Three TV placements have played a crucial role in setting up A Great Big World this year. But the biggest boost came when Christina Aguilera heard the band’s song “Say Something,” recorded a new version with the New York-based pop act and debuted it on “The Voice” the same day it hit iTunes.
Since that Nov. 4 performance, the song’s two versions have sold 265,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. (The original sold 52,000 previously.) The track is No. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100, down from its No. 16 debut last week. The song’s drop on the charts this week was expected after buzz from “The Voice” ebbed, but a new video that premiered Nov. 19 could spur a rebound next week.
“We never thought that would be a single,” says Ian Axel, who fronts A Great Big World with longtime songwriting partner Chad Vaccarino. “But people started reacting and we went for it.”
Epic will release the act’s debut album, “Is There Anybody Out There?,” on Jan. 14 — a full year after A Great Big World ostensibly launched courtesy of one of its songs being covered on “Glee.” But the band’s recent journey starts with Universal Music Publishing Group, where the pair signed in late 2012 before it had its Epic deal. VP of film/TV music, creative Gary Miller pitched the first song Axel and Vaccarino wrote as A Great Big World, “This Is the New Year,” to music supervisors, and “Glee” music supe PJ Bloom and Fox executive Geoff Bywater placed the song in the show’s Jan. 31 episode. Bloom was so impressed that he signed the band to his Black Magnetic label, which released the track through INgrooves/Fontana. To work the song at radio, he hired Richard Palmese, who, much like Bloom had, soon wanted to extend his relationship with the band. He approached Bloom with fellow radio promoter Lenny Beer, and the three decided to collectively invest in the band and take it to a major. Epic won. “In classic L.A. Reid fashion, we didn’t get out of the building without a joint-venture deal,” Bloom says.
Epic took over the campaign for “This Is the New Year,” eventually selling 54,000 copies of the song, which hit No. 39 on Billboard’s Adult Top 40 airplay chart. A Great Big World had an EP finished, but no one could agree on the second single. “So You Think You Can Dance” made the decision for them.
In early September, two dancers used the piano ballad “Say Something” on the ABC show and the track was rush-released on iTunes, even though it only features Axel’s voice. “We thought the second single should be something more indicative of the album, a song with both of our vocals, more upbeat,” Axel says.
“You have to see what people are connecting with,” Vaccarino adds. “‘Say Something’ got to people.”
One of those people was Aguilera, who suggested the pair fly to Los Angeles and record a new version. “She sang the harmonies, very intuitively, and [Axel and Aguilera] started bouncing ideas of each other,” Vaccarino says. “When I listen now I hear two parallel worlds, two voices that can’t connect, and it’s not until the last line that they have unison.”
Axel, Vaccarino and Aguilera performed the song on “The Voice” and a week later the track was No. 1 on the Digital Songs chart (this week it’s No. 12). The success of the new single quickly led to the scheduling of performances with Aguilera at the American Music Awards, the band’s first L.A. showcase and New Year’s Eve gigs in Las Vegas with Maroon 5. The duo will also perform “Say Something” at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, airing Dec. 10, and the song will soon be worked to radio.
Bloom says the single’s rise was partly due to the willingness of all involved — from the band to Aguilera to the labels — to be flexible and work together. “We were able to be nimble. To me, this is a great model: You have people getting the train on the tracks and then others who can come in and take over. We definitely got some lucky breaks, but we had a great combination of people connecting to the best effect.”