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A Few Words About Ellie Goulding and What the Success of 'Lights' Really Means


One of the questions I get asked often by emerging, independent artists is what they can do to be successful without big budgets and having their song on the radio. My answer most always is that in order to ever get your song on the radio you will need have an army of passionate fans helping you to accomplish that. So after making great music, the first order of business is to play lots of shows and get social to build a scene around your music - online and offline.

The remarkable rise and chart success of Ellie Goulding's "Lights" in America is a great example of that. More than a year after the single was first released in the U.S., the song has finally climbed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart and has turned Goulding into a bonafide household name. In fact, Goulding made history for having "the longest ascent to the [top] chart region in Billboard's 54-year history by a female artist." It's a massive accomplishment for the young British artist who serves up an exciting, forward pop sound not often heard in the mainstream. 

The success of "Lights" is solid proof of why it's so important to build a fan base from the ground up that is totally driven by great music and fan enthusiasm. "Lights" first appeared in March 2010 as an iTunes bonus track on the singer's debut LP and was re-edited for inclusion on "Bright Lights" that was released in November 2010. I remember seeing her first headlining show (review) at London's Hammersmith Apollo in December 2010 and witnessed first-hand the power of "Lights" and the crowd's passionate response to it. Fans shared their experiences online and pop music blogs helped to spread the word about Goulding in their communities of readers who are hyper-tuned in to everything new and happening. 

Following that first groundswell of interest among fans and bloggers, Goulding went on tour in America to further strengthen her fan base and bring her songs to life. It was the power of her live shows that led to her gig at William & Kate's Royal Wedding in April of last year. That mighty royal affair increased Goulding visibility ten-fold (even in America), which was further amplified by her musical guest role on Saturday Night Live. Even pop star Katy Perry turned into a fan and asked Goulding to join her on tour last summer. Looking back, all of these high-profile appearances were part of a growing, unstoppable movement that continued to build stronger and stronger.

Fans once again drove the next phase of Goulding's rise in America. Mesmerized by her unique vocals and the timeless quality of the song, producers got their crafty hands on "Lights," and remixes of the song popped up on SoundCloud left and right. Some of them were officially commissioned but most of them were not, showing that the enthusiasm for the singer had now also crossed into the rapidly-growing dancesphere.

Following Goulding's dashing appearance at the 54th GRAMMY Awards Red Carpet, the awareness about "Lights" continued to grow. A few savvy radio programmers and music supervisors realized there was absolutely no risk in putting the track on top forty radio. This was a hit and it was time for radio to tune in and join the party. Radio play was the final piece to the puzzle, which helped "Lights" to cross the threshold and continue its steady rise up the charts to achieve mainstream popularity. And as with any snowball, the further it rolled, the bigger it got, ultimately carrying its own weight all the way to the top regions of the Billboard charts without a forced-fed marketing push.

It's a remarkable story of success for Ellie Goulding that ultimately shows to emerging artists that chart success doesn't have to start with radio play. The internet is a powerful equalizer that provides the same tools and opportunities to big label artists and talented indies. The big lesson here is not to care too much about television or radio when you're just starting up. Play shows, get on Twitter, make fans and share great music and the rest will follow organically. Goulding is solid proof of that, and she's only just getting started.

July 17, 2012 | Permalink