Streaming app illustration. 2023 - Credits : Filip
Streaming app illustration. 2023 - Credits : Filip

How Streaming Has Disrupted Dance Music and Clubbing Culture

Have you ever wondered how the pulsating beats of electronic music that fuel your weekend parties came to be? It's an evolution that goes back decades, and it's deeply intertwined with the DJ culture that many of us have grown to love.

Alexandre Trochut

The Double-Edged Sword of Technology

The internet’s transformative power has not spared the electronic music genre, turning it into a playground for technological prowess and redefining music creation and consumption. This digital onslaught has also notably affected the once-thriving DJ culture. This article ventures into the ways streaming has reshaped directly or indirectly the landscape of the dance music industry.

Emerging Producers & the Music Consumption Paradigm Shift

Remember the days when producing electronic music was limited to a select few who had access to expensive equipment? Well, the 2000s saw the emergence of a new generation of electronic music producers, thanks to the power of the technology and the democratization of music production tools.

The likes of Avicii and Martin Garrix rode this transformative wave, creating unique sounds right from their bedrooms. Alongside this revolution, music consumption habits also underwent a dramatic shift.

Though technological evolution opened the gates for democratized electronic music production, it simultaneously birthed a fresh paradigm for music consumption: Streaming. While prior music genres flourished in the golden age of vinyl or CD — an era where artists thrived from their music sales — the emerging generation of electronic music artists is witnessing a starkly contrasting landscape.


A Closer Look at Streaming Payouts

One of the most contentious issues with streaming platforms is their payout system. With physical sales nearly non-existent and digital sales dwindling, artists are increasingly reliant on streaming for revenue. However, the reality is that streaming platforms often pay pennies per stream. For many artists, this means that the income from their music barely covers production costs.

Almost 80% of artists on Spotify have fewer than 50 monthly listeners. These shocking statistics point to a highly unequal distribution of resources, a fact that has not gone unnoticed within the industry.

As streaming platforms increasingly dominate and the revenues from music sales have been dwindling for electronic music artists, the shift has been quite stark. Traditionally, producers could earn a decent income from the sale of their music. However, with the rise of streaming, the income from sales has become negligible.


Redefining Dance Music: The Rise of Streaming & the Decline of DJs


The ultimate shift from Sales to Sets

The rise of streaming platforms, while seemingly a boon for music lovers, has resulted in a somewhat paradoxical situation for the music industry. It has certainly democratized access to electronic music, but it has also had significant effects on the livelihood of both producers and DJs.

As streaming rose to prominence, the sale of physical music – once the primary revenue stream for music producers – was swept aside. Logically, the next step for these producers would have been to shift their focus to live performances at venues and concert halls, following the footsteps of their counterparts from other musical genres.

However, as electronic music has carved its niche into mainstream culture, with its melodies seeping into radios and streaming platforms playlists, the landscape changed. Electronic Music fans craved to see this new generation of producers they loved perform live, consequently, a majority of them chose a different path. Instead of creating an expensive live show, the majority of  them to take up DJ carrer earning money through their gigs. This shift required no substantial investment, and the path was all the more appealing since clubs were already clamoring for these producers-turned-DJs to perform.


The Fall of the DJ as a Tastemaker

Thus, a new era was born, what I like to call – the reign of the producers – in the clubbing landscape, effectively transforming nightclubs into concert venues for these producers and pushing many DJs out of the scene. It marked a substantial loss for the industry, and an unfortunate turn away from the true essence of DJ culture – curating and introducing diverse, novel sounds to an eager audience.

In the heydays of electronic music, people flocked to nightclubs not just to dance but to uncover new and exciting music. This was an era when electronic music wasn’t a staple on radio stations. Instead, it lived and thrived in the pulsating ambiance of nightclubs, where DJs were the gatekeepers of this fascinating sound, introducing audiences to new artists and fresh music currents. They were the tastemakers, their knowledge and unique ability to weave different tracks together provided an immersive musical journey that fans couldn’t get anywhere else.

