Spotify superstar Wouter Dewit: ‘No one knows who I am’

Summary

The musician and English teacher has found worldwide streaming success and has just released his third piano-dominated album

‘It’s an abstract number’

You won’t find a lot of Flemish artists with more streams on Spotify than Wouter Dewit. Yet it’s a clear case of “no prophet in one’s own country”. This English teacher’s neoclassical music is almost never heard on the radio, but his waltz “La durée” has had more than 17 million plays and counting on the streaming service.

“For me, it has become an abstract number,” this Maaseik native tells me in his adopted hometown of Hasselt. “I was already overjoyed with 100,000 streams.” He’s pleased with the figure, but he’s also the first to put it in perspective: the song was part of Peaceful Piano, a Spotify playlist with more than 5 million subscribers.

Spotify’s data also shows that Istanbul is the city where Dewit has the most listeners. “But the day I give a concert there, the room will be empty because no one knows who I am. The other day a former student told me: apparently I have been listening to your music for more than two years. He had no idea, because he just puts on the playlist without scrutinising the artists.”

Contractually, he’s not allowed to say what sort of money 17 million plays on Spotify brings in, but it’s not as if he can suddenly live from his music. Not that he wants to, anyway. “People always ask me: if you earned enough money with your music, would you stop teaching?” He says it with a wry smile. “I never ask myself that question. It says a lot about how people think about teaching. I do both with the same passion.” It just needs him “to plan well, be efficient and live healthily”.

At a dead end

Until six or seven years ago, Dewit played piano in cover bands, playing boogie-woogie or Jerry Lee Lewis songs. Performing up to 100 shows a year, he felt he’d come to a dead end. “I was good enough to play that music, but not to excel in it. I completely stopped and only played at home, for my own pleasure. Bach, for instance.”

That album is 75 minutes long, musically it goes in every direction and I doubt people are able to listen to it in one go

He released a first album in 2015, Everything, You See, though for Dewit it’s really a different ball game from the two albums that followed. “It’s a collection of music I wrote in the three years after quitting playing in bands. I don’t see it as an album. It’s a series of exercises. I compare it to a painter who’s drawing sketches after their heroes, without having found their own voice. It’s 75 minutes long, musically it goes in every direction and I doubt people are able to listen to it in one go.”

You’ll have to look very hard to find this self-released album. Yet it was an essential step in Dewit’s musical career. “With it, I didn’t take into account a possible audience. Not at all!” That changed with his second, neoclassical album, Still (2017). “The crystal-clear goal was to cut away everything superfluous or disturbing. It has an obvious beginning, middle and end. And all the music is in the same key.”

He made the album in six months and had already laid out a plan B in case no one was interested in releasing his music: trying to get a master’s in history. “I really would love to do that,” he says. But it’s not going to happen in the near future, because the small Leuven label Zeal released Still, which contained “La durée”. And the rest is history, as they say.


Dewit’s new third album, Here, is less minimalistic than Still. The piano still dominates the sound, but bass, drums and even a cloud of subtle electronic beats come to enhance some of the songs. “I was less strict,” he says with a chuckle. “The music is in more than one key. I was more daring.”

On stage, too, the music has bloomed. Dewit is joined by two string players and a fourth musician who switches between bass, drums and “knick-knacks”, for instance a machine that makes it possible to loop the other instruments. “We took the compositions apart and afterwards built them up again.” The result is different from the album and that “makes it exciting. I had to let go and managed to do so. I feel like a 16-year old boy again, playing in his garage.”

The other day a former student told me: apparently I have been listening to your music for more than two years. He had no idea

He won’t lose any sleep over the question of whether it still counts as neoclassical, the hipster genre of the moment, propelled by the likes of Nils Frahm and Max Richter. “I have a love-hate relationship with the genre,” he says. “I can’t deny my music shares its colours, but I want to have the freedom to define the genre myself and not follow how others see it.”

Here proves he’s capable of it.

Photo (centre): Illias Teirlinck