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Farewell to the Top 40: Who will fill our arenas next?

The Top 40 chart has long been a measure by which elements of the music industry judge their biggest artists – not to mention their own commercial performance. But according to Spotify’s latest accounts those days are finished.

As reported in Music Business Worldwide last week: “Spotify revealed that the number of artists making up its “top tier” of acts now stands at over 43,000. That figure is up 43% from 30,000 one year ago.”

In effect, the The Top 40 is no more. Instead we are dealing with The Top 43,000 (which represent at least 90% of Spotify’s total streams.

In other words, writes MBW, “the exclusive club of artists attracting the majority of streams on Spotify is getting significantly less exclusive. The spoils are being shared more widely; the ‘middle class’ of artist on Spotify is on the rise – and the dominance of the blockbuster superstar is having to make way.”

So, the key question from a live entertainment ticketing perspective is: Who’s going to fill our arenas and stadia once we can get back to business post-COVID?

We asked industry advisor Tim Chambers (Twitter @T_J_Chambers or LinkedIn) for his take on the growing “middle class” of touring artists. Is this the end of stadium-filling acts? Can today’s ‘one hit wonders’ sell an entire arena tour? 

Tim responded as follows: 

An eventual return to large-scale international live touring in 2021/22 is obviously subject to access to an effective vaccine(s).

Alongside which is the availability of reasonably-priced event and public liability insurance, the re-contracting of touring logistics (event production, equipment and crew – all typically freelance or self-employed and some of whom may not have fiscally survived the COVID-19 interregnum), enhanced Health & Safety protocols with increased requirements for audience identification and monitoring leading to potentially reduced event capacities, and the new show deals potentially exposing artists to greater levels of risk with low-or-no guarantees, will all combine to usher in a new era of live entertainment.

For the live touring sector there has long been some concern regarding the aging group of heritage acts and stadium rockstars – Aerosmith, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Roger Waters, Rolling Stones, The Who etc. as ‘Saint Death’ inevitably takes hostages.

For concert promoters and festival organisers which of the younger generation would combine that mass market appeal, back catalogue and the desire to tour with the necessary theatrical flair for album-based multi-hour spectaculars?

“Which of the younger generation (can) combine mass market appeal, back catalogue and the desire to tour with the necessary theatrical flair for multi-hour spectaculars?”

Whilst they are generally younger than the artists who first came to popular acclaim in the sixties and seventies, are Coldplay, The Killers, Madonna, Metallica, Pink!, Red Hot Chili Peppers, TakeThat or U2 going to commit to the next twenty-to-thirty years with the rigours of touring, and also have a global audience?

Perhaps the new generation of hip hop / rap / dance crossover: Ariana Grande, Beyonce, Chance The Rapper, Drake, Eminem, JayZ, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, or Usher with the growing internationalisation of tours expanding into China & the Pacific Rim, South America, and eventually Africa will become the predominate touring culture?

This does not mean that the increasingly niche rock market goes away, it just exists alongside Classical, Jazz, Opera and other ossified musical art forms – supported by historical government funding, advertorial media and the slow-moving record business.

Essentially the global live sector is evolving from white rock’n’roll, to a more contemporary and diverse RnB sound with artists that have also attracted new and different audiences – younger, more culturally diverse, socially engaged via smart phones, and experientially-orientated (as the cost of ownership is typically beyond them with housing, transportation & workspaces via subscription – AirBnb, Lime Scooters, Lyft, Uber, WeWork etc.).

“The global live sector is evolving from white rock’n’roll, to a more contemporary and diverse RnB sound”

The new live music audiences are young, urban and internationalist. They are working longer hours with relatively lower disposable personal income. The digitalisation of content means they experience music via their phones, on the move, or in bars and clubs – the traditional distribution channels of radio, billboard & print has been disrupted.  The new consumers stream music but typically don’t buy the physical product. They applaud individual tunes but don’t need to appreciate longer format releases.

To monetise this audience international tour promoters will target the growing global network of arenas (10k+ capacity) in the world’s top 200 capital cities. Whereas the larger theatres are usually only 3K-5K and are typically orientated towards the performing arts and theatre sector, and so the architecture and facilities tend to reflect those core civic constituencies and associated cultural and service requirement i.e. Founder & Sponsor Hospitality, Orchestra Pits, Acoustic Baffling & signature Architectural design. These lower capacity venues also typically don’t provide sufficient event ticketing ROI to incentivise the touring talent and their international event producers.

Arenas provide a controlled environment where the architecture and operations of the event space have been highly commoditised and producers everywhere know how to create, organise, and execute successfully. Load-In/Out, Stage Width & Access, Hang-Points & Overhead Clearance, Power Supply, Dressing Rooms, Parking and VIP Meet’n’Greet Facilities are all increasingly standardized within climate-controlled, concrete concourses and padded seats enabling the bling-conscious middle-class of Bangalore, Bogota or Bucharest to all experience the latest concert, theatrical or movie experience.

“Post-COVID there will be fewer blockbuster stadium tours… but –aided by the growth of (safe and hygienic) arenas – there will be many more touring artists”

So, post-COVID whilst there will be fewer blockbuster stadium tours by aging artists celebrating their forty-year careers, it is likely that – because of the new economic and hygiene constraints but aided by the growth of arenas – there will be many more touring artists, albeit possibly only enjoying a four-year career reflecting their pop career, hit-tune, TV spectacular background, or other fleeting breakthrough-moment.

What do you think? Who will fill our arenas and stadia in a post-pandemic world? Visit our LinkedIN page here to post your comments on this article. 

More of Tim’s observations and analysis here

Image credit @StateFarmStdm