Amazon Music announced today (July 15) a new program designed to provide global support to emerging artists from around the world. Called Breakthrough, the initiative will launch with a class of six initial artists: country singer Gabby Barrett, R&B singer Kiana Ledé, grime MC Jay1, alt-R&B singer and poet Arlo Parks, folk-pop group Provinz and German pop artist Malik Harris.
The program is designed to provide global marketing support for emerging artists across genres and territories, with artists from the U.S., U.K. and Germany in the inaugural class. That support will come in the form of playlisting and programming across Amazon Music’s existing channels, custom merch stores on Amazon.com, utilization of programs like Amazon Originals and Amazon-owned services like Twitch, and a new dedicated Breakthrough playlist populated with emerging artists from across the globe, as well as territory-specific emerging artist playlists for individual countries. (On Amazon’s Echo, "Alexa, Play Breakthrough" will get you there.)
"Developing artists are the lifeblood of this business: They shape culture, they define trends and a lot of times labels aren’t in a position to support developing artists the way that they’d like to," Kirdis Postelle, who joined Amazon Music in March as global head of artist marketing from a stint as executive vp/general manager at Hitco, tells Billboard. "Having recently come from the label world, this program is exactly what you want for your baby artists that can’t get that established budget for themselves. This program fills that void."
Amazon has a series of programs already that aim to boost new and emerging artists, including its Weekly One and Artists to Watch initiatives. But Breakthrough is meant to be more of a longterm program, supporting each artist beyond one-off touch points or marketing pushes.
"This program itself is framed in the long term. It’s not something that’s just going to be, 'Here are our launch artists, we’re going to run this for a month or two, then it’s on to a new group of artists,'" Amazon Music’s head of indie label relations David Stuart, who also created the Breakthrough program, tells Billboard. "This is something that we recognize is going to be intrinsically connected to artists’ needs and what they’re working on. So we’re going to announce new artists when the time is right, depending on where they are, vs. holding ourselves to any kind of artificial timeline."
Breakthrough is designed to pull from Amazon’s resources beyond just Amazon Music, utilizing video, live, merchandising, marketing and other wings of the broader company. And its aim is to help artists break not just in their home regions, but globally, with support varying from market to market based on need.
"For us, [choosing artists] came down to three things: First, we love their music and their energy and passion; Second, believing they had a voice and perspective that we really wanted to amplify; And lastly, that we love working with them and have a really collaborative relationship in place with all of these artists," Stuart says. "We worked from that base, their music and those relationships that existed to really hone in on artists that we believed in and wanted to do what we could to grow their recognition and their support in their home countries and beyond."
While the program is being officially announced today, it has been in effect for some time already. Barrett, for example, put out her debut album Goldmine in June, and Amazon Music hosted virtual listening events, a live stream with Barrett and Charlie Puth, who remixed Goldmine’s lead single "I Hope," and utilized the Amazon Music Nashville team led by Kelly Richto help support the release in different ways. The result, according to Amazon, was that Goldmine racked up the most first-day streams for a debut country music album on Amazon Music in its history, and the sixth-most first-day streams for any country album on the service. In the U.S., according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data, Goldmine earned 15.98 million on-demand streams for its songs in its first week, the largest opening streaming week ever for a debut country album by a woman.
"Being able to deliver these kinds of programs for developing artists, and to be able to lean into programs or opportunities with established artists and to collaborate with superstar artists on their launches, it’s all part of our strategy to get to that point where artists look to us first when they want to go a little bit bigger than just regular opportunities presented by DSPs," says Postelle. "We want to be that collaborator that will go deeper with artists. And I think this developing artist offering is that first step in that partnership."