Owl City's third album, "All Things Bright and Beautiful," arrived in June 2011 on Universal Republic and debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200. It sounds swell, but overall sales (143,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan) proved disappointing, especially compared with the artist's 2009 breakout, "Ocean Eyes" (1.1 million). Minnesota musician Adam Young, who uses Owl City as his stage moniker, wasn't thwarted, nor was the label. Instead, Young and his team looked for a new approach that would take his next project where everyone had imagined "All Things Bright and Beautiful" could go.
"Adam made his first two records the exact same way, and the second record wasn't met with the same demand," Universal Republic executive VP of A&R Rob Stevenson says. "The fan base loved it, but beyond that core group, it didn't really go anywhere. The typical reaction to that [scenario] is that it's the label's fault, and sometimes it is. But Adam's a smart guy, and instead he asked. 'OK, why didn't that work? Let me try some new things this time and see what happens.'"
The biggest difference between Owl City's new release, "The Midsummer Station" (due Aug. 20), and his last three efforts can be summarized in a single word: collaboration. Instead of Young making the album alone in his Minnesota home studio, the label arranged for him to meet with various producers and co-writers, eventually matching him with other creative minds, including Stargate, Emily Wright and Matthew Thiessen. The goal was to balance Young with artists who would complement his own style.
"Adam's a sensitive guy -- you can hear that in his lyrics -- and you can't just put him in with anybody," Stevenson says. "It's got to be the right combination."
"I've never worked with anybody before," Young says from London, where he is on tour. "I've done everything myself except for mastering. It's a big job for one guy, especially a perfectionist, so I knew I wanted to try to experiment with other people. It was new, and a little bit scary, but [ultimately] it was a good thing."
Lest fans fear that Owl City is no longer anything like the iconoclastic solo artist he once was, Young wrote and demoed the tracks on "The Midsummer Station" in New York and Los Angeles between January and March, and recorded them afterward by himself in his studio. Four tracks were previewed on the "Shooting Star" EP, which arrived May 15.
"This new record is certainly a little bit different than what I've done in the past," Young says. "Sometimes, bands release stuff and don't give anyone a heads up. The fans think, 'This kind of came out of nowhere with no explanation from the artist.' So I put out the EP for that reason."
The EP also contained what was meant to be the lead single from "The Midsummer Station," "Shooting Star," a track Young wrote with New York production team Stargate. The artist even went so far as to shoot a video for the song, but once Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" broke, it made more sense to shift the focus to Owl City's duet with the Canadian pop starlet, "Good Time."
The track, which will also appear on Jepsen's debut, "Kiss," due Sept. 18 on 604/School Boy/Interscope, came about before "Call Me Maybe" had hit the airwaves. Owl City's manager Steve Bursky was tipped to Jepsen from his friend (and School Boy founder) Scooter Braun, and everyone immediately agreed that her voice was perfect for Young's track.
"In this business of egos and agendas, so many people came together to make that track happen and make it work," Stevenson says. "There was so much cooperation. I've been making records a long time, but I've never experienced anything like it."
"Good Time," officially released June 26 and followed by a video that premiered July 24 on Vevo, debuted at No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and offered Owl City the opportunity to reach an entirely new audience. The duo will perform together during several live TV appearances promoting the release of "The Midsummer Station," including "America's Got Talent" (Aug. 22) and NBC's "Today" (Aug. 23). "I think it can open more doors -- lots of different doors," Young says. "Certainly if there was anybody else other than Carly on that track, I don't think it would be quite as special."
Stevenson says the label plans to use street week as an opportunity to build momentum from Owl City fans and push the album forward into new territory once its presence has been established -- all bolstered by extensive worldwide touring for the rest of the year. "We definitely are in this one for the long haul," he says. "I'm hoping we can get to four singles."