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 looking back at 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 YouTube.
For more than 15 years, YouTube has been something of a playground for content creators. Musicians, comedians, make-up artists, fitness gurus, and many more have found an open-ended portal for their creativity. And as much of the world closed down in 2020, creators and fans alike found even more space to play within that sandbox.
The platform boasts more than 2 billion monthly users and counts more than 1 billion hours of video watched every day. And while it has been ubiquitous for more than a decade, 2020 saw a sharp spike in activity. Watch time in March 2020 was up 80% from the same period in 2019 and watch time of live content via television screens was up by 250% year-over-year for the pivotal period of March 11-April 10.
Content on YouTube is global, and Brazil was a particular hub for live music performances during the early COVID months. Marília Mendonça has over 20 million subscribers on the platform and went live on April 8 with #LiveLocalMaríliaMendonça. The three-hour-plus event, live from the singer’s living room, set a worldwide record for YouTube with over three million peak concurrent viewers (55.4 million total views as of Dec. 4).
Brazilian duo Jorge & Mateus caught the bug as well, streaming SUNSET LIVE, which courted 14.8 million viewers since its May 2 premiere.
Artists around the world created unique content for YouTube, fashioning themed setlists at iconic venues. Andrea Bocelli hosted an Easter Sunday performance from Duomo di Milano in Italy that became the biggest classical livestream in the platform’s history with 28 million views in its first 24 hours. A bonus clip of Bocelli singing “Amazing Grace” drew an addition 3.4 million views.
Conversely, straight from his stateside living room, Post Malone performed a Nirvana tribute set with an assist from Travis Barker. The performance helped raise more than $1 million (including a match by Google.org) that contributed to the total $7 million raised for the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response. Since the April 24 broadcast, it has hit 14.8 million views.
And for those still reeling for the full-band sound, lighting effects, and stage production of live concerts, many of the world’s biggest rock acts produced classic video content, ‘classic’ being the operative word. The Rolling Stones, Radiohead, The National, and more unearthed archived concert footage, distributing sets from iconic venues and festivals for free for the first time.
One of the first to do so was Metallica. The heavy metal legends began #MetallicaMondays, releasing a different full concert film every Monday from March through August. The series was massively successful, drawing more than 21 million views to sets at recent as a Sept. 3, 2017 show in Paris to a Chicago performance from Aug. 12, 1983.
The series doubled as a fundraiser for All Within My Hands, raising more than $60,000 for Metallica’s nonprofit foundation that works in tandem with Feeding America and the American Association of Community Colleges, and COVID-19 and disaster relief efforts.
Elton John and Grateful Dead did the same, with the latter raising funds for different charities each week, also joined by a range of guest stars from Bob Weir to John Mayer to David Crosby. Total donations hit $180,000, split among the ACLU Solidarity Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, MusicCares COVID-19 Relief Fund, and more.
And it wasn’t just individual artists getting in on the action. Over the last 10 years, music festivals have grown to dominate the summer season and looked to YouTube to create and host new content.
Goldenvoice’s flagship Coachella was originally scheduled for mid-April, then moved to the Fall, and now is eyeing a 2021 return. In the meantime, they produced the YouTube original documentary Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert, garnering 2.6 million views since its premiere on April 10, the festival’s originally scheduled date.
In addition to these long-running festivals generating new content, YouTube hosted Save Our Stages Fest. From Oct. 16-18, the event aimed to raise donations and spread awareness for the National Independent Venue Association’s Emergency Relief Fund, benefiting independent music venues across the U.S. The festival boasted a genre-blurring roster of 34 acts performing from different clubs and theaters around the country, including The Roots, Phoebe Bridgers, and YG.
Miley Cyrus had the festival’s most viewed set, with her performance from Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles generating more than 1.2 million views. Further, a clip of her rendition of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” drew nearly 7.5 million additional views. Ultimately, the festival garnered over 4.5 million views (not inclusive of ‘clip’ views, like Cyrus’s “Zombie”).
More vitally, raised $1.3 million for the NIVA fund. It is perhaps an early sign of live-streaming not acting as a replacement or stop-gap for in-person concerts, but as a value-add to the overall landscape of live performance.