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Rock Music on the Radio

"Rock is dead" is a well-known saying, but is it really dead? Well, even though global radio charts are dominated by Pop, Trap and Hip-Hop, there is still a solid core group of artists and fans who love heavy distortion and drum kits! As a matter of fact, people are buying more guitars compared to previous years. Guitar producers and store owners reported stellar figures in 2020 due to lockdown, proving that people are actually fascinated by the instrument and the songs connected to it.

New year, new releases

So, despite all the bad-mouthing, Rock is still alive and breathing, as 2021 is already proving it. In this first quarter of this year alone, we’ve heard some great releases by some very high-profile bands: Foo Fighters released their album Medicine at Midnight on February 25, Kings of Leon released their eighth album When You See Yourself on March 5, and UK’s rising duo Royal Blood are set to release their third record Typhoons on April 30. With such intense activity in a short amount of time, how are these bands actually performing on the radio all over the world? And more importantly, how are these new releases performing compared to their back catalog?

As you can imagine, bands like Foo Fighters and Kings of Leon have quite a legacy to keep up. Both bands have been active for more than 20 years, and are behind iconic songs like Everlong, Best of You, Sex on Fire, and Use Somebody. Each of which became anthems for several generations and are still relevant today. This is a problem that many older bands are facing while moving forward in their career: no matter how good the new record they put out , it’s always going to be compared to their hits that became part of Rock history.

Back catalog vs. new releases on the Radio 

Let’s take a look at this phenomenon in the chart below. 

The first thing that jumps to the eye is that the majority of the songs programmed on the radio come from the back catalog of these artists. Kings of Leon, in particular, seems to rely on two main singles dating back from their 2008 album Only by the Night (which outclassed their new single The Bandit in terms of total airplay). Foo Fighters seems to have done a bit better with their leading single Shame Shame, surpassing by a thousand airplays their iconic track Everlong. Still, it’s worth mentioning  that Everlong was first released in 1997, and  still gets heavy rotation on radios worldwide. However, we see a completely different scenario for Royal Blood: even if their first tracks Out of the Black and Figure It Out were a huge success at the time of their release, they are now completely eclipsed by their latest single Trouble’s Coming.

Does it mean that Rock fans are way more nostalgic than we initially thought? That’s not completely correct. As a matter of fact, we took into consideration an entire year of airplay, and most of these tracks were released at the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021. The Bandit was released on January 7, so was able to accumulate only 2 months of airplay. We can see in the chart below that all tracks had very high levels of airplay following their release date, surpassing the daily average of the back catalog.

The most interesting thing to see is the stability of the back catalog. Everlong was able to maintain an average of 2,000 weekly airplay for the entire year. Kings of Leon performed even better, with an average of 4,000 weekly airplays for Use Somebody and 3,700 for Sex on Fire. It’s also worth noting that the release of new material didn’t influence the back catalog’s airplay which remained stable. The obvious exception is Royal Blood, since the band is way younger than the other two and doesn’t have any legacy tracks yet.

Different markets, different behaviours

It’s always fascinating to see how each city and country behaves. While the US are the indisputable leaders in terms of the number of radios and total airplays, many European cities are also in top positions. Germany seems to be particularly affectionate to the older tracks (in particular those of Kings of Leon), while London is the leader in terms of new music.

Although Rock music is not dominating the charts or competing at the same level as Pop or Trap music, the value of this repertoire is undeniable! Bands like Foo Fighters or Kings of Leon are still delivering high-quality albums, while Royal Blood proves that even younger acts are able to attract radio stations and new audiences. The UK band seems to be heading in a very interesting direction, as they have recently premiered their new single for the virtual awards of the game company Roblox.

This analysis also gives us a better understanding of why there’s so much agitation in regards to acquiring a band/artist’s back catalog. Universal Music Publishing Group for instance bought Bob Dylan’s entire songwriting catalog in December 2020 for a reported $300 million to $400 million. His catalog includes iconic songs like “Knockin' On Heaven's Door” which was released in 1973 and still gets over 5,000 airplays per month (5,928 in January 2021 / 5,437 in February 2021). Such a constant flux of royalties represents a steady income for its stakeholders, and it’s likely to continue for the years to come! Using data to understand which tracks are able to guarantee a constant income is extremely valuable, and WARM is the only tool that allows you to determine the value of an artist/band’s back catalog!

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