Despite News To The Contrary, Rock ’N’ Roll Couldn’t Be Less Dead

Brett Murray/Metallica/Getty Images
Lars Ulrich gets the crowd pumped as Metallica performs at Royal Arena in Copenhagen, Denmark, Feb. 3, 2017
The question of whether rock ’n’ roll is dead has been debated so many times the topic itself is practically a corpse (in the most metal way possible). This time the catalyst is Coachella, the world’s highest-grossing festival and an event that sets the tone for the festival season, which just wrapped two weekends in Indio, Calif., without a single rock headliner.

While there were still plenty of rock acts on the lineup (A Perfect Circle, The War On Drugs, X Japan, Portugal. The Man among others), it was significant that the top billing went to R&B and hip-hop acts: The Weeknd, Beyoncé and Eminem.
Pundits, critics and fans alike have bemoaned the death of rock for decades – pointing to the rise of disco in the ’70s or the emerging popularity of New Wave and hip-hop in the ’80s, electronic music and boy bands in the ’90s, EDM in the aughts and music’s balkanization today, where fans predominantly control their own streaming habits.
“That question [‘Is Rock Dead?’] has been coming up forever and it’s been wrong every single time,” says Adam Kornfeld, president of touring for North America at Artist Group International whose roster includes Metallica, Def Leppard, Poison, Tesla, and Rush. “I think that question was coming up in the late 1970s and it was wrong then and it’s wrong now.
“It’s not even close. It’s quite the opposite. In my opinion it’s more alive than ever before. Many of the rock bands I work with are doing their biggest business ever, Def Leppard included,” he added, referring to the upcoming 60-date Def Leppard / Journey co-headline tour. 
Haters will say that rock’s funeral is apparent in its lack of representation on the charts.
While overall consumption of albums, songs and on-demand streaming grew 12.5 percent in 2017, R&B/hip-hop was the most dominant genre for the first-time ever, accounting for seven of the top 10 most-consumed albums, according to Nielsen’s 2017 U.S. Music Year-End Report.
Spotify’s Top 200 songs chart, as of April 25, was topped by R&B, pop, hip-hop, rap and EDM artists such as Drake, Ariana Grande, Calvin Harris, as well as Latin acts such as Nicky Jam. To get to the first rock artists, you’ll have to keep scrolling to No. 78 for 5 Seconds of Summer’s “Youngblood” or No. 84 for Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder.”
When it comes to album sales, the top 20 spots on BuzzAngle’s Top Albums chart includes just one rock band: Imagine Dragons’ Evolve at No. 7, as of April 23.
But where the live music business is concerned, it’s all about ticket sales. Does streaming even matter when the majority of artists’ revenues are derived from live music?
In a recent Variety story on the smash hit “The Middle,” recorded by Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey, it was revealed that 1 million streams on Spotify translates to roughly $6,800 in revenue, the majority of which ($6,000) belongs to the label (the master rights holder) and the remaining (around $800) is allotted to the publishers, which is then divided between writers based on percentages of ownership.
“[Streaming is] just one yardstick but obviously proof is in the attendance at live shows,” Kornfeld says. “When people are spending the money they’re spending to go to shows, the proof is right there.”
Take for example Metallica, which Kornfeld has worked with for 27 years and is in the middle of its biggest tour ever (complete with mini drones). The 2017 dates on Metallica’s “WorldWired Tour,” which included stadium shows across the U.S., grossed $110.3 million in North America and $152.8 million worldwide.
Examining the data for Pollstar’s 2017 Year End Top 200 North American Tours chart, rock artists accounted for 84 of the entries – 42 percent of the acts on the chart. Led by U2 with a gross of $176.1 million, the top 10 also included Metallica with $110.3 million (No. 3), Guns N’ Roses with $98 million (No. 5), Roger Waters at $92.1 million (No. 6) and Coldplay with $83.7 million (No. 8).
Combined, the 84 rock artists on the North American chart had a total gross of more than $1.9 billion, with 26,111,208 tickets sold, representing 42 percent of the gross and of all tickets sold. The average rock gross was $684,606 per show, with an average of 9,332 tickets sold and an average price of $73.36. By comparison, the next biggest genre in North America was pop, which accounted for 15 percent of the chart’s total gross at $678.4 million, followed by country at 13 percent of the total gross at $597.2 million.
Globally, the numbers tell a similar story, with rock representing 41 percent of the artists on Pollstar’s 2017 Year End Top 100 Worldwide Tours. Rock accounted for 44 percent of the tickets sold by the Top 100 Worldwide Tours and 48 percent of the chart’s gross at more than $2.7 billion. The rock total once again dwarfed the runner-up of pop, representing 23 percent of the gross at roughly $1.3 billion and 20 percent of the tickets sold.
Seven of the top 10 worldwide tours were rock: U2, Guns N’ Roses, Coldplay, Metallica, Depeche Mode, Paul McCartney, and The Rolling Stones
While most of the bands doing the biggest business already have long established careers, the fanbases for many acts continue to expand with new fans. “It’s from kids to 70-year-olds and beyond. Everyone loves rock ’n’ roll,” Kornfeld says.
Pollstar’s Top 200 North American Tours chart shows that plenty of rockers that released their debut albums in the past 10 years are also bringing home the big bucks, including Imagine Dragons (No. 55 at $24.8 million), Twenty One Pilots (No. 74 at 19.1 million), The Lumineers (No. 94 at $15.2 million), The xx (No. 121 at $10.7 million), The 1975 (No. 188 at $5.8 million) and Mumford & Sons (No. 200 at $4.9 million).
Of course, genres are totally subjective and the types of rock are practically endless, encompassing everything from folk to psychedelia to metal to grunge to jazz and Americana. 

