The Hodgepodge: Why Your Favorite Independent Country Artist Will Probably Never Make It Big

Sturgillguitar

The meteoric rise of Sturgill Simpson has been discussed in-length recently. He went from railroad worker to indie country darling to major label artist over the course of the last five years. It’s unheard of to see an artist rise up the ranks so quickly. The obvious thing people will point out of course is his music is great and that was what catapulted him towards the top so quickly. While this is a nice quality to have as an artist, tell me how many untalented hacks make it the top of any music genre each year? Look at all of the bro country pretty boys that have risen out of nowhere to mainstream attention. Their music isn’t worth a damn and they “made it.” Look at the one-hit wonder crap that comes out in pop every year. The point is you don’t need to be talented to make it.

Now obviously having talent and making it are much better than making it and having no talent. You’ll have much more respect with the former. No, what many people don’t point out with Sturgill Simpson’s rise is the brilliant strategy of his team and their marketing efforts. Corporate country blogs like The Boot and Taste of Country are just now covering Simpson, but that was only after every independent country outlet was covering him. One of the first to cover Simpson was Trigger at Saving Country Music, who has covered him since Sturgill was in Sunday Valley. Trigger brought a good amount of eyes to Sturgill, including yours truly. So impressing independent country outlets is something that helped Sturgill.

The other brilliant move by Sturgill was choosing Thirty Tigers as his “label.” He could have easily went to some minor label who would have forced him into their demands and wishes. As Sturgill said he was going to go into debt either way and at least the independent route and maintaining creative control with Thirty Tigers allowed him to do exactly what he wanted, when he wanted to. Most labels wouldn’t have allowed him to release an album in the fall of 2013 and then turn around in the spring of 2014 with another. By releasing music so quickly back-to-back he kept people interested him, including fans and country outlets.

One other great move on Sturgill’s part that helped him gain attention was touring all over the country and having interviews with countless news outlets. It seemed like everyday I was reading a new interview from him. Nothing about these interviews were fancy either. Sturgill was just himself and his honesty is a quality that’s endearing to many of his fans. So the combination of constant media coverage, brilliant marketing strategy and just damn good music is what helped propel Sturgill to where he is now. This is much easier said than done though. For every Sturgill Simpson, there are hundreds of artists dropping out of music every week.

I see so many people say, “Well if Sturgill can make it, [insert indy darling artist’s name here] can make it too!” Well I hate to tell you, but you’re probably wrong. “But indy darling makes better music!” So what? I just said above you don’t need talent to make it. “But if an artist makes great music, people will find it and listen to it.” Not necessarily. Your whole “Build it and they will come,” Field of Dreams logic doesn’t make sense here or really in most real life cases. I think better logic to apply here is the age-old quote: “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Not really. I’m sure there are plenty of great artists out there who made great music who have given up and moved on, just like Sturgill did at one point.

Mark at Spectrum Pulse, who reviews all genres of music, has brought this up numerous times concerning country music. He has said without a doubt country music artists are the worst when it comes to promotion and getting their name out to people. Many simply don’t do enough to be noticed or really anything to stand out. I myself see this everyday on Twitter. I get a few independent country artists following me hoping I follow back and write a nice, long post about how awesome their music is. Well here’s a news flash indy artists: I never do this. One because I don’t have the time and two I don’t owe you anything. If you want me to review your music and feature you on my site, reach out to me. There are plenty of independent artists that have and if I deem them appropriate for the site, I feature or review them.  And by reaching out I don’t mean requesting I copy and paste your bullshit PR piece. I don’t do that and don’t plan to ever do this. My job isn’t to promote artists. My job is to feature stuff my readers will be interested in and they certainly aren’t interested in PR fluff articles. If an artist makes great music, they definitely want to read about it.

