Mumford & Sons Sell 600,000 Albums in Huge First Week

Mumford and Sons Babel cd cover P

How did the folk-leaning British band score the biggest debut of the year? Industry experts weigh in on the wonder of "Babel."

Album sales are down so far in 2012 to the tune of 4.6 percent, but a recent flutter of fall releases could put a significant dent in that number. Hot on the heels of Pink’s The Truth About Love, which moved 280,000 units its first week out (good for her first No. 1 debut after 12 years on the charts) and Dave Matthews Band’s Away From the World (266,000), comes news that Mumford & Sons have sold 600,000 units of their second album Babel this week. That tally will make it the biggest debut of the year, though it still doesn’t beat out fellow Brit Adele for overall sales -- she moved 700,000 units of 21 just in the seven days after the Grammy Awards, and that was back in February. (Sales of 21 so far in 2012 are well beyond the 3.7 million cited in Nielsen SoundScan’s mid-year report.)

But that’s not to undermine Mumford’s impressive achievement. Not only does the chart-topping band, whose sound marries pop-rock with acoustic instrumentation that hints of folk and country, mark the first No. 1 for independent label Glassnote (and the largest sales week ever for its distributor, RED), but it’s the biggest rock record to come out in five years. (For more on the album's chart accomplishments, head over to Billboard.)

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What makes Mumford so special? For one thing, they appeal to a wide swath of people: their biggest single, 2010’s “The Cave,” for example, could be heard on both NPR and alt-rock stations like Los Angeles’ KROQ.

"Like Adele, who defied being pigeon-holed in that she was charting on pop, adult alternative and even urban [formats], Mumford come from the same wheelhouse,” says Jim Donio, president of music trade association NARM (National Association of Recording Merchandisers). “Stylistically, they appeal to a variety of tastes."

Their songs have, in fact, been embraced by adults, teens and college kids in a manner not unlike U2 or Coldplay -- which is to say equal opportunity “cool.” Even Mumford’s debut, 2009’s Sigh No More, has consistently sold more than 10,000 copies every week. Total tally: 2.5 million at last count. That’s left retailers -- both digital and physical, big box chains and mom and pop stores -- feeling confident and excited going into Babel. Indeed, of the 600,000 units sold, 420,000 of them were digital downloads.

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"Glassnote set up the last Mumford project brilliantly," says Tom Poleman, President, National Programming Platforms for Clear Channel Media + Entertainment. "They knew they had one of the most important bands in music on their hands, and their campaign to steadily build awareness of and passion for the band paid off big. And that's particularly true when it comes to our radio audiences -- they appeal to all demos and multiple formats. It's incredibly impressive that they've brought the banjo back to mainstream radio."

As for the bigger music business picture, NARM’s Donio says the success of Babel means there’s hope for the future of the album -- “When it's the right artist with the right repertoire who delivers a distinct work of art, that is the totality of an album, not just a song."

That shouldn’t be a tall order for a rock band. Unfortunately, these days there are fewer Mumfords to go around.

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin