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Posted on August 5, 2022 | By John Reynolds

How And Why Billie Eilish Won Glastonbury

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Glastonbury returned to tremendous excitement following a pandemic-induced hiatus, making it the first one since 2019. Since then, the music industry has evolved dramatically, with streaming becoming more popular than ever and TikTok firmly established as a cornerstone of the industry. 

Back in 2019, the typical practice was to examine how much Glastonbury increased streaming statistics for artists on the bill, but in today's climate, the influence on an artist's fans is perhaps more essential.

The BBC and Glastonbury partnership is a fandom engine room

Glastonbury is significant because it is aired (on TV and radio) and streamed in the UK by BBC, which is unusual in today's on-demand world: it is a cultural event.

Cultural moments in music have mostly vanished as a result of cultural splintering and fanbase fragmentation, being replaced by the asynchronous paradigm enabled by streaming. Summers used to be soundtracked by classics that everyone recognized; now, thanks to algorithms and personalization, everyone gets their summer hit.

Meanwhile, streaming has transformed music into a utility, more of a background soundtrack to our everyday lives than a cultural touchstone. If streaming has transformed music into the water, we now require cups to sip it from. 

In the United Kingdom, Glastonbury provides a counterweight to that dynamic, offering a few days for everyone, from casual viewers to die-hard music enthusiasts, to witness amazing music - music that is, significantly, frequently outside of what they would normally listen to.

This is significant because streaming algorithms give more of what we enjoy, narrowing our cultural breadth. Glastonbury's curated and diversified lineup, augmented by the experienced curation and programming of a national broadcaster, frees music lovers from the algorithm cage. 

There aren't many algorithms that would show Wolf Alice next to Diana Ross. Thus, the Glastonbury/BBC collaboration provides real-world evidence of how true discovery may be reintroduced into music. It is enhancing rather than replacing streaming.

Finding new audiences

So much for the consumer case; what about the artist? What an artist (and labels) want is a long-term increase in fanbases, not simply a transient spike in streaming. Big streaming counts are a terrific calling card, but they do not stack up for most artists unless they are massive. 

A weekend increase is only valuable if it lays the groundwork for a longer-term fandom rise. So, what is truly important is how a one-time event fosters fanbase growth. But how does that work? It just so happens that MIDiA is presently developing a fanbase assessment tool called Music Index.

Let's look at some MIDiA Index data to see how big of an impact Glastonbury has already had on the musicians that played there.

Index creates artist cohorts to permit comparisons among comparable artists, with the best performing artist in each category indexed as 100 and the others against that basis. So we created a Glastonbury cohort to measure these artists' fanbase and engagement impact. Looking at the top five artists in our 'engagement' metric (a hybrid measure that incorporates streaming, YouTube, and so on), Kendrick Lamar was the obvious victor, with AJ Tracey a close second and Wet Leg a close third. These three artists made the most money during and after Glasto.

Because the great majority of established musicians do not rely on streaming as their primary source of revenue, gauging engagement is merely one piece of the puzzle. That gets us to our next statistic, 'fandom,' a hybrid metric that encompasses a wide range of fandom and social behaviors. 

The rankings are significantly different, with Billie Eilish, who was not even in the top five for 'engagement,' not only coming out on top but much ahead of the rest. In comparison to engagement, the distance to second and third place is substantially greater. Regardless, Kendrick Lamar takes another podium slot and had a bigger uplift than Megan Thee Stallion, who was already more highly regarded before Glasto and continues to lead.

Wikipedia is a crucial input for MIDiA's Music Index. It is a significantly underappreciated artist measure that is top of mind for music marketers. Wikipedia is so helpful since it reflects a customer's desire to learn more about the artist. It's a fandom engagement metric. A Wikipedia perspective is the first step towards a higher degree of fandom, but a Google search may merely be aimed at going and finding music.

Taken as a whole, the Glastonbury effect is as follows:

  • Kendrick Lamar may have seen the greatest increase in consumption, but Billie Eilish is likely to have seen the greatest long-term increase in her fanbase.
  • The Glastonbury/BBC partnership makes a compelling case for the power of expanding artist reach to wider audiences through tentpole, live performances broadcast, and online.

Just ask Sam Fender how Glastonbury can produce career-defining cultural events for artists in the UK. However, the case should be made less about Glastonbury and more about how the live/broadcast/stream paradigm gives a worldwide use case for reinvigorating cultural events in an era of divided culture.
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