Here’s the other common problem I see with independent, up and coming artists: no website. 99% of the time I will ignore an indy artist if they don’t have a website. Facebook pages and ReverbNation pages don’t cut it. An independent artist will never be taken seriously if they don’t have a website by news outlets like this or the fans. That being said a lot of independent artists don’t engage enough with social media. Now I know it can be a pain in the ass and many are so busy touring it’s hard to find time. I’ll just say this: fans appreciate being acknowledged. That’s really the other important aspect of Sturgill’s rise I almost forgot to mention. A dedicated, grass root of fans can definitely help you make it. Two big examples in mainstream country music are Brantley Gilbert and Chase Rice. Both have a very passionate fan base. When Jason Aldean started recording Gilbert’s music, I would see tons of comments from Gilbert fans crying how much better he is and that was what ultimately led me to find him. This goes back to engaging fans and making them passionate about artists and their music.

The point of this article isn’t to bash independent country artists. The point of it is to paint the reality of the situation. Sturgill Simpson is the exception, not the rule. It takes smart marketing and savvy deals (along with luck) to make it to the top. Also a lot of hard work, busting your ass on the road all year. There are a lot of artists that make great music that will never get heard because they don’t make the right decisions, don’t surround themselves with the right people and simply don’t catch enough breaks. The music business is cutthroat and harsh. Everyone can play, but only a few get heard.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Blackberry Smoke will release their new album Holding All The Roses next Tuesday. The southern fried, rock country group is releasing their first album in three years and it will be the first under new label Rounder Records. They were formerly with Southern Ground Records.
  • Love & Theft will also be releasing a new album, Whiskey On My Breath, next Tuesday. The lead single, “Whiskey on My Breath,” certainly impressed me and was different from anything ever released by the group before. Will the rest of the album be the same or is that song just an anomaly?
  • Dwight Yoakam just announced he will be releasing a new album titled Second Hand Heart, which will be released on April 14. The Bakersfield country artist was expected to release a new album this year and the announcement finally came. It will be the follow-up to this critically acclaimed 2013 album 3 Pears. I’m looking forward to hearing it.
  • Chris Stapleton will finally be releasing his debut album this year. It’s called Traveller and will come out on May 5. Fans have been waiting for years to hear the well-known songwriters’ first album. I could definitely see it being a dark horse candidate for album of the year.

Throwback Thursday Song

 

The Highwaymen – “Highwayman.” The Highwaymen was the greatest assembling of country music under one group ever. We will probably never have a country group with so much talent ever again. I only wish we could have heard more music from The Highwaymen. I would love to see a group of country artists try to form another supergroup. The possibilities with this are endless.

My Non-Country Thought of the Week

This past week the Super Bowl took place and one of the most talked about aspects every year with this game is the halftime performance. This year the main performer was Katy Perry, who was also joined by Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliott. I thought it was an entertaining performance. I saw a lot of people though complain about it being a terrible performance music wise. Well here’s my rebuttal to that: What were you expecting? Katy Perry isn’t known for her great vocals. She’s an entertainer first and a musician second. I mean I can see if you expect this with past performers like The Who and the Rolling Stones. But with Katy Perry? How can you be so naive? This was all about flash, not substance. Adjust your Super Bowl halftime performance expectations based on the performer each year.

Tweet of the Week

Rita Ballou of Rawhide & Velvet is one of my favorite country follows on Twitter. And here she speaks the truth about certain country outlets I mentioned above just now covering Mr. Simpson.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Aldean Face Palm

This is a review left under Jason Aldean’s Old Boots, New Dirt album. I don’t even know what is trying to be conveyed here.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments! 

Photo Credit: sturgillsimpson.com

13 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: Why Your Favorite Independent Country Artist Will Probably Never Make It Big

  1. Derek Hudgin February 5, 2015 / 11:33 am

    You make an excellent point. Perfect example, American Aquarium. I’d never heard of them until I read some SCM articles on them and seeing their social media interaction with their fans, and I have much more respect and eagerness to listen to their music just due to those reasons (aside from the fact that they make great stuff.) Another example is Will Hoge. He’s got a great Twitter presence. I’ve seen him twice live, and both times he’s gone to his merch table after the shows to meet the fans, sign autographs, take pics, etc. A few examples of artists who care about their fans and take efforts to make an impact outside of great music.

