How Five Seconds Of Summer refused to alter their sound for streaming playlists… and made history

Let’s put this into perspective.

In an era when we’re constantly told that guitar bands are all-but over – especially pop-led guitar bands, and especially in the USA – 5 Seconds Of Summer (5SOS) have just torn up the history books.

The group’s third album, Youngblood, landed at No.1 on the Billboard 200 on Sunday (June 24) with 142,000 first-week equivalent sales. (Some 117,000 of these were of traditional/actual album sales.)

As a result, 5SOS became the first ever band to see its first three full-length studio albums reach No.1 on the Billboard chart in the Nielsen era. (A ‘band’ in Billboard’s eyes, plays their own instruments; One Direction previously achieved the feat, but are categorized as a a ‘vocal group’.)

What’s more, 5SOS are the first UK-signed act to have their first three albums go to No.1 on Capitol Records in the US since … yep, The Beatles.

One good way for guitar acts to surge to the top of the US charts these days is to bundle their album with a ticket on-sale – and this certainly boosted 5SOS’s chances in the market.

However, this was just a part of the launch success of Youngblood.

The title song from the album, for example, has become a genuine hit – climbing to No.6 on Spotify‘s Global Top 10, with over 200m streams across all formats, while hitting No.1 in Australia and New Zealand.

In the States, it’s also starting to beguile radio programmers, recently climbing inside the Top 25 of Pop stations in the market.

Youngblood, the album, didn’t have it easy: its release week coincided with the arrival of Jay Z and Beyoncé’s rush-released Everything Is Love – yet that LP was beaten into second place on Sunday, with 123,000 week-one US sales.

Five Seconds of Summer are signed to Capitol Records UK, home of Sam Smith, where they first did a deal five years ago.

Here, Capitol UK co-President, Nick Raphael (pictured inset), explains the secret behind 5SOS’s head-turning recent success, the global strategy for the band – and why the group never compromised their sound in a bid to up their ‘rhythmic pop’ credentials…

What has been the key for success behind the 5SOS Youngblood campaign so far?

First and foremost: the band themselves – their tenacity, their belief and their hard work.

Secondly, in Modest!, 5SOS have a world-class management company who have a truly global view.

Thirdly, the continued efforts of the group to play live dates. Before we went into this album, they’d played 200 arenas of their own on a global basis.

“[5SOS] are in a huge market of music where there is less and less competition.”

A lot of credit also has to go to everyone who works the band digitally, because they’ve kept the engagement high throughout this whole process.

The other big thing is that [5SOS] are in a huge market of music where there is less and less competition. Whilst everybody else seems to be signing rhythmic or dance-based artists, the band have stuck to what they truly are: basically, four guys who play guitar tracks with great hooks.

Their competition has largely fallen away, and they’re still so young – the oldest member of the band is 23.

Why did you resist the temptation to bring in ‘urban’ producers or collaborators in a bid to appeal to big streaming playlists?

That [decision] was one of our biggest challenges – but also one of our biggest advantages.

It was an advantage because some other people in this [pop-rock] lane are doing that, which means you’ve got less competition. But also, if you’re doing music which dabbles in the world of the rhythmic [pop] format, you are then playing against a very very tough field; the Drakes, the Post Malones and the Calvin Harrises.

“if you’re doing music which dabbles in the world of rhythmic [pop], you are playing against Drake, Post Malone and Calvin Harris.”

These artists are at top of their game and it’s really, really hard to compete with them.

Five Seconds of Summer offer a viable alternative to that [sound] and now the song, Youngblood, has proven itself at radio and on the streaming services.

[5SOS] have found a pocket where they work very well in that streaming environment but their music is not claiming to be rhythmic or ‘urban’ in any shape, or form.

You must have watched other bands like Maroon 5, though – who have recently recorded tracks with Cardi B, SZA, A$AP Rocky. Did that not turn your head?

One or two other acts in this area have put guests on their records to give them a better chance of working in certain formats or environments. We didn’t want to go down that path, so we – and, primarily, the band – stuck to our guns.

“We – and, primarily, the band – stuck to our guns.”

