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How Data Unearthed An Unlikely Million Selling Song

2[UPDATE 2] In this piece the team at We Are Instrumental explains how they were able to utilize TalentAI to identify a dark horse single performed by Britain's Got Talent alum Calum Scott that found massive commercial success.

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Guest post by Conrad Withey, CEO of We Are Instrumental

It’s coming up to 2 years since we first saw the power and potential of (what is now called) TalentAI in unearthing high potential new artists and singles online. That moment came when we signed and released Calum Scott’s cover of Robyn’s ‘Dancing On My Own’ (2010). The success of that recording far exceeded what we could ever have imagined, but the early signs were all there in the data - but NOBODY saw it because NOBODY was looking in the right place.

As most people know Calum had appeared on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ in 2015, storming straight into the live shows after auditioning with his version of ‘Dancing On My Own’. Cowell used his Golden Buzzer saying, “I've never ever in all the years I've done this show heard a guy with the talent you've got… [that] version was sensational, and that shows to me that you're more than a singer, you're an artist and that's why you got that (the buzzer)."

He eventually made the final and finished 6th overall. However, after the show Simon somewhat reversed his initial opinion and Syco chose not to sign him. Despite the attempts of his then management, Roar Global, to find him a UK label by the end of the year he remained unsigned. He parted ways with Roar, moving to his current manager Luke Williams at Vector.

What he did next is what every ambitious young artist does when they are trying to make their way in the business alone. He recorded a low-cost piano and vocal version of the track he’d auditioned with and stuck it on YouTube, alerting his social followers of his video release. What happened next is where it gets interesting…

The upload was immediately viewed by his 25,000 strong twitter fans who began to share it. This didn’t result in an overnight viral smash - but within 2 months Scott was on our radar. He topped our TalentAI artist chart because of the speed with which he was attracting YouTube subscribers. We started to look at him in more detail. Nobody at Instrumental was particularly aware of Calum beyond those who had seen the show and we were completely unaware of what had happened afterwards. But this data was hard to ignore. That bedroom cover was flying on YouTube completely organically.

We reached out to Luke and suggested that Calum commercially release the track. It was only on YouTube at that point and we could see in the engagement data that viewers were constantly asking where they could buy it. Calum came into the office and a simple development plan was agreed to make the track available across all DSPs. We also set up a more enhanced social campaign to support the release, but all driven by Scott and with no money invested.

It would be fair to say that NO ONE was expecting that the song would be THE ONE to break Calum. He had some original material in the mix and this was expected to be a solid but small stepping stone towards releasing his debut EP. The track came out in March and immediately made an impact on iTunes as BGT fans downloaded it. In week one, we did 4,500 units and were pretty pleased! It sold a couple of thousand each week after that.

6 weeks later, everything changed. I remember getting a message from our social team to say that they had spotted the single in the Top 20 on iTunes. It kept climbing - eventually reaching the Top 10 where it didn’t budge. We dug in to what was going on and the only thing we found was the video had been shared on the Facebook page ‘Music Crowns’ - which specialises in finding cool cover versions. The share on their page went out to an engaged fan base for exactly the kind of thing Calum did best and they all started downloading it.

It leapt 340% in sales to 14,000 in a few days. The engagement we had seen in the YouTube data was now being replicated on Facebook which was in turn driving iTunes downloads. This momentum kept on going. We pitched the cover to Filtr, Topsify and in time Spotify directly, who stuck it in a few test playlists. Once again, the engagement levels seen on socials were replicated on Spotify. The audience LOVED this cover. The traditional industry - labels, radio, TV, press - didn’t get it. They were convinced we were spending heavily on ads to get this to happen. BUT WE HADN’T SPENT A PENNY! They also suggested it was all because of the TV show BUT the single was selling in the US where no one had seen Britain’s Got Talent.

While still signed to Instrumental, the single kept growing until it made #14 in the UK singles chart and we hit 200,000 units sold. There was then the inevitable feeding frenzy amongst labels to sign him - with Capitol Records (US) eventually winning out. The song became the biggest selling single by a British artist in 2016 and Calum was nominated for a Brit Award. I just looked at the UK Charts data and last week (94 weeks after its release!!!) ‘Dancing On My Own’ sold 4,800 units - more than its first week on sale.

So, what do we learn from this. It was an amazing result that followed none of ‘the rules’ & proved everyone wrong. It was a cover that topped the charts, got radio plays and sold millions of copies around the world - THAT SHOULDN’T HAPPEN. And EVERYONE missed it. This isn’t going to happen everyday, but the point is to learn from experiences like this  to see how it can inform your scouting process going forward.

Here’s what I think A&R teams and scouts should learn from the 2 year Calum Scott journey we were happy to be a part of: PART TWO COMING SOON.

The experience we had with Calum led us to double down on data and invest in TalentAI. We are now offering the tech out to any label that wants to use it to find recordings or new artists growing across Spotify, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

Please get in touch via hello@weareinstrumental.com if you would like a demo and to hear how the team at Instrumental can help you reinvent the process of talent scouting to get better results and drive your sales. 

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