If any artist epitomizes the globalization of music it's dhruv. Born in London to Indian parents, dhruv grew up in Singapore, studied statistics and data science at Yale University, and then moved to New York City before finding himself in London again. Like many developing artists, dhruv initially thought that he needed to be in the US to launch his career, but in today’s rapidly globalizing music industry, that no longer seems to be the case.
Though dhruv has a few pre-2019 recordings on his SoundCloud, the sleeper hit “double take” is arguably his first official track drop. Released on Spotify on May 24, 2019, the track was slowly but steadily added to third-party playlists, most of which had less than 100 followers. It was briefly picked up by Hits for vårsemesteret, a personalized Spotify editorial playlist in Norway, but none of the larger independent playlists that it landed on exceeded 10K followers.
So how did dhruv blow up? In June 2019, dhruv had Spotify listeners in Canada, the UK, Hong Kong, India, the Netherlands, Singapore, and the US, likely a result of dhruv’s background and where his friends and family are based. This sort of development is not unusual for an indie artist, but the point to note here is that his fanbase was global from the start thanks to his international roots.
Trigger Cities and the Globalization of Music
From February 2020 to March 2020, the track “moonlight” was picked up on multiple New Music Friday playlists around Southeast Asia. Without a direct statement from dhruv, it’s difficult to confirm whether this happened organically or if any other services were involved. Considering some of the cities his audience started growing in first—Singapore, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and New Delhi—the concept of Trigger Cities comes to mind.
To briefly recap, Trigger Cities are developing music markets that “trigger” favorable algorithmic effects on streaming platforms and therefore help expand an artist’s audience reach. First identified in 2019 by Chartmetric Chief Commercial Officer Chaz Jenkins, this framework has since been used by companies like Stellar Trigger Marketing to develop artists including Vaultboy, NIKI, PinkSweat$, and Jackson Wang. A&R teams at many labels also use Trigger Cities to identify unsigned artists that are building thin but widespread global audiences. Friends and family can be an artist’s most avid supporters, particularly when artists are just starting out, so it doesn’t hurt when these advocates are located in key cities that appear to influence global streaming algorithms.
Key characteristics of Trigger Cities include diverse music tastes (i.e., not just domestic repertoire) and high music streaming consumption, likely due to factors including high population density, high mobile usage, community closeness, and advanced use of social media. Many Trigger Cities are actually found in “emerging markets” as technology has rapidly democratized the general public’s access to music. Users in these markets, particularly in societies in the Southern Hemisphere, tend to share, and engage with, music much more freely and frequently on social media than users in Europe and North America. In turn, this has contributed to the more rapid and geographically dispersed growth of potential audiences for artists, particularly across Latin America and Southeast Asia.
The median age in “less developed” regions tends to be much younger, i.e., much closer to the main target age range for music (18-24), than the median age in “more developed” regions. A combination of colonization, trade, migration, and tourism means that these countries and their diasporas tend to be multilingual and more receptive to other cultures, media, and entertainment. Comparatively speaking, traditional markets like the US, the UK, Western Europe, and Australia are oversaturated and competitive. All this is not to say that breaking into Trigger City markets is easy, but there is no doubt a wealth of potential fans outside of the common Western markets—fans who are highly social, digitally engaged, and eager to consume new music.
The Global Trajectory of dhruv's Music
As always, the influence of Trigger Cities is just one part of a bigger picture, but what continues to hold true is the impact and opportunity of audiences in these cities. In dhruv’s case, in the early 2020, his tracks landed on several New Music Friday playlists, mostly across Southeast Asia, which instantly skyrocketed his potential playlist reach on Spotify from 13.39K to 1.03M followers. This immediately converted the daily change in his Spotify Followers from single digits to double digits, while his average change in Spotify Monthly Listeners went from 129 to several thousand daily. Not only did he directly develop audiences in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and Taiwan—all Southeast Asian except for the latter—but he also started gaining fans in Australia and Norway.
