Among the most popular DJs in the world, Dutch superstar Tiesto is one of a handful of DJs who pulls down a rock-star-size salary jetting across the globe to cash in on electronic dance music’s rocket ride from underground movement to red-hot mainstream commodity. Tiesto spends more than 200 days a year on tour, flying from London to Bangkok to Los Angeles — typically somewhere new every day.
The U.K.-based dance music magazine Mixmag last year voted him the greatest DJ of all time. His “Kaleidoscope World Tour,” with 175 dates on six continents, raked in more than $28 million, ranking it among the top 25 highest-grossing tours of 2010, according to Billboard magazine.
The migration of electronic dance music’s popularity from Europe to the United States in the past few years has fueled the trend in superstar DJs.
Today, DJs such as Tiesto, David Guetta, Deadmau5 and Armin Van Buuren play stages and stadiums as big as any occupied by Lady Gaga, Arcade Fire or Britney Spears.
“Dance music has hit the spot in America and that’s amazing news,” said Steve Angello, one of three DJs in Swedish House Mafia. “It came out to the masses maybe three years ago. Pop artists and R&B artists started to look into dance music. A lot of people say it’s gone commercial now, but the fact is that it’s good for the scene.”
Over the past several years the global electronic music touring market has grown into a billion-dollar industry, based on the sale of tickets to clubs, concerts and private events for rock star DJs and smaller “bedroom DJs,” according to Joel Zimmerman, head of the electronic music division at William Morris Endeavor agency.
The explosive growth is directly related to the rise of social media and the Internet, according to dance music lovers and the DJs themselves. These digital tools have taken the tastemaking power away from major labels and mass media and placed it squarely in the hands — and laptops and phones — of music fans. At the same time, personal computers have democratized the process for creating electronic music. Ten years ago, you needed a big budget and a major studio to make chart-topping hits. Today you need a basic computer and a $200 download of FL Studio, a popular digital audio workstation.
Dance music has long enjoyed widespread adulation in Europe. The Spanish island of Ibiza is considered the dance music capital of the world since the genre experienced its first burst of popularity in the late 1980s. But it was only a few years ago that North and South America became huge emerging markets.
At the core of the movement are the young fans, particularly between the ages of 16 and 21, who have grown up on dance music thanks to the doors opened and barriers broken by DJ-producers like Tiesto, who at 44, has been DJing for more than half his life.
“Nobody can compete with Tiesto. He’s done more things in the DJ world than anybody else,” says Swedish House Mafia’s Angello, 28. “I mean he played the opening ceremony of the Olympics.”
That was in 2004; Tiesto is in talks to DJ the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“That would be huge, even bigger than the Olympics,” Tiesto said.