In a new feature by music industry bible Pollstar that track touring, album and merch sales Metallica is now arguably the biggest band in the world, certainly when it comes to touring. Metallica has sold more than 22 million concert tickets since 1982, grossing more than $1.4 billion in the process. That puts the thrash legends “just behind” U2 in tickets sold, but ahead of rock peers such as AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, and Ozzy Osbourne.
“When accounting for the reach of Metallica’s business… while playing 48 countries and every single continent (including Antarctica) over the course of their career; fervent and rabid merch consumption totaling $125 million in North America since the “Black Album” and into the high teens per-head on its latest touring [cycle]; and the band’s road touring with no gimmick reunion or farewell announcement[s] necessary to drum up extra business… Metallica may just be the biggest band in the world,” wrote Ryan Borba.
Drummer Lars Ulrich commented: “I keep thinking and forcing myself to think all our best years are still ahead of us,” he said. “That’s the M.O. It’s always, ‘What’s your favorite record?’ It’s the next one, the one we haven’t recorded yet. It’s always about the possibilities, always about what can be, what’s coming. That, to me, is what this is all about, and I think that attitude is a big part of why Metallica still connects to so many people around the world.”
Manager Cliff Burnstein — whose Q Prime artist management agency has represented the group since 1984 — agrees. “We could tour off the first five albums forever,” he told Pollstar. “But would we have the same staying power? Would there be an erosion of interest if we didn’t have new things to put in front of people from time to time? Would the band be as engaged if they didn’t have the goal of putting out new material to play? I don’t think so…. Albums may come at great intervals, but they’re always thinking about new material.”
Including the band’s two recent “S&M2” concerts in San Francisco, Pollstar reports that Metallica’s ongoing “WorldWired” tour has sold 4.1 million tickets and grossed $430 million. If those figures are accurate, it would make the trek the eighth-highest-grossing tour of all time — and once the group plays Australia and New Zealand this fall and South America in the spring, Metallica will likely move into sixth place on the all-time list.
“What’s happening in Latin America over the last five years is crazy,” Ulrich said. “What’s happening in places like Southeast Asia is crazy. What’s happening in Eastern Europe — it’s unbelievable we can go into a place like Estonia and play to 60,000 people… As long as that keeps happening, we’ll keep doing it.”
One of the group’s North American booking agents, Dennis Arfa of Artists Group International, says he believes Metallica may well be “the biggest band in the world.” “The two biggest apparel pieces in the world are a Yankees hat and a Metallica T-shirt,” he said.
As a result, Ulrich believes the group’s image as rebellious heavy metal outsiders no longer applies. “Metallica belongs to everyone,” he says. “Metallica is more like a state of mind or ethereal position or situation. Nobody owns Metallica. It’s a place we go and a place we escape to and a place where we can feel better about who we are and connect to other people and to the fucking universe.”