Here’s a music history hot take: The slow (and still on-going death) of physical music began on April 28, 2003.
That was the date that Apple unleashed the iTunes Store worldwide, and within five years it became the largest music vendor in the United States. Physical music has gone through its transformations over the last 150 years—from the analog formats of the gramophone & compact cassettes to the digital formats of compact discs, but the consumption of music through downloads was a game-changer that was to be the new standard…or so we thought. After half a decade of downloads becoming the standard, on October 7, 2008, Spotify—the largest streaming service in the world—was launched in several international markets before making it’s way to the United States in 2011. Multiple paid subscription streaming services have launched in the years following this—including Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Tidal. Now you may be wondering a few things: What does that mean for downloads? Music downloads have been on a decline so consistent that we might as well begin the embalming process. Over the last twenty years the demand for a $14.99 full length album has diminished in favor of the hype of a $1.29 single, and those singles purchases have been pushed aside for streaming which in one play generates a hundredth of a cent. Despite the changes in the consumption of music and the rise of social media (which has changed the overall engagement between artists and fans) there’s one aspect of music that can’t be shaken—the live music experience.
Live shows continues to play a role in the development of music acts, contributing to their longevity and often providing an artistic outlet outside the standard conventions of music. Not to mention, they’re still selling like hot cakes. The sales of albums entirely continue to decline in favor of streaming, but live tours and shows continue to draw big crowds whether it’s a big name artist selling an experience to fans, the intrigue of watching a new artist blossom live, or even a tried and true live act continuing to give a great show.
Chance The Rapper is a great example of a burgeoning artist who feels like he checks all of the above in the aforementioned criteria with a tremendous live show. Despite him never selling an album a day in his life and still being an independent artist, he’s managed to sell out venues and provide a energetic, vivid, and colorful live experience to all concertgoers throughout 2016. This all culminated to the Magnificent Coloring Day Festival, a day-long festival headlined by Chance himself that filled the US Cellular Field (home of the 2016 World Champions Chicago Cubs, and also now called the Guaranteed Rate Field) to the brim. Amidst the multiple Grammy-award winners (John Legend, Alicia Keys), new breed of rappers (Lil Uzi Vert), a hip hop tag team (2 Chainz and Lil Wayne), and Chicago’s first son (Kanye West) who all hit the stage, it was Lil Chano who headlined the bill with his grandest performance to date, delivering his brand of theatrics, gospel and hip hop in front of over 40,000 fans.
Now if there’s one artist who has the live experience down to a flawless science while generating dollars, it’s Beyoncé. She released her sixth studio album Lemonade in April, only accompanied by the release of an hour-long film that visually laid out the concept of the album. However, it was the live show that continued to sustain the album’s shelf life in the absence of media blitzes, full-length feature magazine spreads, and publicity stunts. Seemingly the alpha and the omega when it comes to female entertainers, Beyoncé has upgraded her shows from the standard live experience of dancing and backup singers to full on presentations. The Formation World Tour, which launched four days after the album’s release, is a near two-hour tour de force that put her album in perspective (along with the many other hits of her career) featuring symbolic interludes, countless costume changes, and one-of-a-kind visual representations. Beyond the representation of her art, Beyoncé’s skill as a performer (a skill that’s been honed since she was a preteen) may arguably be the biggest attraction to her live show. The Formation World Tour ended in October of 2016, taking in over $250 million.
Several other artists continue to thrive through their live show experiences’, whether it’s still garnering new fans or making classic records sound fresh again. When it comes to the latter, immediately Puff Daddy and the Bad Boy Family come to mind as their 25th reunion tour has revitalized the label’s catalog in 2016. Wu-Tang Clan, 50 Cent, A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, Mary J. Blige, and Lil Wayne — among others keep their catalog alive and flourishing throughout the years through their live shows. Recent acts like Travi$ Scott, Tinashe, Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, Logic, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson.Paak have garnered acclaim for their live shows, and will no doubt be able to sustain a lengthy career if they can continue to pack a house and kill the stage.
The live music experience has also opened the doors for the rise of music festivals throughout the last number of years. While the death of the Rock The Bells tour seemed like an unfortunate tragedy a few years back due to it being one of the only touring hip hop festivals, in recent years we’ve seen the demand for festivals increase. Coachella and the Governor’s Ball have grew in the past number of years due to their superstar headlining acts and it’s distinct supporting cast. The Roots Picnic, Meadows Festival, A3C, SXSW, Power House, Summer Jam have also gained prominence on the strength of presenting popular music acts in a live format. Hip hop artists have even gone as far as the present their own festivals with the aforementioned Magnificent Coloring Day Festival, Pro Era’s Steez Day celebration, Odd Future’s Camp Flog Gnaw carnival, and Lil Wayne’s Lil Weezyana Fest, just to name a few.
A Chance The Rapper album can be released at 12:00 a.m. and be in my possession a minute later, but the experience of hearing those live trumpets blare for “Pusha Man” or his spirited delivery on “Ultra Light Beam” live in a sea of a people is still unmatched in 2016. No matter how streaming records are broken or new certification rules go into effect, the appeal of a live show still remains king.