2020 Top Streamers: Grand Old Opry, Verzuz, Norah Jones, Sofi Tukker, Deana Martin & More

The Grand Ole Opry

2020 Top Streamer: 
The Grand Ole Opry wasn’t going to let even a global pandemic put the kibosh on its 95th anniversary, let alone its weekly concert radio broadcast on WSM-AM. But when the news came down March 13 that the Opry would have to close its doors to live audiences, it was in a unique position to make a quick pivot.
And it doesn’t get much quicker: the next Opry show was the following day. 
Fortunately, the Opry had joined with Gray TV to launch Circle, a country music and lifestyle streaming channel, in January. It provided the solution to “keep the circle unbroken” and the Opry’s 4,915th consecutive show, starring Jeannie Seely, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, Mandy Barnett, Bill Anderson, Sam Williams and Connie Smith, launched a concert series that topped Pollstar’s livestreaming chart not only for the third quarter, but for the year. 
Circle Network’s Opry livestreams scored a viewership count of 18.7 million for Q3, coming as something of a surprise but also reflective of the Opry’s global appeal. Viewership has risen more than 50% since then, finishing with 30.3 million sets of eyes and ears and being shared 88,347 times. 
 It also had the No. 9 individual livestreamed show with Vince Gill and Reba McEntire on July 18, with 2.6 million viewers.
The Grand Ole Opry broadcast, which takes place every Saturday evening, has been expanded to other platforms, and is reaching broader audiences than ever. 
“Almost simultaneously, our strategies began to include widening the show’s distribution through livestreaming and the Opry’s new network, Circle Television, to showcase the Opry and the artists on its stage to a larger audience than ever before,” Dan Rogers, the Opry’s VP and executive producer, tells Pollstar. “Within a day of having paused shows with a live audience in the Opry House, fans across the country and around the world who were sheltering in place could watch the Opry on their televisions, computers, and smartphones.” 

2020 Top Streamer: 
All-star producers Timbaland and Swizz Beats turned stay-at-home orders into house party orders with their Instagram Live Verzuz show, which drew a faithful following throughout much of 2020, garnering 15.5 million total views.
On March 24, shortly after the live entertainment industry shut down, the duo went on Instagram Live and took turns broadcasting some of their biggest hits to a massive audience in a recreation of an onstage battle they put on in 2018. 
That first show was a massive success, so organizers kept the format going and have featured some of the year’s most memorable livestream performances from jaw-dropping pairings including DMX vs. Snoop Dogg, Alicia Keys vs. John Legend, Brandy vs. Monica, Nelly vs. Ludacris, Teddy Riley vs. Babyface and Erykah Badu vs. Jill Scott.
No artist officially wins a Verzuz battle, but some publications have kept scorecards of the various rounds and declared winners based on the strength of each song’s performance, similar to boxing.
Undoubtedly one of the biggest hip-hop livestream events of the year was the Nov. 19 Verzuz battle between Jeezy and Gucci Mane. The two rap titans had a notorious beef more than a decade prior that culminated in Gucci Mane killing a home intruder allegedly sent by Jeezy. (Murder charges against Gucci Mane were ultimately dropped.)
The Verzuz battle between the two was full of palpable tension and Gucci performed songs from the beef that alluded to the events that had transpired, but in the end they both performed “Icy” – the song they collaborated on before their problems arose – signaling they were squashing a beef that many assumed would continue forever. It was the most watched Verzuz battle of the year, with more than 5.5 million views across all platforms, and 1.8 million views on Instagram alone.
Verzuz isn’t going anywhere: The Jeezy vs. Gucci Mane installment kicked off its second season. 

