In January, Brent Cobb’s manager Don VanCleave was analyzing a report on Cobb’s Spotify listenership. “I started noticing Stockholm was his biggest streaming market,” VanCleave remembers. “Amsterdam was a Top Four market. Oslo was a Top Ten market.”
Armed with this information, VanCleave decided it was time to schedule some gigs. “I went to his agents in the U.K.: ‘Guys, we’re popping in Stockholm – give me shows,'” he continues. “This guy hadn’t headlined America yet and he’s selling out Amsterdam and it’s only because of streaming.”
Services like Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music are beginning to have concrete impacts on country music, helping artists to reach fans, build tours and generate income without relying on major labels and radio. “A lot of times music lanes can be a little more restricted at FM radio,” says John Marks, Spotify’s Global Head of Country. “Streaming is able to open up lanes of discovery, lanes of exposure that weren’t available to them.” “It’s given the younger artist, the up-and-coming artist, a shot,” adds singer Russell Dickerson, who has a pair of streaming hits in “Blue Tacoma” and “Yours.”
As a result, singers are now beginning to pick up steam in streaming before earning major label record deals and pushing for the more traditional exposure on country radio. Sam Hunt was the first country artist to make the leap in 2014. “We didn’t have the money or the knowhow to get CDs in Target,” says Belanger. “But we could record songs at home and put them up on Spotify or SoundCloud or Pandora. It was free, easy, quick and the way to get to all the fans, not just the country fans, since the streaming services have a much lower wall between genres than terrestrial radio or television.” Others have been able to follow Hunt’s path – last year, Maren Morris, Kane Brown and Luke Combs; this year, Russell Dickerson and Walker McGuire – if not quite match his streaming records.
For artists that can’t get on the radio, streaming still serves to boost touring. “You can see this song is really successful in Dallas, Fort Worth, whereas it wasn’t quite as successful in Tulsa or Austin,” says Texas stalwart Josh Abbott. “So that gives you the opportunity to say first, what have we done differently in these markets for the percentage of streams to be so different? And, second, when am I playing Dallas next?”
“Now that the live shows make up probably 80 percent or more of artists’ gross income,” Abbott adds, “I view the songs we put out as the marketing to get people to the product, which is now your live show, where your margins are better.”
Loba watched Walker McGuire’s ticket receipts balloon as the duo’s track “Til Tomorrow” picked up steam on streaming. “If you have a real hit on a streaming service, it can immediately impact your touring in a significant way,” he says. “When it was originally released they would play shows for 50 to 150 people. Once that song went on Wild Country and then Hot Country, several months before they were even introduced to radio, they started seeing those shows go to 750, to 1250.”
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