Singer-songwriter, global superstar, award-winning artist, radio charting musician… Whichever way you put it, Ed Sheeran has definitely made his mark in the music industry. Since the release of his first album “+” (pronounced “plus”) in 2011 on Asylum Records, a sub-label of Warner Music Group, Sheeran has become a renowned artist, an act people rush to go and see play live. However, before being the Ed Sheeran we know today, he started like all musicians performing in small clubs and bars.
So what happened between now and then? Well, his team made efficient decisions by getting ahold of the necessary data to determine where to plan gigs and when to schedule them. Join us as we take a deep dive into Ed Sheeran’s radio airplay to try and shed some light on how he became the artist with the highest-grossing concert tour of all time.
Before diving in, here is a short summary of Ed Sheeran’s discography, tours, and the songs that were selected from each album for our analysis.
To sell out venues like Ed Sheeran, the first thing to do is to locate the right places to plan them. Determined and dedicated, Sheeran was not the typical male popstar and had much to prove. He performed in bars and clubs - sometimes even three times a day to sharpen his craft - but his efforts paid off. In 2011, Sheeran signed to Asylum Records, a major label which released his album “+” and sent him off on tour overseas to promote it. The singer had moved up, he was no longer performing in front of casual listeners, but in front of fans. Considering his profile had caught the attention of mostly English-speaking audiences and radios, the label planned the tour accordingly and sent him to countries such as England, Ireland, Wales, Canada, the US, and Australia.
His second album “x” (pronounced “multiply”), released in 2014, was embraced by more international audiences and radio stations. Aware of this new trend, Sheeran’s team planned his “x” tour accordingly and sent him to Europe, North America, Oceania, as well as South America and Asia. English-speaking cities were no longer the only priority. But how did Sheeran's label know these regions were new potential markets for him? A real-time radio monitoring platform such as WARM could have been a precise and efficient tool to discover it!
But radio airplay data can be even more helpful than that; the more detailed the data, the more valuable insights can be discovered. For instance, WARM’s technology allows its users to see detailed data by city, radio station, and even the time of the airplay. Indeed, deciding where to plan events is all about zooming in: from regions of the world, to countries, and cities. That seems to be exactly what Ed Sheeran and his team put to practice in 2017 when planning the tour for his third album “÷” (pronounced “divide”). In other words, in certain countries of the world, he performed in more than one city.
Here are 3 countries we looked into for his "÷" tour, which started in 2017:
It so happens that Germany, the UK, and Canada feature all in the Top5 countries to play each of these songs. Furthermore, the chosen cities to be part of the tour showed high numbers of airplay at the time - if not the highest in each country. For instance, zooming in to Germany, Munich, Berlin and Hamburg charted within the Top5 cities to play both songs on the radio in Germany and were indeed part of the tour!
Knowing where to plan an event is vital, but knowing when to schedule it is just as important. You don’t want to jump the gun, so monitoring an artist’s radio airplay is an easy way to keep an eye out for event opportunities in real-time.
If we take a look at Ed Sheeran’s latest album “=” (pronounced “equals”), released on September 10th 2021, our data shows that Italy is amongst the Top5 countries playing its singles “Shivers” and “Overpass Graffiti”; the Top5 Italian cities playing them (Sept. 11, 2021 to Nov. 28, 2021) are: Rome, Milan, Naples, Palermo and Cagliari. However, prior to the album’s release, the Top5 Italian cities which played his music (Jan. 1, 2021 to Sept. 10, 2021) were Rome, Milan, Naples, Palermo and Padua - Cagliari was 15th.
What does this mean for Ed Sheeran’s team? Well, that the release of his album “=” is getting lots of attention in Cagliari and that locals and radio stations are asking for more. Organizing an event locally would be a great way to build up momentum, capitalize on the hype and the radio airplay, as well as be a great addition to his new “+ - = ÷ x Tour” (pronounced “The Mathematics Tour”).
It takes persuasion to climb the ladder of the music industry, and this must have been the same story for Ed Sheeran, especially at the beginning of his career. Managers and labels have to tell promising stories about their artists in order to get them to perform in front of new audiences, and a really good story is made of solid arguments such as the impact of airplay data on their artists’ reach. Showcasing an artist’s radio performance on specific local radio stations can really make a difference with venue owners!
Fast forward to 2021 and Sheeran’s team might be incorporating radio insights when planning his “+ - = ÷ x Tour” - even now that he is a superstar. For example, Sheeran has already booked a gig at the Stade de France in Paris - France - so his team must have proven he is a relevant match for the city and that he is supported by local radio stations. Is that the case? Yes! It so happens that Paris is the French city where the song “Shivers”, the lead single of his album “=”, is performing best. Since its release on September 10th 2021, up until December 5th 2021, the song has gathered 3,004 plays. Furthermore, the top radio stations supporting the song are NRJ, Virgin Radio, Voltage, and Skyrock - four major local FM radio stations which any venue owner as well as the artists’ team would love to have as a partner to promote their event. In Sheeran’s case, NRJ is an official partner of the event.
As of today the “+ - = ÷ x Tour” only includes 21 European cities, so it is safe to say - considering Sheeran’s past tours - that more cities will be announced in the future. However, if we at WARM were to help him plan his tour outside Europe, we would strongly recommend performing in Guadalajara, Mexico, for example. Why? Mexico is featured in the Top10 countries to play on the radio two of his latest singles, “Shivers” and “Overpass Graffiti”; and Guadalajara is featured in the Top3 cities to play “Shivers” as well as “Overpass Graffiti” on the radio. Sheeran has fans in Mexico, there’s no denying it, so why not schedule an event at Arena VFG like in 2017?
May it be to understand where to plan gigs, when to schedule them, or to get ahold of the necessary insights to tell an artist’s story when booking venues, accurate radio airplay data is a must. It’s a key tool to run a successful record label and/or become a renowned artist manager. Ed Sheeran’s growth story is inspiring for upcoming and emerging artists, so make sure to keep an eye on your artists’ radio plays to not miss out on opportunities to plan (sold out) events and help them break (inter)nationally - one airplay at a time!