Dave Matthews Band: The Billboard Cover Story
With "Away From the World," group takes a stand: "We don't want to be remembered as a jam band"
This is an excerpt. For a longer version, grab a copy of Billboard.
Describing "Away From the World," the sometimes heart-rending, often seismic, always ambitious new record from
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REACHING THE FANS (AND MAKING NEW ONES)
Dave Matthews Band has cultivated one of the most passionate, connected fan bases in all of music. Its concerts are one-of-a-kind celebrations. It has sold more tickets than any band on the planet in the first decade of this millennium: Since Jan. 1, 2000, DMB has grossed nearly $613 million and sold more than 13 million tickets to 650 shows reported to Billboard Boxscore. And it pretty much defined the direct-to-fan model as the flagship act of pioneering fan site Music Today, founded by Capshaw and now part of Live Nation.
DMB has a database of around 1 million fans that get weekly e-blasts, and its fan club, the Warehouse, may well be the biggest fan base out there. (It doesn't release numbers.) The DMB Facebook page has 2.8 million likes, and there are nearly 200,000 followers on Twitter, not counting those of the most active tweeters, Lessard and Tinsley. DMB boasts more than 6 million YouTube views and another 28 million views on Vevo, where official videos reside.
DMB Covers Our
"All those numbers tell you a lot about our marketing plan and how we're reaching out," says Red Light's Patrick Jordan, who oversees much of the day-to-day management duties for DMB. "We've worked very closely with Gogi Gupta, [founder of] Gupta Media for the last eight years. They do all our digital advertising for [albums and tours]."
Yet, awareness remains a challenge, as it does throughout the music business. DMB has been around some 20 years, and Capshaw, who helms the second-largest management company in the world in Red Light, says that even at this point in the band's career, the challenge "is to keep the long-term fans engaged and excited about this and to turn new fans on. I think we are."
How? "New music certainly helps, and the amount of touring the band does is very helpful," Capshaw says. "You have an opportunity for people to continually be engaged."
Any perception that DMB is a great ticket seller but sells much fewer albums is misguided. For example, according to Nielsen SoundScan, Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King has sold nearly 1.2 million copies. "That's a really substantial amount of sales," RCA president/COO Tom Corson says. "When you have an act that's this far into their career and has released this amount of product, it's actually pretty impressive that they have a shot at selling a million albums every time they put out an album."
Triple A radio's embrace of "Mercy" has made Corson enthusiastic. "The nature of radio, especially the adult format, is so pop, more than ever, that we're going to rely a lot on triple A," he says. "We are going to make efforts to get on adult radio and [adult top 40]. I think there are more singles on [Away From the World] than most Dave Matthews Band albums."
But, in the end, DMB's status as one of the most popular touring bands in the world is the ace in the hole. "When you go to the shows, you can see their audience gets refreshed every generation," Corson says. "It's just an institution when you work that much and you have the kind of artist integrity that DMB has, and then you put out the high level of music, and that has its own integrity, it just locks in. And there's the hard work that goes along with it. They nurture that fan base with live recordings and other pieces of product they make available. It just continues to cycle through because of timeless music."
Predictably, Matthews' goals for the new record don't lean toward the commercial prospects. "Obviously, not everyone's going to like it, but for the people that do like it, I hope it gives something to them," he says. "I hope it opens up parts of their heart and parts of their mind to things that weren't there."
Asked about more commercial aspirations like No. 1 chart spots and platinum sales, Matthews says, "If it comes out and it's No. 1, that's great. I don't mind that. I'd be psyched. But what I do hope is the people that do get into it, it inspires them to find the things that they love, inspires them to feel good, to feel love, or ambition, or feel powerful. Whatever they need."
BACK TO LOVE
What Lessard needs is to take these "Away From the World" songs out and drive them in front of a crowd, which DMB will do in earnest on Sept. 12 at the Hollywood Bowl. "To have a whole record of a new songs I'm ready to bring to the stage and audience is a great thing," he says. "Every single song on this record is ready to go-they're made to play. It's like a fine car that's made to be driven. This record is made to be played live."
Asked about the DMB legacy, Matthews immediately knows what he doesn't want the band to be remembered for. "I don't want to be just remembered as a jam band," he says. "What does that mean, even? There's a certain amount of people that dismiss us because of that. There's a spontaneity in this band, and maybe an overall love of music, that drives us more than any other thing, and then the good fortune of being able to play music together that we love more than we could find music by ourselves."
Which leads us back to love. "Maybe that's what people see in us: the love and joy we have playing together," Matthews says. "It doesn't necessarily mean that's what I'm singing about when I'm writing lyrics, but I do think that's what keeps this band together, the love of what we're doing together."
Matthews says he manages to keep his personal and professional ambitions separate, but when asked what motivates him, he says that, while it is his biggest hope to be a great husband and father, music does something for him nothing else does. "There's no feeling that I get like when I start being taken away by something musical or creative," he says. "My head feels like it belongs the most when I'm being carried by something, whatever the result. So I hope I get to keep doing that, and that's what I'm inspired to keep doing."