just break even while out on the road and that the bulk of their profit comes from merch sales (the reality for some other genres, as well). With music festivals, the production can be already brought in, lowering costs for the artists.

Club residencies can be a lucrative business within dance music. Las Vegas hosts many of the world’s top DJs, including Kaskade, deadmau5, Illenium and ODESZA who all have residencies at Zouk Nightclub at Resorts World this year with major revenue coming from tables and bottle service (look for a feature in these coming weeks).

“Clubs remain an essential part of the dance music ecosystem, both as breeding grounds for developing new talent and places for underground experimentation,” Infamous PR’s Alastair Duncan says. “Financially, the model has been made harder for clubs, as larger format shows have become more popular, and driven prices for talent up. But there are still large-scale clubs that in addition to GA attendance can also cater to high-level VIP clientele that are able to generate a great deal of revenue.”

Anderson adds, “It all works together. You can’t just play clubs. You can’t just play festivals, because then you’re not offering fans a special experience where they can all come together as a community. If you are constantly touring and not doing any of the other stuff, your margins aren’t going to be there. They all feed each other.”

While visual production remains a heavy asset within dance music (record label and events team Afterlife has produced numerous viral moments with its visuals in recent months), other artists have been opting to do away with large production for their more intimate sets. Fred again.. oftentimes pops up spontaneously in warehouses, his shows bringing a vibe reminiscent of the genre’s heyday in the ’90s – minimal production, more focus on the music and dancing.

For more intimate sets, artists will play in the round with the audience surrounding the CDJ decks. Skrillex, Four Tet and Fred again.. did a run in the round last year with a pop-up set at Madison Square Garden (which grossed $748,767, according to Pollstar Boxoffice reports), and for their Coachella performance.

Dance music also stands as the genre where artists can step outside of the box the most easily. FISHER and Chris Lake shut down Hollywood Boulevard for their “Under Construction” show in October, Brownies & Lemonade teamed up with Deadbeats for a show at the Hollywood Dave & Buster’s in January and Four Tet will be playing under the Kosciuszko Bridge connecting Brooklyn and Queens in May. The events create the sense of the show being a once-in-a-lifetime moment, making fans feel lucky to have been there and experienced it.

“It’s really exciting to see artists dig into building these brands to not only launch music but events that put the fan at the center of the experience,” Jessica Wilson, founder of The Circuit Group and CMO of SEVEN20 Management, says. “It’s reminding me a bit of the ’90s with Richie Hawtin’s Plastikman events.”

Additionally, a variety of dance music subgenres are thriving. Drum and bass is experiencing a resurgence not only in North America but globally, with Blanke’s ÆON:MODE project popping up across the country and supergroup Worship (made up of Sub Focus, Dimension, Culture Shock and 1991) performing in New York City, teaming up with Brownies & Lemonade’s DNBNL for a showcase during Miami Music Week on March 24 and a set scheduled for this year’s EDC Las Vegas. On the other side of the pond, Chase & Status has also driven drum and bass’ revival, the duo recently performing at the BRIT awards. Techno is also experiencing a revival. The genre is selling hard tickets in Denver — one of dance’s top markets — for the first time. As of March 14, in Berlin, it has UNESCO Cultural Heritage status.

“The state of dance music is truly special right now,” Insomniac Music Group General Manager Joe Wiseman says. “We’re witnessing the resurgence of subgenres reminiscent of the early rave era, now embraced wholeheartedly by a new generation of fans.