The 89th Academy Awards
See Paramore With "Brand New Eyes"
When Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams is asked about her plans after the Sept. 29 release of her new album, "Brand New Eyes," she simply says, "We're going to be on tour-forever."
Williams, 20, isn't being terribly hyperbolic. Since Paramore started in 2004, the band members have risen to the top the old-fashioned way-by touring nonstop and building relationships with fans. They seem preternaturally serious for a group of bona fide rock stars barely out of their teens; they're not fixtures in gossip pages, are rarely sighted drinking or smoking and seem more interested in playing shows than hitting clubs.
The band is still young but its road to success has been long. "We started working with Hayley when she was 14," says one of Paramore's managers, Mark Mercado. "She was 14, Josh [Farro, guitar] was 16, and Zach [Farro, drums] was 13."
Pretty much everyone involved with the band agrees that it wouldn't be where it is today without the benefits of the 360-degree deal the act signed with John Janick's Fueled by Ramen label. The band signed the deal in April 2005, before "360" was an industry buzzword, and attracted a flurry of coverage when it started to sell more records in 2007. And while the band's success will surely not end the debate about the contract model, its long, slow, but ultimately fruitful trajectory does help the case of those who argue that 360 deals allow a band to grow and develop organically.
Janick had a feeling about Paramore. The first time he saw it play the rock festival Taste of Chaos in Florida, he wasn't immediately taken with its music, but he was sold on the band's vision. "The first time I saw them, they had these really poppy songs, but I could tell it wasn't really what they wanted to do," he says. "It's like, you knew where they wanted to go, but they weren't quite sure about how to get there. But even though they were very young, I could see there was something special there, and I could look down the road and see them playing much bigger venues."Janick signed the band to a deal that not only included recorded music but an interest in touring, merchandising and fan club fees. The band's other manager, Dave Steunebrink, points out that "everyone talks about the 360 model like it's this brand-new concept, but in reality, indie labels have all developed through being 360 concepts from the get-go-and when you look at it, those were the labels that really allowed bands the room to grow and develop."
Paramore put out its first album, "All We Know Is Falling," in the summer of 2005. The album went on to sell 437,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan-far from a failure, but certainly not a smash. During the summer of 2005, the band played the Shira Girl stage on the Vans Warped tour, a second stage that was so secondary the bands had to tear it down themselves at night and rebuild it the next day. Janick says Paramore wasn't paid for its appearance on the tour, but it allowed the members to work on their live show and build a support base.
They stayed on the road for most of 2006, playing emo package tours and again playing Warped, having moved up to the Volcom and Hurley stages-not the main stage, but at least a stage that was assembled by a crew and not a drummer. "We were building them up as we were going along, so it was a good strategy for us to go out and support people and build our base and get people from other band's bases," Janick says. "It wasn't always easy to get people to take them out, because they were so young and still not a known commodity, but we wanted to position them to be thought of as a touring band."
When the band released "Riot!" in June 2007, it entered the Billboard 200 at No. 20 and sold 44,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan-not a flop, but again nothing to indicate the band was poised for bigger and better things. But Paramore's nonstop touring was beginning to pay off in other ways-it was getting traction at MTV and scored a spot on the Warped tour's main stage. By the fall of 2007, the band had two singles on the Modern Rock chart, and the album was steadily climbing the Billboard 200. The singles were selling well, too: "Misery Business" has sold 1.6 million downloads to date, and "Crushcrushcrush" has sold 986,000 copies."There were a lot of similar-sounding bands getting big at that time, like Panic at the Disco and My Chemical Romance, but they were all male-fronted," says James Montgomery, rock editor at MTV. "When Paramore first came up, people were saying, 'You have to see this girl with the bright red hair.' She's a firecracker."
The band was also making in-roads at retail through a partnership with mall staple Hot Topic. "We presented 'Riot!' to them right before it came out, and they gave us some cool opportunities," Williams says. Paramore partnered with the store to create promotional hangtags on exclusive T-shirts prior to the release of "Riot!" Customers could download exclusive digital content only when they purchased the T-shirt; the content was redeemable online through unique codes on each T-shirt's tag. The band set up specially priced music and merch bundles with Hot Topic where customers can purchase a Paramore T-shirt and an album for a discounted, "bundle only" price of $20.
The relationship with the retailer has grown since then. To promote its contribution to the "Twilight" soundtrack, Paramore did an in-person appearance with the film's cast and a live performance in Los Angeles that Fueled by Ramen and Hot Topic put together. Customers had to purchase "Twilight"-inspired band T-shirts in order to gain entry to the performance.
While some claim the 360 model limits what a band can do with its merch, Paramore's success with Hot Topic demonstrates this isn't always the case. Since Hot Topic has played such an integral role in the band's development, it begs the question-why not just sign a direct deal with the retail outlet?"In this day and age you need multiple partners," Mercado says. "Hot Topic has been great, but if you're talking an exclusive partnership or anything like that, I almost think it would slow things down."
