Understanding EDM

The Complexity and Beauty Behind the Music

The negative stigma surrounding electronic dance music (EDM) has poisoned the minds of worried parents and over-ambitious authority figures, to the point where non-listeners are unable to separate the music from alleged drug use.  Mainstream media’s skewed coverage of EDM events, coupled with the masses’ inability to appreciate that which they cannot understand, has led to this horribly inaccurate claim that electronic music contains no artistic value or musical merit.  However, electronic music is actually a deeply intricate and complex genre of music that takes masterful production with attention to detail.

If you are one of those people who simply does not “get” electronic music, please read on with an open mind, because you will surely discover something valuable in this genre of music.

First, let’s start with the term “EDM.”  This acronym for “electronic dance music” has become the overarching term for any kind of dance music, despite the fact that countless producers/DJs incorporate real instruments into their production and live performances.  However, it gets grouped into this category under the umbrella term “EDM” which has come to develop quite a negative connotation in most people’s minds.  When people think “EDM,” it is common for them to associate the music with the “rave culture” and “Jersey Shore” type scenarios, since they appear so often in mainstream media in that context.  In many ill-advised people’s minds, EDM and drugs are synonymous, wrongfully accusing ravers/EDM fans as the only music culture to consume drugs at concerts (which we all know is false, because they said the same thing about rock and roll a few decades ago).

Internationally famous music producer and DJ, Kaskade, wrote an insightful article about these accusations and compares electronic music to rock and roll in attempts to enlighten the masses. 

“The parallels between where we are now and what was happening back in the late 60’s can’t be ignored. At a time when the fusion of technology and artistry are absorbed into our everyday lives, it’s stupefying that comments still exist from people like The Arcade Fire, who should actually know better (‘Shout out to all the bands still playing actual instruments at this festival,’)” 


Now that the term “EDM” is cleared up, let’s move on to more specific terms you have probably heard, like “dubstep” or “house.” Under the umbrella of electronic music, there are many different subgenres that are distinguished by two main factors:

1. Tempo (beats per minute/BPM)

2.  Percussion pattern/structure

It takes trained ears to recognize the different subgenres (dubstep, trance, house, drum and bass, break-beats, etc), which is something most of the general population cannot accomplish because they probably don’t even know the technical differences.  Rather than explaining what each of the subgenres sounds like, my all-time favorite musician, Bassnectar, created a video in which he briefly explains how to decipher between subgenres.

As you can see, there is more to EDM than the mainstream media gives it credit for, especially when considering the fact that producing this music in software programs allows for infinite possibilities for sounds and melodies.  For example, the term “dubstep” refers to a song that is at a speed of 140 bpm in 4/4 time signature where the bass drum hits on beat 1 and the snare drum hits on beat 3.  However, with the infinite possibilities of sounds, dubstep can be beautifully melodic or it can be filled with heavy bass rhythms, or anywhere in between (same goes for every subgenre).  

“Dubstep/EDM isn’t even music! It’s just noises! Anyone can do that!” 

To untrained ears that have not been exposed to this innovative type of music, yes, it may appear to be just noises.  However, electronic music producers spend countless hours perfecting each “noise” that you hear in their songs, despite the misconception that it is easy to produce music.  They completely construct each synthesized sample using filters, pitch-bends, and hundreds (legitimately hundreds) of other tools at their disposal, while using music theory to balance and harmonize each layer of sound into the correct key.  This concept is difficult for many new listeners to understand at first, which is why I usually introduce them to electronic music that has obvious REAL instruments audible on the songs. 

A perfect example of this instrumental electronic music is producer/composer Derek Vincent Smith, aka Pretty Lights.  He spent two full years producing his most recent album, titled “A Color Map of the Sun,” where he assembled the best musicians from all over the country to form an ensemble to perform and record the songs he wrote.  After each song had been recorded by these live orchestras, he altered them on his computer to make them dance music with bass and intricate effects.  Luckily for us, Derek filmed the entire process and produced a documentary.

Hopefully after reading this article you understand electronic music a little more, and will think twice before criticizing it.  Thanks for reading.