'In some ways it was a non-traditional roll-out.'
Music Manager Ian Montone was in an especially ebullient mood last weekend when he got word that LCD Soundsystem, the group his company, Monotone, Inc., has managed since 2011, had its first No. 1 album with American Dream (DFA/Columbia) on the Billboard 200.
“I got the news on my 50th birthday,” says Montone, who joined team LCD after the band’s manager Keith Woods’ retired following the band’s "last show"/grand gesture on April 2, 2011 at Madison Square Garden. “I was just so happy when I heard the news.”
So, too, were the many fans who have continuously reveled to the band's dance-punk muse for well over fifteen years and who in 2016 welcomed the band’s unexpected return in anticipation of new music.
For Montone, the founder of Monotone, Inc (which manages Jack White, Vampire Weekend, Run the Jewels, The Shins, Margo Price, Danger Mouse, Ratatat, Broken Bells, Cold War Kids and Pete Yorn, among others), this isn’t his first No. 1 record—though it may be among the most gratifying.
Last week, American Dream had 85,000 equivalent album sales—81K of which were traditional album sales and 4K were track equivalents from 5.96 million on-demand audio streams. The band also had the year’s second largest vinyl haul at 16K (Queens of the Stone Age’s Villains reached 18K). The album was also offered as part of a concert ticket bundle baked into the ticket price.
With this in mind, Billboard caught up with the L.A.-based Montone to find out more about his strategy for releasing the album, countering the nattering nabobs of negativity, the band's reaction and where the plaque’s going.
Billboard: What was your reaction to American Dream topping the charts?
Ian Montone: I got the news of the record going to No. 1 on my 50th birthday and I was so happy when I heard. I’ve had five number ones and it’s always gratifying doing this.
Did you ever think this would happen?
Every time I say to a label that this is what we’re going to aim for whether it's Jack White's solo music or Vampire Weekend or any other artist we represent, we know we have our work cut out for us. This is not pop music and it can be challenging so there's not necessarily a blue print, but Rob Stringer [CEO of Sony Music Entertainment and former CEO/chairman of Columbia] jumped right in and championed it. We had album listening events for Sony staff and their international MDs. And when they heard the music and when I saw their reactions, we knew anything was possible.
I would think the success was especially gratifying in light of the naysayers who were inexplicably upset that arguably one the best bands of the last decade said they were reuniting, what was your take on all that?
James [Murphy] has spoken about all this way more articulately than I can, but with LCD fans there’s a lot of ownership. People feel invested and attached and there was almost a period of grieving when they broke-up. In some ways, I think they were just coming to terms with it when James and the band decided to get back together.
What James said about it in that Facebook post seemed very rational. If he was going to create new music he would just play with these same people anyway.
That’s exactly what he said to me. He would only want to play with these same people. So should he make this a solo album or call it something different or just embrace what it is and keep moving? It was the latter that made the most sense.
When did you come onboard with LCD?
It’s been about four years ago, around mid-2011 six months before the documentary [Shut Up And Play the Hits] came out. Keith [Woods, LCD’s former manager] retired and had reached out to say James was looking for a manager for his solo work and what he does as a DJ and then I came onboard.
Was LCD Soundsystem's signing to Columbia the first step in this whole process?
In many ways it all started when the band released a Christmas song in 2015. The idea of recording new music had been in James’ head for a while. Finding a label partner came after the fact. The music led and then we found who James felt was the right partner and that was Columbia. He and Rob [Stringer] already had a connection through David Bowie. And it made sense. James didn’t want to meet with others. It was where he wanted to be and Rob was the right match as was Columbia based on their roster.
They then spent about a year playing shows — headlining Coachella and other festivals — was that part of the strategy?
We really just wanted the music to lead. In a way we did this backwards and toured the band worldwide for year-and-a-half. Typically you wouldn’t do that, you would get your record finished first. But it just felt right and a lot of the stuff was in the works. And the more the band played, the better they got and it just seemed to motivate James in the studio. I think they’re better live now than they’ve ever been. They’re tighter, they’re just a machine, they’re beasts.
Was there any kind of marketing plan?
Honestly for our plan, we just wanted the music to lead. We tried from a marketing standpoint to seek some level of scale but we went almost entirely old fashioned rather than do any sort of social media campaign. James doesn’t really post and we really don’t have an Instagram account. We knew we had great music and had recorded a great album and there was a message to it and it was incredibly strong. We did billboards and advertisements around the world but it still left a certain amount of mystique which is something you don’t see as much now that everyone depends on social media.
