I have played music professionally for more than two decades, primarily as a bassist for other artists. I currently play with an act called Cree Rider Family Band, which just released its debut album this year. We do country like it’s 1972. I am well pleased with the output.
This summer we opened up at the Alton Amphitheater for “The Street Fighting Band,” which is a Rolling Stones tribute act from here in St Louis. The band is fantastic, chock full of tremendous musicians who can reproduce the music of the Stones (and almost anybody else) at the highest level. I watched the crowd (approximate median age 48) enjoy the performance. It was, in every sense, a great show, from aesthetics to sonics to theatrics.
Yet I had a realization as I watched the crowd. This was not, in its historical sense, a rock concert, a discrete moment in time that perfectly represented the bleeding edge of culture. The night would never be “legendary;” a riot would not break out that would change history, et cetera. This was instead a public performance of repertoire, exactly the way an orchestra might perform Mozart or Stravinsky; a theater company would put on Shakespeare and Cervantes. You might think it terrible news that rock and roll has completely bypassed danger and has moved to permanent artistic respectability, but we are talking about an art form that is 60 years old with very defined aesthetics.
Since The Super Bowl started featuring Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, and The Who as halftime acts in recent years, I began to ask a question: Is pop music primarily a backward-looking activity? Is the beleaguered music industry dominated by Baby Boomer-driven, pre-Internet acts? Are these shows just a remembrance of time gone by?
I sought out two kinds of data to provide insight around this: the top touring acts and the top selling records of last year, 2012. I figured if I followed the money, a story might emerge. For touring acts I’m including the artist, when they first released a major album (a key figure), gross receipts and other tour figures. Then we’ll compare it with top records last year, based on the artist, year of first major album release and units sold.
The results are unexpected.
Top 25 tours of 2012
2. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band (1973)
Total Gross: $199,371,791 Number of Shows: 72
Total Attendance: 2,165,925 Number of Sell-Outs: 54
3. Roger Waters (1967)
Total Gross: $186,466,703 Number of Shows: 72
Total Attendance: 1,680,042 Number of Sell-Outs: 51
4. Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour by Cirque Du Soleil (1969)
Total Gross: $147,310,505 Number of Shows: 183
Total Attendance: 1,374,482 Number of Sell-Outs: 9
5. Coldplay (1999)
Total Gross: $147,188,828 Number of Shows: 67
Total Attendance: 1,811,787 Number of Sell-Outs: 56
6. Lady Gaga (2008)
Total Gross: $124,879,545 Number of Shows: 65
Total Attendance: 1,111,099 Number of Sell-Outs: 65
7. Kenny Chesney & Tim McGraw (1994, 1992)
Total Gross: $96,458,890 Number of Shows: 23
Total Attendance: 1,085,382 Number of Sell-Outs: 9
8. Van Halen (1977)
Total Gross: $54,425,548 Number of Shows: 46
Total Attendance: 522,296 Number of Sell-Outs: 9
10. Andre Rieu (1987)
Total Gross: $46,785,717 Number of Shows: 99
Total Attendance: 490,165 Number of Sell-Outs: 2
11. Dave Matthews Band (1993)
Total Gross: $41,433,182 Number of Shows: 41
Total Attendance: 757,629 Number of Sell-Outs: 17
12. Barbra Streisand (1963)
Total Gross: $40,657,170 Number of Shows: 12
Total Attendance: 154,287 Number of Sell-Outs: 12
14. Lady Antebellum (2007)
Total Gross: $38,358,801 Number of Shows: 88
Total Attendance: 860,065 Number of Sell-Outs: 72
15. Red Hot Chili Peppers (1985)
Total Gross: $33,911,873 Number of Shows: 42
Total Attendance: 549,028 Number of Sell-Outs: 24
16. Brad Paisley (1999)
Total Gross: $33,794,719 Number of Shows: 51
Total Attendance: 485,852 Number of Sell-Outs: 31
18. Trans-Siberian Orchestra (1996)
Total Gross: $33,370,711 Number of Shows: 99
Total Attendance: 673,575 Number of Sell-Outs: 13
19. Elton John (1970)
Total Gross: $32,920,986 Number of Shows: 38
Total Attendance: 240,381 Number of Sell-Outs:25
20. Justin Bieber (2009)
Total Gross: $30,667,737 Number of Shows: 29
Total Attendance: 402,710 Number of Sell-Outs: 28
21. Rod Stewart (1969)
Total Gross: $30,158,491 Number of Shows: 35
Total Attendance: 201,912 Number of Sell-Outs: 24
22. Neil Diamond (1966)
Total Gross: $29,910,078 Number of Shows: 30
Total Attendance: 317,824 Number of Sell-Outs: 6
23. Pearl Jam (1991)
Total Gross: $27,363,430 Number of Shows: 11
Total Attendance: 337,613 Number of Sell-Outs: 0
24. Taylor Swift (2006)
Total Gross: $26,310,160 Number of Shows: 21
Total Attendance: 285,715 Number of Sell-Outs: 21
25. Rascal Flatts (2000)
Total Gross: $26,155,360 Number of Shows: 45
Total Attendance: 612,243 Number of Sell-Outs: 21
