Report: How Did John Summit Become So Popular, So Quickly?
“Always remember that a bender is a marathon not a sprint, but real ones sprint marathons.”
— John Summit
Every now and then, an artist seems to emerge from obscurity, skyrocketing to superstardom seemingly overnight. In 2011, Skrillex appeared out of nowhere, and in 2015, a new mysterious producer named Marshmello dominated the scene.
Who is the most recent artist to seemingly come out of nowhere? An artist that all of a sudden, they are everywhere.
In 2023, that artist is John Summit.
Within just four years, John Summit has transformed from a local DJ and accountant in Chicago to one of the most sought-after house artists globally. His music is everywhere, his performances are numerous, and his social media presence is captivating, even if it's not to everyone's liking.
How did he achieve such rapid success? Was it the music, the social media, the relentless touring, or something else?
This article presents a first-of-its-kind, data-driven analysis to answer these questions. We've collected and analyzed data from social media platforms, streaming services, and live performances to uncover the secrets behind John Summit's meteoric rise.
How did John Summit become a household name seemingly overnight? We believe it was a magical combination of consistency, quality, and one hit record.
Prioritizing Music Over Followers
John Summit has released an extensive catalog of music over the years, including several EPs on reputable house labels in 2018 and 2019. Initially, his music gained significant support from DJs rather than fans and casual listeners. He produced a series of club tracks for labels such as Mark Knight's Toolroom Records, Claude Von Stroke's DirtyBird, and Lee Foss's Repopulate Mars.
While these songs sold well to DJs on Beatport, they didn't break through to a broader commercial audience. Consequently, his Spotify numbers remained relatively stagnant in 2018 and 2019, despite growing popularity among DJs on Beatport.
The Power of A Hit Record
It wasn't until the summer of 2020 that John Summit had a breakthrough release.
In June 2020, "Deep End" was released on Defected Records. Amidst the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, "Deep End" became an anthem for a socially disconnected summer. The track was also remixed by SIDEPIECE in October 2020 and the remix remains John Summit's most-streamed song on Spotify, with 88 million streams as of 2023.
However, after 2020, his growth rate slowed down. It took two more years to accumulate an additional 2 million monthly listeners on Spotify, reaching around 4.3 million monthly listeners by the end of 2022.
Despite the slower growth in streaming numbers, the progress never ceased. Throughout 2021 and 2022, John Summit consistently posted compelling social media content and released moderately successful music.
Gradual and Steady Social Media Growth
While a hit record (with a hit remix) catapulted John to commercial success in 2020, his social media reach lagged behind. The growth John experienced on social media in 2020 occurred at a rate that was less than 10% of the rate of his streaming growth.
His average Instagram engagement grew about 7x during 2020 (compared to over 75x on Spotify!), from an average of about 600 likes per post to about 4,000.
One particular figure astounded us during this analysis: John Summit's social media engagement rate. According to experts, Instagram accounts with a like-to-follower ratio greater than 6% have a "very high engagement rate."
John Summit's engagement rate has consistently exceeded this threshold throughout the years, as far back as we could gather historical follower data.
Throughout 2022, John Summit maintained a like-to-follower ratio of at least 12% consistently. In 2023, he has even reached a ratio as high as 15%!
Following his hit record in 2020, John consistently posted highly engaging social content over the next two years, resulting in a steady growth of his social following.
Consistently Releasing Music
While John Summit had some successful records in 2021 and 2022 (most notably La Danza, released in March 2022), none of them achieved the same level of commercial success as the Deep End EP.
To be precise, he released 14 original tracks and remixes in 2021, followed by 10 releases in 2022, including others’ official remixes of his songs. Although he didn't have a major hit during this period, this consistent stream of releases helped maintain the momentum he gained in 2020. As a result, his streaming numbers experienced steady growth over these two years.
2023 and Beyond
So, what has John Summit been up to this year? Well, it seems like he has finally found his second hit record. "Where You Are" feat. Hayla, released in March 2023 on his own label Off The Grid. It has achieved extraordinary success in the six months since its release and has already become John's 2nd most streamed release of all time.
Since its release, the song has continued to climb in popularity, reaching a rating of 80 on Spotify's popularity index and reaching over 80 million users through various playlists.
This signifies that playlist curators have been featuring "Where You Are" for months. Notably, a popularity rating of 80 is higher than any song by Fred Again.., Disclosure, or FISHER at the time of writing.
How does John Summit stack up against other artists?
