With a nod to the fact that nominations for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame came out this week, there’s an economic reality about the music business that needs to be recognized: Last year, hip-hop and rhythm and blues replaced rock as this country’s most popular music genre. That’s according to Nielsen’s analysis of digital and physical album sales as well as streaming. There’s a twist here, though, because what Nielsen did not consider was how much money people spend on concerts.
When it comes to live shows, rock and roll is still king. Rock concerts accounted for more than half of the $5 billion generated by last year’s highest-grossing music tours. Neil Shah wrote about rock and revenue for the Wall Street Journal, and he told Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal that there are several reasons why rock is still such a significant force in live music. Rock “crosses generations in a way that rap doesn’t,” Shah said. “At a rock concert, you could have a younger millennial agenda, the music fan who is curious about a particular act, and then of course you’re going to get 20-somethings, 30-somethings, 40-somethings, 50-somethings.” Also, older rock acts like Guns N’ Roses and The Rolling Stones are still playing big venues while older hip-hop acts like Public Enemy and N.W.A are not.
What happens when dominant rock acts like The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney stop touring? Shah said in the live music industry, that question is the “elephant in the room.”
“Can the newer acts replace the older acts?” Shah asked. “Can the newer acts in their old age generate the kind of money that the Stones do? Remember, the Rolling Stones back in the ’70s, they didn’t make that much money from albums and even live. They make more money now than they ever did back in the day. So the question is, is that a historical anomaly tied to rock in the 20th century or not?”
Click the audio player above to hear the full interview.