After a year of promoting its J debut album, “Songs About Jane,” Maroon5’s lead single, “Harder to Breathe,” is becoming a hit on mainstream top 40 radio. Already a smash at modern rock radio and a top 10 video on VH1, the track — which craftily combines elements of funk, rock and pop — is currently spinning at more than 80 pop stations.
The gradual success of the single is even surprising lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Adam Levine. “I never thought it would be a year later and it would still be climbing like it is,” he says. “I’m shocked. I thought it would be dead and gone at this point.”
While “Harder to Breathe” is a surprising success story, it certainly did not find its way by accident. The tale is one of tenacity, talent and timing. After signing with independent label Octone Records, a division of J Records, a dogged marketing campaign was devised.
Ben Berkman, head of promotions at Octone Records, and Chris Woltman, senior VP of rock music at RCA (J’s parent), led the charge with a presentation for about two dozen hand-picked rock stations around the country. “These were the kind of rock stations that could embrace a pop record,” Corson says.
With the goal to make “Harder to Breathe” a top 20 song at 20 radio stations, Berkman and Woltman hit the road to present their marketing plan, which included drastically reducing CD prices for a limited time when the song hit local airwaves.
Once Berkman and Woltman accomplished their initial goal, they expanded their focus to the entire modern rock panel. As the single began to climb on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart at the beginning of 2003, the big guns at J Records got involved, and the next phase of promoting the band began.
Essentially a campaign run by two people, Octone’s marketing strategy was limited by the staff’s primary relationships only with modern rock programmers. With a massive field staff and connections to local stations across the country, J was able to access formats that independent labels can’t reach, Berkman says.
“We don’t have the kind of money that’s required to support a record at [adult top 40 and pop],” he says. “We really do need the help of a field staff like J Records has.”
With J’s strong marketing arms, the plan moved forward to secure the song at adult top 40 stations and then eventually at mainstream top 40.
A key component of the pop radio marketing campaign for “Harder to Breathe” was to let stations discover the song based on its success at modern rock. Berkman says, “We didn’t want to push it down their throats. If you blow a song out, you might get 40 stations in the first three weeks-but you’ll also only get six weeks of airplay — and you’re done.”
The idea of slowly building publicity for the band — and avoid dreaded one-hit-wonder status — also rests on Maroon5’s reputation as an accomplished live act. “Most of the time a band has one hit and falls off the face of the earth because the band is terrible live,” Levine says. “I think our live show is an attraction.”
The slow and steady rise of Maroon5 and “Harder to Breathe” is at last reaching critical mass. It debuted at No. 37 on the July 25 Airplay Monitor Mainstream Top 40 chart, after achieving top 20 status on adult top 40 and modern AC radio.
“Songs About Jane” has sold 180,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It hit No. 1 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart, where it reigned for three weeks in July. The album is No. 92 on The Billboard 200.
The act will perform with matchbox twenty in Europe, while Japanese radio stations are already demonstrating zeal for the band’s next single, “This Love.” Says Levine, “It’s getting bigger and better faster. The best thing for us to do is just put our heads down and play as many shows as we can.”
Excerpted from the Aug. 16, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.
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