Beyond the grave: How the paradox of death can raise artists higher than ever before
On July 20 2017, the music world was rocked by the loss of one of its own iconic figures. Chester Bennington, frontman of influential rock band Linkin Park, was found at his private residence in California after death by suicide at age 41. Social media was set alight for days, with tributes flowing in from artists and fans alike remembering and celebrating Bennington’s life.
One such tweet came from5 Seconds Of Summer guitaristMichael Clifford, who like many others,voiced how he would mark the passing of the musician.
can’t even fathom the news about Chester Bennington. going to have LP on repeat all day. Rest In Peace.
— michael clifford i guess (@Michael5SOS) July 20, 2017
What happened over the coming week proved this“play on repeat” approach was no anomaly, and would speak volumes to the way in which millions of people collectively responded to the tragedy.
Linkin Park’s debut album Hybrid Theory (2000) and Meteora (2003) skyrocketed to the summit of Australia’s iTunes Chart, with ten of the band’s songs making their way back into the iTunes Top 50 – including ‘Numb’ (at #5), ‘Shadow Of The Day’ (#18), ‘One Step Closer’ (#22) and ‘Somewhere I Belong’ (#25). In the same week, Linkin Park notched four albums in the ARIA Chart Top 10, with a further five albums –Collision Course, The Hunting Party, Living Things, A Thousand Suns and the band’s studio collection –re-entering the Top 50.
Also fresh in our collective minds is the passing of Chris Cornell, Bennington’s longtime friend and frontman ofSoundgarden,Audioslave andTemple Of The Dog. Following the singer’s death in May 2017, Cornell upped his sales and on-demand streams across his entire catalogue (solo and group). According to Billboard, Cornell’s work yielded an increase of 552% in the US in the week ending May 18. Furthermore, after more than 20 years of absence from the ARIA Albums Chart, Soundgarden’s 1994 breakthrough record Superunknowncame out of the catacombs to re-emerge at #7 on the chart, as did Audioslave’s self-titled album (#8) and Cornell’s solo LP Dangerous Woman (#45).
For Cornell, previously unreleased and unnoticed recordings suddenly become sought-after collectibles and highly lucrative assets. Prior to his death, the singer had lay down vocals for a posthumous single featuring the late Johnny Cash, piecing together two of Cash’s unheard tracks. ‘You Never Knew My Mind’ will go on to feature on the compilation album Johnny Cash: Forever Words,set to be released later this year. The vessel for the release is Sony’s Legacy Recordings imprint, which was founded in 1990 for the sole purpose of “curating the world’s preeminent catalog[sic] of historic music reissues and new releases from recording legends”.
Image: Chris Cornell (left) and Chester Bennington (right) on stage with Soundgarden
Together Bennington,Cornelland many artists of their calibresymbolise towering icons who forged big careers on the back of larger-than-life personalities and universally celebrated music. Death softens hearts and loosenspurse strings – a sobering truth that extends far beyond the confines of the music industry – and one that holds the paradoxical power to revive the relevance and popularity of an artist, despite their physical absence.
“The business of death is an interesting business in the music industry,” says Daniel Glass, founder of Glassnote Records. “Some people, in their passing, have incredible legacies because the music lives on in meaningful ways. Some people don’t – some people just have pop careers where their flame burns out.”
The pattern above is clear in the aftermath of a tragedy, but the charts fail to offer any real insight into the correlation between sales and the cause of death of an artist. Rather, the charts plainly insist that death sparks a certain curiosity and sense of nostalgia that cannot be replicated by any man-made promotional stunt or marketing campaign.
“When someone passes away, you dig a little deeper into their catalogue, into their spirit, into their soul,” Glass says of Tom Petty, reminiscing about the singer’s passing from heart failure in October 2017.
“We were lucky enough to see Tom a couple of times [in 2017]. We saw him at a Music Cares Grammy benefit, we saw him at Hyde Park for a huge show, we took our friends. After he passed, the rediscovery of Tom Petty started.”
That process of rediscovering an artist is cultivated by the efforts of numerous mediums. We hear it on Spotify playlists, read it on social media, and find it in retail stores. WhileTMN reached out to Spotify and ARIA, both declined to comment.
But ultimately all parties have an effect on the consumption journey – whether they realise it or not.
Image: Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers at Barclaycard British Summer Time in Hyde Park, 2017
Radio stations also play a key part, adjusting programming and music strategies, all the while pointing listeners to the deeper regions of an artist’s catalogue. The anecdotal nature of radio provides a unique and stirring way of conveying the tragedy as announcers recall their own personal stories and memories of the artist.
“The first thing we do is quickly communicate the sad news on-air and play what could be best described as the artist’s ‘signature hit,’” saysWSFM101.7announcer and music directorJason Staveley, whose Sydney station has a penchant for spotlighting retro catalogues.
“Announcers then often share stories about their interactions with the artist whether it be from meeting them, interviewing them or working with them. WSFM’s breakfast team Jonesy & Amanda are masters at this as they have had such a good history interviewing or working with just about everybody we play on the station.
“Depending on the relevance of the artist to the WSFM audience, we would probably play a track from the artist every hour and supplement that with produced vignettes that pay tribute to them, their achievements and catalogue of hits. Where possible we’d also include interviews with the artist so their own words are the star of the pieces, which our audiences love.”
These tribute projects are not just limited to the WS brand, Staveley tells TMN, with various other stations across the Australian Radio Network joining in paying homage to music icons after their passing, dependent on an artist’s relevance to the array of audience segments across the network.
“If the artist is very popular with our audience or is a legend in the music industry we would also commission weekend specials as tributes and our friends at iHeartRadio would create a bespoke tribute channel for fans which we would mention on air.”
Staveley believes WSFM’sengagement with its audience is “more apparent than ever” when paying tribute to an artist that maintained a connection with fans over time. According to the MD, this is a major factor in determining whether artists will experience a sales influx aftet their passing or not.
“We’ve seen very strong reactions from WSFM audiences with phones lighting up with listeners wanting to share stories and having quite emotional reactions, but it really depends on the artist.
“Whether there is an increase in sales or consumption following an artist’s death really depends on how significant the act is for today’s audience. Michael Jackson, David Bowie, and Prince were all great losses, but also examples of how audiences connect with music following the death of an artist.”
In a time when discovering and accessing music is arguably easier than ever before, there is no doubt that the legacy of today’s artists will extend far and wide after their passing – and the music industry and fans alike are all the better for it.
For anyone who may be impacted by this story,we encourage you to seeksupport. Details for 24/7 crisis support services are outlined below:
Suicide Call Back Service– 1300 659 467
Lifeline– 13 11 14
MensLine Australia– 1300 78 99 78
A telephone and online support, information and referral service, helping men to deal with relationship problems in a practical and effective way.
Headspace– 1800 650 890
Free online and telephone service that supports young people aged between 12 and 25 and their families going through a tough time.
Support Act– 1300 731 303
An Australian registered charity focusing on supporting the mental health of Australian musicians and music industry professionals.