AC/DC’s new album, Power Up, debuted at number one on the Billboard chart.
To put in perspective how impressive that is, consider that Back In Black–the album often considered their magnum opus that has sold over 50 million copies to date–peaked at number four in the United States.
Power Up features the triumphant return of lead vocalist Brian Johnson and drummer Phil Rudd, who had left the band due to hearing issues and legal issues, respectively. It is the first studio release since the death of founding rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young in 2017. But AC/DC was unable to ride the wave of publicity that would generally accompany such a reunion event, because plans for their giant world tour are on hold until 2021 thanks to the pandemic.
Yet, here’s ol’ AC/DC, besting number two album Pluto x Baby Pluto by Future & Lil Uzi Vert and knocking previous number one Positions by Ariana Grande back to number four.
So, how did they do it? Since streaming didn’t exist when Back In Black was released in 1980, you would think it would be harder than ever for a heritage band like AC/DC to top the charts. AC/DC notably resisted streaming for years, refusing to sell its albums on download stores such as iTunes until 2012, and you couldn’t stream an AC/DC song on-demand until five years ago.
Of the 117,000 units that comprised Power Up sales in week one, album sales accounted for 111,000. The number of Streaming Equivalent Albums (SEA) was only 5,000, which came from 7.8 million on-demand streams. Compare that to the number two album by Future & Lil Uzi Vert, which racked up 105,000 units–99,000 of which were SEA units, coming from 136.11 million on-demand streams–and 5,500 in album sales. The top two albums are basically polar opposites in how they got there.
Think no one buys CDs anymore? Sixty-four (64%) percent of the 111,000 albums AC/DC sold were CDs, but not just any CD. They offered a $49 deluxe version of the CD that displays the band logo in flashing neon and plays the opening riff to the album’s first single, “Shot In The Dark”, on a built-in speaker.
Despite having their tour sidelined, AC/DC worked hard to promote Power Up. One could argue the band did it in some decidedly un-AC/DC ways. This included a November 10th interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe and an appearance on NPR’s Morning Edition on November 18th. Considering AC/DC wouldn’t allow its music on Apple less than a decade ago and NPR isn’t the media outlet most associated with hardcore rock, you’d have to say these were notable shifts for the band.
But they were brilliant shifts. AC/DC knows it can’t top the charts via streaming the way most Pop stars do today. They’re also keenly aware the CD is going the way of the buggy. But by recognizing their fan base is still willing to buy an actual album and by offering a collectible edition, they played the chart game their way. Embracing an interview with Apple allows them to reach new audiences, while recognizing many of their fans have aged into NPR-land ensures they reach the ones that have been there for them the whole time.
Even though your brand may offer a consistent product (Power Up sounds like it could have come out in 1980), it doesn’t mean you always present it in the same way or that you reach your target audience using the same old methods.
In fact, as AC/DC just proved, even the old dogs learned new tricks.