It’s beyond me how the Dave Mathews Band never really rose to any great heights in Australia. We don’t miss much but we missed that. In the USA they’re a household name and it’s difficult to meet anyone who has never listened to a DMB song or attended one of their legendary concerts.
They have sold close to 35 million records and six of their albums have debuted at number one on the US Billboard chart – a feat only equaled by Metallica, Beyoncé, Kanye West and, only late last year, bettered by Eminem with seven. They even run their own charity which has raised over $10 million dollars to support the disadvantaged and legendary ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s have dedicated not one, but two, flavours to the band since 2002.
Yet if you were to ask your immediate circle, even those who profess to be music aficionados, I’d venture to say a large number would have never heard of them. I recently asked a former colleague who is (cringe pun alert) quite in-tune with the world of popular music and he thought Dave Matthews was a middle order batsman for the Queensland Sheffield Shield side a few years back.
I would have missed them too if it wasn’t for my mate Tim Ledger who was always looking for a new sound back in the mid 90’s. I distinctly recall him enthusiastically calling me over to a sound booth at the HMV store in Pitt Street Mall where the Crash CD was playing on repeat, and telling me “you have to hear this!”
As a business, DMB is impressive. Each year they generate around USD$80m in total revenue and are rumoured to make $200,000 a day in merchandise sales alone while on tour. They even convince over 80,000 fans to pay $35 a year to be a member of their fan-club known as The Warehouse.
As the owner of a local bar in Charlottesville, Virginia, Caron Capshaw gave the band its first weekly gig way back in 1991 and liked what he heard so much, in a few short years he went from pouring drinks to running a diversified management business that also launched the careers of Lady Antebellum, Chris Stapleton and Alabama Shakes and created numerous major music festivals including Lollapalooza. According to Wikipedia he’s now owns roughly half* of Charlottesville and is worth a gazillion* dollars (*estimate).
In the noughties, as the music industry was being turned upside down by iTunes, Napster, YouTube et al., DMB turned to their strength … live performance.
According to Billboard in the decade to 2010, DMB sold more tickets to its concerts than any other band in the world. 11,230,696 to be precise. No other band sold more than 10 million tickets in the same period.
And it’s that for which they are most famous which makes them the quirk of nature in the world of popular music. Their live shows are a no-fuss, make it up as you go along, three-hour eargasm.
Some songs last for over 15 minutes and are at times barely recognisable when compared to the studio version. They often throw in a cover (or a montage of them) that remain on the playlist for a few shows. No two concerts are ever the same.
You can get to a DMB show for about $60 while a ticket to a Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift show will set you back over three times that amount yet some of these pop diva tours have lost money in the past. The margins are slim when you have to design and manufacture a bra that shoots fireworks from your nipples and fly a plethora of nearly nude back-up dancers across the globe (they don’t fly in a semi naked state although that would certainly add additional shock value I suppose!).
When it comes to marketing, many experts will have you believe it’s an exact science. The latest and greatest tools and big budgets are necessary to plan, execute, monitor and report on everything. Overly scripted, scheduled, automated activity (especially around digital advertising and posting to social media) has become the norm. Concepts are tested and re-tested, polls taken, and landing pages constructed. Plenty of bullshit terms and techno babble about AI and what’s ‘on trend’ are thrown in for good measure.
I’m not proposing for a minute that structure and discipline are unnecessary. It would be foolish and irresponsible to commit to any significant marketing spend without considered planning.
I’m just saying that if you believe in your offer and authenticity is at the centre of everything you do, not everything has to be a massive production. You don’t need all the hoopla and you certainly don’t need a pyrotechnic brassiere. You just need to have a genuine voice and a good cadence of activity.
This will work very nicely … even if it’s consistently different.
BTW – if you want a great introduction to DMB you can’t go past this, a live version of Two Step … all 14 minutes of it! You can thank me later.