Below are excerpts from the cover story "600,000" -- an in-depth look at Mumford & Sons' album Babel which scored the highest debut week of 2012 -- from this week's edition of Billboard Magazine, which also features a feature on Dr. Luke protege Benny Blanco, songwriter Jamey Johnson's tribute album to Hank Cochran, a Q&A with Cablevision CEO and MSG owner James Dolan, a breakdown of track sales by genre, our incomparable columns and charts, and much more. You can buy a copy of the issue here, and subscribe here.
Glassnote Records' strategy for raising awareness of Babel, Mumford & Sons' sophomore full-length released on Sept. 25, was multipronged, beginning with the band's maiden voyage to Hoboken. The Aug. 1 show was the first date in a 15-city U.S. tour that allowed Mumford & Sons to introduce Babel songs to stateside fans. "I think that the No. 1 focus of the plan was that the band was going to be here for almost two months, setting up their record and playing their record -- which is kind of a ballsy move, playing half of your new album each night," Glassnote founder Daniel Glass says. "No. 2, keeping them connected to radio, particularly noncommercial, triple A and alternative. And keeping them attached to retail, particularly indie retail, and making sure there was good value there for them. And then letting [the album] ride free -- letting the streaming services help expose it."
Instead of cannibalizing album sales, streaming services helped Mumford & Sons score even more fans in Babel's debut sales week. The album smashed Spotify's records for streams from an album in a single week, with around 8 million streams. According to Spotify chief content officer Ken Parks, one out of every 10 U.S. Spotify users played a song from Babel in its first seven days of release. "Opening up the faucet and letting people hear it and stream is definitely very healthy," Glass adds, "and I think people inherently want to purchase an artifact, a memento, so they have a piece of it now that they streamed it."
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GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD
Mumford & Sons have courted crowds in the major U.S. markets and at festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza in the past three years, but they have also paid attention to building a base in smaller markets like Bloomington; Marfa, Texas; Telluride, Colo.; and Council Bluffs, Iowa. Adam Voith, the band's booking agent, says that, from the very beginning, Mumford & Sons were impressed with the way the Avett Brothers had developed their fan bases in secondary markets, and wanted to duplicate that success. The band hasn't just made touring in North America a priority, but touring in the corners of North America that many artists neglect, and coming back to those same corners year after year.
"These are loyal music fans," Voith says of the secondary-market crowds. And Mumford is loyal to them. After spending time in tiny Bristol, Va., on its way to New York earlier this year, the band promised the crowd that it would be back soon. A few months later, in August, back it was.
As the group's audience has grown, so has its reputation as a live act. "Every show is a different experience," Glass says, pointing to the touring partners, like Old Crow Medicine Show, Dawes and the Very Best, that have joined the act onstage for special collaborative encores at select performances. At the Hoboken show, Mumford & Sons performed a brass cover of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" against the Manhattan skyline, and following an Aug. 4 performance at the Eastern Promenade in Portland, Maine, Lovett opted to DJ an after-party at the city's Space Gallery.
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The Portland date was the first of Mumford & Sons' four Gentlemen of the Road shows, a series of stopovers in small U.S. cities that ran for four consecutive weekends in August (the others took place in Bristol, Va.; Dixon, Ill.; and Monterey, Calif.). In between the 11 summer U.S. tour dates used to preview the band's Babel songs, Mumford & Sons headlined day-long events that included multiple stages, local food vendors, unique opening acts for each extravaganza and the band members strolling around with super-fans on tours of the local areas.
Mumford & Sons have offered U.S. fans a unique tour format in 2011, when the band joined Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show to travel across the country in vintage railcars on the six-city Railroad Revival tour. But the Gentlemen shows, which began with two stopovers in the United Kingdom last June and will occur once more in Dungog, Australia, on Oct. 20, have been the band's most ambitious live undertakings yet, combining its focus on small towns with experiences that cannot be duplicated. Manager Adam Tudhope describes the stopover format as "a desire to go to places off the beaten track, where there's a genuine benefit in a band coming into town and bringing 16,000 people with them."
The group's transition from club shows to theaters to all-day stopovers has yielded impressive monetary results: Mumford & Sons grossed $716,000 from the 19 shows reported to Billboard Boxscore in 2010; in 2011, the band earned $3.0 million from 14 shows. And there's no stoppage in sight: An Australian run that begins Oct. 12 leads up to a Nov. 10 show at Los Angeles' Hollywood Bowl, and another U.K. tour before the end of the year will precede many more U.S. shows and summer festivals in 2013.
Mumford & Sons performed "I Will Wait" and "Below My Feet" on the Sept. 22 episode of "Saturday Night Live," a gig that was fortuitously slated for the weekend before Babel's release. The "SNL" appearance was a major TV look for the band, but the cardinal rule of Glassnote's rollout strategy has been to avoid oversaturation: Mumford & Sons have nothing lined up in licensing deals, and have foregone the stateside late-night rounds in favor of select appearances. The band performed an hour-long set on "Live on Letterman" on Sept. 26, joined Emmylou Harris on a special episode of "CMT Crossroads" on Sept. 27 and sat down with and performed for NPR's "World Cafe" on Sept. 28. Meanwhile, "I Will Wait" isn't receiving a concerted top 40 push, despite dominating at rock radio.
"The core of the band is NPR, alternative and triple A radio, so we're going to be loyal and superserve these formats," Glass says. In addition, Babel sold 600,000 copies in its first week without any huge discounts at the major retailers -- iTunes carries the album for $11.99, while Amazon and Target offered temporary price cuts ($9.99) during its first week of release. "We played the music for all the key retailers, and . . . they believed in us, and I think that they heard the record," Glass adds. "Retail is so happy with us because we didn't show favoritism. We just gave them a great album with great artwork and a great deluxe package, and we didn't get into the games of the crazy deep discounts. We held our ground. I'm not being arrogant. I'm just saying, that's confidence in a great band."