How YouTube fueled the rise of BRITs frontrunner Dave

How YouTube fueled the rise of BRITs frontrunner Dave

Dave is up for four BRIT Awards at The O2 (February 18), following a campaign that’s delivered an acclaimed album and million-selling single, Location.

The Psychodrama LP has already secured the UK rapper a Hyundai Mercury Prize, as well as a pair of AIM Awards.

In the latest issue of Music Week, we speak to Benny Scarrs and Jack Foster of Neighbourhood management about the BRITs frontrunner (alongside Lewis Capaldi). The pair revealed how they discovered Dave on YouTube.

YouTube has a track record with rap, which has performed particularly well on the platform with British users – and it’s paid off for Dave since he launched his channel in 2013.

In 2019, he racked up 196 million views on YouTube and climbed into the Top 10 for most-viewed artists in the UK (he didn’t make the Top 50 in the previous year). 

On July 16, the day after Location (feat. Burna Boy) was uploaded, Dave’s 2019 daily views peaked at 1.2m. It currently has 29m views. His biggest videos are Funky Friday (55m views), followed by J Hus collaboration Samantha (45m) and No Words feat. MoStack (39m).

YouTube could now help the UK rapper’s US growth – it’s now his third biggest market on the platform, behind the UK and Ireland.

Here, David Morgendorff, head of artist relations (EMEA), YouTube & YouTube Music, opens up about how both platforms have supported Dave…

How did YouTube help Dave break through as an artist?

“We’ve been lucky enough to be working with Dave and his wonderful team since 2016. They’ve always taken a YouTube-first approach and have been incredibly open to working with us through all the ways we’re able to support artists.

“The team at Neighbourhood have always listened closely to all our advice about strategy and channel optimisation – that’s really important, it’s the foundation that everything is built on. Dave then took part in our Foundry programme for independent artists, he’s filmed at the YouTube Space studios in Kings Cross, and we were honoured to be able to support the album release with some great billboards on Old Street Roundabout. It’s always felt like a true partnership and one that really is still only at the beginning.”

YouTube is a valued platform for artists, how central did it become to Dave's career as he established himself in the UK?

“YouTube was the first place Dave was able to make his name, through freestyles and cyphers on some of the underground channels that can only exist on the platform. So he was making moves and using the ecosystem, but was also really smart and understood early on the power of building and owning his own presence on YouTube, keeping his premium music videos for his own channel and dropping brilliant new tracks and visuals regularly over an extended period of time.

“His run of videos from Thiago Silva through to Hangman is unprecedented and legendary. Thirteen great music videos in under two years; and every one a classic! And, of course, Funky Friday took things to a whole new level. That cadence of quality output is really smart strategy – other artists would do well to learn from his work rate – combined with crystal clear focus and quality control. Dave’s also always been a master of collaboration, which is one of the most tried and tested YouTube best practices.”

YouTube seems to be the platform of choice for a lot of UK hip-hop fans. Do those artists rely on YouTube to break through?

UK rap has flourished in so many beautiful ways in the last few years, and we’re proud that YouTube is right in the middle of it. Rappers have a natural home on YouTube – the genre lends itself to video really well, through music videos, freestyles, cyphers, collaborations…. all of which are harder for singer-songwriters or bands.  

“The gatekeeper-free, recommendation-driven nature of the platform also meant that UK rap was able to grow on its own terms, building and evolving until the mainstream had no choice but to listen. YouTube is also home to a unique, independent, curatorial ecosystem which could only have developed on YouTube.  It’s so powerful – GRM Daily, LinkUp, SBTV, Mixtape Madness… these are well-established small businesses who nurture and break new talent – independent and for the major labels – every week. 

“Now we have incredible playlists on YouTube Music – our UK Rap Hotlist is consistently one of the most viewed playlists on the platform because it’s on the money, and there’s a whole ecosystem developing alongside it which is going to improve so much in the next year or so. Of course, there are really important supporters in press, radio and retail who have also been crucial, but I really believe that without YouTube the landscape today would be very different.”

 How can you encourage full album consumption on YouTube Music? Are Dave fans upgrading for the uninterrupted album experience?

“Absolutely – we are huge believers in the importance of artist projects, be they EPs, mixtapes or albums, they’re important bodies of work which artists invest so much time and effort into, and we have to respect that and support it.  Apart from anything else, fans demand it. Our product team are constantly evolving the platform to find the best ways to take fans from a video to an album – be that in-product messaging or through the personalisation of the YouTube Music homepage, which takes all the magic of YouTube recommendation into your own individual streaming service.”

With Dave targeting US success, how can YouTube help hi with that?

“We’re already helping! YouTube is one of the most important drivers of music export and it’s always our ambition to help artists find fans globally.  

“When Lyor [Cohen] was on his first trip to the UK as our global head of Music, we were working closely to help Stormzy launch Gang Signs And Prayer. He always wants to know who’s coming next and I said, ‘There’s one name, this guy Dave’. He’s been paying close attention ever since, and we always have the full backing of the US team. Lyor and Tuma [Basa, YouTube director of urban music] were both at Dave’s recent headline show in New York, our West Coast teams made sure they didn’t miss it either. We’re there for Dave and excited to see what comes next.”

To read the interview with Neighbourhood on the rise of Dave, pick up the latest issue.

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