It’s not your imagination, dance music is getting slower.
The one constant in the world of dance music? It has always been in a state of flux. From the heyday of Disco in the 70’s to the ubiquitous presence of EDM (Electronic Dance Music) today, music designed to get you out of your seat and onto the dance floor has gone through an enormous change in the last four decades. While some elements have remained throughout the years, instrumentation, lyrics, and especially tempos have moved into new, unprecedented directions.
Beat-matching, a technique invented in the late 60’s by Francis Grosso, allows a DJ to seamlessly blend different tracks together into a non-stop flow of music, capable of going unbroken for hours at a time. The success of this approach is heavily reliant on finding songs that have a similar tempo or BPM (beats per minute). Consequently, if an artist wants their latest dance track considered for rotation in any of the thousands of dance clubs around the world, the tempo of the song (to a certain extent) is predetermined.
But in the last decade dance music has undergone a dramatic downshift in tempo. Artists such as The Chainsmokers, Major Lazer, and Kygo have “hit the brakes” on EDM, creating slower grooves while still maintaining the expected energy and density of the genre. As EDM has permeated the Top 40 charts, listeners have overwhelmingly welcomed a less-frenetic, down-tempo sound that more closely aligns with their other musical preferences – namely Hip Hop. “Don’t Let Me Down” by The Chainsmokers ft. Daya is a perfect example of how the two worlds of EDM and Hip Hop have, in many ways, become instrumentally interchangeable.
In 2010 the average tempo of the top songs in the Club & Dance genre clocked in at 130 BPM. Today, just 7 years later, the average tempo stands at 108 BPM – a decrease of 18%. Moreover, as an indication of just how prevalent the slowdown has become, the average tempo of the top EDM songs just last year was 118 BPM. Which begs the question, to quote Chubby Checker, “How low can you go?”
But here at PlayNetwork, where music supervisors curate branded playlists for the in-store experience, getting people to dance is not the main objective. Nor is there a need for a seamless, beat-matched stream of music. However, one request frequently heard from our clients (almost daily) is to keep the music “upbeat.” As retail environments are greatly impacted by the overhead music, the tempo, energy, and density of songs in the playlist are an important consideration. If a large segment of a brand’s playlist stems from the current Club & Dance genre, there may be a legitimate perception that the music is “slow” – presenting the challenge of maintaining an energetic and lively collection of music.
Nevertheless, as with all trends there is beginning and an end. In a few years, we may well return to the other end of the tempo spectrum. But then again, if the history of dance music has taught us anything, the future of EDM can go anywhere – moving into pioneering, unforeseen directions. All we hope, here in the world of retail music supervision, is that they keep it upbeat.
Want to check out the tempo downshift for yourself? Check out the tracks below: