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Music City
ROOTS BEHIND STEM
3/11/24

We asked Stem Head of Artist and Label Strategy Alison Junker and Head of Artist and Label Relations, Rock and Alternative Chris Allen—two key members of the company's Nashville team—about Stem’s strategic expansion, its unique value proposition for artists wary of traditional record deals and more. For some reason, they decided to answer our questions. Dive in below.

What have been some key drivers in helping expand Stem's presence in Nashville?

AJ: In addition to signing some key independent country artists, we’ve been able to penetrate the market with intentional strategy around marketing and pitching. The landscape also continues to work in favor of independent artists. I said it when I started over a year and half ago, and it rings even more true today: There is no better time to be an independent artist than right now.

CA: Relationships are everything. Alison Junker and I have both been part of the community for over a decade. We have worked at labels, publishers, DSPs and distributors. We have strong ties to the community and love artist development. Having a relationship with Big Loud Records is huge—they are one of the most successful independent labels in country music and have expanded into all genres. The managers and publishers are doing the hard work. When they get it right there’s no need for a label in the traditional sense.

What value proposition can Stem offer an artist who is wary of a traditional record deal?

AJ: Our value proposition is multifaceted and ever-growing, but the key difference between Stem and a major label deal is simple: At Stem, you have a team that has the expertise of a major label but you’re able to release your music whenever you want.

CA: Stem is all about independence. I was attracted to their motto: "Helping artists unfuck the music business.” My background is in artist management. As a manager I know the artist and every song—it’s the artist’s life and livelihood—and I’m committed to their success. Stem has the same mindset. Stem is committed to more than just market share. We are taking a curated approach to our roster and the songs we release every week have a much higher batting average in terms of playlisting. Stem's deals are generous for the level of service we provide.

Tell us about some of the artists you've signed to Stem since joining, and what they have cooking in 2024.

AJ: We signed Spencer Crandall a few months after I started and have helped him grow his team with a publishing deal with Warner Chappell and a few additional releases to his breakout album. He’s been writing for the past year or so and we just released his first new song since 2022. We’re working toward an album in 2025 with many more releases this year. Chris Allen and I also signed Shaylen, who has seen success across all aspects of her career over the past year. Her breakout song “What If I Don’t” was added to Hot Country shortly after she signed with us, and it’s now seen over 25m streams on Spotify alone. We’re working on an EP for release in the fall. We’re also working with the newest breakout star, Tucker Wetmore. His first release ever, “Wine into Whiskey,” had over 1.2m first-day streams. To say there is momentum is an understatement and we’re excited to keep that up with more releases this spring.

CA: We've signed a mix of artists and labels, Verswire, Barnaby/Cadence Records (Andy Williams’ label), 800 LB Gorilla, Thriller Records, Set it Off; (coming off a #1 song at Octane, they have another big single called “Fake Ass Friends”), and Go-Jo (over 50m on first single). A massive success has been Richy Mitch & the Coal Miners. In one year with Stem, RMCM have gone from 400k Spotify monthly listeners to over 16m.

With country artists continuing to post record DSP and box office numbers, what are your thoughts on the health of the genre at large? Is there any ceiling in sight?

AJ: Considering the numbers I’m seeing on Tucker Wetmore’s first release, I think the ceiling for country artists is only getting higher. Regardless of genre, great storytelling will always win. That being said, I think country artists do it best.

CA: I don’t see a ceiling or boundaries. We are working with Chugg in Australia. They are doing sold-out festivals, arena and stadium tours regularly with Nashville artists. Beyoncé just released a country record. It keeps expanding in the U.S. and around the world.

What are your thoughts on hot chicken? Is it too hot or not hot enough?

AJ: Not too hot, but I could live without it as a whole.

CA: I’m a fish guy. I’ll do the jalapeño yellowtail and spicy tuna crispy rice. We need a Nobu here.