As previously reported, Elton John topped Billboard’s year-end Top Tours ranking, while Radio City Music Hall and Live Nation crowned the annual Top Venues and Top Promoters lists. But in 2020, traditional touring did not account for the full landscape of the live music industry.
Amidst an indefinite COVID-19 shutdown, artists took to the internet, broadcasting live from empty theaters, outdoor landmarks and their own living rooms.
This week, Billboard is remembering the year in livestreams, with highlights from some of the major digital platforms that connected fans to their favorite artists. Here, we dive into some notable events from StageIt.
StageIt was founded in 2009 as a livestream platform but has seen a, wait for it, unprecedented surge in activity since March. A leader in providing a platform for artists to host ticketed livestreams, they helped acts monetize live performances (both in ticket sales and tips during broadcasts) when the most lucrative piece of artists’ business was on pause.
Perhaps the most successful artist on the platform was Blue October. The Texan rock band played a series of livestreams centered around different albums from their discography and collectively grossed more than $506,000 across 10 streams.
This achievement is, in part, due to the group’s engagement with fans, walking a thin line between selling tickets on the platform in order to earn a living and respecting the delicate financial politics that surrounded COVID. All of Blue October’s shows followed a pay-what-you-want model, at a minimum ticket price of $0.10.
Ultimately, the lenient strategy worked. Not only was Blue October the platform’s top-grossing act of the year, according to StageIt, they also were the most tipped artist of the year, earning $197,000 in tips (39% of the band’s total gross). The band’s May 15 ‘The Singles’ stream was the most-tipped individual stream of the year, bringing in $52,808. One fan individually tipped over $13,000 during that show, more than any other tipper in a single broadcast.
While Blue October garnered the most revenue, Old 97’s frontman Rhett Miller came out on top in terms of total ticket sales. Across a staggering 126 livestreams, Miller sold 41,296 tickets since joining the platform on March 13, almost immediately after venues closed their doors. He has averaged about 300 people per broadcast, going live about three times each week.
And as Blue October and Miller won top honors for their work throughout the year, Devin Townsend claims StageIt’s biggest individual livestreams, both in terms of gross and attendance. His Sept. 5 stream centered around his 2019 LP Empath and earned $101,000 (including ticket sales and tips) while Devin’s Crappy Halloween Party! took attendance honors, with 5,908 tickets sold.
In addition to these pace-setting livestreams, Townsend performed a series of fundraisers, ultimately bringing in $85,000 for U.K. National Health Service on April 25 and, a week later, another $65,000 for North Shore University Hospital New York.
Livestreaming became a popular vehicle for fundraising in 2020, highlighted not only by the efforts of individual artists like Townsend, but by all-star events bringing together performers that transcend geography.
One such event was Divas for Democracy, United We Slay, a livestream that joined Broadway performers with Drag Kings and Queens on Oct. 18. Between performances of showtunes and modern pop lip-syncs, the show featured video clips and speeches geared toward promoting LGBTQIA+ involvement in their communities and in the larger political landscape, with booths for voter education and registration. Ultimately, the event raised more than $30,000 for Drag Out the Vote.
And though traditional touring is on hold until further notice, StageIt worked with concert venues across the country, bringing full production specs for artists to broadcast from empty rooms to fans around the globe. New Orleans’ iconic Preservation Hall was showcased with livestreams by Big Freedia and Tank & the Bangas, while d.b.a. on Frenchmen Street has hosted 31 shows since Oct. 1 (as of Dec. 6).
All told, StageIt hosted more than 6,000 shows in 2020, ultimately paying out over $6 million to artists in 2020 through Oct. 31.