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What Is 5 Seconds of Summer Doing Right?

And seemingly out of nowhere…they appear.  Just two years ago, no one outside of their native Australia knew who pop-rock act 5 Seconds of Summer were. A few million YouTube views later, they get a shout-out from boy band One Direction, followed by an invite to tour—and whammo! Their debut album sells nearly a quarter million copies in its first week, topping the Billboard 200. Suddenly, 5SOS are the new band to watch.

We (meaning the collective “we”, the music fans) love success stories like these.  We love to see fresh new talent get famous (which is part of why Lorde dominated the charts last year—I suppose we love the “down under” accents, too).  And the really cool part of the story is that unlike their tour mates 1D, this isn’t a band that was “made” by the industry reps to sell records—they got together, played songs, perfected their sound together, took the right opportunities when they arose, and got to the top pretty much on their own merit.

Nevertheless, this isn’t a lottery win. There are specific reasons why 5 Seconds of Summer are now enjoying a measure of international success that most bands like them only dream about.  So from a music industry standpoint—and especially for the benefit of the many unknown talents out there still trying to make it—it’s a good idea to look at some of the things this band has done right along the way, to see what we can learn from them.

 

Leveraging the Internet for fame

YouTube has been making stars for years (before that, it was MySpace), so no real secret there.  But 5SOS proves an important point that the days of being “discovered” by the labels are pretty much over. The Internet now does what talent scouts used to do, and the great thing is that indie artists have a lot more control over how to utilize it.  All that to say, 5 Seconds of Summer didn’t wait around for label reps to listen to (and like) their demo.  They started building a following online by posting YouTube videos of them playing popular cover songs.  They grew an organic fanbase through other social media outlets, as well—and THAT’S when they got the industry’s attention.  And for now, anyway, that seems to be the best way to do it.  Successful artists today usually don’t start by courting the labels—they become organically famous until the labels start courting them. 5SOS are the current poster boys for this method of discovery.

 

The right sound at the right time

Okay, so 5 Seconds of Summer doesn’t really have a “new” sound.  But what they have done is emerge onto the musical landscape with a punk-influenced brand of pop-rock at what seems to be exactly the right time.  Just when the ears of pop music fans are starting to grow weary of the glut of EDM/dance-pop and urban influences from the past few years (or the alternative, foot-stomping folk-rock), a band comes on the scene that leans more toward mainstream rock.  And we go, “Oh, I remember this. We haven’t heard this in awhile. This is good! Why aren’t we hearing more of this?” The records sell. Whether intentional or not, 5SOS has managed to arrive as the only band currently producing their current sound—and collective ears are hungry for it.

 

Leveraging opportunities

It’s important to point out that in this case, YouTube alone didn’t get 5SOS to this point (not everyone can be PSY, after all). They still had a hand up from people of influence in the industry—and when those opportunities came, the band didn’t shun them in favor of preserving their “independence.”  When the labels and publishers came knocking on the door with contracts, they found the deals they wanted and signed for them.  When One Direction befriended them, they took their hand.  They probably didn’t sign up to be the next-generation of “boy band,” but 1D’s audience is working in their favor.  That’s smart business, to be quite frank.

 

Getting help in perfecting their craft

True enough, 5SOS got the world’s attention with their own sound and style, but the band didn’t get all “diva” about that.  Instead, when it became apparent they had the potential to reach a much bigger audience, they sought out help in crafting their songwriting and sound, particularly from members of Aussie pop-punk act Amy Meredith.  This tiny detail is probably one of the most significant factors in this band’s success. They didn’t just pick up a wave and ride it—they worked on their craft along the way so that by the time they hit the world stage, they would have something of substance to offer.  Social media and buzz may have helped these boys get to the top, but being humble enough to continue growing and perfecting their craft—that’s what’s going to help them stay there.


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About the Author

on MUSIC IS MY OXYGEN WEEKLY.

David Tillman is an independent composer/arranger whose primary work involves writing jingles for commercials for radio and television, with several film and television placements to his credit as well. David has a fascination for all things related to the music business and the music industry in general, an obsession which his wife finds to be mildly unhealthy at times. His personal tastes in music are in electronica and industrial rock, and include The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk and Nine Inch Nails (he loves that Trent Reznor is writing soundtracks!). When not in his office or in his man-cave, David enjoys skiing, hiking, the occasional game of golf, and sometimes just lounging by the pool. David lives with his wife and three children in Los Angeles, CA.

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