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STATE OF THE STATE: SCOTT BORCHETTA

Scott Borchetta has always been a disruptor. Whether doing indie promotion for the Grammy-winning Kentucky Headhunters or post-cowpunk Carlene Carter, launching DreamWorks’ Nashville start-up or signing a coltish 14-year-old named Taylor Swift who would grow up to be the voice of her generation, the former garage rocker has broken ground by doing the unlikely.

Today, this multitasker is a major NASCAR sponsor and the man behind Big Machine Vodka. A former American Idol mentor, Borchetta created Canada’s top-rated talent-development series The Launch. He recognized Florida Georgia Line’s bro-country potency before it was a movement, created a rock-leaning label with designer John Varvatos and served as the label home to Cheap Trick, Steven Tyler and Glen Campbell’s Oscar-nominated I’ll Be Me.

With Thomas Rhett winning his second ACM Male Vocalist of the Year award on the heels of playing Saturday Night Live, Borchetta is now enjoying his first rock hits with Badflower, as well as Sheryl Crow’s stunning duets project, a hard-country return from Reba and the harmony-heavy Gen Z girl group Avenue Beat, who could once again set the industry on its ear. This interview, of course, took place before news broke that BMLG had been purchased by Scooter Braun and Ithaca Holdings.

You’re having a ton of success on the rock side.
That’s a very interesting market that doesn’t have a lot of cohesiveness. The added media that we have built serves its needs as connective tissue. There are not a lot of like-minded broadcasters, and there aren’t enough of them to really create a scene. So we’ve got to get more attention from the existing radio to the streaming outlets. There are opportunities when you look at the formats that are starting to mature in the streaming world, and there’s still headroom for country and rock.

Badflower had two straight #1s on their first two tracks. “Heroin” was #1 coming off “Ghost.” We have Django Stewart, who’s Dave Stewart’s son. We have Friday Night Pilots Club out of Chicago. We have Poesy, who’s one of our launch winners. This genre still leads with touring. And we have real touring numbers with Badflower.

Wh
y the lag in streaming?
When Spotify first came over, you had a free music service and Android phones  urban and suburban kids. So hip-hop and pop took off immediately. That was great, the easiest point of entry for kids to get a cellphone, and there was a free streaming service that worked. Country has always been a late adopter.

Country is also a place where grown-ups still go to listen to music—like classic rock. And our stars reflect that too.You’re lucky if any of them are under 40. Thomas Rhett is arguably the only headliner in his 20s. Luke Combs will be 28, and he certainly has a fighting chance of being a true headliner. Turning 26 this year will be Kane Brown and Kelsea Ballerini, who are next. We don’t have one artist under 25 making headlining impact. Huge opportunity. No one’s in their early 20s, not since Taylor. Look what she did for the format. And I think there can be another Dixie Chicks/ShaniaTwain/Taylor moment.

Is this a male/female thing?
Sonically, male acts in this format don’t get to be as experimental. So we could go back in time and look at the moment Shania had the most interesting pop- and country-sounding records—nobody else was close. Then the Chicks came along with a completely different sound. Then Taylor with another completely different sound. When you get that right, there’s literally no ceiling to it. It’s why we continue to be very bullish about our female artists. Including Avenue Beat.

That could be an explosive moment. There’s nobody like them. They’re 21 years old and have massive appeal, because music comes very naturally to them. It’s not contrived. It’s not even conceptual, but comes from a place of just being who they are.

Is it a challenge or a necessity as an indie to not rush artist development?
I live in three different zones: six, 12 and 18 months. I always have to be looking forward, because the problem for most indie labels is they don’t have a deep bench. If you look at the ones who came in, had a moment or two, then went away, that’s because they got stuck in the “now” and didn’t realize they need new releases next year, and the year after and the year after.

We’re eight and a half years into Thomas Rhett, nine and a half on Brantley Gilbert and 10-plus years on Justin Moore. Even Florida Georgia Line are six years in. They have all our attention, but this format takes time—and we don’t lose sight of that.

Thomas is coming into his own creatively.
Thomas shares so much of his music in real time as he’s writing it. I think he’s really comfortable where he is at creatively. So he’s not afraid to really commit to everything he’s writing now. In the past, I think, he wasn’t sure, and if you’re not sure, listeners and fans can pick on that. You can’t be tentative when it comes to reaching outside your comfort zone. Right now, he’s absolutely commanding.

His Saturday Night Live performance of “Look What God Gave Her” showed an artist owning his lane.
We were all very excited about the SNL performance. But it’s really what happened afterward that showed us. We can make all kinds of noise, but when a mainstream media event not only happens but gets sticky...

How so?
When Michael Martin with Entercom called me and said, “We’re putting this on at Alice [@ 97.3] in San Francisco.” You know, when they call me, that’s a big flag waving. Because 99% of the time I’m having to call everybody else.

So you’re crossing this over?
It’s a slippery slope, and I’ve always said, “It’s more like spilling over.” But within a few days of his SNL performance, we had Hot AC stations across the country adding the record on their own—WBMX in Boston, a couple really big markets. In May, we were the second-Most Added at Hot AC behind Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber.

Now it’s a full-on mission, but it started organically. We’ve had a couple other misses at Pop radio with Thomas. But we didn’t throw the anchor down in any of those moments, saying, “We have to have this right now.” You have to build to that. Even with Taylor, we threw a lot of lines in the water before we got to “Love Story,” before we got to “You Belong With Me.” You need to be careful when you take that step. It has to be right, not only sonically but also culturally, like SNL. Then, when you see the doors have opened, that’s when you have to be ready to run. And now, we’re running.

What else are you excited about?
Sheryl Crow. I think it’s one of the things our label does better than anybody else: Take highly respected, important names and give their releases the proper amount of love and care and attention. We have unmatched results, whether it’s Tim McGraw, Reba or Steven Tyler, who had a #1 country album.

Sheryl made a statement in Rolling Stone late last summer that she was making her final record. Scooter [Weintraub] sent me eight tracks, and I hit him back immediately, saying, “I would love to talk to you about this.” She and her band are one of the last great American rock & roll bands—they’re on the level of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. We’re working the Mavis Staples/Bonnie Raitt track at Triple A and Americana. We took the Stevie Nicks/Maren Morris to country radio in June. Now, with SiriusXM and streaming, you have so many places and ways to place different tracks. That has to fire you up, creatively and as a fan.

Wait ’til you hear the Chris Stapleton track and the Jason Isbell song. She knew the handcuffs were off, that whatever she wanted to do, we were in. Ask an artist who knows what they want to do to just go make the best record, and they will.

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