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by Stacey Anderson | Source: The New York Times

Once marginalized as a novel European import, electronic dance music, or E.D.M., has become the dominant trend in American pop these days. Its lively synthetic beats and booming bass lines are inescapable, and its top DJ’s draw sold-out crowds to outdoor raves and even rock bastions like Lollapalooza and Coachella, earning them thousands, if not millions, of dollars for a single set.

Now several of its stars are turning their attention to what could become their biggest payday yet: Hollywood.

Skrillex, the DJ who won three Grammys in February, and who Forbes magazine estimated earned US$15 million last year, has composed an original score for the film Spring Breakers, which does not yet have a release date. He also recorded material for one scene of the Disney animated film Wreck-It Ralph, which is scheduled to be released on November 2nd.

Another of electronic dance’s leaders, Kaskade, met with film producers during his summer headlining tour but has yet to finalize a deal. Without denying the potential financial rewards Kaskade said part of his motivation for venturing into film scores is artistic credibility“For me it’s about longevity and doing something that’s new, different, challenging. I think there still are some people who doubt the musicality about electronic music, like: ‘What is it? What are they doing?’ But after you score a film, nobody can really say anything more about that.”

For a movie industry eager to tap into E.D.M.’s largely young fan base, the incentive seems obvious. Yet John Houlihan, a film supervisor who has worked on more than 60 soundtracks, including those for the three Austin Powers movies, Training Day and the thriller Looper, sees an underlying creative connection. “I think it’s their day in the sun, and Hollywood is very trendy. An E.D.M. artist like Skrillex is pushing frequencies and using new instrumentation that is so intense, his music has the potential to drive a modern action scene more effectively than a traditional Hollywood orchestra.”

Electronic musicians have scored movies for years. Recent examples include the Chemical Brothers for Hanna, Daft Punk for Tron: Legacy, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Social Network, for which they won an Academy Award. However, artists like Skrillex, Kaskade and M83 have more trendy momentum than their predecessors did during their projects. By including them, the movies get a quick infusion of youthful relevance, while the musicians court a broader mainstream audience and receive a significant salary.

Skrillex said that composing for film was humbling. He repeated several times his belief that the music was there to support the action on screen, not to detract from it. “The music and the picture work together like a narrative piece,” he said.

Houlihan noted that film and TV studios are already paying top dollar for electronic tracks. He said prominent E.D.M. artists can receive US$40,000 to US$50,000 for licensing a song for single use in a network television show and US$150,000 to US$250,000 for one song in a film. 

However, scoring a film presents new challenges to electronic artists, who typically write and perform alone with their computers and sound systems. “You not only have to have the musical chops and the compositional skills, you also have to have the skills of a filmmaker and understand what is happening in the films and the emotions and intention of the action,” Houlihan said. He added a deeper concern, suggesting that E.D.M. could be little more than a fad. “I don’t think it will go on forever,” he said. “Film music trends tend to follow music trends, and the fickle taste of the public is going to get off dubstep at some point in the next year or so.”