This week, while the charts were being dominated by all things Drake following the release of his album Certified Lover Boy, another act was making history of their own. With the release of their 17th studio album, Senjutsu (Sanctuary/BMG), metal icons Iron Maiden smashed their way to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 with 64,000 equivalent album units (61,000 sales) — the highest-charting album of the band’s long, illustrious career.
It’s a significant feat for the British group, whose last two albums reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200 but which had otherwise only reached the chart’s top 10 once in 2006. It’s a testament to both a longterm strategy set forth by its label and publisher BMG and to its committed fan base — and it helps earn BMG senior vp catalog Michael Kachko the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
Here, Kachko explains the lengthy campaign that has led to this moment, why BMG has been able to lift the band to heights it had never seen in its otherwise illustrious and groundbreaking career and how the fans remain at the center of it all. “We have a deep respect of the band’s fan base, and have learned a lot from them over the years on what really connects,” he says. “We’re always seeking creative new ways to deliver for the fans.”
Iron Maiden earned its highest-charting album in the band’s career this week as Senjutsu debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. What key decisions did you make to help make that happen?
The release of Senjutsu is the culmination of an incredible six-year Iron Maiden campaign. In between their last studio album [2015’s The Book of Souls] through Senjutsu, the management team at Phantom and BMG have been building on our relationships with retail and digital partners, keeping the fans engaged with phenomenal special products at retail and digital exclusives from their vast catalog, all while exposing the band to new audiences with activations with Adult Swim and League of Legends. Alongside the support from SiriusXM/Pandora and all the DSPs, the band received their highest visibility across major streaming platforms ever.
While DSPs operate as more of a service and music discovery tool, Iron Maiden is a highly visual band that creates album experiences, and that’s largely the physical component. The band’s fans are deeply connected to the album experience and we took time to develop a suite of highly-sought-after, exclusive, limited-edition vinyl and CD configurations for major retailers including Target and Walmart, alongside Amazon exclusives, and had really strong support from independent retailers.
With streaming platforms also adopting the band and prominently placing the new music on numerous high-profile playlists, for the first time we saw major growth at digital. We have a deep respect of the band’s fan base, and have learned a lot from them over the years on what really connects. We’re always seeking creative new ways to deliver for the fans.
The No. 3 debut beats the band’s previous high of No. 4, which it hit with its last two releases in 2010 and 2015. Why is the group reaching these new highs so deep into its career?
The band have always stayed true to their vision and let the music and art do the talking. Over the past six years, we’ve spent a lot of time reinvigorating the catalog and creating products to keep the fan base engaged while the band has continued to sell out major music venues all over the world. Every album and concert tour has a brand new story to tell and Iron Maiden have mastered that experience. While most of the sales for Iron Maiden have traditionally been via physical products, the first point of music discovery for new fans is in the digital world and that has been key to developing the next generations of fans.
How has the physical sales world changed during the pandemic? What are the challenges there?
The demand for physical product exploded during the pandemic, especially with vinyl outstripping CD sales. Music fans couldn’t experience the thrill of live performances and were spending more time at home creating very personal listening experiences. The biggest challenge for the industry now is supply meeting the demand.
What was the marketing strategy that led to this big debut for a legacy act like Maiden? How did it differ from other acts under your purview?
Iron Maiden certainly has a legacy, but we think they’re far from a legacy act. If this week’s charts are any indication, this band is as relevant today as they’ve ever been, especially with their 2019 U.S. tour being their biggest and most successful to date. We’ve operated no differently between their last two new studio releases while continuing to actively promote their catalog. In today’s climate we see no difference between catalog and frontline.
Senjutsu kicked off with the release of the debut single and video for “The Writing On The Wall.” The song peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Hard Rock Songs chart, currently still in the top 20, with it also notching the band their best performance at U.S. radio in two decades.
Every element of this album campaign, from radio to retail, digital to physical, was a collaborative team effort built on creative ideas and forward-thinking opportunities, all resulting in achieving the best U.S. chart success of their legendary career.
There has been a resurgence of guitars in popular music of late, while rock has had a comeback on the mainstream charts. Did that have anything to do with Maiden’s success, or is it more about catering to their longtime fans to come out and support the group?
Rock music certainly hasn’t gone away. BMG has had major successes in rock recently and it will always have a place on the charts.
Iron Maiden is in a league all their own. They continually convert new fans and connect directly with their longtime fans; in turn, those fans continue to support the band. When you go to their live shows you see fans of all ages and that’s something that certainly goes into our thought process and planning to be sure we reach out to and engage with all their generations of fans — whether that’s through digital, retail, radio, traditional or street marketing. Iron Maiden is the total package. From the music to the visuals, their brand is unrivaled and it’s an honor to represent this band.