The band know who they are musically, which is really important, but there’s also no question they’ve adapted their sound from album one. All great artists progress their sonics and sounds as the years go on, but fundamentally [5SOS] are still doing what they do best.

You can see the thread from the first album to the third album, especially when you watch them live; you can see that congruity.

Despite the fact the new album sales were healthy on the physical side, streaming is now clearly coming on board.

You have to be diverse in how you approach the market and not put all your eggs in one basket.

Whereas other acts focus first and foremost on streaming, for this record, streaming was a part of the overall mix.

We knew from the outset that streaming could have been difficult for the band. Prior to this record, they’d never had a streaming hit – partly because when they first came out in 2014, streaming hadn’t matured to the point it has today.

“You have to be diverse in how you approach the market and not put all your eggs in one basket.”

For this album, we had to make a plan where streaming was involved but we also had to have a ticket bundle, we had to have a physical element, we had to engage with retailers and radio, and we had to work hard on D-to-C.

As it transpired, after Youngblood [the single] got released, we had solid support from all our streaming partners, and it exploded.

Nine weeks later we were No.6 in the world on global streaming charts, and by that stage we’d only really got to radio in one market – Australia.

Would you say streaming services were quick to back Youngblood?

We originally went to streaming with [first single] I Want You Back and we got huge support from the major services, who went gung-ho in how they backed it. But for whatever reason, that track didn’t take off like we all hoped.

After that, we released Youngblood, and the services were understandably more cautious but then it started to gather its own momentum.

It went to No.1 in Australia – the band’s first No.1 there since She Looks So Perfect in 2014 – and the global numbers kept moving up and up. Then the streaming services noticed how reactive it was, and came back on board.

It was a complete turnaround following the disappointment of the first track – all based on the music and, initially, the massive reaction of the fanbase.

How did Capitol’s partners around the world play into the launch?

First of all, I have to say something about Modest!, who have been exceptional. They’re simply one of the best management companies in the world.

Myself and Jo [Charrington, Capitol UK co-President] have worked with Modest! since their very first client, Lemar [when Raphael and Charrington ran Sony‘s Epic in the UK].

We also worked with them on Olly Murs, and we still do the publishing for him, we worked with them on JLS, and now we work together on Five Seconds of Summer.

Richard [Griffiths, Modest! co-founder, pictured inset] has been a brilliant mentor to me, personally. Yes, he’s tough, yes, Modest! are a demanding company to work with – but the benefit you get from that, for all parties involved, is incredible.

“Modest! are simply one of the best management companies in the world.”

They go over and above to get the best for their artists. They’re strategic, they’re globally-minded, and they take nothing for granted. Plus, they’re very, very focused on live and they’re very, very good at it.

[Modest!] originally found the band and brought it to us, by way of Matt [Emsell], who’s at Wonder Management [in Australia], and we jumped at the chance.

Universal‘s international department is also doing a brilliant job, and have been hugely supportive, just as they are on Liam [Payne] and Sam [Smith] for us.

Tom [Burrow], Nickie [Owen] and Rob [Fleming] at Universal are really on it. Tom, especially, has dedicated the last three months of his life to making sure this record succeeds and has been absolutely brilliant.

And then there’s [US-based Capitol Music Group CEO] Steve Barnett (pictured right). I don’t know what to say about Steve, other than the fact that he’s the general; he runs the show, and always leads by example.

The Capitol [US] team under Steve – from Greg [Marella] to Mitra [Darab] to Michelle [Jubilerer] – have treated this artist and project like their own.

Steve has been a life-changer for me and Jo a few times. On this occasion, along with Modest!, he led a strategy to try and give the band the best possible chance of a No.1 album [by moving it into a relatively quiet week].

“Steve is the general; he runs the show, and always leads by example.”

Then, we got the surprise of the Carters who, respectfully, are the King and Queen of American music.

When that was announced, reaching [No.1] felt like an impossible task, but never once did Steve or his team shirk from the contest. When we learned that the band had actually done it, I was blown away.

Steve is very brave, very effective, a great leader, and incredibly supportive partner. I can only thank him for everything he’s ever done.

Moments like this is are why we do what we do.

We want to set records. We want to achieve incredible things – and we want to support our artists and genuinely help them fulfil their dreams.Music Business Worldwide

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