THINK TANK: Breakout Artists of 2012

Now that 2012 officially in the books, let’s look back and examine who the breakout new artists were for the year, those formerly-unknown domestic acts that leapt onto the stage and into the spotlight, grabbing the attention of radio programmers and listeners alike with their talent, skill and musical ability.

As for what actually defines a “breakout” act, that’s something open for debate, with everybody having their own opinion as to what the term constitutes – is it social media profile? YouTube plays? International versus domestic success? All are valid measures, but for today’s purposes, we decided to focus strictly on radio performance in Canada and how well the various acts fared during the past 12-months.

The criteria we used was pretty straightforward — the act should have had no chart activity prior to 2012. For developing acts, the start of the career can be hit-and-miss, so we needed a little wiggle room and pushed the boundaries a bit to allow for the fact that they may have had one or two earlier singles in 2011 that either underperformed or failed to chart altogether but then found success with the follow-up tracks in 2012. In those instances, we felt the act still complied with our “breakout” criteria, but if the act had generated a substantial charted hit prior to 2012, they were disqualified. Also, for crossover material, if the act had a hit in 2011 at format “A” with a song that would then go on to become a hit at format “B” in 2012, the latter would still qualify for that specific format. All chart numbers are provided by Mediabase.

Keep in mind that these lists are subjective and will probably cause arguments over various inclusions or omissions. Our goal? Simply to highlight some of the developing acts that broke-out in 2012, the ones we feel have a bright and promising future. If you feel there’s an artist or act that we’ve missed, please feel free to let me know.

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough at the format came courtesy of Hamilton’s Monster Truck (disclosure: a Frontside client), with “The Brown EP” spawning a pair of standout tracks — “Seven Seas Blues”, which peaked at #8 in the summer, followed by “Righteous Smoke”, which topped out at #5 in November. The band is currently putting the finishing touches on a full-length album, with eyes to a spring release.

Also of note:
One Bad Son – “Scarecrows” (#16 December) – Frontside Client
Gloryhound – “Electric Dusk” (#14 March)
Zeus – “Are You Gonna Waste My Time?” (#20 April)
Poor Young Things – “Blame It On The Good Times” (#30 April)

Even though The Sheepdogs broke out at Active Rock in 2011, 2012 was their year to dominate at Alternative, racking up three enormous hits over 12-months: “Who” (#10 January); “The Way It Is” (#1 September) and “Feeling Good” (#4 December). Their stellar rise to fame has been captured in a new documentary: The Sheepdogs Have At It

Also of note:
Young Empires – “White Doves” (#12 March)
Yukon Blonde – “Stairway” (#12 June) – Frontside Client
Yukon Blonde – “My Girl” (#30 November) – Frontside Client
Japandroids – “The House That Heaven Built” (#12 July)
Great Lake Swimmers – “Easy Come, Easy Go” (#28 February) – Frontside Client
Half Moon Run – “Full Circle” (#29 May) – Frontside Client

TOP 40:
For a great example of a breakthrough act, one needn’t go any further than Victoria Duffield, whose infectious dance-pop resulted in three huge smashes — “Shut Up And Dance” (#7 in January); “Feel” (#14 in April) and “Break My Heart” (#13 in October). Her new single, “They Don’t Know About Us”, is about to crack into the Top-40 on the charts.

Also of note:
The Weeknd – “Wicked Games” (#25 December)
Felix Cartel – “Don’t Turn On The Lights” (#30 November)
Sultan & Ned Shepard – “Walls” (#30 December)

With the skills honed through the creation of two small independent albums over the past decade, Shawn Hook’s major label debut “Cosmonaut and the Girl” found a receptive home at Hot AC radio, launching “Every Red Light” to #16 in March, followed by the #11 hit “So Close” in November.

Also of note:
My Name Is Kay – “Strangers” (#25 July)

While Mia Martina did grace the airwaves in 2011 as the featured vocalist on the Edward Maya track “Stereo Love”, it was in 2012 that her own releases climbed the charts, with “Latin Moon” landing at #11 in February and “Burning” peaking at #23 in April.

Also of note:
The common element between the following songs is the Bell Media Emerging Artist program, which has become a launching pad for artists to gain momentum at various radio formats, particularly at AC:

Elise LeGrow – “No Good Woman” (#7 May)
Liz Coyles – “Butterflies” (#14 May)
Scotty James “Wanna Be Loved” (#15 April)

While not a massive list of breakout new artists by any means, it is still nice to see that radio remains willing and able to take a chance on new artists and in the right circumstances allow them up the chart in a meaningful way. The first hit is always the hardest, but once your foot is in the door, radio becomes much more willing to take a chance on you, as seen by some of the bigger breakthrough artists with more than one single on the charts last year.