Is EDM Dead? (The Real Answer)

EDM stands for Electronic Dance Music, and the overarching genre of electronic dance music is far from dead. However, the style of melodic, stadium-ready progressive house music that many people brand as EDM has registered a noticeable drop in popularity.

Before we move on, it’s important to give our definition of what EDM actually means, as this greatly varies from person to person.

What is EDM?

Defining EDM is a challenge on its own. While the term EDM can rightfully apply to all genres of beat-driven electronic music, most people associate it with EDM-pop artists such as The Chainsmokers, David Guetta, Calvin Harris, Zedd, or Afrojack.

In this context, EDM music can be characterized as featuring the following elements:

  • Big synth melodic lines;
  • A catchy chorus performed by guest artists;
  • Simple but hard-hitting drum patterns;
  • A big moment of tension followed by a powerful drop;
  • Major scales with basic chord progressions.

While some commercial forms of house music fall under the EDM umbrella, many sub-genres of house music don’t. Techno, trance and drum and bass are also great examples of electronic dance music that generally shouldn’t be classified as Chainsmokers-style EDM.

Techno is often dark, repetitive, and minimal, contrasting with EDM’s bright textures, pop-like song structures, and busy arrangements. While trance music is as hard-hitting as EDM, it’s much faster and more aggressive. Even old-school disco, with its catchy melodies and relatively slow tempo, is much more syncopated, organic, and repetitive than commercial EDM.

Commercial EDM music was made to be performed in front of a huge crowd, to capture the attention of the listener while playing on the radio, and to fit the taste of generic pop fans. In the first half of the 2010s, EDM dominated the charts. According to NPR, it was valued at a staggering $6.9 billion worldwide.

Today, however, EDM seems to have disappeared from the top, and even Billboard announced the end of the EDM era back in December 2020. While there’s no doubt that other forms of electronic dance music will live on, progressive-house EDM is far from its heyday. But what are the causes behind the downfall of EDM?

Mainstream pop moved away from EDM

In the first half of the 2010s, it seemed as though every track on the radio featured some form of EDM-inspired element. Avicii’s tunes such as “Levels” and “Hey Brother” made for worldwide hits, consolidated artists such as Rihanna were putting out textbook EDM songs such as “We Found Love,” and even outsider acts such as LMFAO were selling out stadiums with EDM bangers such as “Party Rock Anthem.”

Yes, life was good for the men and women performing EDM music all over the world. Mainstream pop fell in love with the sound of producers such as Avicii and Calvin Harris and pop songs suddenly needed to have a Serum motif or big-bass drop to have any chance of getting on the radio. However, the interest of mainstream pop in the EDM sound couldn’t last forever.

The popularity of artists such as Adele and the unexpected success of songs such as “Take Me To Church” and “Stay With Me” worked as the first indicator that powerful ballads were on the rise once again. Later on, pop acts such as Dua Lipa and The Weeknd gambled successfully on bringing back the retro sounds of the ’80s. Olivia Rodrigo did the same with Paramore-inspired pop-punk, while Silk Sonic won ‘Record of the Year’ at the 2022 Grammy Awards with their ’70s-inspired album.

Some people believe that music works in 13-year cycles, and the era of the chart-topping EDM record seemed destined to not last that long. Mainstream pop artists, labels, and fans took about half a decade to lose interest in EDM, and the popularity of the genre was undoubtedly hurt by it.

The EDM market was (and still is) overly saturated

With so many EDM songs on the radio, music producers were quick to take interest in the genre. YouTube was suddenly filled with EDM tutorial videos with lessons on everything from “how to make an Avicii-style beat in three minutes” to “how to start amazing EDM songs.”

In all fairness, coming up with a generic EDM track is not that hard. All you need is a DAW, a few audio plug-ins, and little to no music-theory knowledge (especially with so many in-depth tutorials on the web). As a consequence, the EDM scene was rapidly saturated with inexperienced producers and wannabe DJs coming up with as many EDM bangers as they could put out.

In no time, the freshness of that Avicii, Swedish House Mafia, and Zedd sound disappeared. Listening to an EDM track no longer felt like a novelty, and the genre got too generic and self-indulgent. Old-school electronic dance music fans were the first to let it go, and the rest of the world followed.

The passing of Avicii in 2018

No, Avicii is not the only big name in the EDM scene. But again, neither The Beatles were the only big name in the psychedelic rock music scene…

When Avicii passed away tragically in 2018, it sounded as though the ominous death of the EDM craze was being announced. The same happened when The Beatles split up near the end of the ’60s: psychedelic rock and the spirit of the flower power movement were already dying and The Beatles’ breakup was the last straw.

If there was one man who could have revitalized the EDM scene by coming up with a new, irresistible number-one hit or even a new approach to the genre, that was Avicii. His passing, at the young age of 28, was the confirmation of the worst fear of many EDM fans.

The pandemic hit the world’s biggest festivals

EDM is still at the center of some of the world’s biggest festivals. While EDM was already perceived as “dying” near the end of the 2010s, fans of the genre could always rely on the fact it was still going to be “the sound” of major music festivals such as Tomorrowland and Ultra Music Festival.

Sadly, the Coronavirus pandemic put a halt on pretty much every massive live music event in the world, and EDM festivals were no exception. When big electronic dance music festivals returned to the post-COVID world, things were already different.

The line-up of the 2022 edition of Tomorrowland, for instance, seems to be more focused on traditional electronic dance music artists than on household EDM DJs. While the likes of Calvin Harris, Steve Aoki, and Marshmello are still there, people seem more interested in listening to techno-house veterans such as Tiësto, Amelie Lens, Charlotte de Witte, and Boris Brejcha.

Trap music hit the spotlight

Hip-hop has been the most popular genre of music in the United States for a while now, but it was never a threat to the popularity of EDM. That is until trap music hit the spotlight. Music fans first got excited about EDM because it was an easily-recognizable new style of music that was not that hard to perform and that worked like a charm in the club. Sound familiar?

With its repetitive, catchy melodies, hard-hitting sub-basses, and complex hi-hat lines, trap music proved to be an even simpler and more easily-recognizable genre of nightclub music than EDM. To make things worse, trap music was closer to the universe of hip-hop than it was to the universe of mainstream pop music.

While it’s impossible to know for sure whether the rise of trap music influenced or not the decline of EDM, there’s no doubt that trap took EDM’s place as the new, exciting sound every mainstream pop artist was trying to copy.

Verdict

No genre of music will stay at the top for too long; that’s just the way music works! However, the fall of EDM isn’t necessarily bad for electronic dance music.

While the Chainsmokers-style of the EDM-Pop house seems to be on its way out, there’s no shortage of up-and-coming DJs trying to come up with THE electronic sound of the ‘2020s. Where there’s the fall of one genre, there’s also the hope of something new.

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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