    I also did enjoy Katy Perry’s halftime show. Entertaining with good visuals, and it wasn’t a mess. Did exactly what it was meant to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Raymond February 5, 2015 / 12:34 pm

    Well another great Hodgepoge.
    I’m not into independent artists. No offense I follow mainstream artists having said that it’s interesting to see how Sturgill will do if he makes the country charts. The Highwaymens song the Highwaymen i still listen too on occasion and agree it’s a work with legends in country music. That Jason Aldean review is cringe worthy. I mean come on Jason Aldean gets an album of the year but Lee Ann Womack didn’t. Award shows are the worse. Hey I noticed for new artists that Maddie & Tae Brandy Clark and even if he isn’t the most impressive he still deserves it Frankie Ballard.
    I checked the charts and this week was actually pretty good I wanna ask your opinions on the following things.
    1. Sun Daze is so far looking to peak at number 2 cause I See You should dominate the charts for a few weeks while I See You is terrible will you agree it’s slightly better than Sun Daze and Sun Daze possibly not going number 1 is music to your ears.
    2. Raelynn is finally out that song should stay recurrent. I wonder how Blake Shelton must feel about it.
    3. Garth Brooks Mom is recurrent I never figured out your opinion about that song.
    4. The other list of songs in the top 60 that look to potentially drop out are as follow
    Chase Bryant Take It On Back I kinda like the song and I think Chase has a lot of potential.
    Homegrown Honey should be leaving sooner instead of later
    Better news Drunk Americans is clinging on to dear life which also makes me happy.
    The only other somewhat mainstream artist song that could go recurrent is Pray For You from the Swon Brothers kinda makes me sad cause it was one of their better songs on an otherwise mediocre album.
    5. Even though it didn’t make top 30 last year what did you guys think of Jana Kramers song Love it went recurrent but I never got a critics opinion about it. Kinda irrelevant but curious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott February 5, 2015 / 12:57 pm

      Thank you! No problem at all. That’s why I cover mainstream and independent. As for your thoughts on the chart.

      1. You’ll see my thoughts on this one tomorrow.
      2. Yep!
      3. I don’t like Garth’s “Mom.” From my review of his album: After this is a song called “Mom.” This song is about moms of course. It’s sung at some points from the point of view of a newborn child and other points from the point of view of God. There are two views you can have with this song. Some will view it as a heartfelt song and many parents of children will probably view it this way (especially new parents). Others that are more cynical will think this is quite cheesy and borderline Paul Anka material. I’m kind of in-between. The instrumentation is solid, but the songwriting leaves me wanting better lyrics.
      In other words it’s very average and to me another terrible single choice by Garth. I don’t what he or his team is thinking right now.
      4. No offense but those are all forgettable songs to me. I see Chase peaking in the top 10. “Drunk Americans” will drop out any week now hopefully. I hope the Swon Brothers release “This Side of Heaven” as a single because it’s by far their best song.
      5. That was a song we never got around to reviewing, but it was on my list I remember. Must have gotten buried by other releases. I thought it was very average. Not good, not bad. Her new single “I Got The Boy” was brought to my attention by Derek and it’s a pretty good song. We’ll have a review on that one soon hopefully.

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      • Raymond February 5, 2015 / 1:27 pm

        Oh trust me on 4 the only song I somewhat like is Chase the rest are terrible. I hope with the Swon Brothers this does well for them. Garth’s comeback is a dud the single choices are terrible and I’m sorry never really was a fan.
        The only other song I don’t know your thoughts on is Little Big Towns Girl Crush I saw the album review but I still don’t have a genuine feel for how you feel about I got Derek’s but your opinion is probably the bigger one.
        On the bright side the pulse will go up tomorrow sorry for last week starting people saying top 60. Would your pulse change that much probably for the worse LOL

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      • Josh Schott February 5, 2015 / 1:48 pm

        Hey no problem about the pulse last week. You guys are more than welcome to look at the top 60. Always like a great discussion. I just like to narrow it top 30 in the pulse because they’re the most popular songs, which gives the best idea of what’s playing on radio the most.

        As for “Girl Crush,” I think it was a missed opportunity by Little Big Town. It had potential to be a song with substance and broach a subject that isn’t talked about often in country music (gay relationships, bi-curious people). Instead it was just another song about a woman being jealous of another woman. It just wasn’t country enough for my taste either. That entire album was just too pop rock for me and I was surprised by how many critics praised it. Really the best review on “Girl Crush” (even better than mine) was Vickeye Fisher’s review of it at For The Country Record: http://forthecountryrecord.com/2014/12/19/little-big-town-girl-crush-single-review/

        I would definitely recommend reading her take.

