Lift Off: Inside Believe’s New LIFTED Emerging Artist Program
In theory, the borderless nature of streaming and social media means that any acts from anywhere in the world can instantly reach a global audience. In reality, it is never that simple.
Certain markets have historically dominated and hog most of the attention. Multiple acts from regions and markets like South America, South Korea and India are proving their export power globally, but many acts from outside the world’s top 10 or top 20 markets still need extra promotional support and more career springboards.
Addressing this global imbalance is the remit underpinning Believe’s new LIFTED Emerging Artist Program. It launched last year and will spotlight two artists a year (for a six-month period each) and throw new promotional weight behind them. Kurtis Wells, born in Trinidad and now based in Berlin, was the first artist to qualify for LIFTED.
Charles Odell, head of Editorial & Marketing Partnerships International Programs at Believe, says, “Believe is mostly focused on local markets – that's our bread and butter. But we still have some artists that require an international strategy. ”
Once accepted onto LIFTED, a bigger Believe machine gets behind the act and will super-charge their digital marketing, most particularly at the DSP level.
Believe is mostly focused on local markets – that's our bread and butter. But we still have some artists that require an international strategy.
Pick of the pops: how the shortlisting process works
A call is put out to all of Believe’s different local offices around the world to put forward acts for consideration on LIFTED.
There are, however, a number of criteria they have to meet: having new material coming out during the proposed six-month LIFTED promotion; having an existing international strategy in at least four markets, including their home market; and having a solid marketing budget behind them.
“We don't want to exclude anyone because we know they're developing artists, but we want to at least have enough budget that we can explore opportunities and actually have something to work with to accelerate this specifically,” says Odell.
The Believe team in Paris assesses all submissions, running them against their entry criteria, to come up with a shortlist of five acts. The local teams will then each pitch their specific artists, calls will be made with key team members and then they are voted on by the teams around the world who will be working on the winning artist.
From here, the central team in Paris will help build out the international strategy, setting targets, assisting on deep dives into the data and working on pitching to DSPs, where most of the marketing focus is centered.
“It's basically another team coming on board, really looking at the details and getting into the nitty gritty of each individual market, where the opportunities are, where we can pitch to what we need and looking at what's in the data,” explains Odell.
The benefit for the artists is that we coordinate with all the local teams at a global level. We would usually have the feedback from our teams in, say, Asia or in the US and we would report back to the teams giving them best practice for each territory. We guide them on how to spend their marketing budget and guide them on social media strategy
Kurtis Wells: LIFTED’s inaugural artist
Last year, Wells became the first artist to get the LIFTED treatment. His second single ‘Abyss’ was released on 17 September and his debut EP, the "Ricardo mixtape", was released on 26 November.
Raya Hamdan, Editorial & Marketing Partnerships International Programs Specialist at Believe, says of the scheme, “The benefit for the artists is that we coordinate with all the local teams at a global level. We would usually have the feedback from our teams in, say, Asia or in the US and we would report back to the teams giving them best practice for each territory. We guide them on how to spend their marketing budget and guide them on social media strategy.”
At its heart, it is a scheme that puts an artist’s international development within their local market context.
The goals on the Kurtis Wells campaign were to get him in front of key DSP contacts, accelerate his international streaming strategy and secure placements in both key tastemaker playlists and emerging artist playlists.
The results were significant. He was featured in 149 playlists (being the cover artist on seven of them), he secured 14 New Music Friday placements on the EP release, he saw his Spotify followers grow by 418% between August 2021 and January 2022, he had over 282.8k monthly listeners on Spotify at his peak, and has had over 2.4m streams to date
There was support from 18+ markets internationally, significantly broadening his global reach, with France now his second-biggest market in the world. He was placed on key emerging artist playlists (like Fresh Finds, Breakthrough and Rising Global) as well as important tastemaker playlists (notably Anti Pop, Off Pop and All New Indie).
“We had great exposure on DSPs, including playlist covers,” notes Odell. “It’s great for an artist in his position. We have been working with Kurtis since his first single release [‘A Song About The Sun’ in June 2021]. He'd never released anything before, so he was starting all of his social pages from scratch. Everything was starting from scratch.”
The LIFTED program is an outstanding career accelerator, that is allowing high potential newcomers, to enter an international stage and build their audience with Believe’s local EMP teams support. From day one of the program, the international editorial exposure is significantly increased. The local EMP teams are managing to place our artist in highly acclaimed editorial spots such as Spotify Anti Pop, Young & Free, Fresh Finds, New Music Friday US, or the Apple Music Up Next Program just to name a few. To young artists, this is a unique once in a lifetime chance and for us LIFTED is setting us apart from the major competition and is delivering fantastic cases for our pitches
The next wave: Anaïs and how LIFTED will be raised further
The second LIFTED artist is Anaïs, a German alternative-pop artist with Belgian roots. The promotion is currently running and the focus will be on building her streaming profile as well as extending her social media reach through TikTok and YouTube.
“Anaïs did release a few singles before joining LIFTED,” says Hamdan. “It was easier to create a whole campaign around her because we knew where her audience was coming from and how old they were. She did have a very strong social media fanbase. That was a totally different strategy, where our focus was mainly on getting her followers up and then promoting her tracks on her socials.”
It is still early days for LIFTED and it will be refined and revised as it progresses through different artists, with lessons being learned and the process being recalibrated on a rolling basis.
These initial case study acts are a clear proof of what happens when international teams across Believe back a particular artist in this way.
The success of the initiative is already clear in the example of Kurtis Wells, its first alumni, and in the progress made so far with Anaïs.