NEW YORK (Billboard) - Dave Draiman should be relaxed.
After all, he’s calling from sunny San Francisco, where he’s enjoying a beautiful summer day with his girlfriend before he embarks on a yearlong tour with his band, Disturbed.
The group’s last three albums have all debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and unless Susan Boyle releases a surprise last-minute record August 31, its fifth album, “Asylum” (Reprise), will probably do the same.
Disturbed has sold 9 million albums domestically in the past 10 years, and almost half that number can be attributed to its breakthrough record, 2000’s “The Sickness,” which has sold 4.2 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But the band has been remarkably consistent, even as sales have trended downward: 2002’s “Believe” sold 1.8 million, 2005’s “Ten Thousand Fists” sold 1.9 million, and 2008’s “Indestructible” sold 1.1 million.
The act has built a solid tour following, and has a fan base renowned for its loyalty and longevity. Disturbed fans are known for not only sticking with the band, but for passing fandom along, as evidenced by the crowd-surfing elementary schoolers who attend shows with their parents and appear in the forthcoming DVD, “Decade of Disturbed.”
But despite all of this, Draiman is not mellow. “I’m always worried,” he says. “About everything.”
While he’s funny and friendly on the phone, a quick read of Draiman’s lyrics reveals that his band’s name is appropriate. Topics tackled on the new record include “being trapped in the prison of your own mind,” losing a lover, religion as a catalyst for war, and the Holocaust. The album’s lightest track, “The Animal,” is about becoming a werewolf, but don’t expect it to show up in any “Twilight” fan videos anytime soon.
Worrywart nature aside, though, Draiman has a right to be concerned. While metal is considered one of the last genres not beset by fair-weather fans and an over-before-it-begins blog hype cycle, that doesn’t mean it’s not without its fair share of problems. For an astute businessman and long-timer like Draiman, the challenges are very real.
Disturbed manager Jeff Battaglia still believes in the power of the transistor. “Radio is still the single most important driver for a band like this,” he says. “And the changes at alternative radio have impacted us in a real way.”
According to Mike Rittberg, senior vice president of promotion at Reprise, “In the early part of the decade, the alternative format played more rock, but recently we’ve seen a shift, and there is less crossover between the active rock format and alternative.” For a band like Disturbed, “this has resulted in lost exposure and less audience reach.”
The band is still a monster presence on active rock radio. It has lodged seven No. 1s, the same as Metallica, and only Linkin Park and Creed have topped the chart more times (nine and eight, respectively). Disturbed has also had 15 tracks in the top 10, tying with the Foo Fighters and Nickelback, and trailing only Godsmack (which has 18).
But the shift in programing at alternative has hurt the band, according to Battaglia. “When we started, there were more opportunities at radio,” he says. “There were more opportunities in general — MTV still played videos by hard rock bands, there were more magazines that would cover a band like Disturbed. It still takes radio support to get people to come out in many markets.”
“There is too much traffic right now,” Battaglia says. “More bands are depending on touring and merch to make all their money, and this summer has been tough for a lot of people.”
Because the band still has relatively strong album sales, Battaglia says its revenue tends to be split fairly equally among record sales, touring and merchandise.
Disturbed knows what its fans like, and it isn’t about to mess with the formula. “There are many ways the new record isn’t really different from the previous ones,” Draiman says. “It’s more complex in terms of composition, and I think the storytelling aspect of the lyrics is better. But while we always want to grow, we never want to deviate from what we fundamentally do. We make rhythmic, aggressive rock. All killer, no filler.”
Battaglia says many of the band’s early fans have stuck with it, and as other metal acts from the scene have broken up or fallen by the wayside, some of their fans have joined Team Disturbed. But Reprise senior vice president of marketing Rob Gordon says there are still plenty of potential converts out there.
“We want to reach out to teens, because we feel like that’s the demo we’re not getting as much as we’d like,” Gordon says. “The base is 18- to 35-year-olds.”
Gordon says the band plans to do more with gaming for “Asylum,” including an online game, “Escape From the Asylum.”
“They’ve done tons of synchs (song placements) in video games,” Gordon says,”and we are releasing a three-pack for ‘Rock Band’ on August 24, and working on something with ‘Guitar Hero,’ too.” He says Disturbed songs often were used in World Wrestling Entertainment events or ultimate fighting shows, but those outlets recently have decided they want music that’s “more PG.”
Disturbed will co-headline the Uproar tour with Avenged Sevenfold before heading overseas. Draiman says the band has a strong base in Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Scandinavia.
The new tour will feature some of the most elaborate staging of the band’s career, although they’re quick to point out that fans expecting a Muse-style laser show will be disappointed.
As a special incentive for fans, the band is including the DVD “Decade of Disturbed,” a 60-plus-minute documentary chronicling the group’s first 10 years, with every album purchase. The disc features concert footage, as well as a section called “Disturbed Dissected,” where guitarist Dan Donegan and bassist John Moyer teach fans how to play their songs.
Hot Topic is working with the band to turn select outlets into “Asylum stores,” and Gordon says he is working on partnerships with Best Buy, Target and Walmart. Rockstar Energy Drink, one of the sponsors of the Uproar tour, is hosting a “rock star for a day” contest with Disturbed that will feature posters in Rockstar outlets.
“This is a band with an incredible work ethic,” Gordon says. “We can fly them out to do meet-and-greets and they’ll talk to people for ages. These guys are not complacent.”