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      • Raymond February 5, 2015 / 2:06 pm

        Oh I’ve read Vickyes review also I follow her site too. I just haven’t gotten a conscious I read reviews for the album being bad but I heard praises for that song from Country Universe so I couldn’t figure it out. Overall if it makes the Top 30 I will still give it a positive 1 it at the very least shows their harmonies well during the chorus at least but the lyrics are sly the delivery is good and to be honest it’s frustrating cause I heard great songs from the last couple of years like Tornado and Sober which was awesome. I know you said you weren’t impressed with their album but what did you think of Sober.
        Ok um you do know Kelsea Ballerini does have an EP so you could hear more than Love Me Like You Mean It which you might disagree but it’s kind of a guilty pleasure.
        Besides that there was nothing really new with the Airplay chart but if you look at it there was more good than bad this week.
        Thanks once again for the Hodgepodge

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      • Derek Hudgin February 5, 2015 / 3:25 pm

        Raymond,

        I listened to Kelsea Ballerini, and I can’t say I was all that impressed. It wasn’t near as bad as RaeLynn’s EP, but Kelsea’s EP was along the same lines of bubbly pop country. Sticking with our grading system, off one listen I’d personally give it like a 4/10. It could have been better, but it definitely could have been worse.

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      • Raymond February 5, 2015 / 6:27 pm

        Ok that’s good you know what’s funny I thought Raelynns God Made Girls was like a 3/10 cause I thought her voice had potential. I heard Kissing Frogs today from her it’s official she can’t sing it sounds like she’s annoyingly screeching.
        The Voice still hasn’t produced a long enough star for country music cause Raelynn I guarantee you will also suffer from female sophomore slump.
        I’m curious of why you guys don’t like Miranda Lambert Little Red Wagon. I find it to be a really good song thy fits perfectly for Miranda

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  3. Applejack February 5, 2015 / 5:28 pm

    I think this article is a good reminder of what it takes to make it as an independent artist, and I agree with your individual points about the importance of having a good social media presence, as well as an official website from which to direct operations, but on the whole I don’t share the negative outlook this particular article takes. Yeah, the amazing success of Sturgill as an independent country artist is unprecedented up to this point in history, but that doesn’t mean other artists can’t find comparable success in the future by following a similar path. The good news as I see it is that Sturgill has proved that true success CAN be achieved for up-and-coming country artists outside the tyranny of the major label system under the right circumstances. It might sound like I’m basically saying the same thing as you except with a different spin, ha ha. But personally I do expect more indie country and roots music artists to achieve success in the wider music world in the coming months and years, and it’s something I’m actually optimistic and excited about. I currently have my eye on a couple artists who do have a strong online presence who I think could potentially “blow up,” as they say, though only time will tell.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do think the rise of Sturgill is a somewhat of a special case unto itself. Aside from his unique voice and memorable name, he has a really funky concept going for him: the idea of a Kentucky-bred, self-described “hillbilly” singing tunes about “reptile aliens made of light,” is pretty bizarre, and is going to get a lot of people clicking on articles about him out of sheer curiosity. But I also see his success as the beginning on an era in country music when independent artists can hopefully achieve greater visibility than ever before. For years indie rock and pop artists have risen through the ranks mostly due to internet and social media exposure.* It’s taken country music a long time to catch up (unsurprisingly, since the country demographic is slower to catch on to new technologies, which is part of why it’s still so commercially successful, but I digress) but I think we have finally arrived at that point with the genre. And the popularity of sites like Saving Country Music, Farce the Music, and RS Country, (as well as other up-and-coming blogs such as this one 😉 ) both as destinations and as social media content generators, all contribute to the viability of indie country, which is a great thing.

