How labels discover and market artists is intriguing to most people—including artists themselves. To help pull back the curtain, we sat down with Nettwerk Music Group's Arielle Rubin Dunn (Marketing Director), Jelissa Lam (Senior Marketing Manager), and Cian Walsh (Analytics Specialist) to find out how they used data to discover and market breakout band Vacations.
In the summer of 2020, Nettwerk signed the back catalog of Australian Indie Rock band Vacations after noticing their recurring presence on Spotify’s viral charts. Soon after, the group saw their 2016 track “Young” grow organically on TikTok thanks to its use in edits of the TV drama series Skins. By fostering the band's penchant for engaging content production, Nettwerk has helped Vacations capitalize on their momentum, taking their success global.
Signing and Discovering
While every artist brings a unique sound and set of skills to the table, there are always key signals that a label's A&R team will look for before signing. According to Nettwerk's Marketing Director Arielle Rubin Dunn, one of the most important factors for the label is determining whether the band’s style and music fit in with their current roster.
Arielle Rubin Dunn: "We tend to focus on signing artists that are in defined communities, looking at a common goal between artists. Nettwerk is a global record label, and even though the band wasn't well known at the time, we saw the potential of globalization through TikTok."
Though Vacations were just getting discovered, early fans quickly fell in love with their woozy, Surf Rock sound. Several tracks from the 2016 EP Vibes, as well as their 2018 album Changes were gaining traction on Spotify, causing a significant increase in Spotify monthly listeners following the spring of 2020. As time went on, considerable audiences began forming within the US and many Latin American countries. Today, many of these cities still remain as some of Vacations' top listening locations on Spotify.
Arielle Rubin Dunn: "There was a lot of diversity in where the streams were coming from. Austrailia wasn't a huge market for them to begin with, but it grew. The beginning of their success was mostly driven by Western and Latin countries."
Around the time of Vacations' signing with Nettwerk, several of their trending Spotify tracks had also started to grow organically on TikTok. One trend in particular was thanks to fans of the show Skins, who used Vacations tracks as musical backdrops to their fan edits. Other trends for the song "Young" spanned everything from anime to a popular "Young (Knock Knock)" remix that helped catapult the song to 174K+ TikTok posts from April to July of 2021.
Arielle Rubin Dunn: "Vacations has a huge connection with the fans that discovered them through TikTok. There’s a cool part of the platform where fans take a lot of ownership in discovering an artist and being able to share that. It seems to be a new tastemaker area of the app.”
Following the group's viral moment, many Vacations listeners were quickly converting to followers on social media streaming platforms, an important signal of success. Since July 2020, Vacations has gained 103K+ Instagram followers, 201K+ TikTok followers, 169K+ YouTube subscribers, and 448K+ Spotify followers.
Building a Marketing Campaign
As the Vacations fanbase grew, Nettwerk was determined to create a marketing campaign to further magnify the group's globalization. Tasked with promoting the band's catalog rather than new releases, much of Nettwerk's marketing strategy has focused on building around these viral moments.
Jelissa Lam: "The data has been very reactive, and thanks to Chartmetric, we're able to see these spikes happening. If we see something, we reference their data and usually see that the streaming indicates something happened on TikTok. Once we notice a trend, we will decide if we should let it grow organically, or if it is a micro-trend that would become bigger with the right influencer."
According to Nettwerk's Senior Marketing Manager Jelissa Lam, influencer campaigns have become a great resource for Nettwerk in amplifying organic TikTok success.
Jelissa Lam: "The through line for all influencer campaigns typically comes off the backend of a bit of viral traction. We're at a point where viral moments are happening a lot, so the question now is how do we make the most of them and turn them into something tangible for the band. For example, not just views on a video, but uses for a specific sound or other types of uses that move into long-term engagement or follower growth."
Nettwerk has taken a very serious approach to their influencer campaigns, carefully choosing each one not only by follower count but by engagement and overall content and aesthetic quality.
Jelissa Lam: "Several things come into play like follower count and follower growth, but engagement is key because a certain amount of TikTok followers doesn’t necessarily correlate to engagement. We want to make sure an influencer's followers are engaging around content that makes sense with the band, as well as make sure the influencer matches and meshes with the type of audience we’re looking to connect with."
Tracking Audience Engagement
With an abundance of streaming and social platforms to monitor these days, deciding which key performance indicators to trust can easily become overwhelming. In Vacations' case, Nettwerk prioritizes some metrics over others.
Cian Walsh: "The KPIs will depend on the type of post, whether it's comments or number of likes across Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube. Views is always a metric but we prefer to ask, 'Are we able to hit a 10-20 percent engagement rate?', and from there figure out what type of content works best. Some posts like tour announcements or merch tend to have high engagement rates. If it doesn't, we'll always consider whether to boost it across the platforms."
In addition to social performance, the team also aims for certain signals on streaming platforms—namely, fan conversion.
Cian Walsh: "A key indicator for Spotify would be follower gain. It shows that people aren't just listening passively but are more interested in following them throughout their career. Streams per listener is also a good indicator, showing that fans are engaging to full catalog, not just the top songs."
Overall, much of Vacations' presence remains organic, regardless of how much the team monitors the data.
Arielle Rubin Dunn: "We never want to dictate what an artist should post. Most of their content is niche anyways and really speaks to their fans. They will post a lot of meme content, video game references, etc., but they also enjoy engaging in trends when they want to."
@vacationsband how it feels to listen to #vacationsband ♬ Telephones - Vacations
Going on Vacations
In the next few months, Vacations' will soon release new music through Nettwerk for the first time ever. The change in the music rights relationship may pivot Nettwerk's marketing strategy somewhat, but the label team is looking forward to utilizing their history with the band and developing an even deeper relationship with the music to help spur their success.
Arielle Rubin Dunn: "We have to make sure to learn from the successes they've had. Usually when we sign an artist we don’t have that history and are just jumping in, but with 2.5 years of seeing how fans react or how their music connects, we feel very prepared to really hit those fans and propose ideas that are going to be authentic.... Thanks to Chartmetric, we'll also have more data to really get in and target the right fans with digital ads and run marketing initiatives to expand their listenership in meaningful ways."
And we're looking forward to seeing Vacations go from Mainstream to Superstar with each successive—and successful—campaign that the Nettwerk team puts together for the band.