Case Study on Music Producers Today (part of my Silver Arts Award challenge)

( References are indicated in square brackets [ ] )

“I can envision one person with a lot of machines – tapes, electronic setups – singing and speaking, and using a lot of machines” – Jim Morrison (lead singer of The Doors), 1969

These days it has never been so easy to produce great music. As little as 25 years ago, producers needed to be wealthy enough to afford an enormous studio, using analogue synths that produced basic sounds while still taking up an entire room. Nowadays, thanks to computers becoming smaller and more affordable, we can make tracks that are able to make tens of millions of views on YouTube, just by using cheap and affordable computers and laptops.

Electronic songs have changed the way that we think about music; it has brought artists from only being known in small venues and communities to people all over the world, and has transformed our attitudes towards this music, in good ways and bad ways.

The talents used to produce these tracks used to be shown in a few gifted people, but now anyone can spend a few hours on a computer and write a banger.

This is exactly how a producer from Los Angeles managed to become world-famous, and his name is Skrillex. Here is an interview of him explaining his journey of successes:

He started off his life in music as the lead singer in an emo-hardcore band called From First To Last; in 2006, he began making his own tracks [1] and he left the band in 2007 to focus on his new solo dance-orientated project. He began performing under the name Skrillex in nightclubs in Los Angeles in 2008 [2] and played mainly electro music. [3]

In 2010, he released his debut EP ‘My Name Is Skrillex’ as a free download on his MySpace page. His luck came when he started touring nationally with electronic music legend Deadmau5 later in the year, who ended up signing a record contract with Skrillex to his label, mau5trap, as he very much appreciated the new EP. [2][5]

Skrillex then started working on another new EP, focused on dubstep and electro, which he released under mau5trap in October 2010, with the name ‘Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites’. [4] It was this EP, that was unlike any other of its kind, that managed to get to place number 2 in the Beaport Top 10 within 4 days [5], and what sent him on 8 months of constant touring, [6] and what made him world-famous, and this was the headline track:

Not only was this record famous for him, but it has also changed the genre of dubstep like it has never seen before. His sound was so different to what dubstep records were like before him, that it changed the sound and culture of dubstep forever.

The genre used to be very underground in the suburbs of South London, before it started to become heard of by a slightly larger audience in 2009 [7] when artists like Nero and Skream started remixing pop tunes from artists such as La Roux. However, the genre still only remained within the UK, with only a few producers recognising it abroad.

But, when Skrillex entered the scene, he opened up the genre to people from all over the world by including new elements of other styles of music that appealed particularly to audiences within the United States, as he included elements of heavy metal in his tracks, giving a more aggressive tone, with more fluctuation in synth parameters. [7]

Other artists such as Datsik and Excision had been developing this new ‘Americanised’ dubstep before him [7], but Skrillex was the first to make it well-known.

Since Skrillex stormed the dubstep world, many other artists started to use similar sounds, with sharper, more piercing tones, throughout 2011 and 2012. Some notable ones include Doctor P, Zomboy and Knife Party. Skrillex even started his own record label in August 2011 [8] called OWSLA, with artists signed to it adopting his harsh and aggressive style, including artists such as Kill The Noise, Dillon Francis and Zedd. In fact, if you look at all artists in all electronic music styles, you will have noticed an increasing popular use of aggressiveness in the tones that are used, and Skrillex was definitely a pioneer of this convention.

Electro house is a genre that particularly uses the styles of modern dubstep, and it was brought big and mainstream in 2011 when Knife Party released their debut EP called ‘100% No Modern Talking’; one of its tracks ‘Internet Friends’ managed to get into BBC Radio 1’s top 40 dance chart – that must mean success.

Now, for a bit of backstory. Knife Party is consisted of two members, Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen, of the drum & bass/electronic rock band Pendulum, and while the band split up for a break, they both decided to create a side-project for electro house and dubstep, and other club-related genres. [9] In an interview by Radio 1 producer Zane Lowe in May 2012, Swire stated that “we weren’t sure if anyone was going to take notice at all; it was just going to be a little underground thing; it’s just blown me away how quickly it’s taken off.” [10]

They have now played in clubs and festivals all over the world, including Ultra Music Festival in March 2012 in Miami.

Now, let’s just hold on a minute. We have here two very successful dance music acts, who have achieved outstanding fame, but how do these people manage to get so many fans in such a short space of time?

Well, first off, they were both originally in bands, meaning that they would have fans that were previously fans of their bands as well; however, could this mean, that as these bands are splitting and going on breaks, that bands are dying out?

You may think, ‘what is he going on about’, but here’s something for you to consider:

Take a look at the music in the current top 40 chart. How much of that music is electronic or sounds like it has obviously been arranged by a computer, and how much of it is from bands?

Now, compare that music to a chart from 20 years ago. Do you notice any difference?

That’s right. Mainstream pop songs are starting to all become made by single producers, on computers with synth software. This proves that it is possible that anyone can make great music; you don’t have to be in a group, or able to play an instrument, like 20 years ago. You don’t even have to have good keyboard skills to make good melodies; you can just draw the notes in. If you want to become famous – go ahead. It might be more straightforward than you think.

Unfortunately, huge fame can come at a price. When Skrillex had the high point of his career in 2011, there started an internet war of trolls who constantly spam any YouTube video to do with dubstep, about how they think that Skrillex ruined the genre, that he doesn’t make proper dubstep, and that he’s a complete showoff. Well, the main reason that these spammers could be doing this is because they weren’t expecting such the success that dubstep has had over the past couple of years. It may have been an underground scene since the late 1990s, [7] but genres and their culture change over time. The electronic music scene has grown so fast that it may seem like a great shock to some people.

