Are Music Videos Cheating?

II came across an interesting comment when I was reading an article about the money involved in touring. The writer made a comment to the effect that music videos were cheating — in short that newer acts would never see the level of touring success that their forebears had seen, largely because the legends of the touring industry had built up their massive success through constant touring. Newer acts had supposedly used music videos to create a much quicker and less permanent relationship with their fans. I went and pulled some data on the top grossing touring acts of the decade, and grouped them by the decade in which they achieved their “breakthrough”, i.e. their first large commercial success.

Top Acts of the Decade (# of shows/millions of dollars grossed — taken from Billboard’s website):


  • THE ROLLING STONES: 264/$869
  • NEIL DIAMOND: 288/$264
  • CHER: 383/$257
  • PAUL MCCARTNEY: 106/$238
  • ROD STEWART: 281/$233
  • TINA TURNER: 168/$212


  • ELTON JOHN: 541/$603
  • BILLY JOEL: 241/$418
  • THE EAGLES: 240/$347
  • AEROSMITH: 320/$292
  • JIMMY BUFFETT: 196/$215


  • U2: 288/$844
  • MADONNA: 248/$801
  • BON JOVI: 249/$419
  • THE POLICE: 144/$361
  • METALLICA: 187/$227


  • CELINE DION: 597/$536
  • DAVE MATTHEWS BAND: 547/$505
  • TIM MCGRAW: 388/$303
  • KENNY CHESNEY: 622/$477
  • TOBY KEITH: 542/$271


  • BRITNEY SPEARS: 255/$216
  • RASCAL FLATTS: 401/$222

Image credit: kellysweetrewards on Flickr

Now, music videos came into their own in the early 80s with the advent of MTV. Prior to MTV music videos existed as an art form largely bereft of any large commercial impact, but MTV brought the medium to a large audience. Any band that broke through after the launch of MTV owed part of their success to the commercial opportunities that the new medium brought. So taking another look at that list, we can see that there were six acts from the 60s, 70s and 90s, five from the 80s, and two from the 2000s. So the 90s have the same representation on the list as the 60s and 70s, and the 80s are almost identical; music videos must not have a detrimental effect on the fan base.

The next thing to look at is price per show. Every single one of the acts from the 90s and 2000s pulled in an average of less than one million per show, while three of the five acts from the 80s averaged over two million a show and the rest topped a million. Then something interesting happens when we get to the data from the 60s and 70s. In the 70s one of the acts averaged less than a million per show, while in the 60s a grand total of three acts averaged less than a million per show.

Allow me to translate all of this for you: you’re not going to make very much money in touring. Not when you’re first starting out. The peak money in touring is normally found about 20 years after breakout success, regardless of the era. It’s entirely possible to fill seats like Led Zeppelin and the legends of old. The music industry is one big pyramid scheme that screws over those at the bottom, where success is reserved for those that survive. So don’t get discouraged if you don’t find success right away, or even after a year or two of touring. It took bands like the Police four years to even put out a record. Survive, and the peanuts you’re living on turn into more kingly fare, but it’s up to you and your own personal quest to figure out how.

Ben Histand is a fourth-year Business student with an interest in finding out how pop culture works, and has spent entirely too much time finding out how Marvin Gaye is the same as Led Zeppelin, and why Led Zeppelin sold a whole lot more albums.