Tom Waits’ 1999 song ‘Big In Japan’ introduced the geo-cultural phrase to singer songwriter Vaultboy. It’s usually used to describe Western artists finding an audience in other parts of the globe. “I actually have a shirt with ‘Big In Japan’ embroidered in Japanese,” says the American artist in an exclusive chat with Music Plus just before his latest single ‘Disaster’ dropped.
He’s talking about the success of his 2021 breakout hit ‘Everything Sucks’ in Japan, which simultaneously dominated streaming charts in over 80 countries too. “When I found out I was number one on Japan’s viral chart as well, I started singing ‘I’m big in Japan’. I was really excited,” Vaultboy laughs.
In the case of ‘Everything Sucks’, Vaultboy got big on TikTok, specifically in South East Asia. It lent credence to the Trigger Cities theory, which talks about how music markets such as Latin America and South East Asia can be targeted first for promotions and marketing, given lower advertising costs. The resultant boom in streams puts the music in the spotlight across the world, including North America and Europe.
The strategy has previously worked for songs like Lauv’s ‘I Like Me Better’ from 2017. Vaultboy, on the other hand, understood his audience outside of North America pretty quickly. By August, he’d released a version of ‘Everything Sucks’ featuring Korean-American pop artist Eric Nam, who is majorly streamed in Asia as well. “I think the way that music is global now is really wonderful,” says the American singer songwriter. “It’s a special time to be in music because you’ve never been able to cross borders with songs the same way you can now with the Internet. Part of that is short form content. Part of why I have the fanbase I do in India is because of my YouTube stuff… A lot of different songs and stuff have done really well, specifically in India and outside of just ‘Everything Sucks’.”
Hold and release
TikTok and YouTube are key weapons of choice for Vaultboy. After all, his latest single ‘Disaster’ was born out of a 77-minute songwriting challenge uploaded in October last year. In sharing the earliest version of the song right out of the oven, fans ate it up, the comments on YouTube calling it a masterpiece and expressing amazement that he created it in 77 minutes.
The artist admits that seeing a demo version of a song get an inspiring reception online does create the temptation to rush to release it. At a time when a song’s virality often hinges on how a short snippet of it can fare on short form video platforms, Vaultboy says it does affect how artists think about the way their music is consumed. He says, “I think for artists, it puts you in this position where you want to stop looking at a song for an entire song, and you want to look at a song for the moment that could go viral, you know what I mean?”
Within a week of its release, ‘Disaster’ has garnered just over 1,00,000 streams on Spotify. This form of music consumption has its ups and downs. “Some really cool songs have come out of that. And then some not as great songs have come out of that. Some really good songs have not performed well under that format as well, but they’re still really good songs. I’m really interested to see how the landscape of music changes over the course of the next few years, as short form content continues to develop,” he says.
As for rushing to release on social media, Vaultboy says it helps to play it by ear: “If you put out a song, and then another is planned for a month later, but that first song does crazy well and a bunch of opportunities start to open up, you might want to push back the other song at least a little bit to give yourself time to really take advantage of what’s happening.”
Down the road
His own release plan and technique seems to have for now settled into a pace of capitalising on fans across South East Asia, first via social media and promotions. Then followed by the rest of the world. He’s got a bunch of songs coming up, which are all part of his second EP, but he’s been keeping them to himself. “I’d like to be a bit more reactive [to how songs perform once released],” he says.
By his own admission, Vaultboy spends a lot of time at home, just creating music and content around that. But come July, it’s a whole new ballgame, when he performs live for the first time at Summerfest in Milwaukee. He’s among the many artists who have thrived digitally and are now about to take their show on the road, literally. “I’m really excited to start playing live shows. I want to play live and I want to be on the road a lot, especially these next couple of years. I really think that’s one of the things that I want for myself. I’ve been working tirelessly the last month on getting the live set figured out,” he says.
Asia is high on the agenda as well. As for India? “There are definitely some conversations being had, nothing concrete yet but I’m sure the day will come, I have no worries about that,” he says.