The Explosive Growth of EDM

It’s obvious – EDM is more popular than it used to be. And while I may complain and lament the fact that the culture is being watered down, I am happy more people are starting to enjoy the music I love. So, the popularity of EDM is not necessarily a good or bad thing, it’s just different.

Unfortunately, lots of people in the industry (myself included) are guilty of discussing the increased popularity of EDM without really having facts to back it up. So, we brought on a statistician and went to work.

Over the last several weeks, we’ve spent hundreds of hours going through thousands of sets of data to figure out exactly how much my baby has grown. Boy, is she a pretty sight:

This graph shows the rise in monthly EDM popularity since 2004

(here’s a high quality version if the picture above is blurry)

Some interesting things to note:

  • Between January 2004 and June 2012, Engaged and Interested Listens and Plays (EILPs) of EDM rose from approximately 234 million to 842 million, a 260% increase.
  • In 2010, 2011 and the first half of 2012, more people listened to EDM than in the previous six years combined.
  • In 2004, nearly 90% of commercial radio stations played no EDM whatsoever. In 2012, only 24.5% omitted EDM completely.

Things got even more interesting when we began to break the data down by genre.

We found nearly all EDM interest to be concentrated into four specific sub-genres: House, Trance, Techno, and Dubstep. While I initially resisted lumping everything into these four groups, our experiments showed that virtually no one could tell the difference between tracks in more specific sub-sub-genres, like progressive house or hardcore techno. So we used these four categories in order to organize the data along the logical lines that consumers use them when seeking out new music.

I don’t like it, but the reality is no one really cares about the difference between types of EDM past a certain point. That point is these four genres, and that covers more than 99% of the data.

Next, we seperated the monthly popularity of the different EDM genres to see how it has changed over time:

This graph shows the monthly changes in popularity of various EDM genres.

In order to actually do this report, we had to get creative. You see, it’s impossible to know how many people were listening to a certain type of music in the past. If we were to try to determine the current state of EDM, we would design an experiment with a simple random sampling of people and use statistical inference to give us a fairly accurate idea of where we stand. Unfortunately, we could not find any examples of this being done in the past. Our statistician helped us come up with a measure of popularity we could work with: Engaged and Interested Listens and Plays (EILPs).

An EILP is basically when someone listens to a song on purpose. If you hear about a song from a friend and go find it on Youtube or Soundcloud, that is an EILP. If you tune into a radio station you like and they happen to play the song, that’s an EILP also.

This covers a wide range of possibilities for data including radio playlists, sales records, online interactions, and dozens of other sources. This also allows us to exclude non-consensual broadcasts (such as EDM songs used in commercials). While they may be relevant to some extent, having a song in a commercial is not really a measure of popularity with consumers, but an expression of its fitness for a particular advertising message. This system also allowed us to put in controls for false or fraudulent data (which is surprisingly easy to catch) so we could identify and exclude those from our calculations.

The main thing to take away from this is when you see those millions of EILPs, those are not necessarily people, but instances that a song was heard which we know about it. When looking at the above graph about genre popularity, the points are times that the genre was listened to that specific month.

Don’t think that Dubstep is suddenly the most popular type of EDM, because it isn’t. It just means that more people are seeking it out than other types, perhaps because they already know and possess the music they like in other genres. In fact, when we look at the total popularity since 2004 of all the genres, it looks like this:

This graph shows the total popularity of EDM genres since 2004.

One thing that amazed me was there’s no resource for EDM research or data whatsoever. Mainstream music has the famous Nielsen rating system, but they completely ignore electronic music. That’s criminal.

The music business world has been ignoring EDM for a long time, and that hasn’t stopped its tremendous growth. People are going above and beyond to share their music with others. Outside the dozens of electronic music retailers, there are thousands of EDM blogs and websites worldwide dedicated to getting the best music into the ears of as many people as possible.

Eventually, the mainstream will notice, and people who have worked so hard to bring attention to EDM will see their dreams come true. On that day, I think, we’ll all be EDM snobs. Not snobs in the sense that we want to feel superior, but more like tour guides for the next generation, sharing our infectious love for the music.

We’re in for a wild ride, folks, and I couldn’t be more excited. This is history in the making, and we’re all part of it.

-The Snob


I want to thank the many, many people that have made this report possible. Specifically I want to thank Lynn Albers from Studio Paris for the idea to do the genre comparison. Without all of your help I would not have been able to even consider taking on this project. If anyone reading this has questions about the methodology, feel free to contact us. Unless you’re a corporate entity or planning to use this data for business purposes. In that case, go to hell. Directly. Do not pass ‘Go’, do not collect $200.