EDM Biz 2013: CAA'S Rob Light, SFX's Shelly Finkel, Beatport Matthew Adell Discuss the EDM Explosion

Rob Light and Billboard contributor Kerri Mason during a presentation at EDMBiz 2013

"I think this is comparable to the generation shift of the '60s," CAA's managing partner and music head Rob Light told the audience during his keynote at the EDM Biz conference in Las Vegas yesterday. The annual conference (June 18-20; this is its second year) is organized by Insomniac Events, and precedes its flagship Electric Daisy Carnival festival (June 21-23).

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"In the '50s there was rock'n'roll and it was cool and it was somewhat underground," Light explained. "Then, in 1964, television [was] just coming into its own -- but nobody understood the power of it until The Beatles walked on Ed Sullivan. It started a counter culture, a generation shift and a youth movement... you are now in that same moment, because [digital] technology is [the new] television."

Such heady ideas were top-of-mind for all panelists throughout the two-day industry summit. Every panelist seemed to primarily be compelled to answer the many questions about how to handle EDM's exploding popularity and what it all means. Last year's inaugural event addressed concerns about "selling out" amid new attention from corporate entertainment companies, this year's conference seemed to be designed to celebrate the arrival of corporate sponsors, multi-national promoters, and major labels, if not champion it. Throughout the two days, panelists and attendees were fervently looking forward while trying to reflect on how the industry has exploded in such a short period of time.

"There's only one lane -- you're either in it or you're on the side of the road," Light stated emphatically. "Sometimes you have to step back and say, 'what's it going to be in two years?' If in two years [Electric Daisy Carnival] goes on and its the same six headliners, you're all in deep trouble."

In part, the global growth of EDM has been buoyed through the interest in it by those with money. During what was widely agreed to be the most interesting panel for the diversity of perspective it brought to the conference, a group of seasoned entrepreneurs, investors, and business managers including Shelly Finkel of SFX, Brian Zisk of the SF MusicTech Fund and Todd Chaffee of Institutional Venture Partners talked about what compels them to write "$50 million dollar checks."

"We're looking for emerging markets and tailwinds and we've got a huge tailwind in the dance scene," Chaffee told the audience. "Is this at the peak or is this something bigger, is this a movement? I'm drinking the Kool-Aid, I think there is a movement here."

"Bubbles are great as long as you get out before they pop," added Zisk.

Later, Finkel assuaged any lingering concerns of implosion by saying  "I don't see any reason to believe we're in the beginning stages of a bubble."

Marc Geiger (left) and Perry Farrell

Multiple panels brought up issues of content curation and filtering in an exploding and unwieldy digital marketplace. There was a great deal of speculation about how the ultra-desirable young customer discovers and consumes music and how those customers could be retained over the long haul. On Wednesday, WME's Marc Geiger brought up concerns over infrastructure and the responsibility the industry has to provide a quality product even when trends move as rapidly as they do. The issue of infrastructure was echoed the next day by Kurosh Nasseri, co-founder of the Association for Electronic Music. The recently-launched industry organization plans on advocating for EDM as much as it plans on encouraging standards of safety and quality within it.

Thursday's "Let's Hug It Out" all-agent panel addressed some of the other growing pains of the EDM zeitgeist: Competition, possible over-saturation in a given market, and dealing with the expectations of artists.

"Patience is really important; all acts want to play the headline spot," Ace Agency owner Jasja Heijboer told the audience. "I think it's a problem that agents and managers don't give their acts a realistic view of where they are [in the market]."

While they had their own panel, "Adventures in Clubland," club-owners were a sideline act during these days, with most of the attention paid to festivals and a youth audience too young to club. Pacha's Eddie Dean bemoaned the problems the New York market has faced in the shadow of the festival moment and Las Vegas mega-club explosion.

"They're skipping New York," Dean said of the mid-level artists who typically round-out a club's calendar, a sentiment Lynn Albers of Chicago's Spark! Productions sympathized with.

"How long is it going to go on in Vegas? Is it going to correct itself?" Dean added, alluding to the record fees DJs reportedly earn at clubs like Hakkasan. "We'll see. If they don't sell tickets it's really hard to justify those big prices." 

If there was an unofficial secondary topic to each panel, it would have been the primacy of conference organizer Insomniac Events and its embattled CEO, Pasquale Rotella. Across the conference, most panels included at least one Insomniac employee or affiliate who served as a reminder about who was presenting the event. Rotella used the "Festivals of the Future" panel on which he appeared as a platform to defend some of his company's practices like radius clauses (a hot topic on the promoter's panel; Rotella maintained his were only seven days long) and cooperating with competing promoters in a given market (which he says he regularly does). While some in the room and even on the panel would have likely disputed those assertions, nobody bothered to argue with the host.

The same panel featured an amusing exchange between AM Only agent Lee Anderson and Lollapalooza founder Perry Farrell. "You seem stressed," Farrell told Anderson, who was exasperated by explaining the difficulty in negotiating long-lead bookings.

After some laughter from the audience, HARD promoter Gary Richards chimed in: "I know why you'd be stressed -- 'cause of Sonny," he said, referring to Skrillex. "When we first booked him he was $1,500 and by the time he played he could have had a few more zeros on there."

Moments later, when a cautiously smug Rotella told the audience about his company's "creative partnership" with Live Nation (which he had announced backstage just prior to joining the panel), it was obvious who now had the most zeros on that stage.

The self-promotion continued Thursday, which featured the "Greatest Night of Your Life" panel: It included three "EDM superfans" who have been cast in the forthcoming documentary about Electric Daisy Carnival, produced by Magical Elves ("Top Chef," "Project Runway"). While they might have been coached to say it (we know how reality TV works), each of the young fans -- a candy raver girl from small-town Texas, a paraplegic young man from Southern California, and a girl-next-door-type whose boyfriend introduced her to dance music -  told the industry crowd how EDM and EDC didn't just change their lives, but saved them too.

In fact, the narrative of dance-music-as-life-changer is one that has long been told within the industry, especially for those who have been in it longer than its recent explosion. "I am only interested in transcendent moments in front of a speaker," Beatport CEO Matthew Adell said during the AFEM panel.

Though he went on to caution: "They can't happen if there are no events, they can't happen if there are shitty records, they can't happen if the artists don't get paid and they can't happen if the attendees at the event are dead."

Given the pace of EDM's growth, it wouldn't be crazy to expect some of those growing pains to be addressed in time for next year's conference.