“Kenny’s fans have been incredible—the word of mouth on this has been great. He has such a youthful audience that the word spread pretty fast—even faster than we ever expected."


Butch Waugh Basks in the Warm Glow of Chesney’s “Cool-Out” Album
Kenny Chesney’s low-keyed album, Be as You Are: Songs From an Old Blue Chair (BNA), this week’s unlikely chart-topper, was about as far from a premeditated move as you can get. So says RCA Label Group Sr. VP/GM Butch Waugh, shaking the sand out of his huaraches.

“Awhile back, Kenny was in the office talking about an upcoming album, and he played us this song, ‘Old Blue Chair,’” Waugh explains. “We said, ‘Kenny, that song is awesome, man—we love that.’ He said, ‘I’ve got plenty of those. That’s one of many I’ve written while I was on the island.’ Kenny never really intended for this to be an album—these were just songs that were special to him. So we started hearing more songs, and we realized what a great collection of songs this was, and we saw this as a way to connect with his fans and give his fans something special. So we said to Kenny, ‘Yeah, we’re in the middle of working your current album, but let’s do this for your fans.’ Kenny felt like that was a great idea, so really, that’s where it was born. It’s a personal look into Kenny, where he really opens up, and it’s for his fans.

“Kenny uses the islands as a place to get away, to get his creative juices flowing,” Waugh explains. “After he’s been out on the road for months and months, he’ll go there just to cool out and get his energy back. And these songs are a real personal look at Kenny because he wrote or co-wrote every song, and they’re all from the heart. He wrote these songs about people and places that he really cares about—this is really about him.”

A nontraditional album like Be as You Are calls for a commensurately nontraditional marketing plan,” says Waugh. “The way we moved forward and marketed this record is, we don’t have a single at radio, although Country radio has been a big supporter of this album. By playing tracks from it, promoting it and telling listeners about it, they’ve been hugely supportive, and we’ve increased awareness to his fans through the Internet. CMT’s been really great, doing a special with Kenny the Saturday after release, getting the word out, and the press has just been amazing, with USA Today, Entertainment Weekly and People getting the word out about this great collection of songs.”

Sometimes the most effective form of marketing is organic. “Kenny’s fans have been incredible—the word of mouth on this has been great,” Waugh enthuses. “He has such a youthful audience, from high school and college and beyond, that the word spread pretty fast about this album—even faster than we ever expected. Not only are we surprised, but it really solidifies our belief in Kenny’s fans, and how much they love him, and how much music they want from him.”

“It's humbling,” Chesney tells our pal Holly Gleason. “This is a collection of songs that were Polaroids of different moments in my life, the people I met, and I never wrote them for anything more than to remember where I was. That these songs grew up and turned into a record was a big enough thrill; the idea that so many people wanted to share that aspect of my life with me is humbling. This may be the most gratifying thing I've done in my career.”

The setup may have been low-impact, but it produced dramatic results: in its first week, Be as You Are outsold Chesney’s quadruple-platinum No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems without the benefit of an official single. Country radio has focused in on “Guitars and Tiki Bars” and “Old Blue Chair,” while AOL Music has been showing action on “Be As You Are.” “We don’t have any plans to release a single to radio,” Waugh insists. The way things are going, with a #1 debut for the album and hundreds of spins on various tracks, there’s really no need to.