2018 is shaping up to be another stellar year for rock. In addition to the Def Leppard / Journey co-bill and more dates from Metallica, upcoming tours include Foo Fighters, Weezer/Pixies, Deep Purple/Judas Priest, Garbage, The Smashing Pumpkins, Ozzy Osbourne, Queens Of The Stone Age, U2, Jack White, Poison, and The Cult/
And obviously Coachella is not the only festival game in town. Bonnaroo also has Eminem headlining, but he’s sharing top billing with The Killers and Muse, while Lollapalooza leads with a mix of rock/R&B: Arctic Monkeys, Bruno Mars, The Weeknd and Jack White
For festivals devoted solely to rock, look at the success of the events promoted by Danny Wimmer Presents and AEG Presents under the banner of the “World’s Loudest Month” (click here for more about the festival series).
“I laugh whenever somebody says [rock is dead] because I’ve been hearing that statement for probably 15 years now and I think we just continue to quietly prove, starting with RockFest, which I’ve been producing for 20 years now, to Rock On The Range, which is going on its 12th year, to Carolina Rebellion and Rocklahoma and the rest of them, rock ’n’ roll is alive and well,” AEG Presents Senior VP Joe Litvag says.
“Rock fans are incredibly loyal and incredibly passionate about rock music. It might have become less sexy for a certain amount of time as other genres have become the hot, sexy genre but rock ’n’ roll is certainly not dead and in fact, it’s growing.
“We have high hopes for bands like Greta Van Fleet, for The Struts, for Baroness, there’s a whole slew of them – New Years Day, Power Trip, or Code Orange – that we think are the next wave of rock bands to start making some noise. There is still incredible rock music that is being made out there.”
United Talent Agency’s Dave Shapiro agrees, saying, “Rock is showing significant growth and is doing real business in the marketplace. We’re seeing a lot of young, developing bands that continue to garner momentum and show real promise. Highly Suspect, PVRIS, In This Moment, Bring Me The Horizon, and A Day To Remember are some great examples of bands that are doing incredibly well and proving there is an appetite for rock in the consumer space.”
He added, “I’m excited to see how these new and developing artists are going to shape the future of rock. I believe it will keep evolving, pushing the boundaries, and drawing more fans from all corners of the world.”