Dance music is commoditized.
From the music you play, the artists you meet, and to the events you to go, the global phenomenon that is dance music has entrenched itself deep into the fabrics of today’s entertainment world.
Hell, you can’t even turn on the radio without hearing a washed-up version of a song that’s a year behind in dance music trends.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Dance music used to be a subculture. It was a place where society’s downtrodden could intermingle. Dance music was a phenomenon where people with broken lives could come together and feel a part of something that was complete. There was always a magic to it, a human element that created community and bonds that went beyond just the tracks over the sound system.
But now that magic has been let out of the jar, shallowly monetized by multi-billion industries and corporations that would be insurmountable to think about when dance music was exiled to abandoned warehouses and JNCO jeans. Thousand-dollar festival packages now replace the underground so many loved.
With that commercialization, some of the magic that made the foundations of dance music so special have gone into hiding. Even PLUR--the “peace, love, unity, respect” acronym that once spelled the egalitarianism and community of dance music--has been appropriated and overused to the point where it has the same hollow resonance of preteens telling each other, “I love you.”
Now, more than ever, the people who will bring an impact to dance music will recognize that breathing in the human element is the way of giving life to dying culture. As dance music continues to become more commercialized, pretentious, and stale, those who can be real, actual human beings will have the world opened to them.
Today, it is hard to look around and see who is not a DJ. It’s difficult to see who isn’t playing sets or trying to build a fanbase around them. Not only are there more DJs, but these DJs are good. While the talent is continuously evolving, there are more people competing in the marketplace, making it difficult for one single artist to stand out.
Even the producer community, what used to be the last bastion of setting apart the professionals from the amateurs, is becoming increasingly saturated with good music. More and more, SoundCloud feeds are becoming piles of a lukewarm mush, overflowing with wannabe tracks chasing after whatever trends the few actual innovators in dance music put forth.
So where, as an artist in today’s market, do you break through the noise?
Answer: By being a human being.
In the language of the music business, we encompass the idea of artist identity under the word “brand”. But this word has been so spun out that it's become all but useless to describe how to actually describe the identity of an artist. Today, we as the industry think that a press kit is more compelling than face-to-face conversation. We believe that promoters and managers are more impactful in making an artist successful than by the artist doing the actual work of making compelling art.
And I'm complicit in this. The early articles I wrote for the Pariah Reign blog used the idea of branding as if it was the Mecca of artist success. I personally championed for artists to get more business and marketing-savvy to bolster their careers. And while I still want to improve the lives of artists everywhere, my position has changed.
Now, I want to replace the notion of fans connecting with your brand to you searching for people who resonate with your story. While brand faces inward, story faces outward. Branding is about a flashy logo and having your social media URLs all be the same. But having a good brand is just a foundation. It’s like the bones and muscles inside your body which keep the rest of you together in one piece.
But story is about the actual connection. Story is about being who you are. Story is about presenting the humanity inside of you, the core of the fire that burns within yourself to create art, and then being vulnerable enough to go out in the world and see if anyone else burns like you do.
Because here’s the thing: we’re all walking brands in this industry. We all put on tight black pants and stare at iPhones that aren’t ringing off the hook like we’d want them to be. We all bang our chests on social media and talk up our lives like we have more going on than we really do.
But none of this is true. None of this false presentation of ourselves is even something that we decided for ourselves. Nobody got into music with the goal to be the most industry person in the room. This entire concept of being bullet-proof professionals who deal in guest lists and networking nights is something that we’ve convinced ourselves is in our best interest. It’s why people who play the industry role are only recognized by those in the industry because we’re the only ones who understand the rules of this game we’ve made up. Outside of our little bubble, the dark clothes mean nothing. The successful artists we have on our Facebook friend lists mean nothing. The memes and the chase of clout mean nothing.
What does matter is connecting with people as human beings. As Gary Vaynerchuk puts it in Crush It, “If you want to dominate the social media game, all of your effort has to come from the heart; and it can’t come from the heart in the passionate, irrational, wholehearted way it needs to if you’re trying to be anyone but yourself."
So instead of taking the ideas that you think people will like and put them into a super-sleek brand, just be yourself. Tell your story because nobody else will. If this is truly your calling, stop putting up this farce that you’re so industry. Be public with what scares you and what you’re vulnerable about because that is how people will resonate with you. Nobody will drive four hours to a show just to see how black your clothes are, but so many people will go to the ends of the earth because you helped them through their struggles by sharing your own.
Let this seep into everything you do. Be honest and personable in your interactions with people in the industry. Have your music speak to what you feel in your soul instead of the play counts you see across your feed. Because here’s the thing: while anyone could imitate the big sound to hit dance music, nobody can ever truly imitate you. So find yourself and then scream your story from the mountaintops.
Stop being a brand, and start being a human being.