Hit the spot: Why setlists are the new playlists

The Killers

It’s been something for audiences to moan about at gigs and, especially, festivals for as long as anyone can remember: that moment when a classic artist breaks up a storming Greatest Hits set to drop some tracks from the new album that no one cares about. Cue mass exit to bar/toilets.

But summer 2019 suggests artists are finally getting that message. Look at The Killers (pictured) at Glastonbury: huge festival crowd, even bigger TV audience, surely the ideal opportunity to remind people they put an album out less than two years ago?

Or not, as the only song featured from Wonderful Wonderful amongst a host of hits and exciting collaborations was The Man, the one song that broke through on streaming. In London that night, Weezer went one better, or perhaps one worse depending on your point of view, neglecting to play anything at all from The Black Album, which only came out in March.

Almost every gig you go to now, artists are treating setlists like playlists, compiling them with the constant fear of the real life equivalent of the skip button.

This has long been apparent at pop events like Capital’s Summertime and Jingle Bell Balls, where a brutal teenage crowd will cut you dead the second you test their attention span. But it’s now seeping into other genres, where it’s also born of the realisation that flogging the new album is no longer the most important thing for artists with a significant catalogue.

The future may involve fewer live run-throughs of classic albums and more full renditions of new material to hardcore fans only. But, in the meantime, the real priority is to grab people’s attention and send them to streaming platforms, where they can keep your monthly listeners up and hopefully explore all of your music. If they check out the new record while they're there, then that's a bonus.

Because the reality for most of the rock artists that still dominate the live business is that few people outside of your hardcore fanbase will ever buy your new album (when was the last rock album that truly crossed over?). But that doesn’t mean you can’t use your huge festival platform to engage people outside of that core group. Hence The Killers’ Direct Hits flying back into the Top 10 this week, while Wonderful Wonderful lurks somewhere below the Top 100.

You suspect Brandon Flowers and co will have no problem with that. The only problem we have now is choosing which hit we miss for a pint…

* To read Music Week's highlights from this year's Glastonbury, click here. To read our 2017 in-depth feature on The Killers, click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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