How the Music of 'Jimmy Fallon' Whips Its Late-Night Competition

Bruce Springsteen with Jimmy Fallon

'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon' has emerged as the after-midnight destination for music acts.

When Bruce Springsteen decided to crash late night and whip his hair in November, it was as sure a sign as any that Late Night With Jimmy Fallon has emerged as a highly coveted platform for musical guests.

Since the Nov. 16 episode that featured the Boss covering Willow Smith's pop hit with Fallon, the NBC talk show has capped off 2010 with Paul McCartney performing his John Lennon tribute "Here Today," R. Kelly playing "Ignition (Remix)" during a two-night stint and Stephen Bishop reviving his "Tootsie" theme song, "It Might Be You," alongside house band the Roots.
The show's booking philosophy for musical talent can be credited to Fallon and Jonathan Cohen, the show's music booker (and former music editor of Billboard). The recent bevy of buzzworthy performances has given the show an edge in online traction, with the official Fallon website garnering 511,000 unique visitors in November, up 49% from a year earlier and more than other late-night show websites, including Jay Leno and David Letterman, according to comScore.
Meanwhile, a three-month sampling of Nielsen TV ratings through Dec. 19 shows that average total viewership for Fallon reached 1.79 million, surging 25% from a year earlier, while ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live! saw total viewership inch up 2.7% to 1.77 million and CBS' The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson suffered a 9.2% drop to 2 million. And while all three shows posted viewership declines among those 18-34, Fallon retained the largest share of that coveted younger audience.
Its appeal to young viewers, as well as its willingness to feature performances of album tracks and older tunes, have earned the program the reputation of a hip, artist-friendly environment in late night, which in turn has helped attract marquee names.
"It's been a little more adventurous than the other shows," says Jordan Kurland, who manages indie acts like the New Pornographers and Rogue Wave that have appeared on Fallon in the past year. "Artists get these opportunities to do something creative, and [bigger artists] start to realize what the demographic for the show is and want to get in on it."
Former Saturday Night Live star Fallon has encouraged the booking of niche artists since the show's March 2009 debut. Indie act Gayngs, whose debut album "Relayted" (Jagjaguwar) has sold less than 10,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, was booked for an October show because Fallon was a personal fan of group collaborator Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, according to Jagjaguwar publicist Lucy Robinson.
Artists appearing on Fallon are also given more leeway than its late-night competitors in terms of which song they can perform and when they can perform it, according to Iron & Wine manager Howard Greynolds. The folk act is scheduled to perform non-single "Half Moon" from forthcoming album "Kiss Each Other Clean" on the Jan. 6 episode of Fallon. "They're not saying, 'You need to do this song on this date,' " Greynolds says.
Musical guests on Fallon are encouraged to tape additional performances exclusively for the Web, which has helped drive online traffic. Videos at the Fallon website drew 349,000 unique viewers in November, nearly tripling from 121,000 during the same period in 2009, according to comScore.
Although sales bumps from Fallon performances have mostly been minor, Gayngs' album sales increased 200% the week following their lone late-night gig, according to SoundScan.
The show has also served as a prime platform for the music of the Roots, as well as Fallon himself. "Drunk on Christmas," the humorous holiday song that the host performed on the Dec. 16 show with country artist John Rich, is No. 3 on this week's Comedy Digital Songs chart, while "How I Got Over," the Roots' first full-length album since becoming the show's house band, debuted in June with a higher first-week tally than the group's previous album.