Norah Jones

2020 Top Streamer: 
The third track from Norah Jones’ latest album declares that it “hurts to be alone,” but thanks to her weekly livestream performances, fans might have felt a little less alone during this dreadful year.  
The cozy, intimate performances filmed in the singer-songwriter’s living room – highlighted by Jones’ soothing, timeless voice and her artistry on the piano (as well as guitar) – have brought viewers a sense of much-needed peace and comfort. Even Jones’ melancholy song selections have been delightfully cathartic.    
After posting a cover of Guns N’ Roses’ 1989 ballad “Patience” on March 19 simply because it was a favorite song from her childhood and she thought it “would be fun to sing those words right now,” Jones decided to continue livestreaming free mini-concerts from her home in upstate New York as a way to connect with fans. She soon got into a groove of posting her videos on Thursdays, with most sets consisting of four songs. 
The setlists have included a mix of Jones’ previously recorded material and covers, made up of fan requests and her own selections. With COVID canceling her tours, the livestreams have been a good opportunity to share tunes from her 2020 releases: her seventh studio album, Pick Me Up Off the Floor, and Puss N Boots’ sophomore album, Sister. Jones has also used the streams to encourage fans to donate to worthy nonprofits, providing a link on each post to a charity’s website.
Fans have consistently shown up, with a total of more than 11.8 million views and 83,821 shares from 29 livestreams. 
“I think the reason it’s so successful is, yes, her voice and the song interpretations. But I also think it’s something to the point that it’s really been about the music,” says Arjun Pulijal, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Capitol Records. “They haven’t been about anything except Norah, and it’s always [filmed from] the same angle. It’s like a sense of home for people because things have been so crazy this year. … The key word is genuine. Norah thrives in that space where it’s just focused on her voice and musicianship.”’ 

Camping World

2020 Top Streamer: 
Brands have become an increasingly important part of putting on live music in recent years, and perhaps no more important than in 2020. Brands and event producers alike need each other to help continue the music and reach their core audiences. No better example may be present in 2020 than the Camping World Concert Series of free concerts featuring top country artists.
Hosted by Ambassador of Country Music Shawn Parr and streaming from Sept. 15 to Nov. 24, the series put on by the network of recreational vehicle retailers racked up 7.4 million views across multiple platforms, with major artists including Zac Brown Band, Chris Young, Alabama, Sugarland, Lady A, Martina McBride, Ricky Skaggs and Steven Curtis Chapman, Brett Young, Little Big Town and Amy Grant and Vince Gill, the final performance of which took place Nov. 24 and racked up 1.14 million views. The lineup rivals many amphitheater or fair lineups, giving a much-needed platform to artists who are almost always on the road. 
“We have an amazing virtual lineup that you can enjoy from your own backyard or plan a watch party with your family or friend group, of course with safe social distancing,” says Marcus Lemonis, CEO and Chairman of Camping World. “We all need to remember to laugh, dance and enjoy each other and there is no better way to do this than through the bonding of music. We are thrilled to bring these great artists to our customers as a thank you and hope that everyone joins us for this signature event.”
In addition to the weekly headliners, the series also spotlighted up-and-coming talent as opening acts, providing a useful platform during this abnormal touring year that acts utilized heavily. In some cases, it might have been an even bigger one than what such artists would’ve had on a traditional tour, at least as far as viewers go.
Other highlights include Brett Young (Nov. 10, 1.17 million views), Lady A (Oct. 27, 1.19 million) and Zac Brown Band (Oct. 20, 978,145 viewers). 

2020 Top Streamer: 

5. Sofi Tukker
With the cessation of touring, the electronic duo known as Sofi Tukker moved online and brought a creative and fun daily show to what they lovingly call their “Freak Fam,” a social media-connected community across multiple platforms made possible with the help of Restream, a platform that broadcasts streams and provides tools to create and manage live content. 
Prior to COVID, the pair hadn’t delved deeply into Instagram Live or any of the other streaming platforms that were available. But once Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern decided to take the dive, they did so with gusto, livestreaming nearly every day up to present. 
The earliest livestream view counts obtained by Pollstar show Sofi Tukker starting out averaging 12,609 viewers for the chart period of May 5-11. Those numbers have only increased over time. By the week of Aug. 25-31, the daily Sofi Tukker show had expanded to Twitch, Facebook and Instagram Live and was averaging 66,400 views.
And by year-end, Sofi Tukker had racked up enough streams to finish the year at No. 5 on Pollstar’s Top Livestreamers chart, behind only Circle/Opry Live, Verzuz, Norah Jones and Camping World Concert Series with a whopping 5.2 million views. 
The livestreaming success started modestly enough.
“It happened by accident at first,” Hawley-Weld says. ”I was working out, and Tucker was deejaying and our photographer came down and started livestreaming us. And we were like, ‘That was really fun. Let’s do that again tomorrow.’ By the third day I stopped working out because it’s not sustainable for me to work out on camera every day! But Tucker said, ‘Let’s just do this every single day.’”
Halpern adds, laughing, “Until we’re all free and not under house arrest anymore, we’ll do this every single day.

