THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED (BUT IT WILL BE STREAMED): In a sense, the technology is secondary. Yes, the complex of mobile devices, streaming platforms and social media has entirely transformed cultural consumption (and everything else). But like every transformation in the sphere of popular music, what we’re looking at is a youthquake. It is the young who drive new musical forms, and it is the young who lean on the button. The smart phones in the hands of today’s kids, like the transistor radios clutched by their rock & roll-loving ancestors, are candles to light the rituals of youth. It’s not that adults don’t make use of new tech, and it’s not that adults don’t love music; it’s simply that they don’t have the time, the bandwidth or—any longer—the inclination to immerse themselves in music. The 24/7 earbuds, the all-night playlist, the all-day scroll—this is the exploration, by kids, that is driving a business predicated on nonstop consumption.

As a result of the changes wrought by the new order, the A&R pendulum continues to swing away from its traditional role, pointing to the expected turnover of older, experienced, big-salary-earning A&R execs, who seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, any one of the millions of kids soaking up bedroom trap from streaming playlists and memes from social media can—using the same tools available to everyone else—create a track that turns the world on its ear. It might achieve virality on TikTok or some other UGC-based platform.

This is the new, data-based reality. Daniel Ek and his Spotify team—including head of music strategy (and former Interscope CFO) Jeremy Erlich—seem to be looking to push the envelope of new-artist discovery through their extensive analysis of the marketplace. This benefits the whole ecosystem, majors included—they know what’s working, and know it earlier and earlier in the process—and are being aggressive about exploiting it.

Two indie rocket ships to explode out of the new ecosystem in the last few weeks, Arizona Zervas and Ant Saunders, have both flown up the streaming charts—the former hitting #1 U.S. at Spotify and Top 5 on the global side. Expect more as new indie acts get more traction than ever before and this thirst to sign these artists reaches a high-water mark.

The price of poker for Zervas (whose team is led by manager Quentin Gatto and attorney Josh Kamen) was rumored to have reached the eight-figure range. Columbia’s Ron Perry closed the deal at presstime; the signing adds to the ongoing metamorphosis at the label, which began when Perry inked another viral project that was pinging the radar, Lil Nas X.

When Zervas’ “ROXANNE” zoomed into the 20s, Spotify got behind the song, adding it to high-profile playlists and demonstrating that the execs and curators are especially eager to claim some responsibility for the tracks that explode.

“ROXANNE” is a one-listen smash; radio is already moving on the song, with Kid Kelly at SiriusXM’s Hits 1 firing the first shot across the bow. If you can’t hear this one, a label CEO recently remarked, it’s time to get your real-estate license.

Ant Saunders’ “Yellow Hearts,” like Zervas, hit critical mass via TikTok before ascending at Spotify. He’s just inked a deal with David Massey’s Arista. Unlike “ROXANNE,” the potential for success at radio is less obvious, and its movement at DSPs has been somewhat more gradual. But it’s a measure of how big Zervas is that indie Saunders’ Top 25 success at Spotify isn’t quite as mind-blowing. The young artist, managed by Nick Mueller, is repped by Sebastian Zar at Theo Sedlmayr & Associates (whose clients include Post Malone, Drake and Eminem) for legal. The noise was that they were asking for a $2m guarantee just for the single rights.

ALL STREAMS LEAD TO THE OCEAN: How has Spotify helped shape the new narrative? The globally focused Spotify world went all-in on playlisting from the start—and its highest-profile playlists are among the most coveted real estate in the biz.

TAGS: I.B. Bad