Another example of an artist that has received hate like this (but on an even bigger scale) is a French producer called David Guetta.

Let’s look back at Skrillex and how he raised electronic music from the underground scene to being featured heavily around the world. Well, Guetta has raised that bar 5 times higher, so much so that he almost always has a track in the top 40 chart and is always featured on mainstream radio stations such as Capital FM. In fact, he has made at least one track into every compilation in the “Now That’s What I Call Music!” series since volume 79 (at the time of writing this, the latest is 83), [11][12][13][14][18] as well as a few before that.

If Skrillex has loads of haters because he brought dubstep mainstream, imagine how many Guetta must have.

Just like Skrillex, Guetta began making tracks using just a laptop, and DJing in his bedroom, not being used to huge studio equipment. [15]

His original fame began as he played in numerous different night clubs; he started in the Broad Club in Paris at the age of 18 and began hosting his own club nights [17] – starting young is guaranteed to get you good attention.

He also began producing, collaborating with numerous different other artists, including producers, singers and rappers, also starting a compilation series called ‘F**k Me I’m Famous’, of the songs that he played in Ibiza. [17]

This seems pretty normal for a producer and DJ who has made good success, to do collaborations and end up playing Ibiza; however, he became famous in the mainstream market because he began working with many more famous pop artists, including will.i.am, who heard his track with Chris Willis ‘Love Is Gone’ and was very pleased with it, so he wanted him to start producing for The Black Eyed Peas, which resulted in the track ‘I Gotta Feeling’. [15]

One of his other major breakthroughs was his track ‘When Love Takes Over’ featuring Kelly Roland. The way that this track turned out was where Roland heard an instrumental of David’s and was impressed so she wanted to collaborate with him. [16]

Here’s a video of Guetta talking about his album Nothing But the Beat 2.0 and about he goes about collaborating with singers: [19]

It was almost as though it only took a couple of collaborations with mainstream pop artists and he was getting requests by so many other artists to make tracks for them – practically a snowball effect; however, in order for him to have done those collaborations, he would have needed to have worked hard with so many other producers and artists before them to be able to get to that level – he was obviously someone who wanted to carry on and achieve more than his original goals.

Conclusion

So, we have two artists, Skrillex and Guetta, who became famous in similar ways – through getting their tracks heard by other big artists (Skrillex being heard by Deadmau5), which brings me on to my next point.

These days, it is easy for anyone to get their music heard, through various websites, like Facebook, YouTube, SoundCloud, and Twitter, and making the music has been cheaper and easier than ever before.

You never know when your music will get heard by someone famous, so go on! Start making some music and sharing it today! You never know what will happen…

References:

[1] ‘Making of “Break’n A Sweat”‘ – YouTube video uploaded by user SkrillexMothership – uploaded 15/03/2012 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT40_00AGQU

[2] ‘Skrillex’ – Wikipedia – last updated 28/12/2012 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skrillex

[3] ‘BBC – Sound of 2012 – Skrillex Interview’ – YouTube video uploaded by user electronik666 – uploaded 03/01/2012 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucLDfg276co

[4] ‘Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites’ – Wikipedia – last updated 18/12/2012 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scary_Monsters_and_Nice_Sprites

[5] ‘Skrillex Talks Dubstep And More’ – YouTube video uploaded by user Chris Banuchi – uploaded 02/11/2010 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_EPt6L0llg

[6] ‘Rock n Roll (Will Take You to the Mountain)’ – YouTube video uploaded by user TheOfficialSkrillex – uploaded 20/06/2011 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOofWzI3flA – I used just the description of this video for my research

[7] ‘Dubstep’ – Wikipedia – last updated 02/01/2013 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubstep

[8] ‘OWSLA’ – Wikipedia – last updated 03/01/2013- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OWSLA

[9] ‘Pendulum (band)’ – Wikipedia – last updated 01/03/2013 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pendulum_(band)

[10] ‘BBC Radio 1 – Zane Lowe, 28/05/2012, Knife Party – Interview with Zane Lowe’ – BBC Radio 1 – published 29/05/2012 – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00t7jbv

[11] ‘Now That’s What I Call Music! 83 (UK Series)’ – Wikipedia – last updated 04/01/2013 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Now_That’s_What_I_Call_Music!_83_(UK_series)

[12] ‘Now That’s What I Call Music! 82 (UK Series)’ – Wikipedia – last updated 22/12/2012 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Now_That%27s_What_I_Call_Music!_82_(UK_series)

[13] ‘Now That’s What I Call Music! 81 (UK Series)’ – Wikipedia – last updated 22/12/2012 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Now_That%27s_What_I_Call_Music!_81_(UK_series)

[14] ‘Now That’s What I Call Music! 80 (UK series)’ – Wikipedia – last updated 05/01/2013 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Now_That%27s_What_I_Call_Music!_80_(UK_series)

[15] ‘David Guetta Interview on The Jonathan Ross Show’ – YouTube video uploaded by user biffycat0791 – uploaded 22/09/2012 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEv-w30dCQw

[16] ‘How Clubbing Changed The World’ – Channel 4 Documentary – from August 2012

[17] ‘David Guetta’ – Wikipedia – last updated 13/01/2013 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Guetta

[18] ‘Now That’s What I Call Music! 79 (UK Series)’ – Wikipedia – last updated 31/12/2012 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Now_That’s_What_I_Call_Music!_79_(UK_series)

[19] ‘David Guetta – Nothing But the Beat 2.0 – Interview’ – YouTube video by user davidguettavevo – uploaded 20/11/2012