How TikTok brought Canadian R&B artists Shawn Desman and Jully Black to a new generation of fans

Maybe you haven’t heard the name Shawn Desman in a while.

The 40-year-old R&B crooner behind hits like Electric, Shaken and Be ready – known to some as Canada’s answer to Justin Timberlake in the early and mid-2000s, an energetic performer and dancer with a smooth, sexy sound – hasn’t released an album since 2013.

His life and luck changed this summer when his record label urged him to download TikTok. He had risen to the top performing at Drake’s OVO All Canadian North Stars show in July, a reunion concert in Toronto that featured the most popular artists from the heyday of Canadian R&B and hip-hop.

More than 64,000 subscribers later, Desman is making music again, performing to sold-out crowds — and he’s found a new generation of fans to sing along with.

“Let’s call it 2010, when I released night like this, Thrill, Electric. If there was social media like it is now, I feel like it would be a different day for me,” Desman said.

A mature generation of Canadian artists who emerged in the early and mid-2000s — an era without big social media megaphones and digital music streaming services — are now turning to these platforms to stage a comeback.

“Social media and streaming have totally changed the game,” Desman said.

TikTok gives a boost

Jully Black knows what he means. Until this year, the Toronto-born R&B veteran was behind hits like seven day fool and The sweat from your brow hadn’t released an album since 2015.

She jumped on the TikTok bandwagon in early 2021 – and found a connection she didn’t quite have when she was a fledgling artist in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.

“What I enjoy now is being able to speak directly to fans on social media,” she told CBC News. She has more than 26,000 followers on TikTok.

WATCH | How Jully Black and Shawn Desman found new fans on TikTok:

Shawn Desman and Jully Black explain how social media and streaming have “changed the game”

The Canadian R&B singers both returned to the music scene in 2022 and found new audiences on TikTok.

Amid a string of high-profile performances in 2022 where she sang with contemporaries and successors, Black has released a new album, Three stones and a slingshotin September.

As he racks up plays on Spotify, she says streaming is different from the gesture of buying physical media.

“When you were selling a CD, a real $10 CD, a $15 CD, that was a whole different thing. Because you knew that person went to the store, they really wanted that song, they really wanted that album,” she said.

As TikTok becomes a popular choice for older musicians looking to rediscover their audience, it’s also an accessible launchpad for the current generation of new artists who don’t have a traditional entry into the music industry. .

It’s a crowded arena — not necessarily a problem for Black when she was one of the few women in the 2000s R&B and soul scene in Canada, she said.

“It’s crowded, don’t misrepresent it. Every day new music, new music, new music. So how do you quiet the noise, stand out from the crowd?” Black added.

What I enjoy now is being able to talk directly to fans on social media.

Shannon Burns, entertainment correspondent with iHeartRadio and host on Virgin Radio, noted that a generation of older artists are joining TikTok, responding to a demand for nostalgia that she says began during the pandemic.

“We’re reminded that those people are still here and exist, and I think artists are reminded that a lot of their fans are still there,” she said.

Nelly Furtado, born in Victoria, has an account; Nickelback is also present; and BC rockers Mother Mother became a TikTok sensation in 2020 when their music went viral on the app, leading to increased streams on Apple Music and Spotify.

Even MuchMusic, the beloved channel that showcased Canadian artists and music in the 80s, 90s and 2000s, was relaunched in 2021 as a “digital-first” entity on TikTok. It has two million subscribers as of October 26.

“There are also a lot of people who remember the music and are thrilled with it,” Burns said. “They have all these memories of nostalgia coming back.”

Black agreed: “A song, a tone, a texture, a timbre can remind you of another era.”

Streaming services help reach global audiences

The past few months have been a whirlwind for Desman, who was inspired to return to a recording studio after a pep talk from one of the world’s most famous artists.

As the R&B entertainer recounts, Drake pulled him aside after his OVO set to ask him a few simple questions: What are you doing? Why don’t you make music?

“It really hit me. I was just like, man, life happens. I have three kids. I’m busy being a father and I kind of lost the love of music for a little while. “, he recalls.

“And he goes, ‘No, no, no, erase all that. Shawn Desman needs to make music again. And I can honestly say Drake changed my life that night,” Desman said. “He really did.”

WATCH | How Drake inspired Shawn Desman to make music again:

Shawn Desman explains how Drake changed his life: “You’re different, huh bro?”

The Canadian R&B singer performed at Drake’s OVO All Canadian North Stars show this summer, where the rapper gave him a life-changing pep talk backstage.

The domino effect was immediate, he added. His phone hasn’t stopped ringing; he received calls from digital streaming services, asking when he would release more music.

The performance landed him on TikTok, which he calls “a full-time job.” Within a month on the app, he had reached 50,000 subscribers and people were approaching him on the streets.

But they didn’t recognize him from his early records or his dance videos: they had just seen him on their algorithmic “discover” page on the app.

“At first I was like, no, I’m not doing it. I don’t have time. I can’t do it,” he said. Now he regularly posts videos of himself dancing with his seven-year-old daughter, or quizzing fans with career trivia, or promoting his new song. Maniacal.

“When I was releasing records, you had to go to the store, buy the album,” he said. “Now everyone around the world, the day the music comes out, you can hear it. It doesn’t matter where you are.”

Desman has over 165,000 monthly listeners on Spotify (Drake, for reference, has about 60 million). His first songs – like those of 2002 Shaken – are among his most popular, with over two million streams.

The impact isn’t lost on the artist, who was dropped by his record label, Universal Music Canada, in 2015. After an uphill battle of challenges, he’s back making music, and he hasn’t never been so happy.

“You just have to think about the reach artists coming out in the early 00s, mid-00s would have had if we had all these platforms,” ​​he said.

About Michael Terry

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