Even For Touring Artists, Radio Support Matters

As the music industry’s quest for a performance royalty heats up again today on Capitol Hill, one of the record industry’s talking points is the veteran touring artist – the act that rarely gets airplay from current-based formats, and supposedly receives little benefit from Classic Rock or Oldies airplay, no matter how prevalent.
And yet, a look at Pollstar.com’s Top 50 top artists chart tells an interesting story. That chart, derived from the number of tour date inquiries for various artists, is dominated by acts who still receive considerable airplay at radio, whether it’s for their new music or, more often, their gold titles.
All of this is, of course, cold comfort to many of the veteran acts who have been testifying on behalf of a performance royalty. Their stories are all the more sympathetic for not being able to tour at this level. But the correlation between airplay and touring success, many years after a hit streak at current-based radio ends, is proof that even an Oldies or Classic Rock station’s contribution to an artist’s ability to make a living cannot be dismissed.
Here’s the first half of the Pollstar Top 50:
1 – Dave Matthews Band: Less airplay now than a few years ago, but still maintains a presence at Hot AC with “Crash (Into Me),” (the No. 59 oldie at Hot AC this week, according to Mediabase), “The Space Between” and others, as well as at the ’90s-based WRFF Philadelphia-type Alternative stations.
2 – Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood: Clapton will long be represented at radio by “Layla,” “I Shot The Sheriff,” and “After Midnight” at Classic Rock and “Wonderful Tonight” and “Tears In Heaven” at AC. Winwood’s “Higher Love” and “Roll With It” maintain a presence at AC.And even his new material has received Triple-A airplay over the last year.
3 – Bruce Springsteen: Bigger on the radio in the Northeast than elsewhere, but still represented by “Dancing In The Dark,” “Born In The U.S.A.,” “Born To Run,” and others.
4 – AC/DC: “You Shook Me All Night Long” remains in Classic Rock’s top 10, but they’re more represented than ever at that format these days as their audience ages further into the target demo. And, of course, they were back on current-based Rock formats last year with “Rock ‘N’ Roll Train.”
5- Coldplay: Coming off their biggest radio song in “Viva La Vida,” still an AC current. “Clocks” is in the top 40 gold titles at Hot AC.
6 – Nine Inch Nails: Being “Closer (To God)” keeps them a regular presence at Active and Alternative rock, and the latter will still give any new project of theirs a try.
7 – Motley Crue: Like AC/DC, higher-profile at Classic Rock than before, although it’s still a relative handful of spins spread out over a number of titles.They also have four titles receiving significant Active Rock airplay.
8 – Elton John & Billy Joel: Both still mainstays of AC, Classic Hits, and Greatest Hits/Oldies stations.
9 – Kiss: Represented mostly by “Rock & Roll All Night” at Classic Rock, but with a few more spins on ’80s songs such as “Lick It Up” than in the past.
10 – Kings Of Leon: Current rock chart act coming off their biggest radio record ever.
11 – Taylor Swift: Current multi-format star.
12 – Metallica: Always a center lane act at Active Rock (11 gold titles receiving more than 100 spins per week) with a recent “back-to-basics” project that got them airplay at Modern Rock as well.
13 – Fleetwood Mac: Remains a core act at Classic Hits and Greatest Hits/Oldies. And still an AC stalwart, even as that format dials back some of its other ’70s music.
14 – No Doubt: Still well represented at Hot AC, AC, Top 40 and those Alternative stations that still play their ’90s hits. “Don’t Speak” is Hot AC’s No. 24 gold title.
15 – Kenny Chesney: Easily the image act at Country radio right now.
16 – Paul McCartney: “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Live & Let Die” keep him on the board at Oldies/GH, Classic Rock, and AC, even before you factor in Beatles airplay.
17 – Keith Urban: Another of Country’s current “Mount Rushmore” acts.
18 – Nickelback: Coming off a CHR hit that only got to No. 12. A mainstay at Hot AC and, increasingly, an AC presence. Still very much part of Active and Alternative as well.
19 – Disturbed: Current hits at Alternative and Active and a lasting presence at the latter with “Down With the Sickness.”
20 – Eagles: Classic Rock, Classic Hits, Oldies/Greatest Hits, and AC mainstays who received some AC and Country play on their new material over the last 15 months.
21 – Radiohead: Their work of the last decade is hardly radio friendly, but Alternative has always acknowledged them, and the band did choose to promote the singles from “In Rainbows” to radio, even though that project was generating plenty of its own publicity. And “Creep” remains a library staple at Alternative and even some Active outlets.
22 – The Killers: Still very much supported by Alternative, Hot AC and even Top 40.
23 – Leonard Cohen: Okay, this one has to go to TV and press since radio hasn’t yet found a way to adequately acknowledge the success of “Hallelujah” in the U.S.
24 – Britney Spears: Bigger at Top 40 than ever.
25 – Jimmy Buffett: He’s the defining “doesn’t-need-radio-to-tour” act, right? But he still gets it on “Margaritaville” and occasionally even “Come Monday” at AC, Classic Hits, and Oldies/GH. And on Country radio, even if he’s a guest star, it’s always five o’clock somewhere.
To be fair, when you delve below the Top 25, you do start to see acts that have never really been on the radio or haven’t been on any time recently — Flight of the Conchords, Iron Maiden, Phish, Buddy Guy, Flaming Lips. And nobody is going to claim that Dave Matthews or Jimmy Buffett owe their ability to tour forever entirely to radio. But concert promoters haven’t stopped wanting radio to talk about their shows. And it’s always easier to do that if you have something to backsell.
It’s also worth noting that with the exception of Britney Spears, there’s no act in the top 25 that isn’t known for writing at least some of their own hits. There are undoubtedly artists who would like to be able to come off the road, but stay there because they have no publishing royalties. But these aren’t those artists.