John Summit’s growth has been extraordinary, but how does he compare to other bigger electronic artists? From the beginning of 2021 onwards, his Spotify numbers have remained comparable to Australian sensation Rufus Du Sol.
Even though Rufus Du Sol has an entirely different model of releasing music—where they release an album every few years instead of constant singles—the band also has achieved steady growth in their streaming numbers.
John Summit maintained similar streaming numbers to Fred again.. until July 2022, when Fred again.. released ‘Turn On The Lights again..’ with Swedish House Mafia and Future. This catapulted his steaming numbers, once again demonstrating the power of having a hit record.
Illenium has stood in a class of his own, combining five albums and with a handful of singles over the years. While his releases have followed an album cycle, he has consistently released singles from the albums in order to maintain a consistent stream of releases.
Let's analyze the data:
- Consistent music releases: John has consistently released music since 2018, although his early releases didn't see much commercial success. Nevertheless, he garnered support from DJs in the early days.
- Engaging social media presence: John has consistently maintained a highly engaging social media profile, posting regularly on multiple platforms. His engagement ratio is exceptionally high, contributing to his growing popularity.
- Capitalizing on a commercial hit: In 2020, John finally had a commercial hit with "Deep End" and the "Deep End SIDEPIECE Remix." This propelled him in front of a larger audience. He capitalized on this increased exposure by continuing to release music regularly and posting engaging social content.
- Consistent touring and live performances: John's consistent touring and live shows helped him achieve steady, modest growth throughout 2021 and 2022.
As of 2023, he seems to have achieved his second hit record, and the extent of the success that will come from this is yet to be seen.
John Summit has had a recipe for success since 2019: consistently releasing good music and posting great social content. However, it wasn't until he had a major hit that he was able to expose this winning recipe to a larger audience. Once he achieved that breakthrough, his steadily growing fanbase, streaming numbers, and social presence became unavoidable to electronic music fans.
If you’re a producer, what can you learn from John’s story? Here are three takeaways:
- Consistently release music: Since 2019, John has maintained an average of almost exactly one new song per month. This is an excellent target for any producer. While not all songs will have the lasting impact of a track like "Where You Are," it's important to release regularly to stay on the radar of your fans.
- Be active (and engaging!) on socials: An active and authentic social media profile is the secret sauce for connecting with fans. Even if John Summit's elevated-frat-bro persona isn't your style, you can't deny his authenticity. Don't be afraid to step in front of the camera and be yourself.
- Make a hit record: Easier said than done, of course. However, to achieve the level of success that John Summit has attained, having at least one hit record is crucial. Sometimes, we may not even recognize a hit when we have one. Releasing consistently increases the chances of one of your songs gaining traction and becoming a hit.
Final Thoughts on John Summit's Meteoric Rise
In conclusion, John Summit's journey to success showcases the power of consistent output and dedication. By consistently releasing quality music and actively engaging with his audience on social media, he steadily built his fanbase and created opportunities for his music to be heard.
My sense is that we’ve only seen the beginning, and that many more hit records are on the way.
Data Collection Methodology
We performed data collection in June 2023, accessing data from the following sources:
- Soundstats: We manually collected data from the Soundstats web interface to support the majority of the findings in this article. We collected historical data on: Spotify monthly listeners, Spotify playlist reach, Spotify popularity, Instagram followers, TikTok videos, and Soundcloud monthly streams.
- Instagram: To our knowledge, there is no publicly available data source on historical Instagram engagement. Instead, we estimate Instagram engagement by randomly sampling three Instagram posts from the @johnsummit account for every month between October 2021 and June 2023. For each month, we take the average number of likes across the three posts as of June 21, 2023.
There are two possible sources of bias in this procedure, both of which likely result in slightly overestimating the engagement rate. First, it is likely that we overestimate the engagement rate of older posts because they have been online longer than more recent posts and users have had more time to engage with them.
This assumes that a user is more likely to like a post that is a year old than they are to unlike a post that they liked a year ago. Second, it is also possible that we overestimate the engagement rate of newer posts due to bot activity.
New bots are likely interacting with new posts, inflating the engagement numbers of more recent posts. We presume that the bots which interacted with older posts are more likely to have been removed by Instagram, and likes originating from these accounts would also have been removed.
- Songkick: We collected historical performance data from Songkick. We likely underestimate the total number of performances because Songkick does not index all performances from an artist.
- Beatstats: We collected historical Beatport chart positions.