Live instruments in EDM and why they make sense

Live instruments in EDM make more sense than many DJs realize. Here’s why.

Live instruments in EDM may seem contradictory, but the music world can expect more and more of them. Digital composers looking for success in 2017 and beyond should see live instruments as an opportunity, therefore.

This is because the trend of live instruments in EDM has been coming for a long time.

In 2012 The LA Times quoted Deadmau5 as saying, “People assume there’s a guy on a laptop up there producing new original tracks on the fly. None of the ‘top DJ’s in the world’ to my knowledge have. Myself included.”

This caused a huge debate among EDM artists, themselves, while everyone outside the scene nodded in agreement with Deadmau5.

EDM moved on.

Then in 2014, Saturday Night Live’s “When Will the Bass Drop?” skit lit up the discussion again. How can we consider EDM live music unless it has an obvious live component?

In that article, Autograf’s Jake Carpenter said of the SNL skit, “Build up, raise your hands, insert Lil Jon vocal drop and everyone starts jumping like pogo sticks. We’re starting to see a reaction to that.”

Now let’s skip ahead to 2016. This is four full years after Deadmau5 pointed out the problem.

Connor Jones writes for Magnetic Magazine: “The DJ model set the standard in the culture and helped foster the current era of prosperity in the scene, but it always felt as though the live aspect was a missed potential. A few artists broke the mold over the years as the EDM movement developed, but this just wasn’t the mentality driving the live scene.”

This mentality can be easily understood in terms of music evolution. Fans and artists who consider EDM to have been a brand-new invention of the year 2000 are mistaken.

EDM came from electronica, trip hop, industrial music and other genres. To get it, all you needed to do was take out the live instruments.

Naturally, that left a hole.

Today, the roster of artists who blend live instruments in EDM thrums with new blood.

It includes Gramatik, Empire of the Sun, the Chainsmokers, Calvin Harris, Disclosure, the Glitch Mob, Emancipator, Modestep, Octave One, KiNK, Detroit Swindle, Destroid, Opiuo and many, many more.

Let’s remember, too, bands that helped pioneer the sound in the 1990s like the Prodigy, KMFDM, and Pop Will Eat Itself.

But the point is: what’s the difference between live instruments in EDM and great digital dance music alone? How can EDM artists use this to their advantage?

As far as live performances go, the answer is plain. Live instruments add to the entertainment factor. Music fans get more. The end.

What about the sound, though? And what about EDM artists who never play live?

True music fans can be very hard to fool if you’re trying to synthesize a live solo. The sound of live music is worth the trouble, but recording a live instrument is often easier than successfully imitating one.

Millions of people play instruments all over the world. Most of them enjoy a recording session, even an unpaid one.

Never underestimate the power of a vocalist, either. Good singers love nothing more than a microphone. The most popular EDM tracks in history include live vocals.

Should the EDM artist not want to share creative responsibility, there’s nothing stopping him or her from sampling live instruments. After all, samples of live music represent the original heart of EDM.


Comments and questions on this topic or others are welcome here or at Also be sure to check out last week’s post in which we explored the advice of Rolling Stone’s top ten songwriters on writing great music.