Reggae-rock act Skindred stunned almost everyone with a No.2 finish for their new album, Smile. The Welsh band nearly managed to reach No.1, ending up just 149 copies behind Cian Ducrot.
The result wasn’t a surprise for their new label, Earache, who had seen the potential for a No.1 months ahead of the release. Smile opened with sales of 15,519 units (10,299 CDs, 3,044 vinyl albums, 312 USB sticks, 126 cassettes, 3,995 digital downloads and 453 sales-equivalent streams), according to the Official Charts Company.
Earlier this year, label head Tim Bailey spoke to Music Week about Earache’s ambitions – and he’s since proved that the label can live up to their public pronouncements.
Having hit a new label peak of No.3 for the label with Those Damn Crows in February, Earache has now gone one better with Skindred.
Marking the band’s 25th anniversary, Smile is Skindred’s eighth studio album and their first to reach the Top 20.
Skindred even inspired a TikTok dance trend with the track Nobody, which appeared on 2002 debut Babylon. The band subsequently recruited dancer and TikTok creator Shin for the music video for Set Fazers.
“On the Earache Records account, we’ve used TikTok primarily to show the live power of the band through special crowd moments,” said Jeni Lambert, Earache publishing & label manager. “We’ve also showcased their incredibly creative music videos.
“Moreover, we collaborated with the fitness group RockFit on creating a flash mob around Skindred’s shows with Kiss, using footage of this to energise the fanbase and underline the positivity that Skindred bring with their music.”
The alternative music label was founded by Digby Pearson in 1985. It’s now moving into a new era with comprehensive campaigns covering physical and streaming, and delivering Top 5 results for the first time.
Here, to mark the achievement for Skindred, Earache label head Tim Bailey opens up about the campaign, the huge potential for the band in their new label home, and the wider ambitions for the company…
How significant is this chart result for Earache and Skindred in terms of a new high – and almost a No1 too?
“It’s huge for both the label and Skindred. Smile is our highest charting record in the label’s 37-year history and sold over 15,000 chart units in week one – 5,000 more than any previous title. I’m told that Smile sold more copies than Bring Me The Horizon did for their No.1 [albeit for a digital-first BMTH campaign], which is mind-blowing. On another week when not faced with a major label’s priority act, it could easily have been a No.1. Hats off to Cian Ducrot and team for his unbelievable last day of sales.
“I’m incredibly proud of our team and the band. In no world should our label with 12 staff be able to compete with the financial might and influence of a major label priority act. We have no business being up here jostling with the majors but we keep doing so. It’s testament to the creativity and drive of the team.
“Thanks to label owner Digby, nothing is off the table with the way we work records, and our small size and lack of bureaucracy means we have the ability to be nimble and pivot quickly throughout campaigns as needed in a way others can’t. I genuinely believe we are the best alternative indie label in the country for selling records.”
How would you describe the experience of this chart week – what were your expectations going into the release?
“A potential No.1 began to feel possible within the team about eight weeks out, but it was impossible to know for sure how well Cian’s record had sold. There was real momentum and it felt like we’d reached a real tipping point for the band. DSP support and radio playlisting was great, we landed the first front covers in the likes of Kerrang! for the band, TV appearances started to roll in, and our extensive in-store/out-store campaign completely sold out.
“Through week one, it felt like a movement, like 2023’s answer to the groundswell of support which got Rage Against The Machine a Christmas No.1. It was suddenly bigger than Earache Records and Skindred. It was the rock & metal community coming together to do something special, something only the fans could make happen.
I genuinely believe we are the best alternative indie label in the country for selling records
“We threw everything we could at week one. Additional in-store events were added at no notice as they’d been so popular, we DIY-distributed vinyl and CDs across the country to meet overwhelming demand, and we reached out to everyone who had ever supported the band to tell our story. We leaned into the David vs Goliath story that the chart race had become via digital ads, email marketing to our loyal label customer base and through every email list we could get access to.
"The band had a day with their families on Friday after an incredibly busy week one of in-store and out-store appearances, then they celebrated in the best way they know how – by blowing the roof off Boomtown on Saturday night.”
Skindred were actually No.1 on vinyl – how did the campaign roll out with indie retail, D2C and other stores?
“Our focus on selling records and our cutting edge digital marketing skills mean we punch way above our weight – the evidence is being just 149 sales behind a major label’s priority act. Combine that with a great record by a band willing to work hard and bring their devoted community around a shared goal, and the results speak for themselves.
“I was really taken by the genuine support and hard graft at indie retail, and it was really rewarding to be able to give fans in overlooked towns like Bury (Wax & Beans) a chance to see Skindred in a way that fans haven’t experienced them before.”
The album got great reviews, how did that help you in terms of launching the record with radio, streaming and media?
“The universal acclaim certainly helped. Major features and covers certainly inform radio, and radio playlisting helps secure major press. Skindred are one of our largest streaming acts, and the support at Spotify was particularly strong – it was especially pleasing to see the band traverse across rock, metal and pop editorial playlists like New Music Friday with the same song.”
Skindred clearly have a huge following – what potential did you see for the band at this stage in their career when Earache signed them?
“Vocalist Benji’s pre-Skindred outfit Dub War spent most of their career at Earache, so there was a real sense of coming home for him, with all parties older, wiser and ready to do something special together. The potential was always huge – we had an incredible band who then delivered us their career-best record. All we had to do was turn that love of the band in the live arena into an invested, album buying fanbase. That’s where we excel.”
What will this chart result mean for the band in terms of opening up new possibilities?
“I have to say one of the highlights was watching Benji fist bump the presenter on BBC Breakfast on Saturday morning, and to land appearances like that and Never Mind The Buzzcocks really shows the band have already shifted gears towards bigger things. I’ve no doubt we’ll be seeing Skindred everywhere next year – maybe that elusive Download headline call is on the way?”
How will the campaign maintain momentum, what have you got planned for the rest of 2023?
“Skindred gave us an album chock-full of potential singles, and there’s still opportunity for numerous tracks to be serviced to radio. If I Could scales new melodic heights for the band – Benji’s vocal dexterity on the track’s chorus is out of this world, and the song has real crossover potential.
“It’s through touring that Skindred built their profile over two decades to become festival favourites. They’re the best in the game. They tour through Q4 in the UK and Europe, culminating in their biggest ever headline show at Wembley Arena in March next year. They’ll be busy worldwide for the next 18 months, and if there’s any justice in the world we’ll see them headline major festival main stages next year.”
Will Wembley be a celebration for Skindred as they mark a quarter-century as a band?
“Wembley is a milestone and they’ll bring the party as they always do! They’ve got one of the best agents in Claire [MacLeod] at X-ray Touring, so I’m confident they’ll get everything they deserve next year.”
What are the big upcoming campaigns for the label? When do you think you will next have a shot at No.1?
“It has already been a record year for the label with two Top 5 albums from Skindred and Those Damn Crows, and another Top 10 from Black Star Riders at No.6, but the label never rests on its laurels and it looks like we’ll be announcing two high-profile signings in the near future. There’s so much still in the pipeline for the Skindred album cycle, which will run until the end of 2024 at least, and we have two very exciting new artists in BVDLVD and The Bites both with releases in September.
“As for our next shot at No.1: who can say? I think we have five records coming next year that are solid Top 5 contenders, so we’ll see who delivers theirs first! We’ve certainly proved that with the right record in our hands, we can do it.”
PHOTO: Mikey Demus (guitar), Dan Pugsley (bass), Mike Mayor (stock movement manager, Earache), Arya Goggin (drums), Tom Hadfield (head of live, Earache), Benji Webbe (vocals)