2020 Top Streamer: 

6. Deana Martin
Viewers who tune in to Deana Martin’s livestream performances are instantly one of her “pallies.” The singer and actor usually starts her streams by joyfully declaring, “Hi pallies! Welcome to the Deana Martin live show from my rehearsal studios to your living room or wherever you are all over the world!”  
Dressed to the nines, dancing and swaying to the music, Martin often adds “And cheers!” with a nod to her nearby cocktail. The atmosphere is jovial and it’s apparent that Martin is a natural entertainer, meant to shine on stage. During the show Martin will share tidbits about the songs – including tunes she and her legendary father Dean Martin both recorded – and letters that fans have sent in.
“She’s a fabulous entertainer, down to Earth and spontaneous,” Martin’s manager John Griffeth of Studio A Productions tells Pollstar. “They know she’s live, and when there’s a mistake she just laughs about it and it’s part of the show. Everyone feels she is performing just for them … because she is. She just wants to make people happy and allow them to escape for a few minutes every Friday. It’s personal and from the heart.”
Before the pandemic began Martin had never livestreamed a performance. But since streaming her first show on Facebook in March she hasn’t looked back, racking up more than 4 million total views and 9,186 shares.
“I am thrilled and delighted to have such loyal fans,” Martin says. “At the beginning of the year, when the live shows were all canceled, we decided not to stop. I wanted to still interact with my audience and what better way to do so than to livestream? So, we put our iPhone on a tripod and Dec. 18 will be the 40th consecutive Friday that I have been able to spend with my pallies from all over the world. Although this year has been different, we are so blessed to stay active and engaged!” 

Save Our Stages Festival

2020 Top Streamer: 

7. Save Our Stages Festival
Save Our Stages Festival (#SOSFEST) was critical to the national Independent Venue Association (NIVA)’s efforts in 2020. Staged Oct. 16-18, the event united some 35 performers, including Foo Fighters, The Roots and Miley Cyrus, as they played from some of America’s most iconic venues, like L.A.’s Troubadour and Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, giving audiences an intimate reminder of just exactly what needed saving.
The festival garnered 3.3 million views, helping it secure a No. 8 ranking on Pollstar’s 2020 Livestreamers chart.
“The real exciting thing is we hoped to get unique and impactful performances from the artists, and each of them told the story of why it’s critical to save our stages, and in their own way – visually, musically and narratively,” NIVA treasurer and #SOSFEST executive producer Stephen Sternschein told Pollstar shortly after.
#SOSFEST was the result of a partnership NIVA inked with YouTube Music in September, and the streaming giant (and Google subsidiary) helped bring it to fruition.
“When we saw the impact COVID was having on independent venues, we wanted to help,” YouTube head of artist partnerships and live music Ali Rivera told Pollstar in October. “We knew our platform could make a difference. We have such a global reach, and we have tools available to fundraise.”
“Having a partner like Google, when we needed to add more people and resources and they were ready to do it, that was a really special experience for all us,” Sternschein said. “Everybody was united and focused on this effort and that’s why it was successful.”
Livestreaming production company Big Room outfitted spaces with technology that reduced the number of crew needed onsite, and Bulldog Digital Media provided additional livestreaming support.
Sternschein aptly summed up the event: “We’re adding a lot of beautiful new music to the world at the same time that we’re saving that world.” 

2020 Top Streamer: 

8. Josh Daniel’s Quarantine Sessions
Josh Daniel has kept on truckin’ – to the tune of more than 200  livestreams in 2020 from his Charlotte, N.C., home and other locations in the region.
But the jammy rocker, who has performed more than 900 different songs on his streams this year – including covers of the Grateful Dead, Phish, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Ray Charles, R.E.M. and scores more – didn’t start from a standstill.
“I’ve been touring for decades, and a professional musician for the last fifteen years,” Daniel tells Pollstar, noting that he often played about 250 gigs a year. “About two years ago, I started to stream every gig I played, even when there was an audience. I spent a ton of time working on which equipment sounded and looked the best when streaming.”
Daniel’s bows at No. 9 on Pollstar’s 2020 Livestreamers chart, having logged 214 shows, 2.9 million views, and 35,512 shares. The musician says he’d “be doing this with no viewers” – though the audience helps.
“The community we’ve built is so positive, welcoming, and hilarious that I’m really looking forward to ‘working’ every single day,” he says. “Plus every single day is so unique, because I take requests live from the comments online.”
With audience input, Daniel has constructed eclectic sets, keeping fans engaged and eager to tune in every day. Daniel’s friend, Lefty, helps manage his online assets and communicates with viewers as the musician plays.
“We decided from the beginning to be very interactive and playful with the fans so they knew we were approachable.,” Daniel says.
The streams sparked Daniel’s creativity, from assembling themed performances like his “Trippy Nirvana” show – spacey renditions of the legendary bands’s tunes – to boosting his own songwriting output.
And, along the way, he’s raised more than $35,000 for three different charities.
“The music never stops,” Daniel says. “I really love doing the daily shows, and I will continue as long as I can!” 

