It's tough to be Tiësto.
Back in 2012, the biggest electronic dance music (EDM) act at this weekend's Budweiser Made in America festival on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway - he plays on Sunday, just before closing act Kings of Leon - pulled in $22 million. That put him atop Forbes magazine's inaugural list of Electronic Cash Kings, which ranks the highest-paid DJs in the world.
This year, the Dutchman born Tijs Michiel Verwest has slipped to a tie for third, far behind top-earning Calvin Harris, who pulled in $66 million. So Tiësto must hate the Scotsman for doubling up his meager total of $28 million in performance fees and endorsements, right?
"No, absolutely not," Tiësto said by phone from Los Angeles last week, laughing. "I think my perspective on money is everything above $10 million, you're so rich it doesn't really matter. What are you going to buy? A golden car? I don't care if I'm number one or number 10 on that list. I'd rather have a Grammy instead."
After attracting huge crowds in Europe and around the world for decades, EDM has exploded in the U.S. in the last three years. If the rapid growth is a bubble bound to burst like 17th-century Dutch tulip mania, it hasn't happened yet: this year's top 10 Forbes earners pulled in 11 percent more than last year. (Steve Aoki, the DJ son of Benihana founder Rocky Aoki, is fifth on the list, and was on the bill for Made in America on Saturday night.)
Tiësto specializes in ebullient, energetic music - call it progressive trance, if you must - that can make you feel as if you're living in a relentlessly cheerful soda commercial. He's 45, and has averaged 150 gigs a year for the last 20 years. (In March, he smashed his head on a light screen running on stage in San Jose, Calif., turning himself into a bloody mess. He had to be rushed to the hospital, but was back on stage in Miami two days later.) In 2004, Tiësto became the first DJ to work an Olympic opening ceremony, in Athens, Greece.
"[Electronic dance music] was never built to be mainstreamed, I don't think," Tiësto said. "It's meant to be underground. It's basically just beats and melodies. In the last couple of years, it's become more and more mainstream because vocals were added to the tracks and pop producers got involved. Those are the guys responsible for it. The basic EDM is still not radio-friendly.
"But I think also the way people listen to music nowadays is so different than it was five or 10 years ago," noted the DJ, who splits his time, when not traveling, among Stockholm, New York and Las Vegas, where he has a long-term residency at the mega-club Hakkasan at the MGM Grand. "Everything is in your face, and EDM is more accessible than ever through social media and Spotify. That really helped, blowing it up a lot. It's always been big, but now it's more accessible. Now, everyone has their phone with them, and their favorite tracks, everywhere they go."
Tiësto isn't complaining, but he points out that the sales for EDM releases such as his new A Town Called Paradise, which features vocal contributions from Icona Pop and Cruickshank, are negligible. "We're the least-selling scene in the world. We're so lucky our income doesn't come from selling records. . . . Rock bands and country bands, they still sell a good chunk of records. But we don't. I mean, everybody downloads it illegally and listens to it and streams the hell out of it, but nobody buys actual dance records."
The cliche about EDM - effectively mocked this year in a Saturday Night Live short featuring Andy Samberg as a DJ playing video games on his laptop while the crowd goes crazy - is that dance-music makers simply show up at a club and push a play button on a prerecorded set.
So what's the truth, Tiësto? What do you actually do on stage?
"I prepare my sets a lot in advance with mashups and vocals and a cappella and just mix it together on the spot," he said. "So every two or three minutes, I make a couple of transitions, put some sound effects on it, and yeah, just mix it up in a nice way. And then look at how the crowd reacts, and from that, change the course of the set. Because if you have a prerecorded set and you push one button, you can't change anything."
Tiësto, who will open his Made in America set Sunday night with his triumphant track "Rocky" from A Town Called Paradise, said "knowing which track to play at what moment to make the crowd go crazy is not something you learn. I think you are born with that. It's like rhythm. You either have it or you don't.
"I love playing festivals like Made in America that mix and blend different kinds of music. A lot of people listen to many different kinds of music, not just EDM. And a very diverse lineup is great. I can gain a lot of new followers. It's great exposure."
Tiësto's music is upbeat almost without exception. Is the superstar DJ, who says he drinks a little but never takes drugs ("That would mess with my head") really as super-positive a person as his music would imply?
"Yeah, yeah," he said. "I like to make people happy and I like to be happy. So all the music is very happy. I want to make people feel good. It's the best feeling when you can make people smile with your music."
But even Tiësto needs to slow it down sometimes. When he's not on stage, he said, "you'd be surprised [at what I listen to]. I listen to a lot of really nice postmodern rock. Chillout music. I love Sigur Rós and Bon Iver. It's so peaceful, that music. It's the opposite of what I play all day. It's very chill to my ear."
SUNDAY AT MADE IN AMERICA
Bleachers 2-2:30 p.m.; YG 3-3:45; Awolnation 4:35-5:15; Spoon 6-6:45; Pharrell Williams 7:30-8:30; Kings of Leon 9:30-11
Vacationer 1:30-2 p.m.; Kongos 2:30-3; Danny Brown 3:45-4:30; Grimes 5:15-6; Girl Talk 6:45-7:30; Tiësto 8:30-9:30
Mimosa 2:50-3:40 p.m.; Penguin Prison 3:40-4:30; Will Sparks 4:30-5:20; 3LAU 5:20-6:15; Tommy Trash 6:15-7:15; Gareth Emery 7:15-8:30
Skate Park Stage
Misterwives 1:15-1:45 p.m.; Cruisr 2-2:30; Nothing 2:45-3:30; Bear Hands 4-4:45; Man Overboard 5:15-6; The Menzingers 6:30-7:30