Growing Shaed: How 2019’s Top Alternative Hit Was Launched, ‘Doubters’ Be Damned

"Trampoline" is radio's 25th most-played song of the year.

Photo Finish
Maddie Hansen

The most-played song on alternative radio this year is “Trampoline” by Shaed, an indie-pop band from the D.C. area that’s signed to Photo Finish Records and distributed by Caroline. With 121,000 spins, “Trampoline” passed “High Hopes” and “Bad Guy” in the format, receiving a big boost along the way from Apple (its overall radio spins top 460,000, according to Mediabase, making it the 25th most played song of the year). “We definitely did not see it coming,” says label founder Matt Galle. “The song was out and doing 60 singles a week. Then the Apple [Macbook Air] sync hit, and it was a gamechanger. They spent $30 million in TV advertising, we saw it go to No. 1 on Shazam, it was getting streaming everywhere, and then it started to get radio play. … It’s hard to even wrap your head around it, but it’s amazing to watch.”

Galle, who helms a double role as an agent at Paradigm, where his clients include Shawn Mendes, Machine Gun Kelly and My Chemical Romance, really should give himself more of the credit. Over a 20-plus year career, he has managed to keep his label thriving through three different distributors — Atlantic for six years; Universal Music Group for three; Photo Finish has been with Caroline for three years and recently expanded the pact for another two — while simultaneously developing new artists and booking seasoned acts.

Shaed came to Galle’s attention almost by accident. Perusing a blog some three years ago, he clicked on a Soundcloud link to the band’s music and liked what he heard. Galle went on gut, as the metrics weren’t there at the time, and signed the band helping them get a modest publishing deal that’s about to balloon upon renegotiation.

Galle spoke to Variety about the road he took so that his label could survive and thrive through multiple decades and partners.

Is there a management philosophy to how you run Photo Finish?
Mike Marquis and I kind of just keep it lean and mean. We don’t sign a lot of artists. We have about six artists that are going to be active right now. It’s about putting everything behind the ones we have and making sure everything’s a priority and we’re keeping things moving upward.

What’s your role at the label these days?
Helping with A&R and weighing in on things that they want my advice on. Or helping make calls and doing some of the heavy lifting.

You’ve had tremendous success at radio, but don’t employ a promotion executive or engage an independent promoter. How does that work?
We just use our relationships. We [wait] to see that there’s some sales or streaming story or something happening where it’s like, ‘OK, this is somebody should pay attention to.’ We’ve had multiple times when Jeff Regan just puts [a song] in the rotation on [SiriusXM’s] Alt Nation. They’ll test it out for a couple weeks with a certain amount of spins. We’ve had that happen with brand new acts, which is cool.

In your past joint ventures with Atlantic and Republic, Photo Finish had to leave its catalog behind when moving to a new distributor.  Now you’re building a catalog as opposed to just sharing profits. When and how did you realize that was the way to go?
I had thought about it a few times in the past, where I was, like, “I can’t do this again.”  Six months before the Universal deal was up, Misterwives, one of the acts I signed, they were butting heads with the people at Republic over creative and A&R stuff. They weren’t getting a real push to alternative radio. It wasn’t a format [the label] really they cared about. But that was what drove Misterwives. And there was some other things that pissed me off within the major system and Universal at the time. As an independent label signing and developing artists, we’re getting treated the same as the Taylor Swifts and Drakes of the world. Like we’d had opportunities to do, say, an NPR Tiny Desk performance and they were, like, just keep dropping tracks on SoundCloud. It was hard not being able to do some of those things. I felt crippled.

Yet you found Shaed on Soundcloud? Tell us the backstory.
I just randomly heard it and [thought]: This girl’s voice is awesome and the song is awesome. So we invited them up to New York from D.C. to do a show at Mercury Lounge so we could all see them and Chelsea [Lee] was great live and the show is compelling. You could tell something was there. I thought the songwriting was good and they were really self-contained — the three of them [Shaed is Lee’s husband Spencer Ernst and his twin brother Max Ernst] produce and write all their own music. The play was just to break them touring. We put them out with out Marian Hill, with Bishop Briggs, X Ambassadors and Jacob Banks.

