It's one of the music business' favorite metaphor's right now: "The industry is like the Wild West!" And it's an apt comparison, not just because everybody is dashing to find the next oil well of industry success or hills of solid country gold. But because the rules are really just suggestions and all the major label sheriffs in town can't seem to keep a grip on law and order. As soon as they think they've figured it out, somebody comes along to disrupt the peace.
Like an Aaron Watson, achieving No. 1 status with no label. Or a Chance The Rapper, who won three Grammys as a completely independent artist. Oh, and he only released his album on streaming platforms. The Recording Academy actually changed the rules to allow a streaming-only album a spot on the Grammy ballot.
What do both of those artists have in common, despite being an the opposite ends of the musical spectrums? Rabid fan bases who helped usher in their success.
How do you help the next Aaron Watson or Chance The Rapper?
Here's the most obvious answer: go to their shows. And then buy a t-shirt or three when you're there. Merchandise from live performances makes up a disproportionate amount of revenue for artists looking to expand their footprint. And if you can, buy the record from the merch table, too (though buying from your local music store or iTunes is better than nothing).
But what about beyond the obvious? What about your friend's band whom you really like, but who also needs a little help? Here are a few key steps to help your favorite country artist succeed in the digital age.
Social Media Matters
It's a simple step, but make an effort to seek out their social media profiles and give them a like or follow. Then actively engage with them. Commenting and liking posts on Facebook pages is a great first step. But Facebook's algorithm emphasizes shares heavily, too.
Sharing their posts (and tagging friends or brands you think may also dig it) helps ensure people actually see those posts. Otherwise, bands have to pay for their posts to end up in your feed. And to that end: make sure to check out their pages without waiting for something to pop up.
Likewise, Twitter has an important place in a band's presence. Though the "fans" aren't necessarily as heavy on Twitter as other platforms (like Instagram and Snapchat), lots of important blogs, critics and other outlets routinely go to Twitter. Retweet and favorite band tweets, but also "quote tweet" them and tag somebody you want to check it out. Hey, even "@ing" some place like Wide Open Country helps increase awareness. If you can find the people (not just the brands), it helps too. People really do check it out.
When it comes to helping smaller artists, streaming comes into play in more ways than one. One of the strongest ways you can help is by creating playlists and adding your favorite artists. Think that can't possibly make a big difference? Think again.
Christopher Glass found out just how much power users have in helping their favorite artists. An early adopter of Spotify, Glass slowly grew a playlist to thousands of followers, focusing largely on smaller country acts. "When I first started out, I was actively looking for music to add to my playlist," Glass says. "My focus is on the up-and-coming country artists. I like the guys and girls who haven't quite made it yet, but are still trying to get their names out there."
He found new artists he liked and then clicked on their "related artists" tab through Spotify. That led Glass on a path down music discovery that ultimately helped him create a powerful playlist that is approaching 3,000 followers, generating tens of thousands of streams per month.
And Glass does it all to help artists he believes in. Take, for instance, country artist Andy Velo. "When Andy first brought his songs to me, he didn't have a lot of plays but I thought, 'This guy could really go somewhere,'" Glass says. Velo shared some unmixed songs with Glass and built a relationship. Glass placed Velo high in his list and also reached out to a loose connection of other playlisters -- not to be pushy, but to simply suggest they check him out.
The process helped Velo accumulate more than 600,000 streams with 26,000 monthly listeners and nearly 1,300 Spotify followers. That's a significant boost that also helps with touring and other big parts of an artist's career. Glass does it because he enjoys it.
Now plenty of other people and playlist promotion companies reach out to Glass, but it's still all about creating a solid playlist of tunes he believes in. "I like to think of myself as having a good ear for music, and I believe it's true simply because people keep following my playlist," he laughs.
The All Important Follow Factor
Even if you don't have a few thousand people following your playlist, creating one centered around an artist you love is important. Pick one of your favorite songs by them, make it first, give the list a good name and then add other tunes.
Also, be sure to "follow" that artist on Spotify. And then encourage your friends to follow your list. Spotify pays attention to those metrics, and enough good buzz could help land an artist on a big Spotify-curated list. And then the exposure really begins.
Follow artists by giving them your email. Most artists offer something in exchange, like a song download or exclusive content. Be a member of the fan club, if they have one -- or create one, if they don't. Presales and "pre-saves" on Spotify are huge, too. If artists accrue enough first-week sales or streams, they can pop up on charts. And that's huge.
The moral of the story: there are tons of little things that you can do in order to help your favorite acts grow. Be an active part of their careers and they'll reward you as long as they're out there making music.