From Down Under To Top Of The Charts: Dean Lewis’ Breakthrough Moment

The Kid’s Alright
Photo by Ana Sanchez (@ana.logs)
– The Kid’s Alright
Dean Lewis performs at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles Feb. 12. The singer/songwriter was named Apple Music’s latest Up Next Artist days ahead of the release of his debut album, A Place We Knew. The LP features the smash hit “Be Alright,” which has hit the Top 10 in 23 countries on iTunes.
Dean Lewis knew he had a hit with “Be Alright” before he even released the massive single, thanks to the reaction he’d got when performing the song live.
“People would always come up to me afterward and say, ‘When are you going to release that one?’” the 31-year-old Australian singer/songwriter says, speaking to Pollstar from backstage at Toronto’s Velvet Underground. “But I didn’t realize it would be global, like it’s big in Belgium and it’s doing stuff in France and in Singapore – these places that are unattainable for an Australian artist.
“You grow up hearing that it’s sort of not possible – especially not North America. There’s been like five artists in the last 10 years from Australia that have even had small success here.”
Lewis, who names Oasis and Bruce Springsteen as influences, started writing songs when he was 18 and got his foot in the door of the music business when a friend passed his demo on to the former manager of fellow Aussie band Savage Garden, who signed him to her publishing company. After writing songs for other artists, he signed with Island Records in 2016 and has been working with his team at Creative Artists Agency (whom he calls “the best agents in the game”) for nearly three years. 
Lewis’ career is definitely going more than just “alright:” As this story was going to print, he was named Apple Music’s latest Up Next Artist and made his late night debut with an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” As for “Be Alright,” it was currently the No. 1 most Shazamed song in the U.S. (and No. 12 globally) and No. 1 on Billboard’s Adult Pop Songs Chart.
Dean Lewis
Photo by Matt Jelonek/WireImage
– Dean Lewis
performs at Falls Festival on January 5, 2019 in Fremantle, Australia.
Since its release last June, “Be Alright” has made noise all over the charts, including placing on the Top 10 in 23 countries on iTunes, hitting the Top 5 in 13 markets on Apple Music and making moves on Spotify’s Top 200 (currently at No. 50) and Billboard’s Hot 100 (currently No. 25) Along with his 2017 EP, 2016 debut single “Waves” and current single “7 Minutes,” Lewis has racked up more than 1 billion streams of his music globally – and this is all before his debut album, A Place We Knew, dropped March 22. 
“It’s hard to wrap your head around them,” says Lewis about his impressive metrics. The charming songwriter, who has a penchant for talking rapidly and excitedly, noted that it can feel like the streaming numbers don’t really mean much in comparison to performing.“When it starts to feel real is when you’re playing shows and people are coming; that’s when it starts to feel really good.” 
“I did this one show on my own in Portland, Ore., and 10 people came, literally 10 people and it was really embarrassing,” says Lewis. “It’s so cool to come back and play to these full rooms. We just [sold out] a 1,000-cap room in Chicago [Park West], obviously this is much smaller than what we’re doing back in Australia, but to do that in America and to be selling out places in Canada is really mind-blowing. … Definitely times have changed.”

His manager, Mick Management’s Jonathan Eshak, says Lewis sold out all of the stops on his February-March North American tour, which ranged from 500- to 1,000-cap rooms (including a return to Portland, where he sold out the 800-cap Wonder Ballroom and grossed $16,000) and he’s already playing 2,000-cap rooms in Europe including venues in Germany, France and the Nertherlands. As for his home country, Lewis just announced a run of May dates that will see him playing for 5,000 people over two nights at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre. 
When CAA started working with Lewis, the agency concentrated on building a small fanbase across Europe with club shows and tastemaker festival appearances. After Lewis started building radio and streaming momentum in Australia late last summer and saw his numbers grow encouragingly across Europe, CAA’s Paul Wilson booked a few 300- to 400-cap clubs in Europe to gauge if the streaming numbers translated to a live attendance. 
“Those shows all sold out quickly and we upgraded London to bigger venues,” Wilson said. “We were following the streaming story, but the key factor was seeing the fast ticket sales and the direct connection Dean made with his fans. These were solo shows but every crowd from cities like Hamburg and Dublin were singing along to all of Dean’s songs.” 
Eshak observed that connection before they even started working together, when Lewis opened for Mick Management client Brett Dennen in summer 2017. 
“I went to a couple shows and saw the reaction of the crowd to Dean and it was evident then. Certain people connect in a special way and Dean just has that,” Eshak says. “I think the [singer/songwriters] that find a way to connect are the ones that have the ability to say familiar things but in a new way.”

Waves Of Joy:
Ana Sanchez (@ana.log)
– Waves Of Joy:
Dean Lewis leads fans in a singalong at his Feb. 12 show at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles.
Listening to “Be Alright” you can feel all of the emotions in Lewis’ voice, and it’s like you’re the one who discovered your girlfriend cheated. Listening to “7 Minutes,” you might feel you’re the one driving past the landmarks of your relationship after a breakup.
“There’s always going to be a lot of people that can sing better than me or play better piano than me,” Lewis says, “but I thought the one thing that I can do is write really good songs with a full band.” 

Playing festivals on his own inspired the singer/songwriter to tailor some songs for bigger venues, with the goal of playing more energetically with a full band. Instead of just taking the stage by himself, switching between acoustic guitar and keyboard, Lewis’ live show now features three backing musicians.   

“It harkens back to a simpler time of music – it’s almost like a rock band making pop music,” Eshak says. “Our 
history at Mick Management has been very much in line with that. We worked with John Mayer for a long time and Ray Lamontagne and people like that. It’s been fun to see his music being presented in a similar way. … In terms of culture right now, we live in a very pop, hip-hop, R&B, commercial dance world. It’s very hard to cut through … but he’s found a way to reach an audience on a major scale.”

Eshak points out one challenge the singer/songwriter faces with “Be Alright:” “There’s a lot of people who know ‘Be Alright’ but they don’t know who he is yet,” Eshak says. “So our goal is obviously to change that and make sure that Dean Lewis is a hit and not just a song. He’ll do that fairly easily once the album comes out because there’s so much depth to what he’s doing. These things just require some patience. It’s making sure that people are buying tickets to his shows.”

Dean Lewis
Pamela Littky
– Dean Lewis

CAA’s Wilson adds, “The plan is to keep building, but going through the steps so his audience and the media can see him grow as an artist rather than being someone with big streaming numbers.” 

Following the release of A Place We Knew, Lewis heads to Europe in April and Australia and New Zealand in May. He has several festival appearance lined up this summer and then he’ll return to the U.S. in the fall for a yet-to-be-announced run of bigger venues.  

“We’re not rushing,” Lewis says. “No shortcuts – that’s what I like about Mick Management. Everyone on the team is like, ‘We’re going to do it properly and we’re not just going to jump ahead.’

“[Eskak’s] thinking 30 years time. He’s in it for the long haul,” the rising star says as he’s about to jump on stage in Toronto. “It’s a marathon and not a sprint. It’s a long game.”