2 replies
  1. Human Numan
    Human Numan says:

    Looking down your list, Sean, I am reminded of the acts that have either denied my request for tickets (The Eagles, AC/DC) or unashamedly asked for my credit card (Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac) “…how considerate of you! You mean – you’ll save me the trouble of going to StubHub.com?? Really??!!! Gee! Thanks a lot!!!” I program a 70s station, and entertain on a CHR. At what point does it matter if I get access to a show? Obviously there isn’t one.
    The business of mutual respect and partnership appear to be a distant memory. I’ve been told in the most blatant terms: “The days of free tickets are over”.
    The one exception to this is Kenny Chesney and his network of support staff, who still understands the important role of radio to success and touring. It is no surprise to me that this man is the most beloved Country artist of this era.
    I am a little heartbroken over the way these handlers, bean counters, and acts with a desire to sap every last dollar from the seating chart have changed the business’.

  2. George
    George says:

    You’re exactly right. The NAB would be well served to call in some top touring artists to testify at these hearings. People like Kenny Chesney have said many times that the reason he can play stadiums is because he has songs on the radio. And when he’s on tour, he makes it a point to have a big song on the radio in the Top 10 to drive listeners to his show.
    All of the top country acts have radio strategists in their management teams, including Chesney, who design local events with the radio station to attract people to his shows. Some is done in conjunction with the label. But the top stars, like Chesney, Urban, Brooks & Dunn, and more, have specialists in their management company.
    In addition, oldies acts rely on radio to drive people to their shows. When WCBS-FM flipped from Oldies to Jack several years ago, many legendary artists from the 50s and 60s complained that the loss of the station would greatly hurt their ability to tour in NY and hurt their income. So even though they don’t have albums in print, radio airplay still has a great affect on an artists’ income.
    John Simson mentioned The Beatles in his SXSW speech last week, and they are a great example how radio airplay has kept them in the spotlight almost 40 years since their break-up. Every time Capitol reissues their music, it immediately goes to #1. Their song catalogue is one of the most valuable in music. And anything with The Beatles name instantly becomes a hit, including a Las Vegas show.
    Free radio airplay has benefits that are not being demonstrated in the Congressional testimony or in any of the comments made by MusicFirst. For the true story of radio to be told, Congress needs to hear from the artists on your list. Not the ones they’ve been hearing.


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