British heavy metal mainstays Iron Maiden recently released Senjutsu, the band’s 17th studio album created during its 45 years worth of fret-shredding, leather-lunged led, headbanging-inducing, mayhem and mischief. Above and beyond another marker of the band’s sheer longevity, Senjutsu serves as yet another sign that when it comes to marketing savvy, Iron Maiden is the smartest rock‘n’roll band on the planet. The first time people caught wind of Iron Maiden’s genuinely clever approach came in the early 2010s, when in the era before music streaming sites existed, file sharing sites such as Napster in its original configuration were eating away at both artists and the music industry’s bottom line.
Although the exact methodology used has been brought into question, what is clear is that the band, instead of railing against and wailing about lost sales, took note of where the majority of downloads were taking place, namely South America. You can’t file share the genuine live experience, so Iron Maiden loaded up its pyrotechnics and massive stage props, hopped the Atlantic, and proceeded to pack soccer stadiums across Latin America with fans eagerly lapping up every moment of the band’s grand scale, live extravaganza — perfectly tailored for such venues.
Fast forward to today, where streaming services rule the roost, making sure record labels rake in the big bucks while artists are left hanging on the vine. Everyone simply streams everything these days, right? Look at the ever-dwindling sales of physical units, especially CDs. Record stores are a dying breed. Big box retailers have either eliminated selling CDs altogether or greatly reduced the amount of space dedicated to same in their stores. So naturally …
… Iron Maiden hit Number Three on the charts the first week Senjutsu was out on the strength of physical units sold. The band, and in a rare outbreak of corporate intelligence, its record label realized that maybe appealing to the band’s core audience — which, let’s face it, is far more likely to be working on paying off its second mortgage than trying to score its second-ever beer — would be a workable marketing approach.
Also, said fan base is of the generation where people still want to (brace yourself) own, and listen to at peak, available sound quality, its preferred music. What to do? Let’s try a two-pronged approach. Hey, Target, want a limited edition CD with a unique to you collectible lenticular cover? Got you covered. Hi there, Walmart. Something unique to bring in buyers? We’ve got your back. Exclusive vinyl package!
From the band’s management point of view:
Iron Maiden wasn’t looking to reinvent the wheel when it came to finding ways to sell Senjutsu, Dave Shack, managing director of Iron Maiden’s management company Phantom Music Management says. The band has never been oriented toward radio or passive listening formats like streaming, so they focus on active purchases instead.
“Rod [Smallwood, the band’s longtime manager] wrote the rulebook back in the Eighties,” Shack says. “He realized quickly that this isn’t a band getting airplay on the radio, so he decided to focus on retail. While other people were fawning over the promo guys, he was getting close with people going to retail, merchandising it.”
And the record label:
“We’re interested in building streams, obviously, we want the next generation of fans. But the band is built with Eddie, and the visuals,” Kachko says. “They’ve built such a strong brand that not only do we want a younger fanbase to be streaming the music for exposure, this is a band that demands a physical purchase. These are albums the audience wants to own, not just stream.”
Now, all of this is well and good, but doesn’t do anyone a lick of good if the new album isn’t good. Thankfully, it is.
The six sexagenarians that together form Iron Maiden are apparently members of the Tom Brady School of Ageless Wonders, as the band rips and tears through eighty-one minutes of classic Maiden, replete with songs that let themes breathe and develop without being squeezed into short timespans for short attention spans. Vocalist Bruce Dickinson still peals off the thick, vibrato-rich high notes with ease, and while no new ground is broken here, the band works its familiar territory with stylish panache, making Senjutsu a revelatory listen for even the most diehard Iron Maiden-drenched fan.
When it comes to both metal and marketing, Iron Maiden makes it clear: old guys rule.