As the coronavirus pandemic has proliferated and social distancing guidelines prevented large gatherings across the country — and the world — the live music industry crumbled with one fell swoop. One after another, major tours and festivals were rescheduled, canceled, or rescheduled and then canceled.
Andy Gensler, executive editor of concert industry trade Pollstar, and box office editor Brad Rogers were put in a tough spot. Pollstar has built its publication — nearly 40 years strong — on documenting the concert industry in the form of charts, data and news. But with zero box office receipts being reported, how do you monitor an industry that seems to be at a stand still? You get creative, which is precisely what Gensler and Rogers did in creating the Pollstar livestream chart.
Slowly, and then quickly and en masse, artists began livestreaming concerts from their homes or other spaces in place of their canceled shows and tours. Gensler credits Global Citizen and the World Health Organization’s “One World: Together At Home” for amplifying the idea.
“As we saw analog live performances start to fizzle, this became a new platform that grew like wildfire that we could quantify,” Gensler tells Variety.
Indeed, musicians from all tiers and genres hopped on the trend, and as quarantine dragged on into weeks and months, the livestream became a way for musicians to not only connect with their existing fans, but gain new ones. Gensler and Rogers observed that viewership for these events wasn’t going to slow down anytime soon, so they decided to document it.
Pollstar’s first livestream chart was published on May 18, documenting the week of May 11. Topping the chart at 1.6 million views was St. Jude Children’s Hospital’s Giving Tuesday event, which featured artists like Rio Roma, Sofi Tukker, Scotty McCreery, Shaed and Jekalynn Carr. Two weeks later, the total views for livestream events had reached historic heights. In its chart documenting the week of June 1 (see it here), David Guetta’s “United At Home” livestream racked up over 7.7 million views, and Dropkick Murphys and Bruce Springsteen came in at No. 2 with over 5.9 million views.
Published each Monday, the chart lists the top 50 livestreams from the past week across multiple platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Fans.com. After waiting two days to ensure the numbers are as accurate as possible, Rogers calculates a total view count. Now in its third week, artists and their teams have started approaching Gensler and Rogers to self-report numbers in hopes of being included.
Gensler points to the accessibility of livestreams for their popularity and consistent numbers. “The bar of access is basically anyone with an internet connection,” he says. “While we’re never going to replace the experience of a live event, the fact that you can sit in your living room in Los Angeles and watch an event from across the universe speaks to the value of what this is.”
The livestream is also utilized across all genres. Acoustic sets aside, there is a surprising number of EDM artists on Pollstar’s chart — chief among them: Guetta. “The majority of it does seem to be country [music], but there is a lot of dance,” Rogers adds. “Andy Frasco, he’s all over it, he does dance parties daily. Sofi Tukker plays everyday. They’re maintaining a good audience.”
Hip-hop and R&B is doing well too, thanks to the Verzuz battles on Instagram Live highlighting two artist contemporaries and their catalogs. Says Gensler: “DJ battles are something you don’t see much of live, but this format lends itself to it.”
Pollstar hasn’t taken into account pay-per-view livestream concerts yet, which have become a larger phenomenon as the pandemic continues. Diving into that world is up next for the chart, as well as quantifying drive-in and social distancing concerts as they begin to happen more and more.
And when live music does fully come back, Rogers hypothesizes that livestreaming may become an avenue to increasing audience capacity beyond a venue’s social distancing restrictions.
“I think we’ll see a lot of hybrid shows, where for $20 you can go see the show in-person and for $10 you can watch it on a livestream,” Rogers says.
As for the future of livestream concerts themselves, Gensler and Rogers agree that they’re here to stay, even post-pandemic.
“Streaming in the way it is now will probably forever be a part inextricably of a live musician’s business model. They can use it to promote themselves or have an event when they have a new record out or preview a tour,” Gensler says. “It’s just so much more accessible now and more part of the mix than it ever was before COVID-19.”
To report upcoming livestream events to Pollstar, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and for past livestreams, view counts can be sent to email@example.com.