The horse-and-buggy days of the World Wide Web are long gone. The digital platforms are acutely aware of the potential of country music, which, as the reps from Apple, Spotify, Pandora and Shazam collectively point out, is one of the most active and fastest-growing areas of the music-content spectrum.

Ken Tucker and Sally Seitz
Apple Music/iTunes

How are iTunes and Apple Music working together in the Country genre?
When we are working with labels to set up a new release, we discuss opportunities across the platforms. We are able to offer a comprehensive roll-out plan that offers fans a choice on how they want to consume music.

Thus far, the biggest streaming songs/acts are from genres other than country. Why do you think that is? What initiatives have you implemented to cultivate this market?
While some of the biggest streaming songs come from genres other than country, Christian and Americana, several of our most popular Apple Music radio stations and playlists are from Nashville-centric genres. For example, our Country A-List playlist and radio station are among the most popular in Apple Music. One way we cultivate this market is by offering special or exclusive content that can only be found on Apple Music. For the release of Dierks Bentley’s album, Black, we created four original-content videos, each highlighting a different song from the album.

In the “playlist culture,” is format destiny or is it less genre-restrictive?I think format is far less restrictive in the playlist world. For example, two of our hottest playlists, Best of the Week and Today’s Hits, incorporate all genres. People just like great music and don’t want to focus as much on how it’s categorized.

We’ve seen successful Apple Music exclusives from Drake, Future, Chance the Rapper, etc. How might a country artist take optimal advantage of such an exclusive?
We’ve had the privilege of working with several country artists, including Blake Shelton, Kane Brown and Dierks Bentley, for exclusives. For example, Eric Church released his most recent album exclusively via iTunes and Apple Music. And most recently, we did a digital exclusive with Blake Shelton. There was also great collaboration between Apple and Warner Music Nashville on marketing, including out-of-home, TV, VOD and socials. We 
realized a 77% increase over his last album and 45% marketshare.

As a global platform, what’s your sense of the growth possibilities for Nashville artists in international territories?
Very few country artists tour internationally, for a variety of reasons, with one of those being lack of exposure in countries other than the U.S. and Canada, and to a lesser extent Australia and the U.K.  That said, Apple Music and iTunes are global brands that have the ability to expose music to fans and potentially around the world in a way that no one else does. We’re in a unique position to serve that global audience and help country music grow.

John Marks
Global Head of Country Music, Spotify 

Thus far, the biggest streaming songs/acts are from genres other than country. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s only a matter of time until we see a global country hit. The promise of platforms like Spotify is that artists can reach millions of fans around the world instantaneously. Country artists need to start thinking about building out their fan bases in other countries and engage the global marketplace.

What initiatives have you implemented to cultivate this market?
I traveled to London for the C2C Country Festival last March, and I met with many industry professionals, including my Spotify colleagues, regarding the country market in the U.K. I learned from them, and also from watching the fans at the festival, that there is a surging interest, especially in the 18-34 demo, for current country music.

Based on this, my U.K. colleagues debuted a playlist on April 12 called Very Nearly Nashville. It’s a hybrid list of U.S. and U.K. artists that represent the best of country in the U.K. We also collaborate by “infiltrating” country music into other playlists, in addition to featuring our syndicated country lists more prominently to grow interest in the music. And in turn, I also feature U.K. artists in U.S. playlists as well.

In addition to C2C, the CMA previewed a worldwide study of country—including the U.K.—that showed the tremendous growth potential in the youth category, with 71% of country discovery driven by Spotify in the U.K. market. The CMA just released the results of their study, with the U.K., Australia, the Nordics and Germany all showing potential in country’s growth, in particular the 18-34 demo. I plan to take this information and share it with my colleagues and industry professionals in those regions to perhaps implement similar strategies as the U.K. to grow global interest in the genre—despite the lack of label interest.

During CMA’s event at C2C fest in London, the following people requested Tyler, Texas BBQ sauce to go on their steak-and-kidney pies: CMA Nashville SVP Marketing and Strategic Partnerships Damon Whiteside, artist Lauren Alaina, Spotify Head of Country John Marks, CMA Board Member and Capitol Music Group Sweden MD Mara Molin, artist Frankie Ballard, CMA Board Member and BBC Director of Music Bob Shennan and CMA Nashville CEO Sarah Trahern.

As a global platform, what’s your sense of the growth possibilities for Nashville artists in international territories?
Right now is the time for country artists to move globally. Sadly, the superstars in the format who have not worked the markets can’t scale touring Europe and Australia financially. But I encourage anyone I talk to from baby acts to medium range acts to infiltrate Europe now before they get too tethered to the United States. Develop the fan base and touring base and you will have income forever. During CMA Music Fest, I talked to Mark Chesnutt and The Bellamy Brothers, among others, and most of their big income from touring is generated overseas. It’s a large opportunity
 right now for current artists to earn additional revenue and to be global stars. Artists like Cadillac Three, Old Dominion and Striking Matches are current examples that I’m aware of who are cultivating their audiences globally.

