Sameer Sadhu talks about his journey in the industry, from playing in bands as a teenager to becoming one of the top independent executives in the music business.
During his time at Nettwerk, Sameer Sadhu built a list that amassed over 1 billion streams worldwide, including revered artists like Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness and Miami Horror, cult favorites like Miya Folick, Tim Atlas and Vacations, indie darlings like altopalo, cehryl, Elliot Moss, Harmless and Wild Rivers, and lovers of LOREM Abby Sage and Danny Dwyer. Additionally, Sameer is a partner at Secret Signals, a label and advertising services company strategically based in Singapore working with artists around the world on business development and public relations in Asia.
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Tell us about how you got started in the music industry and how it led to the work you do today.
To some extent I had a very atypical background in the music industry – but to another extent I didn’t. Like many, I grew up playing in bands, going to DIY shows from the age of 14, buying CDs, reading every line of the liner notes, and being part of the local music community. . It was also at 14 that I learned what an A&R is, and I knew I wanted to be one. But as someone who grew up in Singapore and as an Indian citizen, the music industry has always been something that has felt like a world apart to me.
My first job was in a record store selling CDs; for some, the real front line of the music industry. I’ve always loved sharing bands that people haven’t heard of, and hated when they sold out and went to a major label (yes, I’m from that generation). The store was also part of a record label/management company called Wake Me Up Music. They were the first organizing committee of Singapore’s biggest and first alternative music festival called Baybeats which started in 2001. They brought in artists such as Copeland, Brandtson, Last Days of April – it was a rare treat for Singapore at the time, and it was This is where I met Chad and Rory from The Militia Group — and interned there in 2008 (Mikey B to M is for Montreal, thank you for the internship!).
Through a sequence of events, and after college, I was about to return to Singapore in 2011 as I knew it was nearly impossible to get a work visa in the United States with an entry-level job . That’s when Eric Tobin and Louis Posen tapped me on the shoulder during a Limousines set at SXSW at the beloved Purevolume house. They had recently learned that I grew up in Singapore, and for the first time YouTube data had shown growth in Southeast Asian markets, and they were looking for someone to help them understand the market. .
After 3 months of due diligence and planning I ended up moving back to Singapore in 2011 and started Hopeless Records in South East Asia while working at Gray Digital doing social media for Microsoft (another life ). As Hopeless expanded into Southeast Asia, I started to attract more other managers and artists and quickly realized there was a gap in the market. In 2012, I co-founded a boutique label services company (and at that time the term label services was really in its infancy) called Secret Signals which I am still a partner of. I left the advertising world, focusing on Secret Signals, and also had a short stint under Tommy Chan at Love Da Records in Hong Kong. Through this, and another mutual friend, Dan Gordon, I met Tom Gates and Mark Jowett at Nettwerk (and by the way, I remember the week I met Tom in 2012, telling my girlfriend at the time that I had a feeling that one day I’ll be working at Nettwerk – I don’t know how or why. She said “of course” and probably rolled her eyes).
Fast forward to 2014, Tom Gates emailed me on October 30 and asked if I was interested in being his and Ryan Chisholm’s daily at Nettwerk. I immediately said yes – and luckily, with what I had built at Secret Signals, my amazing lawyer Michael Wildes, was able to secure an O1 visa for me, and I joined Nettwerk in March 2015. I passed 3 years as their daily life – working day with Mike Posner (it was during the “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” trip, which was an incredibly steep learning curve), Christina Perri, Madi Diaz, Good Old War and a few others.
But honestly, I was probably the worst daily ever and I will always be grateful for the patience and grace Tom and Ryan showed me. Terry then asked me to join the A&R team in 2018, and under his tutelage, I’ve built a roster that I enjoy working with.
Is there an achievement or career milestone you are most proud of?
