The Actual Selling Power Of A ‘Viral’ Indie Rock Hit

I’ve been a record label owner for the better part of four years now, and every fews months I’m amazed at what I’ve learned about the business that was previously unknown to me. You can have all the training in music and business imaginable, but discussing how the music business should work and actually trying to make it function in the way you desire are two very different things. The best you can do is to work your hardest and pour everything you have into making your label run as smoothly as possible. If you’re lucky, customers will see your hustle and appreciate it, even if you aren’t the fastest when it comes to shipping (like me).

Recently, I encountered one of those rare moments in the life of an indie label that most dream of: I had a new release go viral. Well, viral in a way that, to me, seemed like a huge jolt of exposure for the label. Let me explain:

Sledding With Tigers is a folk-punk band from San Diego. I’ve had the pleasure of releasing two full-lengths from the band on vinyl, as well as one record on cassette. A little over a year ago the group made a promise to their Twitter following that they would write and record an entire album based off the film ‘Space Jam’ if a tweet sent to raise awareness for a nonprofit venue was retweeted at least one-thousand times. The internet, crazy as ever, responded with retweet after retweet until more than 1100 people had retweeted the band’s original message. It was at that point the group realized the sizable task at hand and began working on what would eventually come to be known as ‘Come On And Slam.’

We knew ‘Come On And Slam’ was going to be something special from the moment the first demo hit our inbox, and we could tell from the group’s excitement that they felt the same. We typically target the same dozen alternative music blogs whenever pitching content for exclusives, as time has taught us where the majority of our consumers look for news, but this time we felt we could find a bigger outlet than usual to share our latest release, and we found just what we were looking for in the fine folks at Noisey.

The first song from ‘Come On And Slam’ premiered on Noisey the morning of July 1, and it didn’t take long to recognize that the internet was just as excited about an album based on ‘Space Jam’ as we had been all along. The song started popping up on alternative blogs in no time at all, and then it was on bigger sites like Complex and UPROXX. By the end of the first day the song had been played more than 5,000 times, which made us very excited about the potential to sell out of the 100 tapes we had made for the release.

As the days carried on, more sites picked up the story, and many more spins were added to the premiere’s play count on Soundcloud. As this happened, orders rolled in. We basically sold our entire first pressing by the following Tuesday, and we were quick to secure a second set of tapes because we believed the trend of jaw-dropping sales and posts would continue as the July 28 release date grew closer.

Then something changed. After the internationally known mega-blogs with clickbait headlines had gotten whatever visits they could from blurbs like ‘This Band Wrote An Entire Album Based On ‘Space Jam’ the hype surrounding the album began to quiet down. There was still interest, of course, but what we found is that the vast majority of that interest was still stemming from the dozen or so blogs we relied on regularly to share our content. UPROXX might have gotten us in front of new eyes who may or may not have enjoyed the song, but in terms of converting those streams to actual sales – even digital downloads – the discrepancy was large from the very beginning.

We released a second song from the record not long after the first, with the hope we’d see some return interest from the larger outlets who had given us exposure a few weeks prior, but for the most part we never heard from any of them again, if at all. The thing about a lot of sites that rely on a large amount of clickbait headlines to pull in steady traffic is that they care very little for following up on stories if/when they continue to develop. They never wanted to make Sledding With Tigers a group everyone cared about. They just wanted to leverage the attention their music was already receiving for their own gain. We gained exposure in return, of course, but we learned very quickly it was not a source of exposure we would be able to leverage on a regular basis. They care about content, not labels. Not us. Not you. Just content.

James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him on Twitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.