 In the “playlist culture,” is format destiny or is it less genre-restrictive?
While I lead the genre of country music, the most fun of all is breaking down the music “borders.” Many of the Moods and Moments playlists are genre-agnostic and provide opportunities for artists large and small to increase their profiles. In the country lists, I’ve featured Avicii, Justin Timberlake, Elle King and others who would not normally have been played on Country radio stations. Look at the collaborations now coming from Little Big Town-Pharrell Williams, Brad Paisley-Demi Lovato, Dierks Bentley-Elle King and Keith Urban-Nile Rogers-Pitbull, with more to come.

Some get exercised about what is and is not country music. I’d say anytime I can playlist a song not released as country that has the feel, or a collaboration, as noted, it only means there ultimately will be a broader acceptance of the music form both nationally and globally.

What has surprised you most since you’ve arrived at Spotify?
The culture. I love the fact that I am trusted to do my job. They make me feel like my presence, thoughts and ideas are worthwhile—even though not every one of them can be actuated. I feel like I have a stake in Spotify’s growth and well-being. 


Lars Murray
SVP Pandora Music Makers Group 

The audience share for terrestrial Country radio is growing nationally; is that a trend at Pandora as well?
Yes. Country is huge on the platform and it’s growing. We have 62 million country listeners, and last year our country listener hours were up nearly 8% year-over-year.

 How important are events, festivals, etc. in growing the Pandora brand with the country audience? What initiatives have you implemented to cultivate this market?
Events are a central feature of our country strategy. Last year we created Pandora Country, an event designed to showcase emerging and growing talent, which we put on in Nashville during Country Music Week with Kelsea Ballerini, Dustin Lynch and Thompson Square. It was a huge success, and we came back for more this year with Tyler Farr, Kip Moore, Cam and Brent Cobb. Both years we’ve sold out the show. Last fall we partnered with Big Machine on our Women in Country event in NYC, which underscored the fact that women’s voices had a great home on Pandora and raised $50,000 for T.J. Martell. We initiated a partnership with the Country Music Association, creating a CMA custom station. We also partnered on CMA Fest for the last two years, with activations at LP Field and a dedicated CMA station on Pandora that has over 450,000 listeners and very healthy time spent listening.

Will the algorithm allow for cross-pollination of format records? For example, if I thumbs up Sam Hunt and Drake, would I get both on the same station?
It’s not likely that they will organically show up in each other’s stations, unless you choose to “add variety,” in which case you could make a Sam/Drake hybrid station. Also, one of our most popular stations is Thumbprint Radio, which is customized to each listener’s thumb activity. So if you are a fan of both artists, they will both show up there.

What are the hottest artists for station creation in the format?
Not surprisingly, Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan drive huge station add numbers on a weekly basis. On the developing front, right now Maren Morris is moving fast, and so is Jon Pardi.

Anything that has surprised you about the behavior of predominantly country music users?
It’s less surprise than delight. I didn’t have much exposure to Nashville during my label career, so Pandora is teaching me things about the country audience that Nashville folks already know. They are extraordinarily loyal, they are passionate and there are more of them than a lot of people on the coasts realize. 


Peter Szabo
Shazam SVP Global Music 

What initiatives have you worked on with Nashville labels, managers and artists?
Some of our most unique ideas recently have been coming out of Nashville. The country artists have been fantastic to work with and are getting incredibly creative. Everyone from Keith Urban to Cole Swindell to Maren Morris have used Shazam recently in unique ways. Keith Urban actually kept Shazaming songs he liked prior to recording his album Ripcord. Then when he started writing, he was able to go back and listen to them for inspiration. He even ended up collaborating with Pitbull on his song “Sun Don’t Let Me Down” because he Shazamed a Pitbull song he liked. Then, for a really new twist, we worked with Cole Swindell on a scavenger hunt through New York. He led his fans on a five-step hunt to various spots in Manhattan. People had to Shazam for the next clue at each stop, and the grand prize was a flyaway to CMA Fest! Five other people won a trip to NYC to see Cole there.

How does Shazam work hand in hand with radio and streaming services?
Country radio programmers use Shazam to see what songs are reacting in their cities and hot zips. They will use the Explore tab to pinch and zoom their way to get feedback from their listeners on which songs they like. They also pay attention to the Top Country Chart as well to see what songs are moving up there.

Based on Shazams, what are the next things we should watch for out of Nashville?
From what we’re seeing from our users, LANco, Maren Morris, Dan + Shay and Jon Pardi are some of the new artists you’ll be hearing from a lot more. LANco’s “Long Live Tonight” reacted so quickly in L.A. and Kansas City that we named it one of our Songs of the Summer.


"Dangerous" nudges "SOUR." (11/30a)
Big numbers for 30. (11/29a)
good 4 him (11/30a)
Viva, Ms. Adkins (11/30a)
Putting the audio into audio-visual. (11/30a)

 First Name

 Last Name


Captcha: (type the characters above)