And as the DJs were previously guiding audiences on musical journeys back in the days, they were once again stripped of their status as tastemakers, when the streaming platforms created editorial playlists supposed to introduce new music to their users, switching aside the crucial role of independent music curator replacing it by the illusion that this would now be seamlessly fulfilled by the editorial teams of streaming platforms.


An Illusion of Diversity: How Majors are Shaping Listener Preferences

With the rise of streaming platforms, users have been led to believe they are enjoying an unprecedented level of diversity. After all, they now have access to millions of songs from all around the world.

But while many playlists on streaming platforms give an illusion of diversity, they’re being owned and curated by majors, through playlists building companies that have been acquired (Digster for Universal, Filtr for Sony and Topsify for Warner) and produce hundreds of playlists to promote their catalog leading to the result is a music ecosystem that locks users within their catalogs, rather than truly expanding their musical horizons.

In 2020, according to research conducted by analytics company Alpha Data, their report suggest that 90% of streams are accounted for by just 1% of artists. As reported by Rolling Stone, 1.6million artists released music to streaming services in the past year, but nine in ten tracks played were made by just 16,000 top tier artists.

In a world where major labels increasingly dictate what listeners hear, we risk losing the art of discovery, the role of the DJ as a curator is being lost. If the diversity and vibrancy of electronic music is to be preserved, we need to rekindle our appreciation for the DJ’s art.


The Current State of Dance Music Scene


From Fans to Customers: The Changing Face of Listeners

As we look at the state of electronic music in 2023, it’s clear that the genre is at a critical juncture. The new generation of electronic music listeners are often less familiar with the history of the genre, a history intrinsically tied to DJ culture.

Furthermore, they are more often customers than fans, engaging with the music on a surface level rather than delving into its roots and complexities. The Event scene illustrates this change vividly, major festival like Tomorrowland or biggest clubs in Ibiza are filled with attendees who seem to be there more for the show and the experience than the music. These are not the music lovers of yesteryears, who went to clubs to experience and discover new sounds, they are like tourists going to visit Disneyland.


The Crucial Need for a DJ Culture Revival : Independant Music Curator

As the landscape of the electronic music industry continues to change, there’s an urgent need for the revival of DJ culture. DJs have traditionally served as musical curators, uncovering hidden gems and exposing listeners to a broad range of genres and artists.

DJs aren’t just performers; they’re musical curators. Guided by a love for music, they craft sets designed to take listeners on a journey, sharing new and exciting tracks. This isn’t about promoting a specific artist or album – it’s about sharing a passion for music, about exposing listeners to sounds they wouldn’t ordinarily encounter.

Let’s be clear: this isn’t about indulging in romanticism or snobbery. The ethos of a DJ embodies an individual possessing an open-mindedness, one brimming with a desire to share and educate. It’s crucial to affirm that DJ culture isn’t just a relic of the past; it’s a vibrant and integral part of Dance Music culture. In a world where algorithms and financial interests often determine what we listen to, the role of the DJ as a curator is more important than ever.


The Fight for Electronic Music Future

As we reach the crossroads of electronic music’s future, the battle isn’t merely for its survival but the preservation of its vibrant and diverse soul – the DJ culture. Without it, we stand to lose the core essence that made the genre pulsate with vitality and dynamism, evolving and thriving through constant innovation and freshness.

DJs, from the very inception of the craft, have been committed to expanding musical horizons, to fostering joy through dance, and to orchestrating those singular moments of unity around music.

The DJ isn’t just a performer, they’re an irreplaceable conductor, orchestrating a symphony of sounds that offer a new perspective with every beat, a space where gender, race, and all manner of differences are set aside for a universal communion with the rhythm. It’s this universal message, this shared euphoria that must persist and flourish.

This situation is a complex interplay of changing consumption trends, technology’s omnipresence, and a mainstream audience whose understanding of the genre’s roots is often skin-deep.


Let’s not allow electronic music to become a monotonous tune, but rather keep it as a vibrant symphony that continuously explores new rhythmic territories.