It goes without saying that the internet has turned the music industry on its head; from cassettes and Walkmans to streaming and downloads, everything about the way we access and consume music has changed. As an online generation, we take it all in our stride, be it seasoned artists like Beyoncé dropping a surprise album or an anonymous newcomer suddenly going viral on SoundCloud. Despite this, the online scene is often associated with edgy, unrefined talent that is somewhat removed from the mainstream. To remind ourselves of how mind-blowingly influential the internet can be, here are some majorly successful stars who started out online.
With three top-ten albums under his belt – not to mention a spot on the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack – it’s hard to believe that The Weeknd’s rise to stardom began on YouTube. It all started when the Canadian-born singer-songwriter – real name Abel Tesfaye – posted his music online back in 2010. Among his listeners was Oliver El-Khatib, otherwise known as Drake’s manager, who shared some of his videos on the OVO blog. In true snowball effect, the enigmatic R&B star went on to sign with Republic Records in 2012, releasing a remastered version of his 2011 mixtapes under the Trilogy album. His latest album Beauty Behind the Madness was the second-biggest debut of 2015 according to the Billboard Chart, and smash hits ‘The Hills’ and ‘Can’t Feel my Face’ have put The Weeknd up there with the likes of Elvis Presley and the Beatles as the 12th ever artist in history to score back-to-back number ones. Not bad for a YouTuber!
Another artist who bypassed the traditional route to musical success is Tim Bergling, more commonly known as Swedish DJ and EDM guru Avicii. Aged eighteen, he started making music on his laptop and sharing it online via blogs under the pseudonym “Timberman”. Much like The Weeknd, Avicii’s music fell on the right ears, namely those of Ash Pournouri. Since the pair met for coffee back in 2008, the man behind At Night Management record label has been largely credited with putting Bergling on the musical map, not least by Avicii himself. With mega tracks such as ‘Wake me Up’ and ‘Levels’ in his portfolio, Avicii is now one of the highest paid DJs in the world – and testament to the way the music industry has changed. Speaking of his success to Forbes, Bergling reflects: “You don’t really need anything anymore. You need your computer. That’s all you need.” Mr. Bergling could well be onto something; with companies like this one making it easier than ever to design your own website, artists are increasingly relying on technology and self-promotion rather than waiting for their break with a record label. Indeed, an online presence is often the bridge between the two.
When you hear the name Adele, you think phenomenal power ballads, the James Bond soundtrack and more awards and accolades than you can shake a stick at. What doesn’t immediately spring to mind is MySpace, but this is, in fact, where the 27 year-old London-born songbird got her big break. Upon hearing a three-track demo that was posted to her MySpace page, executives at XL Recordings snapped her up in 2006. Three albums later, Adele is undoubtedly one of the most successful artists of our time; in February 2011, she had two top 5 singles and two top 5 albums in the same week – a feat only The Beatles and 50 Cent have previously been able to achieve – and her recent release ‘Hello’ was the first ever single to receive more than one million downloads in a week.
The Arctic Monkeys are another big name in music whose success can be traced back to MySpace. The Sheffield-based indie group was perhaps one of the first to recognize the advantages of the internet, growing the fan-base they acquired at gigs by creating an online community. As we’ve seen, nothing moves faster than the World Wide Web, and it wasn’t long before the lads were playing in mainstream venues – well before they signed to a label or released an official album. Despite signing to Domino Records in 2006, the band had already been making music and engaging with their fans via the internet, in much the same way that an ever-growing number of artists are choosing to do today.