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
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!