Nickelback. The name itself is musical shorthand for everything music aficionados love to hate about modern rock.
But with more than 50 million record sales worldwide and a lead singer who earns $10 million a year, the band is laughing all the way to the bank — as reporter Ben Paynter describes in Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine.
To start with, Paynter tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz, the band has worked hard to become ubiquitous in the blue-collar rock scene. You can hear them on the entry songs for World Wrestling Entertainment, commercials for NASCAR's Speed Channel and Michael Bay's bombastic Transformers movie. The band even struck a strategic promotional alliance to have some of their music played during Stanley Cup highlight videos.
"If something's getting punched, smashed, broken or otherwise causing chaos, Nickelback is usually the background soundtrack to it," Paynter says.
The band also tours on the cheap, under a promotional deal with Live Nation that rivals that of Jay-Z and Madonna. Lead singer Chad Kroeger is an incredibly prolific songwriter, Paynter says, who co-owns 604 Records, the Canadian label that spawned Carly Rae Jepsen's monster summer hit, "Call Me Maybe." Paytner says the label takes a lot of chances on young, Canadian talent.
"They just work on building them up in Canada and launching them in the United States," he says.
As for the band's take on its divisive reputation, Paynter spent some time with them — and concluded they don't seem to mind much.
"These guys know exactly what they do. They do it to a T. They pack stadiums because of it. And they've worked real hard to get to that point."
GUY RAZ, HOST:
It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. One of the more controversial groups in rock is a band called Nickelback. Critics hate them for what they call the band's derivative, uninspired sound.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW YOU REMIND ME")
NICKELBACK: (Singing) This is how you remind me of what I really am. This is how you remind me of what I really am.
RAZ: Now, even though the band is consistently bashed, Nickelback happens to be one of the industry's most successful acts - 50 million in record sales, a lead singer who earns 10 million a year. And how do they do it? By treating the band as a business. Ben Paynter wrote about Nickelback in this week's Bloomberg Businessweek magazine.
BEN PAYNTER: Well, I guess the best way to explain it is if you tune in to your regular TV, you can hear them on, you know, the entry songs for World Wrestling Entertainment's "SmackDown," commercials for NASCAR's SPEED channel, the background of the "Transformers" movie. And during the Stanley Cup, they did a strategic promotional alliance to have some of their music played during highlight videos. So if something's getting punched, smashed, broken or, you know, otherwise causing chaos, Nickelback is usually the background soundtrack to it.
RAZ: Ben, explain this about Nickelback because it's a phenomenon. They are a hated band. Like, people, listeners, music fans around the country and the world hate them.
PAYNTER: Yeah. You know, I think you'd say that music aficionados hate them because there's a whole group of fans that absolutely love them. But as far as the hate goes, they've been vilified for doing what is basically formulaic rock and roll.
RAZ: I mean, apparently, during a protest against the union standoff, the teachers' union standoff in Chicago, somebody held up a sign that said: Rahm Emanuel likes Nickelback.
PAYNTER: Yeah. You know, they've become...
RAZ: He - by the way, he had to publicly deny this. Like, he went on the record...
RAZ: ...and said: It's not true. I don't like Nickelback.
PAYNTER: You know, that was probably a strong political move for him at that point. You know, it's - they're incredibly prolific. They've had this great business model behind what they do. They tour on the cheap. They produce music incredibly quickly and prolifically, because Chad Kroeger's such a...
RAZ: He's the lead singer of the band.
Yeah. He's an amazing - he's just an amazingly quick songwriter. They sell their concert tickets cheaper than other bands do because they travel cheaper than other bands do. And that allows them to hit more places, you know, at a quicker pace. And they've gotten this multimillion-dollar tour deal from, you know, a touring company because people recognize that they're not just good but they're incredibly efficient in the way that they travel.
They also own a record label - or the lead singer owns a record label - the record label that spawned this hit.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALL ME MAYBE")
CARLY RAE JEPSEN: (Singing) Hey, I just met you and this is crazy...
RAZ: The song by Carly Rae Jepsen, which has been a number one - which was a number one song for many, many weeks. He owns that label.
PAYNTER: He owns that label. He's been around with 604 Records since 2002. Basically, he goes out there, and he takes a chance on talent. And if you look at a lot of talents they have, it's a lot of - a lot of it is Canadian born and bred talent, just like Nickelback. And a lot of them are their own songwriters, and they just work on building them up in Canada and launching them in the United States.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
PAYNTER: You know, they seem to be a little bit sensitive to that fact that not everybody likes...
RAZ: Oh, really?
PAYNTER: ...they're under the spotlight.
RAZ: And how do they respond to it?
PAYNTER: Well, you know, I think that they're going for giving their fans fun and a lot of action and, you know, a good boozing time at their shows. And, you know, if people have an expectation that they're going to be more like Mozart, they're not going to - that's not going to happen. These guys know exactly what they do. They do it to a T. They pack stadiums because of it. And they - I think they've worked real hard to get to that point.
RAZ: That's Ben Paynter. His article about the business behind the band Nickelback is in the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. Ben, thanks so much.
PAYNTER: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW YOU REMIND ME")
NICKELBACK: (Singing) This is how you remind me of what I really am. This is how... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.