I used Inkscape tool "Text => Put on Path". I'm aware there are similar tools in Photoshop, Illustrator, Corel, etc for you to take a look, but Inkscape is free and open source, so I'd love if you could take a look there.
This is a video showing how the tool works if you're interested. See how letter spacing works differently, like the text still works naturally, but curved on the path.
Every font has a specific kerning setting which is virtually impossible to replicate if each symbol is its own object, unless you are able to read the kerning value between symbols, which is waaaaay above my skills. That's why I said what you did is probably the best solution possible.
But either way, hope I added something to the conversation with this.