Singer 4Batz, whose track “act ii: date @ 8” erupted on social media and streaming services during Christmas week, has sparked a bidding war among several major labels, sources familiar with the negotiations tell Billboard.
Four years ago, it was routine for previously unknown artists with viral singles to score big record deals in a matter of weeks. But that path slowed to a trickle in 2023, and some label executives started to worry about a stagnant climate for new artists.
That helps explain why many A&R executives are now eager to sign 4Batz. One executive calls the singer’s rapid ascent “the most exciting thing to happen in the last six months” in the music industry. Multiple major labels, including Republic Records, Atlantic Records and Warner Records, are in conversations with 4Batz’s team about a potential deal.
While he has released just two songs to date, they are already earning more than 9 million streams a week in the United States between them, according to Luminate. “act ii: date @ 8” leads the way, climbing to No. 76 on the latest Billboard Hot 100 chart. Due to this upward momentum, two sources familiar with the label negotiations say they are all but certain to end in a robust seven-figure deal for 4Batz. When another R&B singer, Muni Long, enjoyed a viral breakout with “Hrs and Hrs” late in 2022, her subsequent record deal came with an advance of around $5 million, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations.
Legal counsel for 4Batz declined to comment.
In the heady early days of TikTok, it was common for half a dozen major labels to compete over a new act with a hot single. From 2019 through at least the end of 2021, this led to big deals for artists like Lil Tecca, Arizona Zervas, Ant Saunders and more. During that period, “it felt like every single day another artist signed a deal that was a gazillion dollars,” one music attorney told Billboard last year.
But as 2022 bled into 2023, fewer unsigned acts surged into view behind singles that streamed like crazy. Executives worried that virality on short-form video platforms no longer sparked listening the way it once did; sometimes what happened on TikTok stayed on TikTok.
At the same time, many label executives became disillusioned with the viral chase. Due to the intense competition around these deals, they invariably ended up being costly. (Though two of the acts who were able to translate viral energy into noteworthy Hot 100 success in 2023, the rapper Superstar Pride and the singer Oliver Anthony, both ended up remaining independent rather than taking a fat check from a major label.) The high cost of the deal put a lot of pressure on young artists to replicate their initial success quickly — to prove they were worthy of a hefty investment in a bottom-line-focused business. Many of the signings were unable to make the leap from popular song to popular artist.
“We’ve all been burned to a certain degree,” Tab Nkhereanye, a senior vp of A&R at BMG, said last year.
As a result, labels have been more circumspect when it comes to signing artists with viral singles in the last 18 months. They’ve also been trying to connect with more acts earlier in their careers via low-cost distribution deals; that way, they have a pre-existing contractual relationship if one of those signings starts to take off. (“act ii: date @ 8” was released through Vydia, a music tech company which is now part of the Larry Jackson-helmed gamma; this marks another win for Vydia, which also brought in Sexyy Red, one of last year’s few genuine breakouts.)
But 4Batz has shown staying power in recent weeks, spending all of January to date near the top of Spotify’s Global Viral 50. “act ii: date @ 8” is hypnotic and loop-able, with feathery come-ons and a slinky bass vamp; it already cracked the top 10 on the Hot R&B Songs chart, leapfrogging established artists like Brent Faiyaz (a clear influence on 4Batz).
R&B is on the upswing at the moment, which is another factor working in 4Batz’s favor. SZA and Victoria Monet dominated the latest Grammy nominations, with Janelle Monae and Coco Jones also scoring nods in the Big Four categories. In R&B, “it’s highly unusual for an artist to come onto the scene with the numbers and interest from labels” that 4Batz has, an executive says. “Normally an artist has to drop more music to get this level of attention.”