2020 Top Streamer: 
Country artist Lucas Hoge has had to do what just about everyone in the concert business has been forced to since March – pivot – and, like many, he’s been fortunate to have been building a digital audience with direct-to-fan engagement for years already.
“It kind of started with the Memorial Day concert back in May,” says Hoge on his way to a holiday special taping in Nebraska. “I’m usually overseas two weeks out of the month for Memorial Day and play for the troops. I said, ‘Let’s do a virtual concert in the States, since no one could leave and everyone started social distancing and with the lockdown stuff.’ And it went over really well.”
With fans largely stuck at home, the momentum built.
“That parlayed into our Sunday Sessions, which I started almost three years ago, where I’d just sing a single hymn every single Sunday, and we haven’t missed a single one. When COVID happened, I said let’s start making these longer and go live and see what happens. They took off like crazy. It’s been really cool and we’re going to keep doing it.”
In 2020, Hoge reached nearly 2.8 million views on Facebook alone. The artist says the live factor played a big part in fans feeling like they were part of his shows.
Hoge’s manager and wife Laura Lynn, of Forge Entertainment Group / Laura Lynn Entertainment, said that while the Facebook streams aren’t monetized, the events, such as a Veterans Day concert Hoge headlined featuring other artists such as Chuck Wicks, Meghan Patrick and The Swon Brothers, have been supported by brands. And Lynn says the content helps to drive fans to Hoge’s other projects such as creator, producer and star of “Hoge Wild,” which airs on the Sportsman Channel and follows Hoge hunting, fishing and scuba diving across the world.
“Also, I think the Sunday Sessions, people really needed,” 
Lynn says. “Especially when no one was able to go to churches, they weren’t ready to livestream yet or able to reach folks at home, a lot of people gravitated toward that, live every Sunday.”
While a short indoor holiday tour in the Midwest was forced to be postponed to 2021 due to COVID, Hoge and Lynn are eager to continue the momentum into next year.

Bandsintown Outskirts

2020 Top Streamer: 
10. Bandsintown Outskirts
Few have leaned into livestreaming harder than Bandsintown, a site that normally compiles routing to let fans know what acts are headed where, when. Now, with live shows still off the books for the immediate future, Bandsintown has pivoted to supporting up-and-coming artists with the Bandsintown Live music channel on Twitch.
The site’s most successful series has been Bandsintown Outskirts, which has featured country and Americana themed artists including Chris Knight, Resound, Rozes, The War And Treaty, The Secret Sisters, Ben Glover, Wild Ponies, Ferris + Sylvester, Robert Vincent and Donovan Woods. 
Bandsintown’s other livestream series include #MOSTLIKED, which gives a platform to artists with newly released music; Home School, a global artist showcase curated by School Night, Tom Windish and the site itself; and Discovery, which features rising artists from diverse genres. Other Bandsintown Live series have included All The Vibes, spotlighting meaningful artists from underground club culture and mainstream EDM acts and Fusion, an eclectic mix of world music. 
“As artists, musicians and their crews will be severely impacted by this crisis, and we are working day and night 
at Bandsintown to provide new opportunities for them to stay in touch with their fans,” Bandsintown wrote on March 18. “To help, we’ve partnered with MusiCares to help collect donations for their COVID-19 fund so artists can get back on their feet.”
On March 26, Bandsintown also launched its first Music Marathon event featuring acts including Taking Back Sunday, Yuksek, The Frights, Tank and the Bangas and Sofi Tukker. Proceeds from its events have been donated to musicians struggling during the COVID-19 shutdown. 
“We immediately identified that artists are going to suffer a lot, as 80% of their revenue, if not all of their revenue, for some of them, is coming from live music,” Bandsintown managing partner Fabrice Sergent told Pollstar in April. “By delivering a substantial new audience and adding a tip jar, Bandsintown LIVE gives artists a way to earn money while also expanding their fanbase, and fans a way to support their favorite artists.”