Over the next few months, dhruv continued to reach new listeners around the world, from cities in Brazil, Chile, and Mexico to places in Germany, France, Poland, Turkey, and New Zealand. By the time he released his next single “vulnerable” on July 17, 2020, his global audience was ready for him. With placements on New Music Friday in Egypt, the Levant, the Gulf, the US, and across Southeast Asia, his audience on Spotify continued to reach new heights.
His growth then remained relatively steady until April-May 2021, when people on TikTok in Indonesia and nearby countries started using “double take” as the backing track for their videos, a good number of which were clips of K-Dramas or K-Pop boy bands.
This helped the track enter multiple Spotify Top 50 and Viral 50 charts—again, mostly across Southeast Asia, with the early exception of Viral 50 - Global. "double take" also landed on Hot Hits and Pop Rising in the same countries. Though the track entered toward the bottom of many of these lists, it often quickly rose to a peak position within the Top 10, increasing consumption even more.
As the track continued to go viral worldwide through TikTok, thanks to trends like the photo crop challenge, “double take” also made it onto editorial playlists like Pop Sauce and Alternative R&B. Bigger editorials like Pop Rising (US) and Fresh & Chill soon picked it up, helping it chart on more Viral 50 charts internationally. Individually, these playlists range from several thousands to 1M+ followers, and with their combined reach (plus a little help from TikTok), it’s no wonder dhruv’s growth took off exponentially. By the end of 2021, his fanbase on Spotify and Instagram shot up 674 percent and 595 percent, respectively, while his Spotify Monthly Listeners and YouTube Channel Views catapulted to respective peaks of 8.2M and 95.5M. dhruv signed to Sony Music flagship label RCA Records, released new song “stable life” in celebration, and—fast forward to today—is currently on a run of US shows including opening for Joji on his SMITHEREENS tour.
A Global Model for Breaking New Artists
From 2019 to now, dhruv has had an amazing journey, especially considering that he was an indie artist for most of this time. This is also a testament to the fact that the music is still where everything begins. Understanding algorithms, data, and trends like Trigger Cities and the globalization of audiences is a key piece of the puzzle, but this knowledge works best with an understanding of the artist, their background and the story they are telling.
In dhruv’s case, his international origins and the open emotional lyrics of his lived experiences set the foundation for his sound to travel across cyberspace and transcend borders. Technology has paved the way for music to be consumed in the digital form of streams and views, but this is also just one avenue to be explored—and just one revenue stream. Artists who develop through Trigger Cities may regularly release new tracks, but this doesn’t seem to be critical. Often, steady support for hero tracks appears to be what delivers sustainable growth. The personal connection formed between an artist and their fans is what really builds a sustainable career: Numbers don’t mean much without actual people behind them.
dhruv is truly a special artist. While watching his ascent of discovery through “double take” and the exceptional moments it had on TikTok was truly amazing. We knew that he also had the true talent, music, and artistry for a long career in music. You can’t say this for all artists who have these breakout moments from TikTok. We’re thrilled to help him bring his vision to life in the next phase of his career. - Aaron Stern, Senior Director of Marketing at RCA Records
Signing to a major label has given dhruv more resources and better backing to continue to build upward with his existing audience and reach new fans globally. Though he’s hit many impressive milestones so far, what’s most exciting is that his story is still being written. His audience today, based on his Spotify Top 50 Cities by Monthly Listeners, is still largely located in Southeast Asia and India. He’s also still developing strong listenership in Australia, Canada, the UK, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the US. Though at first glance it may look like dhruv isn’t gaining as much traction in these places, what’s actually happening is that he has so many more listeners in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and India that the numbers are overwhelming the other places in which he also has fans.
The globalization of music in the digital age may offer a dizzying array of markets and platforms to consider, but that just means there are so many more opportunities for artists to develop and establish connections with their audiences—no matter where in the world they may be. On that note, it wouldn't be surprising to see a Southeast Asia and India tour scheduled for dhruv in 2023, and if there's one thing his rise has proven, it's that there’s no more excuse to limit dreams to traditional Western markets.