What’s the goal with Shaed from this point forward?
It’s about the branding. We’re trying to keep them positioned as an alternative, cool act as much as possible. But at the same time, we want to do stuff like iHeartRadio and the Entercom stations — they all love them, too. So we’re trying to trying to figure out a balance. We want this band to be around for a long time. … And it’s awesome to see this working as a 100 percent independent. I mean, there were people doubting us and haters saying you can’t break records without a major attached to it. And I think we’ve proven with Shaed and “Trampoline” [how to break] a record in a streaming world.

And the touring outlook? 
Festivals. Three years in, they’ve done a lot of touring. They’ve been around the world. But they still haven’t put out their debut album. That’ll be out in Spring 2020, I’m thinking. We’re going to roll out a couple more singles.

How important was the Apple sync ultimately? 
Everything changed afterwards. We saw “Trampoline” go to No. 1 on Shazam after the commercials hit. It was getting streaming everywhere. It then moved all the way up to No. 2 on Today’s Top Hits and all the big streaming platforms playlists. Only then did it start to get some radio play.

Organically, we put it out there to some people we knew in the alternative world. And then Jacqueline [Saturn, president of Caroline], Marisa [Di Frisco, National Director of Alternative/Rock Promotion] and Marni [Halpern, SVP of promotion] came in and helped push the button. Marisa kicked ass at alternative. She went around and fought with everybody and banged down doors until they started to play it and give [it] adds. And then with the Zayn resurgence, it’s top 20 worldwide on Spotify. We have all these people in the U.K., Australia, Mexico and Japan that are just now starting to see that this is a huge hit. It’s like the longest-worked song — the song that won’t die.

How did Zayn end up jumping on the track?
We were No. 40 on the Hot 100 and [thought] we need to figure out ways to get some more energy into this song and keep momentum moving up the charts. So we were, like, let’s put a feature on the song.  Myself and my staff, we had a list of about 20 people, and Drew [Kaklamanos, A&R/Creative Director], who works for us reached out to Zayn’s camp and threw a Hail Mary. A day or two later, Zayn sent back the whole song. And the band took it and turned it into a duet rather than a feature. We literally turned around and got the song out two weeks later. On the chart, the song is in the teens and continually moving up. In streams, it’s doing over two million a day right now. Every day is our new peak.

How’s the overall health of alternative radio right now?
I mean, I like that they’re playing different sounding songs and it’s not all dude rock. Rock has come back and that’s exciting. The reuniting of My Chemical Romance and Rage Against the Machine makes me f–ing excited. Everything is cyclical. Maybe this is going to be some version of the 90s music, but in a new modern form with different kinds of instruments. I also like that you see more female vocalists on alternative tracks. There’s hardly any women vocals in rock being played so it’s turning a corner and alternative is setting it up. Their audience is much smaller, but they’re more dedicated and [more likely] to be core fans for a long time. Billie Eilish is huge at alternative and she crossed over to be huge at pop. Lorde was another one. It’s just opening the door. More crossing over would be cool. I’m hoping that happens.

And on the live side, My Chemical Romance’s show this month points to sustained demand. How did the reunion come about?
They had been getting offers for [the last] seven to eight years, and had been talking for a while and trying to figure out the right time, and 2019 was a year that that made sense to them. They had some backstory with their [2010 album] “Danger Days.” They knew they wanted to do one show and now it’s kind of taken on a life of its own. I think they’re excited about the demand and the response and what else is coming for next year.

Pictured, from left: Gerardo Cueva (SHAED manager/VP Marketing), Taylor Flynn (VP Digital Marketing), Matt Galle, Mike Marquis (Co-Head), Mike Collin (GM) and Drew Kaklamanos (A&R/Creative Director)