I am not someone who looks to the past or too much to the future. I try to be as present as possible. 2022 has seen my list amass over a billion streams worldwide and 1 platinum and 3 gold in the US, Canada and Australia, and we hope to continue that momentum into next year. As an A&R, my job is to be a creative sounding board for artists’ creative vision and to allow them to be as comfortable as possible in their creative endeavours. For me, the development of an artist really starts with human development – sometimes we forget what it’s like to be 22, let alone to be 22 and be an artist when the world expects you have everything together. I am most fulfilled when artists feel their creative endeavors are accomplished and when the world is allowed to connect with art. I am very privileged to work with the artists and the teams I work with and to be allowed into the artists’ creative spaces.
Additionally, as incredibly rudimentary as it may seem, it’s crucial to see artists who are able to make a solid and consistent living from the art they create.
Are there any projects you’re working on or company updates that interest you the most?
For me, holidays are a very interesting story. At a time when TikTok can generate career moments, as an industry we’re scratching our heads on how to really cement those moments and create longevity. I think the team has done that with Vacations over the past 18 months.
Here we had an Australian indie band doing around 100,000 streams a day, led by ‘Young’ on TikTok at the height of the pandemic – that was August 2020. Our team kicked back and continued to press it. We set targets step by step – our next target was 150,000 a day, then 250,000, then 500,000 then 750,000 – we are now at 1.6 million days with the group selling over 40,000 tickets to USA and going from playing a sold-out show at the Roxy (500 cap) in Los Angeles in March 2022, to a sold-out show at The Fonda (1250) in November 2022 and their first major festival appearance American at Austin City Limits.
My favorite part was seeing the fans interact live with the band. It was phenomenal to hear kids say it was their very first show of their lives – and it’s just as beautiful to see the band see their music connect with fans around the world too.
We are delighted to continue this momentum. They have new music coming out next year and the team are very excited to work on and build on their current success. “Young” is set to go platinum this month in the US and “Telephones” to go gold. Like I said, this band has cemented a place where it’s not just about a song or a viral trend – the data shows there’s something very long to build here.
In the last 8 years I have been at Nettwerk, it has been amazing to see the continued desire of this company and to act on its desire to grow. Terry describes us as a guardian of art and music, and I think that’s the best way to describe our label.
I’m really pleased with the diversity of my roster at Nettwerk, which ranges from Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness & Miami Horror, to cult favorites Miya Folick, Tim Atlas & Vacations, indie darlings altopalo, cehryl, Elliot Moss, Axel Flovent, Harmless and Wild Rivers, and hot artists like Abby Sage and Danny Dwyer. I also recently signed a rapper named Hudi. In a way, it’s a reflection of the wide range of music I enjoy and the result of my upbringing. I grew up in an international school that taught me how universal music really is, and today I work with a team that values that. A&R is only as good as team strength – and that team is nimble, persistent, questioning and ambitious. Our team consistently brings value to the partnerships we have with our artists.
At Secret Signals, I’m constantly impressed that we’ve created something that just keeps getting better and carries a solid reputation for our work. The most humbling part is knowing that people’s livelihoods are in the hands of the company. And for a business I started at 24, where my only compass for building a music business was as a fan, it’s nice to see it’s worked out so far.
Apart from your work in music, do you have any other hobbies/areas of expertise/special interests, etc.? ?
I am a very simple man. I just enjoy being with my wife. She is my gravity and my muse, and the ability to share a world with her is something I don’t take for granted. My first love before music will always be football (saw-ker for Americans). 90% of my time really consists of watching football, listening to football podcasts, playing FIFA and/or playing football in the park.
Anything else to add?
We are already thinking of 2024 for some of our projects, but we have new albums coming in 2023 from Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Miya Folick, Elliot Moss, Miami Horror and new projects like Hudi, Vacations, Lullanas, Abby Sage , Wild Rivers, Axel Flovent, Danny Dwyer and more.
Be at peace with yourself and your decisions – the only thing you can control is yourself.