The big musical tent that is Americana had its best sales week ever, even as rock music failed to find even a single slot on Billboard's mainstream Hot 100 radio chart. The exception: rock with a heavy dose of EDM.
By Glenn Peoples of Pandora
Rock isn’t dead. I’ll get that out of the way right now. Rock bands represent some of the biggest names in music and the biggest tours and festivals. But then again, the commonly heard statement “rock is dead” is appropriate in some parts of the business. (I’ll give rock the simple definition of guitar-based music played to a drum kit. That’ll leave out the pop/EDM that’s so popular right now.)
First of all, rock albums sell about as well as can be expected. Green Day’s new album, Revolution Radio, hit #1 on Billboard’s album chart with 90,000 album sales and another 6,000 equivalent units in track sales and streams. That’s a good debut week for a rock band in 2016. Hard rock band Alter Bridge debuted at #8 with 28,000 units. The album chart has many other rock artists. Meshuggah’s The Violent Sleep of Reason debuted at #17. Red Hot Chili Pepper’s The Getaway is at #20 with 5 weeks on the chart. Sum 31’s 13 Voices debuted at #22. Aside from a handful of other debuts, Skillet’s “Unleashed” sits at #124 after 10 weeks.
But rock has a problem with getting mainstream airplay. Green Day’s “Bang Bang” is #3 on this week’s Alternative Songs chart but didn’t crack Billboard’s all-genre, mainstream chart, the Hot 100. In fact, the Hot 100 is practically devoid of rock. A few nominally rock bands—Coldplay, X Ambassadors and Fitz and the Tantrums—charted but with pop/EDM songs. The first guitar-based song on the Hot 100 is actually “Setting the World on Fire,” by country artist Kenny Chesney, at #36 (one of many country songs on the Hot 100).\
"embrace EDM or abandon hopes
of crossing over into mainstream radio play"
Some rock artists seem to have got the message: embrace EDM or abandon hopes of crossing over into mainstream radio play.
It’s not just a lack of radio play keeping rock off the Hot 100. The chart counts track sales and streams in addition to radio airplay. People clearly aren’t listening to rock bands in single servings to the extent of pop, EDM, R&B and hip hop. Rock is very much an album-based genre in what’s currently a singles-based recorded music market. That may change in the future. I’ve had recent conversations with two experts in the field who say rock could make a comeback (on radio, at streaming services) because popular music is cyclical.
Now, you could argue that rock doesn’t need radio. Fans can find the music elsewhere and they’re relatively likely to buy music. Plus, hard rock and metal festivals are doing well (read this great article by Billboard’s Ray Waddell about the rise of metal festivals). So looking just at radio and the Hot 100 doesn’t give the complete picture.
On a different note, Americana, a large umbrella of a genre, probably had its best sales week ever two weeks ago. Not on that, but Americana had such a good week that its top 10 albums sold more than the top 10 albums of pop, hip hop/R&B and mainstream country. It helped that four albums in theAmericana/Folk top 10 included new albums by Bon Iver (a #2 debut), Bob Weir, Van Morrison and Drive-By Truckers. Nevertheless, Americana albums, as defined by Billboard, beat out the mainstream country genre that almost always overshadows the grittier, less polished, roots music in Nashville.