How Electronic Music Production Changed the Music Industry

How Electronic Music Beat the Music Industry

As I sit down to write this, I’m listening to Gorillaz’s album The Fall. It’s not only an interesting example of electronic music production (with tens of millions of streams to show for it) but also recorded entirely on an iPad—and 14 years ago! 

Since then, technology has taken even more massive leaps forward and disrupted all the old systems for music creation. While that hasn’t eliminated the value of the traditional studio and amazing professional musicians, it has provided an entirely independent option for musicians of any level to be creative. 

Let’s look at some of the ways “The Industry” has evolved to embrace these new tools and fresh ideas, but first, we should understand how the traditional studio system functions.

The Studio Recording Process

Until the advent of affordable home recording software, musicians had to put serious investment into each song they wanted to create or release. A recording session could cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. 

Not only would the studio charge for access to its rooms, microphones, outboard gear, and hugely expensive consoles, but also for the analog tape required to record on.  Each reel of tape can now cost a couple hundred dollars and typically only records 24 tracks for 15 minutes. 

This $1,000 in 1969 is equivalent to over $8,000 today. As a head engineer at a major recording studio, I only wish we could still charge this much!

Of course, most studios now record using a DAW or Digital Audio Workstation rather than tape. But even with that expense reduced, the studio will need something to record. Bands may choose to record all the parts themselves, cutting costs until you consider the thousands of dollars (and countless hours of practice and fine-tuning their sound) invested into their instruments. 

Alternatively, an artist may hire professional musicians to accompany them. These “Session Players” are not cheap, but I think they are 100% worth it if you hope to maximize your studio experience.  

After the recording is finished, you’ll still need to have saved some money for editing, mixing, and mastering. These vital steps will take the performances and sounds you captured and present them to the world with all the polish, creativity, and excitement a professional audio engineer can bring. 

This collaborative process is an exercise in judgment calls and trust in your team. Of course, handing the reins over can be scary, but finding producers and engineers you trust can help elevate your music immensely.

The Democratization of Music Creation

On the other hand, the rise of affordable synthesizers and music production software in the 1980s and 90s was a game-changer. Electronic music didn’t require years of practice or expensive studio time, unlike traditional instruments. Bedroom producers could craft complex soundscapes, fostering a DIY culture that empowered a new generation of artists.

With continuous growth in the years since, software instruments can now create sounds throughout the entire range of human sounds. Expensive analog synthesizers are now competing against iOS apps. Live 60-piece orchestras now share film/TV score work with ultra-realistic orchestral virtual instruments. 

Even traditional acoustic instruments and session players compete with free or cheap apps that believably play samples and loops from drums, piano, or acoustic guitar.  AI technology is even emerging as an option to mimic the skill and creativity of a professional musician who has spent thousands of hours perfecting their craft.

Bypassing the Gatekeepers

Beyond the creation experience, a significant challenge for artists has always been finding a way to be heard. Traditional methods of getting national radio spins or physical distribution to every record store in the country are no longer prerequisites to a successful career. Free and public platforms like Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and YouTube allow anyone to share their music with the world, bypassing traditional gatekeepers like record labels.  

Online distributors like CDBaby, Tunecore, and Distrokid allow any artist access to the same streaming services as the major labels have. For free or very cheap, a song can be posted to Spotify and Apple Music, and it has a chance to be heard by billions of listeners. Of course, marketing will still be needed to catch their attention.

With the combination of affordable production hardware and software and easy access to distribution, today’s artists have almost no roadblocks to releasing music from their own bedrooms.  

Genre-Bending and Fusion

Another element of electronic music’s beauty lies in its ability to transcend genre. Early pioneers like Kraftwerk and Afrika Bambaataa combined elements of rock, funk, and disco with electronic sounds, birthing entirely new styles like synth-pop and electro.

This fusion mentality continues today, with subgenres like future bass and chillwave blending electronica with pop and hip-hop.

This cross-pollination keeps the sound fresh and exciting, attracting new audiences who might not have otherwise connected with electronic music.

Even traditional genres of music have, at least occasionally, embraced the revolution. Turn on any country radio station, and you’ll hear 808s bumping.  

