Hall & Oates Embrace Their Hipster Faithful
When Greg Kurstin, one-half of esoteric Los Angeles pop duo
It was a synch that made an impact. In terms of digital track sales, "You Make My Dreams" sold 103,000 downloads in 2009, compared with 51,000 in 2008, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Sales of the song also could've been helped by its viral popularity online: Internet icon Keyboard Cat played off Helen Hunt portraying an overwrought high school girl in an after-school special to "Dreams" and reportedly earned 375,000 views on YouTube before it was yanked for copyright violations. (Wolfson says it wasn't his doing to remove the video.) A so-called "lip-dub"-which features a group of people lip-synching to a song-also took off online; a backward-yes, backward-version done by Shorewood High School in Shoreline, Wash., has been watched almost 1 million times.
And some recent Hall & Oates promotions are a blend of traditional music revenue streams and digital initiatives. "J-Stache" is an online cartoon financed by publisher Primary Wave that features Oates' famous mustache as his zeppelin-exploding superhero alter ego. "We wanted to accomplish two things: incorporate additional Hall & Oates music and give us the opportunity to let the public hear some of the undiscovered gems," Primary Wave chief marketing officer Adam Lowenberg says.
The cartoon premiered on FunnyOrDie.com, where it has received 37,000 viewers. "It created a cool buzz with a younger generation of fans," Oates says. "And it appealed to my insane side."
In addition, Lowenberg says Primary Wave aggressively reached out to music supervisors to get the duo's music placed in their programs. The publisher created a sampler that specifically centered on the beats and riffs of the pair's music-and in the same time frame as Hall's appearance on Stern's show and Wolfson's inbox exploded with Google Alerts, Lowenberg says "Private Eyes," "Kiss on My List" and "Maneater" were synched in a three-day period. "That's when we really first felt a true shift in perception," he says.
It's a tricky thing when an artist sees its fandom jump to the next generation: Johnny Cash's outlaw clout keeps him popular and Neil Diamond's stadium anthems cement his work in the public eye. But it's a fine line between Cash and Diamond and the here-today-on-an-ironic-T-shirt-then-gone-tomorrow stylings of Wayne Newton and Barry Manilow.
For Hall & Oates, all of these appearances keep them part of the public domain, and the knowing spirit of the undertakings makes them enduring and endearing. It's a strategy that others can try to replicate, but it takes a willingness to laugh at one's self, and adapt.
"I'm a firm believer in the intergenerational interplay," Hall says. "In order for an artist to really achieve significance you have to go out of your own generation, and luckily I think I've pulled that off."
In an appearance that veered into the it's-so-uncool-it's-cool territory, late last year Hall & Oates went on QVC to sell their boxed set, "Do What You Want, Be What You Are: The Music of Daryl Hall and John Oates" (RCA/Legacy).
QVC may conjure visions of late-night, drug-fueled purchases of vacuum cleaners, but Wolfson cautions people not to mock. "The boxed set sold 5,000 copies the first hour," he says. In total, the $50 set has sold 15,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, peaking at No. 89 on the Billboard 200.
The release was a significant undertaking for Hall & Oates, who curated the selections on the four-disc set and contributed extensively to the 60-page booklet that accompanies the discs. "There's a lot of overlooked songs that were very significant in our growth," Hall says. "And I wanted to make sure those songs were very much in evidence so people could listen and see how it all happened for these two guys from Philadelphia with backgrounds in soul."
CHANGE OF SEASON
While Hall & Oates march on-the duo is planning to tour this summer on a few select dates, after a 15-show trek last year that grossed $1.5 million, according to Billboard Boxscore-both artists are also pursuing new endeavors individually. "We're going in sort of new directions, but not losing the old direction," Hall says. "I'm basically running two careers here, and that's rough. But it's a labor of love."
Hall returned to the studio last week to begin work on a solo album for Verve, and Oates is putting together a songwriter's festival in Aspen, Colo., where he now lives. "I'm at the point in my life and my career where I can do exactly what I want," Oates says. "And that's all any creative person wants to do."
Primary Wave's Lowenberg says the publisher is in the midst of a three- to five-year plan to market Hall & Oates' music, including a push for placements on lesser-known songs like "When the Morning Comes" and "Uncanny." With the industry behind them-and as long as the hipsters stay true-expect the Hall & Oates revival to continue.
"It's kind of like my mother's brisket," Wolfson says. "She's in her 70s, she's an old Jewish lady-for whatever reason her brisket tastes better than any brisket I've ever had, just because I've been eating it since the '70s. It's comfort food. To my generation, Hall & Oates is comfort food."