Music may be fun, but a music career is hard work. And though getting noticed takes a lot of serious work, most pros will tell you that the real work starts once you have your first success. Some of the hardest working modern country artists have been at it for decades before we come to know them.
While it sure looks fun to hob-knob with other celebrities on TV, that’s just a small part of a lifestyle that requires dedication and work 24/7. And some of the most successful artists work harder than others.
From personal workout regimens to starting other companies to helping charities, these folks go all out. Here are some of the hardest working modern country artists.
Miranda Lambert’s radio days are far from over, but that’s not because she’s pandering to the trends. Anybody who listened to her phenomenal album The Weight Of These Wings knows that. She’s simply too good to ignore. And if songs like “Tin Man” make their way up the radio charts, radio will be better for it.
But Lambert is proving you can be both an artist and a star in a time where up-and-coming singers seem to choose one or the other. She moves plenty of records, sells out plenty of shows and makes every TV and charity event requested of her. (Enduring that grind is in and of itself enough to merit a spot on the list). She’s played more than 60 shows in the past year, with another 30-plus scheduled through 2017.
But she does it all while pouring her heart out in every songwriting session and studio day. She’s the rare artist who writes nearly everything she releases. At the height of the public awareness surrounding her, Lambert chose to release a brooding, deep, layered concept album with strikingly few “obvious” radio songs. And even the radio tunes on the record feel fresh and genuine. “Vice” may be as good a modern country song as you’ll hear.
Lambert also founded the MuttNation Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending animal cruelty, neglect and homelessness. She founded the organization in 2009, and all proceeds from its sales go towards the foundation. She also puts her money where her mouth is, bringing dogs on the road and adopting shelter pups routinely.
As one of the only country artist who routinely sells out stadiums — not just arenas — Kenny Chesney has no problem maintaining the superstar factor. But as with most things, the more successful you are, the harder you have to work to maintain it.
Chesney not only maintains a steady album release cycle, he maintains a rigorous health and workout regimen to make sure he’s prepared. GQ actually documented some of his big health tips. Though his music attracts the party hardy crowd, Chesney abstains from alcohol while on tour.
He also keeps a serious workout schedule (which includes visiting other gyms on the road) and a strict diet. But he also allows for a Sunday cheat meal (usually Mexican or Italian food).
And when he’s not entertaining 70,000 people or recording new music, Chesney runs Fishbowl Spirits, the company behind his wildly successful Blue Chair Bay brand of alcohol. He also recently partnered with a cooler company to design coolers that help fund ocean conservation. Simply put, Chesney never rests on his laurels.
Aaron Watson is Texas’ resident hard worker. Now, that’s not to say the rest of the state doesn’t produce some seriously determined singers. In fact, Texans are kind of known for their big ideas, independent spirit and can-do attitude. But Aaron Watson is paving the way for all kinds of independent acts out of Texas.
Certainly a lot of that has to do with his 18-year hustle leading to becoming the first ever independent male country artist to top the Billboard country albums chart with The Underdog. He would’ve done it again too with Vaquero (which outsold its predecessor significantly), but he had to go up against the new album from Grammy-winning quartet Little Big Town.
Still, Watson tours the United States and Canada with a fervor few others match. He’s got 34 more shows scheduled between now and July. His busy touring schedule hasn’t stopped him from recording at a darn impressive pace — 13 albums in 18 years, all done independently. Most artists are lucky to get a record out every two to three years. Watson does it roughly every 18 months.
Eric Church earned his “outsider” status by famously getting kicked off a tour for playing too loud and too long. Ten years later, he’s touring the country playing three-hour headlining sets. He’s reached the point where his shows go nearly 40 songs, rivaling legends like Bruce Springsteen.
Another mainstreamer who writes the vast wealth of his music, Church likes to go the extra mile for his albums. He’s a prolific writer who puts a certain level of care into the craft of his albums. And right when you think he’s comfortable in his radio success, he releases a project like Mr. Misunderstood, directly to his fan club with no promotion and stripped down production.
Church also has his own line of furniture, which even he knows is random, and pays particular attention to the ebbs and flows of the industry. He canceled 25,000 tickets sold to scalpers and offered them to fans who couldn’t get them previously. It’s all part of an ethos he built as the hard-working outsider who cares about his fans.
That also comes through in his organization Chief Cares, which is one of the most charitable of any country star. Through the fund, Church and his wife Katherine have facilitated donations to more than 2.5 million people across the globe.
Garth Brooks may have taken a decade off to raise his kids and hold his own Las Vegas residency, but now that he’s back, he’s working harder than ever. For starters, Brooks broke ties with his old label and now is going completely independent — taking all the work and reward that comes with it.
But Brooks’ most visible sign of hard work is his relentless touring and showmanship, even now in his 50s. He likes to joke in concert about being old or out of shape, but Brooks still runs around the stage like a madman, commanding throngs of adoring fans with his every move. Oh yeah, and he does it sometimes twice a night, four or five nights in a row.
Brooks launched his World Tour all the way back in 2014. It’s on its seventh leg and well over 300 shows in, already having broken the record for most shows in a tour (also held by Brooks, at 220 in 1996-98). And they all sell out.
During all this work, he somehow found the time to release not one, but two albums at the end of last year, and his own box set. He also started Teammates For Kids Foundation in 1999. Brooks usually visits kids in every city he visits.
Zac Brown Band
If you’ve ever got a few minutes, head back and check out the Zac Brown Band video archives. Besides watching them play one of their biggest hits, “Chicken Fried,” to an aloof audience, seeing the work ethic of this group of talented dudes even in the early days is really cool.
As far as actual bands go, they might be the most talented group in modern country. Each member is a true master of their craft. And they like to show off their versatility, whether it’s on albums (Jekyll + Hyde) or live (all their crazy covers). The band takes their show all over the world all the time.
Brown also operates his lifestyle brand Southern Ground, a collective of music, food and craftsmanship companies that all go towards helping a cause near and dear to his heart: Camp Southern Ground. The organization focuses in particular on providing a safe and fun camp environment for children with neuro-developmental disorders. It’s not just a brand either: he’s truly hands on, from his Nashville studio, to his food ventures. Brown spent years as a camp counselor, and you can bet he’ll return with Camp Southern Ground is ready to go.