by Alex Cosper (9/21/14)
Sometimes when music journalists get bored they have to invent shocking headlines such as "rock is dead." While you can cherry-pick facts to make it seem rock is dead, such as pointing out the types of singles that hit number one on the pop charts, you would have to be drunk or oblivious to reality to actually believe the most popular music in history no longer exists or makes money. Gene Simmons' quote in Rolling Stone that "rock and roll was murdered" by its own fans is flat out wrong. The idea that rock is dead has been pushed in the press since the 80s with the rise of synth pop, yet has never been true since that time.
Rock continues to make up the largest market share of music sales, according to RIAA data, representing about a quarter of all sales. The fact that The Beatles catalogue keeps on selling and that the top grossing concert acts of the new century have been U2, The Rolling Stones, Roger Waters and AC/DC should be enough proof that rock is still alive in 2014, but below a list of other facts that point to the health of rock. The key to rock's survival has been touring. Ringo Starr recently told NME that he's never believed in rock's demise and says he enjoys touring. He cited Kasabian as a band keeping rock alive.
1. Tom Petty & Heartbreakers album Hypnotic Eye hit number one on the Billboard 200 album chart in August 2014. Other rock acts to have number one albums in 2014 include Bruce Springsteen, The Black Keys and Jack White.
2. U2's free album Songs of Innocence was downloaded by 33 million fans from iTunes its first week. The free album was made availabe to a half billion iTunes users for free the first month until its official Oct 2014 release.
3. Bon Jovi was the top grossing concert act of 2013, earning over $205 million from 90 shows. That same year Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band grossed $147 million from 53 shows and the Rolling Stones grossed $126 million from 23 shows. In 2012 over a half million fans paid to see Van Halen, whose 46 show tour grossed $54 million.
4. In 2008 Aerosmith's revenue from the video game Guitar Hero surpassed the band's top selling album. The video game sales have since sold in the millions.
5. According to Inside Radio, as of August 2014 there are 461 alternative rock radio stations and 314 rock stations in America, as compared with 2096 country stations, 604 top 40 stations and 598 adult contemporary stations. Additionally, there are 772 classic hits stations, 492 classic rock stations and 134 modern rock stations. The combination of various rock stations still makes up a very larger audience compared with the audience of current hits. Perhaps it's pop acts that need to be concerned.
6. Huge rock festivals continue to be part of American culture in 2014 with acts such as Bruce Springsteen, Foo Fighters, Weezer, The Black Keys, Outkast, The Killers, Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age, Avenged Sevenfold, Korn. Big festivals include Lolapalooza, Pitchfork and The Warped Tour. Other rock acts selling well on tour include Linkin Park, Fleetwood Mac and Judas Priest.
7. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland raised a record $800,000 for its annual "It's Only Rock and Roll" event. The museum's CEO Greg Harris announced that the museum has made a $2 billion impact on the Cleveland economy in its 19 years.
8. Rolling Stone, one of the top rock music publications in America, still has a wide circulation. In 2014 RollingStone.com ranks in the top 500 in the U.S. on Alexa and near the top 1000 in the world. In September 2014 RollingStone.com ranks higher than Billboard.com, a popular music publication that covers multiple genres.
9. The guitar is by far still the best selling musical instrument in the the United States. The combination of new and aftermarket guitar sales by far outsells the top selling album in any given year, based on a comparative study of NAMM reports for musical instruments and NielsenSoundscan stats for recorded music.
10. The video games Guitar Hero and Rock Band have influenced both the sales of recorded music and musical instruments. The future of rock appears to be safe, especially since these video games help kids fantasize about being rock stars.
The inaccurate media mantra "rock is dead" has actually been kicked around every decade since rock began. The press made a huge deal in the late 1950s when Elvis joined the army that it marked the end of rock and roll. In the late 1960s after the flower power movement had peaked The Doors performed an improvisational piece called "Rock Is Dead." When freeform radio stations in the mid to late 1970s began switching to a tighter consultant-driven format known as "album oriented rock," many rock fans began mourning the death of rock. In 1974 The Who released a song called "Long Live Rock," as a counterpoint to the phrase "rock is dead."
By the end of the decade punk bands such as the Sex Pistols were proclaiming the death of rock due to it becoming over-commercialized. Also by the end of the 70s less and less rock hits could be found on the pop charts as disco had conquered top 40 radio stations. Then again, rock had become its own radio format by that point and was helping rock bands like Pink Floyd outsell disco acts in album sales.
In the 80s people who closely followed the pop charts observed that electronic dance music was becoming the mainstream while rock became an occasional entry. This fact caused many mainstream music fans to believe that rock was done. Yet, the rock audience kept growing with stadium bands such as U2, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Van Halen and Bon Jovi. What had happened was rock became its own culture outside the mainstream. New Wave music helped fuel the growth of rock as well.
By the early 90s there was more talk that rock had died when "hair bands" began disappearing from the charts while rap, r&b and ballads began to dominate the pop scene. Then came the alternative radio format and Seattle bands that reignited the rock scene. Even punk rock finally started to get a lot of airplay and was selling as well as pop acts. The top selling rock acts of the decade were Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Metallica, Green Day and Offspring.
In the 2000s the "rock is dead" talk resumed but this time it was packaged with excuses such as online piracy. But the huge sales of Nickelback proved that the rock audience was still large, except that there was an accompanied backlash that the band was overplayed on the radio. Today the "rock is dead" mantra is just as ridiculous as it has always been because the rock audience is still in the mega millions. There is no shortage of rock bands, at least on the local level, which is obvious on ReverbNation's breakdown of local scenes.
What's missing are bands on the corporate level that have amazing message songs or party songs that rock. Since the big three labels control most of the music on commercial radio, it's up to them to feed the large rock audience with create new sounds, which has not been happening for a long time. Most of the bands that do get airplay either sound like earlier big selling bands or they simply end up not selling well because they are not exciting enough. That's why so many rock fans still listen to classic rock radio. The Beatles remain one of the top selling artists of the new century, so it's pretty obvious that there is still a huge craving for rock.
The mantra that "rock is dead" is getting very old and it's far from reality. Rock merely needs fresher sounds and needs to not be such a fashion show, because great music clearly has more longevity than clothes or hairstyles.
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