And slowing down, for Paramore, isn't an option. The band finished 2007 on the road and spent most of 2008 in its bus, crossing the country and the world.
As 2009 dawned, Paramore stood atop the charts as part of the "Twilight" soundtrack. The band's involvement in the hysteria-provoking vampire flick was a direct result of Williams' love for the soapy series of novels on which the movie is based. "I got all the books for Hayley to take to London with her, because I'd been hearing so much about them," Janick says. "These 1things are huge; I thought they would keep her going for a while. And a week later she called me and said that she absolutely had to do a song for the movie. I think she said she read the first book on the plane, and she just devoured them. We sat down with Atlantic and [music supervisor] Alex Patsavas and made it happen."
"It was out of the blue for us," Williams says. "And then the next thing we know, 'Decode' [from the soundtrack] was charting really high on iTunes and the soundtrack went platinum. So they gave us plaques for 'Twilight.' Then it went double-platinum, so they had to change the plaque. We were kind of like, 'Really? This is awesome!' " The track has sold 850,000 downloads, according to SoundScan.
And while the band's "Twilight" track hit the bull's-eye with the teen market, Paramore's camp knows that the band will have to put in plenty of work for the new album. The group is currently on the road, opening for No Doubt and trying out new material.
"We're playing two new songs, 'Ignorance' and 'Where the Lines Overlap,' " Williams says. "Our fans know all the words to them, so they're singing along and having a good time every night."
But the carefully chosen opening slot is more than a chance for Paramore to test out some new tunes. "I've learned that there is a much bigger audience for Paramore than I had previously thought," Janick says. "I went to the show at PNC [Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J.] on Friday and I went to the show Saturday [at Long Island's] Jones Beach. It's a different crowd because you have No Doubt-they were huge about 12 years ago, and their core audience is a little older. It was massive; it was probably between 15 and 20,000 people."
According to Billboard Boxscore, shows on the tour from May 16 through June 17 have grossed $7,343,609, with a total attendance of 196,410. Of 12 shows during that period, three were sold out.
"I just couldn't believe the entire crowd knew not just the singles, but knew the other songs off the records," Janick says. "When you go to a Paramore show, it's nonstop from beginning to end-3, 5, 6,000 people singing every word to every song because it's their core fans. But then I go to this No Doubt show where Paramore's opening, and the majority of the people there still know the songs. Young kids, teenagers, people in their 20s and 30s, they all get this band."
But while the No Doubt crowd might point toward a strategy of inclusion in Paramore's marketing plan, Atlantic co-chairman/COO Julie Greenwald points out that the main targets will continue to be Paramore's young base.
"You need to remember there are 20 million teenagers in this land," she says. "When we hit 1.5 million albums sold, there were obviously a lot more people on the Internet that streamed our music, listened to our music, maybe stole our music, whatever. I think, hopefully, people have gotten to know Paramore now and will make the leap and buy the album, and I think that's going to expand it. I don't think I need to go find a 40-year-old woman or a 40-year-old man to expand my base."
For her part, Williams also thinks going to a whole new crowd would be a mistake. "The new record still sounds like Paramore," she says. "It feels like we've grown up a lot, but there's still the same core. And I like that, because we always want to progress and get better. At the same time we don't want to alienate our fan base."
"Ignorance," which Williams says bridges the gap between "Riot!" and the new album, will serve as the first single. The song mixes the more gothic elements of the band's "Twilight" track with the howling that was so prevalent on "Riot!"; it's been characterized as a breakup track.
MTV's Montgomery says that he sees Paramore's new album as the MySpace generation's version of Fleetwood Mac's "Rumors."
"When I mentioned that to the band, they laughed, because they told us that's what they were going for," he says. "With less drugs, of course, and without the romantic entanglements. But it's definitely a breakup record on some level."
Williams also says that the album was a way for her to work through Paramore's sometimes-public feuding, including one argument that led to a string of canceled tour dates.
"It was tough for me to say some of the things I say in it, because I knew some of the guys were going to hear it, and it was about our band," she says. "I was kind of embarrassed and didn't know how they would take it. But once all those words were out on the table, it gave us the opportunity to hash through our problems and internal struggles that we had been facing. At one point we were hanging on by a little piece of thread. We had to rebuild things and we're still rebuilding things. This record is a log of that."
Janick says that for "Eyes" the band will sell a T-shirt and CD single through its partnership with Hot Topic and will follow up with a 7-inch and another T-shirt a month later. There will be three versions of the album: a standard album, an album with five acoustic bonus tracks and a deluxe package with a poster, DVD and color vinyl that will sell for $39.99. The band's Web site, Paramore.net, will relaunch, and the band will shoot a video for "Ignorance."
And then, of course, the band will go right back out on the road. "We're going to start off playing smaller venues than normal, 1,500- to 3,000-seaters in 20 U.S. cities in the fall," Mercado says.
Or, as Williams puts it, "Even if the record doesn't sell anything, I still want to go out and know I can play for kids every night."
Additional reporting by Mitchell Peters.