While the original sounds have been kept intact, electronic dance music has come a long way from its origins. Yet, is the genre becoming too mainstream? There’s David Guetta creating radio-friendly house music that essentially subverts beats for vocals, and music festivals, globally, continue to grow, expanding to multiple days and attracting, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of people. But, save for the transition from rave warehouse parties to the Electric Daisy Carnival, electronic dance music is still largely an independent affair, with Ultra and Ministry of Sound being the dominant labels. Could Live Nation Entertainment’s recent acquisitions, first of Cream Holdings and more recently of Hard Events, change the culture of EDM, from festivals to how music is released?
On June 26, Live Nation announced its attainment of the promoter behind Hard Summer, Hard NYC, and other North American EDM events. Gary Richards, who founded Hard Events in 2007, considers working with Live Nation an expansion of the brand – not diminishing it. In a statement, Richards said: “I have known James Barton [former owner of Cream Holdings and now head of Live Nation’s electronic division] over the years and respect what he has built with the Cream brand. We look forward to working hand in hand with James and developing many opportunities to grow the electronic music platform on a global level.”
Hard Events has exclusively been a North American brand. Now that Hard is part of Live Nation, going international is the next step, although no strategy has been mapped out as of yet.
Moves like this for Hard Events and Cream Holdings are essential for business. Companies like Live Nation possess a greater amount of resources, backing, and network and allow for better global visibility. Barton, in an interview, discussed the crucial “support and resources” companies like Live Nation provide and mentioned that Live Nation has not been employing conquer-and-destroy tactics when handling EDM. Barton, already successful with Cream Holdings for several years, is showing Live Nations the ropes of EDM, rather than letting the global, genre-spanning conglomerate make inaccurate and serious missteps.
In his interview, Barton said to look past the Live Nation brand and, instead, at the strategy: “I think if you look at Live Nation’s move into electronic music up to this point, I think everybody could sort of feel comfortable saying that purchasing Cream, hiring James Barton, was a smart move, and purchasing Hard and hiring Gary Richards and his team was also a smart move. So I think we should be judged on what we’ve done instead of what the perception of Live Nation is.”
Also in Live Nation’s favor is CEO Michael Rapino’s attitude. Rather than see EDM as a passing fad that will soon fade and must be capitalized on as soon as possible or as a musical subset that must be bought up, Rapino views it as an “absolutely here-to-stay” genre. Speaking about Live Nation’s expansion into EDM at the recent EDMbiz conference, part of the first EDC Week in Las Vegas, Rapino stated he wants the genre to be more relevant in North America.
Specialization and sentiments aside, Live Nation has global musical dominance behind it, regardless of genre. While it’s primarily still associated with ticket and merchandise sales and concert promotion, the company, in early 2011, made a bid for Warner Music Group when one of the record company’s equity backers sold 35 percent of its share. Such a strategy would give Live Nation complete control over artists, from management and recording to promotion and concerts.
Would this affect EDM? That’s hard to say. While some artists are already signed to major labels (even those with more clout than Ultra and Ministry of Sound), EDM producers, in general, are a more independent bunch, frequently starting and managing their own labels for musical integrity and control over releases. Producers from Boys Noize to Kevin Saunderson to Sander Van Doorn to Deadmau5 all manage labels – for their own and other artists’ releases – in some capacity.
But club and festival culture are significant parts of electronic music, perhaps in an even greater capacity than live performances are to hip-hop, pop, or rock. Having a company as large and pervasive as Live Nation could wipe out the individuality of each event and sterilize the atmosphere. Even with the best intentions of retaining the elements that make EDM unique, Live Nation’s acquisition of Cream Holdings, Hard Events, and perhaps other major promoters may result in a monolithic club culture, making Global Gathering, the Ultra Music Festival, and Creamfields essentially the same event in a different location.