The Rise of the DJ

The DJ’s figure has been central to electronic music’s cultural impact. DJs are no longer just people who play records; they have become curators, artists, and performers in their own right. Their ability to weave together tracks, create seamless transitions, and build energy in a live setting is an art form.

DJs like Daft Punk, Diplo, Marshmello, and many more have transcended the club scene, selling out stadiums and headlining massive festivals. They frequently collaborate with mainstream artists. This elevation has brought electronic music to entirely new audiences, developed a unique musical culture, and cemented a permanent impact on the industry.

The Live Experience: A Multisensory Spectacle

Electronic music concerts are not at all limited to just the music. Lighting rigs, lasers, pyrotechnics, and elaborate stage productions have become integral to the live experience. Technological and creative growth in the production technology allows these artists to move audiences in entirely new ways.

Festivals like Coachella and Tomorrowland are visual feasts, creating an immersive atmosphere that takes audiences on a journey. This focus on spectacle elevates electronic music from simply listening to a fully-fledged, multisensory experience.  

The Business of Electronic Music

Electronic music has always been at the forefront of technological innovation but, through necessity, has also been at the leading edge of business evolution. The genre’s embrace of streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music has been a boon for both artists and listeners, as previously niche subgenres now have dedicated playlists and radio stations, allowing for greater discoverability. 

For artists, streaming offers a global reach and the potential for constant revenue streams, even if payouts per stream are relatively low. While debates about fair compensation for artists remain, streaming undeniably offers a new and convenient way to access a vast library of electronic music. With that access comes the opportunity for artists to monetize their fanbase through selling show tickets, merchandise, physical copies (especially vinyl releases), and key sync placements in TV/film/video game releases.

The economic impact of electronic music is undeniable. Dance music festivals are a multi-billion dollar industry, attracting millions of attendees worldwide. Electronic Dance Music (EDM) has become a mainstream marketing tool, with major brands sponsoring events and collaborating with artists. This commercialization has pros and cons but undoubtedly speaks to the genre’s cultural reach and influence.

Challenges and the Road Ahead

Despite its success, electronic music faces challenges. Copyright issues in the digital age remain complex, and ensuring fair compensation for artists who rely heavily on samples is crucial.

Additionally, the focus on large-scale festivals and superstar DJs can overshadow the rich underground scene that continues to be a breeding ground for innovation.

Along with accessibility comes competition. Since the majority of humanity can now make music using these tools, it will become increasingly difficult for true geniuses to stand out.

Another side effect of bypassing the gatekeepers is that this extreme democratization can lower our expectations and standards for the art we consume—I call it the “Soundcloud rapper effect.”  Fortunately, great art always tends to be obvious to the listener (even when it’s not to the label executives).


Electronic music’s impact on the music industry is undeniable. It has democratized music creation, fostered genre-bending innovation, and redefined the live music experience. As technology continues to evolve, so too will electronic music, constantly pushing boundaries and shaping the future of how we create, consume, and experience music.

From bedrooms to underground clubs and even up to the biggest stages, the sonic revolution of electronic music shows no signs of slowing down.

If you are interested in a career in the Music Industry, Dark Horse Institute’s music programs: Composition and Songwriting, Audio Engineering, or Music Business are a great way to take things to the next level!


  • I found this whole article to be quite enlightening and fun to read. Thank you for posting this. I especially liked seeing the old receipt from 1969 and reading the caption underneath. I don’t use a recording studio but it is interesting to see an idea of the costs then versus the possible costs today.

    I think the phrase “the democratization of music creation” really summarizes how music production is more available to people who want to create music because they *want* to, and not only because they have a music theory degree or certain musical instrument experience or training. I am really grateful that DAWs and software instruments exist.

    I also want to add, that YouTube, SoundCloud, and Bandcamp have helped me discover new or older music in some of my favorite genres that I otherwise would have not found without them. (They are retrowave, lo-fi, chiptunes, and ambient to name just a few subgenres.)

    This is a wonderful thing. It’s a different world now; we will need more musicians to keep us calm, uplifted, or energized in today’s world.

    — Sara Watts (a.k.a. SynthieSara on SoundCloud), digital music producer / hobbyist

    • Absolutely! We all benefit from access to the tools to express ourselves through art, even if we aren’t trying to make a living at it. That being said, it’s not too shabby when we get to make a living at what we love as well!


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