Now That The Roots Are On TV Five Times A Week, Will The Exposure Translate Into Album Sales?
For the past seven months, Questlove has been on the run. The Roots drummer, whose driver's license reads "Ahmir Thompson," wakes up every day between 6 and 7 a.m. to catch an 8 a.m. train from his hometown of Philadelphia and usually doesn't return home until 11 p.m.
That's because at the top of the year, the band accepted a job as the house band for "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," which premiered in March on NBC. "My friend ["Chappelle's Show" producer] Neal Brennan asked me who I was thinking of for a house band, and I said that I didn't know," Fallon says. " 'You should ask the Roots,' he said. 'The Roots? You think they'd do it?' 'No,' he said. 'But maybe they'd know someone.' "
"Back in the day, we were young and fresh out of school, had no families and no responsibilities-the sky was the limit. But, fast forward, and you've got wives, kids, ballet recitals, football practices, first day of middle school, flu shots, and it gets harder every year," Thompson says. "We just wanted to be in one place, and the only job that can give us that comfort without us seeing a dip monetarily was doing a residency. For us to be in one place and make the same amount of money made a lot of sense."
His harrowing commute is paying off, though. While the gig is time-consuming, the show has an average of 1.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen, which means the Roots are likely gaining a slew of new fans. While sales of previous albums haven't increased meaningfully, many close to the band believe that sales of its forthcoming album will reflect its new platform.
The idea that a new fan base might be the result of the residency is a surprise to Thompson; he says his biggest concern when he took the "Fallon" gig was that he would alienate the group's current fans.
"We put on a whole pile of extracurricular work to fend off bloggers and press people that were ready to say we sold out for taking the job," Thompson says, adding that the Roots reinstated their Jam Sessions-weekly concerts that the group staged in 1999 and are now held at New York's Highline Ballroom-in February (the series ends in November) because they wanted to prove to themselves "that we weren't getting lazy. We were so busy thinking about the bullets we were going to be fired that we discounted this could actually benefit us. We didn't think we could get new fans; we just wanted to be in one place. One thing we didn't bank on was the show being a success and our profile raising five times more than before the show." (At $10 per ticket, all Jam Sessions have sold out, and most sell out in advance.)
But the act hasn't broken the 1 million sales mark with any of its albums since its 1993 inception-the group's latest set, 2008's "Rising Down," has sold 171,000 copies in the United States, and its biggest seller is the 1999 "Things Fall Apart," with 921,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan-and it plans to release its next album, "How I Got Over," at the top of next year. Will the exposure translate into album sales?