Atlantic's Matchbox 20 On Fire In Rock Market

By Doug Reece

When Atlantic decided to convert Lava Records into an imprint from a separate label during last year's streamlining (Billboard, Oct. 19, 1996), the label was also aware that it was bringing on a strong fourth-quarter release in Matchbox 20's debut, "Yourself Or Someone Like You."

Atlantic VP of product development (U.S.) Daniel Savage says Atlantic staffers were already familiar with the band and enthusiastic about its prospects even before the announcement was made. "We had heard the album early and were waiting around all year," says Savage. "We kept calling this our very own October surprise, because we knew exactly what we had on our hands."

However, seen from the viewpoint of the baby act's singer, Rob Thomas, the changes were daunting.

"[The announcement] was made the day the record came out, and they told us we were going to be part of Atlantic," he says. "I was like, 'I guess that's a good thing.'

"We realized that if we did well, it would really help us to have this huge machine behind us," adds Thomas, "but we were also worried that if we lost the least bit of footing, that could be it."

Fortunately for Matchbox 20 and Lava/Atlantic, it was the former scenario that played out, as "Yourself Or Someone Like You" steadily climbed The Billboard 200. The album hit the No. 99 spot for the week ending Saturday (10), making the band a Heatseekers Impact act.

This issue, the album is at No. 89 with a bullet; it has sold more than 137,000 units since its release in October 1996, according to SoundScan.

Contrary to Thomas' initial fears, Atlantic has steadily developed Matchbox 20's album since it launched a monthlong pre-release promotional tour beginning in the band's home state of Florida and working westward as far as Texas.

The band's first single, "Long Day," was serviced to mainstream rock stations Sept. 10 and gathered a healthy-enough dose of unsolicited spins at modern rock radio to warrant shipment to that format as well.

Still, according to Thomas, the song nearly didn't make the record.

"I brought it into our last day of rehearsal before we went into the studio, and we couldn't find the arrangement we wanted, so we almost scratched it," he says. "Just then, we got exactly what we wanted."

Like singles from Atlantic labelmates Duncan Sheik and Poe, "Long Day" was promoted for several months.

The label was rewarded with a strong showing for the band's initial outing. "Long Day" peaked at No. 8 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and spent 22 weeks there.

The track was so strong that it also helped maintain the album's growth over a several-month period, says Savage.

In fact, with the exception of the week after Christmas, when sales drop-offs are high, the album has continuously outdone its previous-week sales, he says.

While Savage mentions such standardized marketing tools as in-store play, listening stations, retail awareness fliers, in-store appearances, touring, and local press and video shows as helpful, he prefers to point directly to the source of the album's success.

"I've been getting a lot of phone calls from peers at other labels scratching their heads and asking how we managed to do what we've done with this album," says Savage. "It's just one of those cases where all the clever marketing gimmicks in the world were not as powerful as great, reactive music and old-fashioned elbow grease.

"To the outside world, it may look like we didn't do anything," he adds, "but the fact of the matter is that this is trench warfare. What really pays off is having great music and supporting it at a local level."

Another factor in the band's recent success has been its latest single, "Push."

Like Polydor/A&M act Tonic (see story, page 11), Matchbox 20 has been warmly embraced by mainstream rock stations.

The song is No. 8 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and No. 23 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart this issue.

Mainstream rock WZAT Savannah, Ga., station manager/PD David Allan says "Push" is in heavy rotation, while the station still fields listener requests for "Long Day."

"These are the bands that help us show everybody that we can survive and help move product," Allan says. "Matchbox 20 is selling very well in this market, and I know they've had a hard time at modern rock."

Skip Young, a senior buyer for the 111-store, Amarillo, Texas-based Hastings Books, Music & Video, says album sales at the chain have correlated with increased radio play. Multiple-station play in markets like San Antonio and Austin, Texas, has been particularly helpful, he says.

"It's definitely on the upturn and becoming stronger as airplay increases," says Young. "We didn't have it on listening stations or endcaps, and I don't think it was word- of-mouth. Radio really broke this out."

Now that the act has become more developed, Atlantic will begin looking at rounding out its promotional effort with such tools as national consumer advertising.

The label also expects that a clip for "Push" will do better than the one created for "Long Day." The latter video was spun on regional video shows but got only minimal play on national video outlets.

Savage says the label also plans to service top 40 with "Push."

Meanwhile, the band, which is booked by CAA and managed by Lippman Entertainment, is headlining its own club tour and will continue by itself or as part of another bill this summer.

According to Thomas, road time has proved fruitful, providing enough inspiration for at least a dozen new songs.

Says Thomas, whose music is published by EMI Music Publishing, "I wrote a good 12 or 13 songs and six that I'm unbelievably happy with. We haven't had a chance to play them yet, but they're on the fire."