With the release of studio album Egypt Station via Capitol Records on Sept. 7, Paul McCartney reached his first number one debut in over 36 years. The number one spot was earned with 153,000 equivalent album units earned in the week ending Sept. 13 according to Nielsen Music.
The former Beatle was able to move a larger than expected 147,000 records through traditional album sales, which stands as an impressive feat in the era of streaming. Egypt Station also marks the Liverpool-native’s first solo album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.
In addition to the artist and the music itself, McCartney’s highest selling debut record in more than ten years stems from a galvanized team that hit all the right notes for the star’s marketing campaign.
“Number one is you have a great artist with a great album. You can’t take away from that, but I do think the way Sir Paul and his team approached making the launch multiple series of events, I’m going to say ‘eventizing’ it, was key to the success,” says Joe Killian, founder and president of brand consultancy firm Killian & Co.
“It was such a whirlwind of a campaign. The second we started with that Carpool Karaoke piece, you just got this feeling that everybody was ready for a Paul McCartney album,” Arjun Pulijal, vp of marketing for Capitol Records tells Billboard.
Alongside the release of singles “I Don’t Know” and “Come On to Me” which showcased the classic and modern duality of McCartney’s career, the musician appeared on an edition of Carpool Karaoke for The Late Late Show with James Corden.
In the originally aired 23-minute segment, Corden meets McCartney in Liverpool where they check out the iconic Penny Lane, visit McCartney’s childhood home, and stop to perform at a club that McCartney and John Lennon used to play at. The segment has now been viewed nearly 34 million times on YouTube.
In addition to being a traditionally laugh-laced interview in a vehicle, the Carpool Karaoke piece with McCartney delved into the former Beatle’s relationship with his hometown and touched on age old questions including why he didn’t wear shoes in the famous Abbey Road cover shoot.
“It is one of those things that you don’t know what you have until you have it. When it was planned, Paul didn’t want to do something traditional,” says McCartney’s manager Scott Rodger of Maverick. “He didn’t want to just ride around in the car singing songs. He opened up a bit and that really resonated with the public in a big way. That was the feedback that we got.”
“We couldn’t have anticipated it, but that emotional note that it hit anybody who watched it immediately connected them to what they love about Paul, what they love about the Beatles,” says Pulijal.
The Carpool Karaoke segment was released at the end of June and McCartney’s campaign seemed to remain in full swing for nearly two months.
“It seems like he has been everywhere, but in reality he has done less for this campaign than he has on any previous campaign,” Rodger tells Billboard.
McCartney appeared on Howard Stern’s radio show to talk about The Beatles past, sat down for an interview with Marc Maron’s podcast WTF with Marc Maron and GQ released a lengthy profile of McCartney that included a headline-grabbing tidbit about group masturbation with former bandmate John Lennon.
The week of release concluded with McCartney appearing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon where he performed music from the album and alluded to a special event to celebrate the release of Egypt Station. The following evening, McCartney shut down portions of New York’s Grand Central Station for a once-in-a-lifetime concert in partnership with YouTube who live streamed the event.
“The city of New York, the MTA, they were so accommodating in trying to get things done. Closing down a big portion of Grand Central Station during rush hour on a Friday is not easy,” says Pulijal of the event that took months to coordinate.
Lyft also partnered with McCartney’s team to offer tickets to the show for nearby app users, bringing even more traffic to the already rush-hour jammed Grand Central Station.
Doing a show for Egypt Station at Grand Central “was originally just a fun idea that Paul was talking about,” says Rodger. “It took a long time to get together because (city officials) were genuinely worried about crowds, but we have a great relationship with the police. We’ve done a bunch of funs things in New York. We’ve always done what we say we’re going to do so we’ve built up trust over the years.”
“Whatever you can think of he has done it. This was a challenge for him and a challenge for his team,” Rodger adds. “One thing Paul always says is ‘Let’s keep it interesting for the audience, let’s try to have some fun and enjoy it so that it doesn’t feel like work.’”
“It is such a cluttered marketplace and it is so hard to make noise,” Pulijal says. “It is something that feels modern and new, like a new phase in his career which is remarkable to say for someone who has been around 50 plus years.”
In addition to trying tactics outside of the typical late night show runs, McCartney helped boost sales by bundling albums with concert tickets. The week prior to the release of Egypt Station, McCartney announced a handful of U.S. dates for his 2019 Freshen Up tour set to kick off on May 27 in Raleigh, N.C.
American Express teamed up with the McCartney team for presale bundles for the five North American dates that came with digital downloads of the artist’s 17th studio album.
“We’ve worked with McCartney’s team for more than a decade and we are proud to have offered our Card Members – who are also incredibly loyal fans of his – an exclusive album / ticket bundle,” says Deborah B. Curtis, vp, global experiential marketing and partnerships, American Express. “His mass appeal, creativity and artistry has set the standard for popular music for more than half a century.”
“American Express cardmembers buy tickets and they buy tickets early. For a release like Paul’s, they really welcomed the ticket plus the digital release,” says Killian. “The tour bundle going on sale at the same time. Going to the markets he is going to, all of a sudden it becomes an event in that city.”
According to McCartney’s manager Rodger, Egypt Station was able to reach number one on the Billboard 200 chart with more sales on their website than previously popular marketplaces like iTunes.
“If any big hip-hop or rap artist put out a record today, they will have millions of streams and their album will be number one next week and no one can compete except maybe a big pop artist like Taylor Swift,” says Rodger. “We can’t rely on Top 40 radio stations. That’s not going to sell albums for us. I think Paul’s audience and fan base were very much aware that this record was coming. Paul was a talking point.”
Artists and labels creating events that are buzzworthy and newsworthy, which Paul did quite extensively and creating events that people want to be a part of or they want to see,” says Killian. “While some artists can drop a surprise release, with artists like Paul it is better to have that big drum beat to build excitement and awareness.”