We also didn’t rush anything. We let James get the music finished and tried to set it up as beautifully as we could but really we just let the music lead. We didn’t do official radio edits of songs. Their last album predated Spotify and all the DSPs, so there’s not a lot of history there. And as a rule, we always said let’s not do anything embarrassing, let’s try to go out and set this record up and achieve what we can on bands’ terms which is how they has always done things.
Triple A radio format lately seems to have become something of a gateway for “alternative bands” with the rise of DSPs and a more fluid and dynamic playlists and with artists like the National topping the chart which they couldn't have done before—did that inform your strategy?
We went to to to Triple A and alternative and non-commercial and found our champions. Matt Pollack who heads up our promotions department led the campaign. We certainly went to Triple A and found individual champions, that was true at every format. SiriusXM were massive fans and we just went wherever there was a lane —formats be damned. At the same time we gave a lot at Triple A because those playlists are much more eclectic and have definitely become a place to start things that are a little left leaning and non-traditional.
Was there any kind of international plan?
Internationally we tried to work it as much as we could and that’s where the touring came in handy. We were literally flying around and meeting with all the different territories at Sony just to make sure this was 100% on everyone’s radar.
The reaction I saw on social media when the album dropped seemed ecstatic—which may have just been my social echo-chamber—but it seemed like LCD's stature has grown massively since 2011.
I agree. They gained fans during their time off and I think people still feel invested in this band. I think it helped that we weren’t necessarily jamming it down people’s throats as is so often the case with marketing and roll-outs and whatnot. I also thing it was the strength of the music. People are just genuinely excited in this age of fast-food culture—people actually crave things that are quality and it’s nice to be able to deliver that now and again and I think others wanted to jump in.
Do you find LCD champions and sherpas who wanted to help the band and who grew up with them are now gate keepers?
Definitely this band has a real core following of people who identify with them and what they’re about and what James has to say lyrically and what this band delivers musically — just the realness of it. That’s what people identify with, it’s real.
What was James reaction, when you told him American Dream was number one.
People are happy. James just said, “weird, super weird.” For them and with James leading from the top, the goal of having a number one was never a goal. The band’s in a great place, musically and otherwise, but it wasn’t a motivational factor. My opinion and what I say to other bands, is that music’s not about competing or charts; however, if someone is going to go keep score and if something’s great, I like it when we go out and win.
So what is the band aiming for?
I think what gives James a lot of strength is to be able to choose what he wants to do and make integrity-based decisions. He always tries to walk that line in his head as to what makes sense to him. Look, we didn’t edit songs, we have a bunch of songs that are eight-and-a-half minutes long, we didn’t edit things for Spotify and other platforms so in some ways it was a non-traditional roll-out.
It’s interesting everyone now is so quick to analyze stats and data and it literally comes in by the minute, and it’s very easy for labels to say, ‘Okay, that’s not happening.’ But in reality, it’s actually not why I’m in this business. Let’s go roll up our sleeves and let’s go make people believe in what we believe, that’s what makes this fun and that’s what makes this interesting. Not everything that’s great people get right away. In fact, it’s usually the opposite, usually great things take a second if you’re going to go out and change culture and have great music out there.
I know you did a bundle where the album was baked into concert tickets, how did that do?
It did great. I don’t know the exact numbers but the fans welcomed it. It was probably from a retail standpoint the least expensive place you could buy the vinyl or the physical CD. and think the fans appreciated it. I thought we might as utilize our strengths, this is a great live band with a real touring history. It made sense to utilize that as a resource when it came to setting-up this album. In addition, indie retail has been great, we've been pushing for fans to go to independent record stores in our ads.
So who on your team can rejoice in this success.
This really was a team effort. At Monotone, Brett Williams, Brian Graf, Brian Cross and Matt Pollack Samantha Kirby at WME. Steve Martin at Nasty Little Man. Jay Schumer, Joe Gallo and Mark Williams and Jen Mallory, too, were incredible at Sony as was Rob Stringer.
What was it like working with Rob Stringer?
He is amazingly patient and supportive. He kept saying “just get the record right. Get the album right, Do not rush, get it right, get it right."
Touring the world
Are you playing arenas now?
We’re going to focus on a mix, but I think the experience is better when they’re playing smaller venues and doing multiple nights. Because this is a band that can take over a town. I like when we do residencies, it works best. They really dig into the culture of the city, they’re foodies, they’re wine experts, they’re music experts, they go and DJ—they kind of do it all. It's that verses doing one night at an arena and blowing it out. I can only speak for myself as a fan, but those experiences never feel as gratifying particularly with such a great live band. It’s also important for people to dance.
So where are you going to put your plaque
I’ll put it in my 2-year-old son’s room.
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