Dumbing down music, one location at a time

Unsurprising news, DJ Shadow was kicked off the decks at Miami nightclub Mansion for playing music described as “too confusing”. Yes, this is the same place that kicked Dennis Ferrer off the decks for not playing “commercial enough”. While some will defend the move claiming that the promoter shouldn’t have booked him at a top-40 club to begin with (and there is some truth to that), or that DJ Shadow should have adapted to the crowd, or that this is simply the nature of the game in today’s music industry; in reality it calls attention to a much bigger problem. Dance music is being dumbed down.


Every genre of music has its share of crap flooding its respective market. As electronic/dance music finds its way to the mainstream, however, our culture is seeing an unprecedented flood of sophomoric tunes unlike any other genre of music. Naturally there are many factors for this. Music creation has never been as easy, cheap, or convenient as it is today. Anyone with a computer and a little Internet savvy can find the software to make a rudimentary piece. With the plethora of musical templates out there, making a “song” can be as easy as selecting which preselected sounds you want to plug in,  sometimes even easier than that. Further, once your masterpiece song is finished, it doesn’t take much effort to find a label to get your song up on music distribution sites, or even do it yourself. Music has become a volume business and the industry favors quantity over quality.

With push button production methods along side push button DJ options, it is no wonder that many seek dance music as the route for a quick buck and 15 minutes of fame. Make something easily accessible to the masses, easily consumed, throw some money behind it, create as many opportunities for repetition as possible so that people become accustomed to hearing it and boom, hit track. That’s not to say that this formula is how every song becomes a hit, some actually make it to the top because they are legitimately good. But let’s be realistic, that is becoming more and more rare. It has gotten so bad that people constantly scramble to new sounds en masse just because they are new, trying to feed their desire for something more meaningful, never truly realizing what they are actually hungry for. No matter what wrapping you put on a rice cake, you’ll never find yourself satisfied.


While there will always be those that appreciate and push for the more complex and heady sounds, sadly, those people are clearly out numbered in today’s culture. Even what is left of the underground environment is buckling to the pressure of playing the more accessible sounds for the sake of the numbers game. So who cares? Anybody who sees the value of this music as an art form. Anybody who wants to see our music have any continued longevity. We applaud DJ Shadow for taking a stand and maintaining artistic integrity, not only for himself, but for all of us.

The sad part in all of this is that you can make art and money at the same time. If more people understood and valued that concept, we would not reward the people who flood the market with an inferior product. Less formulaic sound-a-likes, and more sounds from the heart please. I am not naive in all of this, nor am I unrealistic. I know there will always be those that just want to get drunk, listen to a jukebox, and play the mating games. I also know that just because something is called art doesn’t mean it is good, but neither does a song’s popularity. I just want to encourage as many people as possible who see a better path for our music to push harder. I want the consumers of music to challenge themselves and see past the easily consumed, develop your palate. Let’s all have artistic integrity, no matter what sound drives us.

Published by

Sean Ray

Award winning DJ/Producer and actor (SAG-AFTRA).

3 thoughts on “Dumbing down music, one location at a time”

  1. They said his music was too futuristic NOT confusing; there is a big difference. Also, if you watch the videos the crowd was clearly not pleased be was being kicked off the decks. I love the fact that music production is so easily accessible to the masses. Why sgoe a privileged few be the ones dictating what should or shouldn’t be heard? If you don’t like what’s being produced or presented to you then don’t play it. I love the challenge of trying to find that one track that hasn’t been played at every festival or on the beat port top ten lists. I think you ‘artists’ should be more concerned with your own work than what everyone else is churning out. The elitist attitude exhibited by some in this industry is very disheartening. Music is an expression from within. Who cares if someone takes some canned loops and creates a song the try’s to get it out there for the masses? The people will listen to what they want to hear and if you can’t or don’t want to provide it then someone else will. Times have and will continue to change and those too stubborn or proud to change with them will be left behind. Shadow did exactly what he should’ve but that doesn’t make him or his music any more better than anyone else’s.

    1. This isn’t about being elitist at all. It is exactly about pushing music that is “an expression from within” instead of just trying to recreate something that someone else had success with. It isn’t that the materials are easy to get that creates the problem, it’s that people are able to easily recreate what’s been done when they have no real connection to the music to begin with.

  2. Playing what you want and the crowds be damned can be career suicide. I’ve done my share of that and its cost me but at the same time you don’t ask a band to play a different style at your gig. You know what you are getting when you book certain talent. Shadow doesn’t scream main stream dance to me.
    I always played hard and fast and I hope that’s why I was booked. I’ve turned down countless gig at the request of people basically thinking I would just show up and play some popular tunes. Only problem with that is I don’t own those tunes! Its the promoters job to book compatible talent not the DJ’s job necessarily to tailor to your crown if that’s not their style.

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