“Everyone has the potential to write a hit song, even in your bedroom,” Savana Santos told American Songwriter. “We have all the tools at our disposal—it’s amazing.”
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It’s true—while folks like R. Stevie Moore and Daniel Johnston and more have been making much-adored music at home for decades, there’s been an even more dramatic step in the home recording direction in the past five years. With the Grammy-sweep of Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? and the rapid rise of platforms like TikTok, it’s becoming more and more clear that we’re in the middle of a paradigm shift for how the music industry operates. Now, artists have more access and opportunity than ever before.
But, there’s a flip-side to that too: the dust hasn’t settled yet and navigating this new, emerging world can be tricky. Social media is becoming the go-to method for sharing music and getting new fans—but what do you do after you have that viral moment? Is social media alone enough to sustain a career? How do you capitalize on the buzz and turn it into enduring success? Hell, how do you even get to that viral moment in the first place? These questions aren’t easy to answer.
Yet, many artists, including Santos, are asking them. For Santos, it all began when her band—Avenue Beat—went viral on TikTok last year with their song “F2020.” The jolt of seeing her streaming numbers rise from hundreds to thousands to millions overnight was thrilling, but in a way, it was also daunting.
“I didn’t even know that the ‘music industry’ was a thing back then,” Santos said. “Avenue Beat began as all of us in Sam’s kitchen just singing cover songs, trying to get on The X Factor. So, it was crazy. We definitely didn’t hop on the TikTok train early, but when we did, we fell in love. I think we had 5 million views in a matter of hours.”
After that, Santos essentially found herself trying to learn how to swim in the deep end of the proverbial pool. While that in itself can be a frightening prospect, she’s from a younger generation, one that’s incredibly adept at self-teaching thanks to the miracles of the internet (which is also the primary way a lot of them learn how to make music in the first place). “I begged my mom to get me Logic for Christmas when I was 15 because I saw it on a YouTube video,” she said. “You can learn anything on YouTube. And learning how to write songs kind of came along with learning how to produce.”
So, after “F2020” found success, Santos started learning how to break beyond the TikTok bubble and build a sustainable career. Now, on May 26, she’s booked to be featured in an ASCAP Experience panel entitled “Sound Advice: Roadmap to a Release” alongside Simone Smalls from Strategic Heights Media and Lee Dannay from Thirty Tigers. Set to discuss everything from release timelines to securing the right visual assets and much more, the panel will surely be wildly informative for both folks with a bit of success under their belts and aspiring artists alike.
“My advice is to keep writing and to always keep improving your craft, whether that’s by writing more frequently, branching out into collaborations, writing from the perspective of learning/using a new instrument, performing the songs live, etc.” Dannay—an A&R veteran who’s worked with everyone from John Mayer to Brandi Carlile and more—told American Songwriter via email. “It can take time to find an audience and build fans, you have to have patience but you also have to be relentless in your pursuit of excellence. Competition is fierce and the caliber of a songwriter’s work is paramount—not just to jump-start their career, but to sustain it. Keep looking for new avenues for exposure, through socials, blogs, live performances… take stock of where your music resonates and keep branching out from there.”
That’s a recurring theme in this conversation: hard work isn’t just a prerequisite, but a necessity for sustaining a career. “I hear a lot of people with record deals—myself included—say: ‘We thought when we signed that piece of paper, it would change everything,’” Santos said. “In some ways, it did, but the biggest takeaway I got from this is: the work starts when you get signed. You have to work just as hard, if not harder.”
Dannay agrees that the “big break” is just the start. Even though the trends on TikTok and other social media platforms jump from viral moment to viral moment, she asserts that a holistic approach to artistry is still the key to success. “If artists want to have lasting careers, they need to build a body of work that will resonate and sustain beyond the trends of a particular platform,” she said. “I’m not particularly interested in artists who are writing for one platform, as I think that limits their ability to the popularity and relevance of that platform, and that always evolves. Rather, an artist who has a story to tell and a body of work that stands up on its own, irrespective of platform, is going to have an opportunity for broader success and more longevity.”
Beyond this general advice, Santos, Dannay and Smalls are set to dig into some nitty-gritty release stuff too. For example, they’ll discuss the rising importance of visual assets for any release.
“They speak to the artist’s vision, narrative and brand,” Dannay explained. “Giving fans insight into the artist from a visual perspective helps the artist tell their story from a more 3D lens, which helps fans get to know them even more personally. In this digital era, music can be presented and received facelessly. Some unique art or even a simple lyric video, can go a long way to help an artist reveal themselves in a unique way to their fans.”
While this new world of viral fame might be an unprecedented phenomenon, the amount of opportunity for artists of every sort is limitless. Like Santos said, we now have the ability to craft songs in our bedrooms that can find their way into millions of earbuds, headphones and speakers around the world. In that sense, a true form of power is being transferred to artists themselves—now, the new frontier and its bounties are theirs for the taking.
“Sound Advice: Roadmap to a Release” will be presented at 3pm ET tomorrow (Wednesday, May 26) as a part of this year’s ASCAP Experience. RSVP here.