There has been talk of country music ‘going global’ (or at least getting less local) for decades. And, for just as long, there have been discussions surrounding its failure to ever really make that leap.
There have been breakout tracks and artists over the decades, of course. But the disparity between its popularity in the place where the music is made and its struggles to gain traction elsewhere is greater with country than for any other major genre.
Just recently, however, there have been significant signs of a genuine surge beyond the heartland, and it is being driven by two powerful factors: the borderless, frictionless power of streaming, and the global emergence of mainstream superstars, such as Jason Aldean.
Aldean’s last album, Rearview Town (released April 2018), marked a definite step-change for the artist, not in terms of success (in that area, there is a very happy consistency, with album number eight being the fourth in the row to top the Billboard 200 chart), but in terms of what that success looked like.
Aldean’s label, Broken Bow, worked more closely, and more globally, with the major DSPs than on any previous release. The impressive results were indicative of a new way of operating, which provided a bounty of new opportunities.
Tracks from the album have generated over 500 million on-demand audio streams to date (including 180m+ on Spotify and 166m+ on Apple Music, as well as 78m+ video streams on YouTube).
The album’s three singles have – as well as all reaching No. 1 on the Radio Charts – been streamed multi-million times: Girl Like You, 42m+; You Make It Easy, 251m+; Drowns The Whiskey, 77m+.
Jon Loba, Head of Broken Bow Music Group, says: “It’s 100% correct to say that there was a big difference in the way we worked with the streaming platforms on this album compared to past releases.
“Our previous album release campaigns with streaming services were rather limited. The owner of BBR Music Group [Benny Brown, a car dealer from California and definitely not an archetypal label exec] believed partnering with DSPs would result in lost physical sales.
“That approach changed 180 degrees when BMG acquired us in February 2017. BMG is a very strong proponent of streaming, which allowed us to be much more proactive and strategic with DSPs while setting up Rearview Town.”
He adds: “We worked six-eight months in advance, trying to find unique opportunities for each platform. I think we accomplished that and, just as important, I think each partner realized it was a new day and a new approach at BBR/BMG, one that was much more collaborative and much less confrontational.
“BMG is a very strong proponent of streaming, which allowed us to be much more proactive and strategic with DSPs while setting up Rearview Town.”
Jon Loba, Broken Bow Music Group
“The pay-off was significantly increased exposure for Jason on each platform. Completely anecdotally, friends of mine, who weren’t especially huge country fans, mentioned to me that everywhere they turned on their phones, they saw Jason, be it on streaming services or social – and that exposure drove them to check out the music and become fans.
“If we were operating in a purely physical universal, they would not have had that opportunity to sample his music and connect with him.
“The bottom line is, the easier we make it for people to consume music, while also providing them with robust, ancillary content and experiences, the more chance of connection with the consumer we have, which hopefully leads to increased consumption.”
Loba believes that, along with a handful of other forward-thinking artists, Aldean is in the vanguard of a movement that will bring country to a wider and more diverse audience than ever before, with streaming playing a major part as country listeners increase their engagement on those platforms.
“The upside for growth is enormous. country streams have lagged other genres with respect to total streams but that is changing. I think the country audience has, perhaps historically, not been one for early adoption, so country trailing other genres is partially a function of that dynamic.
“It’s clear there’s a real global appetite for country music; streaming makes it easy to satisfy and fuel that appetite.”
Jon Loba, Broken Bow Music Group
“It’s also been partly a function of technology. Many country listeners are in rural areas where early on, there might not have been easy access to broadband.
“Additionally, streaming services are stepping up their outreach to the country audience.”
“And then you look at the international opportunities. It’s clear there’s a real global appetite for country music; streaming makes it easy to satisfy and fuel that appetite.”
Loba also credits the worldwide hit TV show, Nashville, for spreading the word, and believes another landmark series may soon have an even greater impact.
“I think there’s going to be a watershed moment with the Ken Burns documentary on Country Music (due to debut in the US in September), and the promotion that is coming with that. The awareness and appetite for country music could double in the next two or three years through that documentary alone.
“The long and the short of it is, streaming provides such incredible upside opportunity to grow the genre and consequently revenue over the next several years and we are like kids in a candy store just thinking about it. What we have to do is keep putting out great music, and we know Jason will continue to make great music, and maintain those partnerships with streaming companies, which are already stronger than ever.”
On the other side of the equation, the DSPs themselves are just as enthused and encouraged.
“Spotify’s programme of support has led, so far, to the 16.6m streams and 3.07m listeners of the album to date.”
Spotify, as you would expect, was a key – and pro-active – partner. It created a Fans First Experience in Kansas City for Aldean’s 10 biggest Spotify fans – laying on a bowling tournament with their favourite artist. They then went with him to the Sprint Centre as special guests on the opening night of the High Noon Neon tour.
Spotify also produced bespoke video content in the form of a short-form documentary that became the main feature in the Hot Country video-integrated playlist for a full week.
Perhaps most spectacularly, the company created a Jason Aldean crop circle – and equivalents for Luke Bryan and Kelsea Ballerini – as teasers for the launch of the enhanced version of its Hot Country playlist (5.3m followers). The stunning images were subsequently used on social channels, display and OOH advertising.
Spotify’s programme of support has led, so far, to 16.6m streams and 3.07m listeners of the album to date.
YouTube worked with Aldean to launch the You Make It Easy three-part music video in January 2018, and then hosted an event at YouTube Space, New York, which included a live stream Q&A and a live performance.Aldean ended up as one of only two country artists in YouTube’s Top 100 most-streamed artists in the US last year.
At Amazon, Ryan Redington, Director of Music, says: “Jason Aldean has always connected well with our customers, he is a superstar country act who created a great album last year. Our team made sure he was front and center for Amazon Music listeners in the US and globally.”
The platform’s promotion of Rearview Town included: a headline performance at its 2018 CRS showcase; numerous playlists features, including the April launch of its global Country Heat playlist in more than 40 countries; voice feature takeovers through Amazon Music on Alexa, from the daily music news flash briefing Today in Music, to Side by Side, where Aldean took Amazon Music listeners through each song on the album; and an Instagram takeover where Amazon Music followers could watch Aldean prepare for his show at Madison Square Garden in August.
“In addition to the album’s success, Jason still holds the title of being the No.1 streamed Country music artist in the US for Apple Music.”
Jay Leipis, Apple Music
Apple Music’s Nashville-based veteran exec, Jay Leipis, meanwhile, offers: “Rearview Town set new records at the time of its release for a country album on Apple Music. Not only did the album go to No. 1 on the Billboard overall album charts, it was also the highest streaming country album of all time in the US and WW on Apple Music.
“In addition to the album’s success, Jason still holds the title of being the No.1 streamed Country music artist in the US for Apple Music.
“We worked very closely with Maverick, Broken Bow and BMG on a campaign that supported Jason’s project overall. Apple Music members were also able to listen to an exclusive live version of Drowns the Whiskey, as well as watch the exclusive premiere of the Drowns the Whiskey music video, featuring Miranda Lambert.
“Jason also participated in a Beats 1 interview during which he took listeners through the album track by track.
“Country music streaming has grown 50% year-on-year, and the growth isn’t slowing down – nor is our commitment to the genre.”Music Business Worldwide