Top selling albums of 2012 (artist – first album – title – units)
- Adele (2008) – 21 – 4,255,452 (somewhere in the $46,000,000 range in gross sales)
- Taylor Swift (2006) – Red – 2,382,541
- One Direction (2010) – Up All Night – 1,464,174
- Mumford & Sons (2009) – Babel – 1,243,156
- Justin Bieber (2009) – Believe – 1,141,334
- Carrie Underwood (2005) – Blown Away – 1,066,903
- Lionel Richie (1974) – Tuskegee – 1,056,830
- Luke Bryan (2007) – Tailgates & Tanlines – 991,922
- One Direction (2010) – Take Me Home – 914,619
- Whitney Houston (1985) – Greatest Hits – 877,390
- Jason Aldean (2005) – Night Train – 865,704
- Maroon 5 (2002) – Overexposed – 861,628
- Fun (2009) – Some Nights – 811,082
- P!nk (2000) – Truth About Love – 776,462
- Various – NOW 41 – 756,990
- Nicki Minaj (2010) – Pink Friday…Roman Reloaded – 748,848
- Gotye (2003) – Making Mirrors – 689,353
- Adele (2008) – 19 – 683,519
- Drake (2009) – Take Care – 681,407
- Eric Church (2006) – Chief – 676,750
- Zac Brown Band (2004) – Uncaged – 649,654
- The Black Keys (2002) – El Camino – 615,235
- Katy Perry (2001) – Teenage Dream – 607,366
- Rod Stewart (1970) – Merry Christmas Baby – 602,343
- Mumford & Sons (2009) – Sigh No More – 578,916
Random thoughts about the list of top tours:
Madonna, the Queen: Holy f***, Madonna made a quarter billion dollars in ticket sales. Last year. Got a joke about her, or kabbalah, or Desperately Seeking Susan or “eww, weird, she’s old?” Yeah, well, funny joke on you – Madonna owns this mofo.
The Boss: Is.
Roger Waters, second wealthiest bassist on earth*: Holy Moley, did anybody realize the bassist from Pink Floyd as a solo act had the number three tour on earth? YAY BASS! (*Sir Paul McCartney, #1)
Michael Jackson dead is still number four: People spent $150,000,000 last year to watch a French Canadian circus play the music of The King of Pop.
Hey! A classical guy!: As a sign that civilization might still have a chance after all, Dutch violinist André Rieu outsold Justin Bieber. Praise be unto God.
Neil Diamond: That he is still kicking ass makes me surprisingly happy.
Napster, the Rubicon?: – only six of the top 25 tours are from artists who emerged after the year 2000, the annus horribilis that saw the death knell of the recorded music sector.
Records matter?: Only four of the top 25 touring artists have albums on the top 25 list of current record sales.
Random thoughts about the list of albums:
Wait, maybe Napster didn’t kill everything?: Only three artists on the Top 25 albums emerged before Napster hit.
Multi-hit: Adele, Mumford & Sons, One Direction all have multiple albums in the Top 25.
Dancing on the ceiling: Lionel Richie sold one million records this year. It makes me smile, though I do wish I could say he outsold Justin Bieber.
Posthumous: Whitney Houston, while deceased, is still selling nearly a million records.
Context: Adele sold around five million records this past year. Michael Jackson’s Thriller sold somewhere north of 65 million units total.
Is the music industry all about nostalgia?
If Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was above Adele, I might have said yes. If Sir Paul McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom would have been in the top albums, pushing out Drake, I would go off on some tiresome rant about the Boomers got Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll, I’m a Gen Xer and I got AIDS, Crack, and Rap: Waaah. This does happen sometimes. But no: I don’t think the story is that simple.
The common refrain is that “the record business is a mess and artists should expect to make money from touring.” Madonna’s tour of a quarter-f***ing-billion smackeroos was probably nearly as big as a proportion of the top 25 records in terms of gross receipts. And the real money in touring seems to be from artists who were financed by the Old Record Industry before they were embraced by the events industry.
The real question is – will Adele be selling out stadiums in twenty years, after Madonna and Roger Waters are less into touring. (I can’t say “retired” since both seem immortal and unstoppable.)
Will the post-Napster generation be able to survive financially long enough to become these venerable touring artists?
Does anybody need the record labels that used to provide advances to the artists who now sell out stadiums?
I do not know the answer to any of these questions. At press time, I am 39 years of age. I have no idea what is hip. Is anything hip any more? An amount of money greater than the GDP of the Falkland Islands went to Roger Waters in 2012. Is that hip? Who the hell are Mumford and Sons? See, I’m not hip.
Musicians are complaining about the lack of opportunities, but musicians complain a lot. Does this mean music is over? Or is the next Beatles right around the corner?
Dear readers, I do not know. I simply hope that everybody outsells Justin Bieber.