    *I’ve noticed that In instances in which an indie rock/pop/folk artist truly blows up, they usually following a similar trajectory: meteoric rise, hype, and then backlash, which is exactly what we’ve seen with Sturgill.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott February 5, 2015 / 5:52 pm

      I’m glad you agree with me Applejack. And I didn’t mean to come off negative, just having a realistic approach. Also I kind of directed this at the people doubting Sturgill now that he’s “made it” (the backlash like you mention). They can’t be happy for his success, instead they just complain that their favorite artist isn’t in Sturgill’s position. Like you said, Sturgill has now provided a blueprint for these other artists to follow him. As I said in my post giving Sturgill male artist of the year, Sturgill is a trailblazer, not the savior of country music. He’s showing and proving that you CAN do it your way, damn the conventional wisdom and path.

      Sturgill is unique and it’s part of his mystique. People love to compare to Waylon and while there are a few similarities, I view Sturgill as one of a kind. Nobody else like him has came before and that’s part of his draw. And yes he is experiencing the typical trajectory for an artist blowing up. This third album could be what catapults him into radio and the mainstream scene.

      Great point about country music getting more visibility on the web and thanks for the shoutout :). I think we’re really on the verge of a boom in country music, as I said last week in The Hodgepodge country music is getting ready to split into pieces. There’s a great demand for various types of country music. I think it’s possible all country music fans win in this scenario and that’s what I’m hoping for.

      More than anything I’m stoked by the amount of possible great country music that could be released this year. It’s amazing! Not only that, but I’ve already came across some promising new artists (a couple will be featured soon on the site). 2015 is going to be fun year for country fans.

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  4. Applejack February 5, 2015 / 5:31 pm

    Also, the funny thing is, Sturgill is arguably just getting started.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Zack February 5, 2015 / 10:28 pm

    Ah, I’ve finally a moment to comment!

    Another great hodgepodge as usual, you hit the nail on the head here. As someone who just recently joined Twitter, I have already had 3 independent country artists try to reach out to me (I really don’t know why either) but of course I scroll through their tweets, can’t find any info on songs of theirs and when I google them for a website? Nothing. I agree that the fan base is truly one of the most essential parts to succeeding in this business. Heck, radio doesn’t seem to be totally in love with Chase Rice and yet his fanbase pushes him to think he is some sort of god, (snicker). As for Gilbert- I found him the exact same way, read some comments on Aldean’s Dirt Road Anthem video and saw a lot of them saying how Brantley was like 10000x better. So I checked him out, heard Modern Day Prodigal Son and Halfway To Heaven and was really impressed! Then I heard stuff like Kick It In The Sticks, G.R.I.T. S, and his version of Dirt Road Anthem with Colt Ford and well…you can guess how my opinion sorta changed haha. Overall I dont think he is bad, he certainly has talent but often doesn’t showcase it as he is often trying to play up his bad boy image. But I shouldn’t let image get in the way of the music I guess. Anyway, back to the actual topic, it is very unfortunate that there is probably a ton of great music we are missing out on from unknown underground artists but what can you do right? We have Sturgill and thats good enough for me!

    For upcoming releases, Eli Young Band has a new single coming out called “Turn It On”. The title makes me cringe, but hopefully I’m wrong and it is at least a decent song. As for Love and Theft, I read a review of their album from Country Weekly (yeah yeah I know but stay with me) and they gave it a B. Said that there are “fun, upbeat songs like “Can’t Wait For The Weekend”, “Tanlines”, and “Lets Get Drunk and Make Friends” mixed in with somber songs like “Whiskey On My Breath” and “Everybody Drives Drunk”” so yeah looks like “Whiskey..” might be an anomaly. Guess we’ll see. And I can’t wait for Blackberry Smokes album and Chris Stapletons. I really hope for me that they are strong album of the year contenders.

    Awesome choice with the throwback song. Definently a group that could never be made again. I wish they could have made more albums, but what they did make was pure gold, and this song was one of my favorites from them.

    And I don’t really know what to say about that Aldean review…makes about as much sense as the lyrics to “Lookin For That Girl”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott February 5, 2015 / 10:48 pm

      Well if Country Weekly likes it, then there’s probably a good chance I won’t. Those fun, upbeat songs are probably clichéd and checklist. Looks like my first rant of 2015 could be coming. Haha!

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