Though traction was not as immediate as it’s been with some other genres, streaming is now a force in country music. The last year has seen big growth at the platform, notably for newer (and younger-skewing) acts, and it feels as though Music City is on the cusp of a breakthrough in terms of subscribers and consumption.

RCA Nashville/Zone 4’s Kane Brown has two of the Top Three streaming country songs YTD with “Heaven” (#1) and “What Ifs” f/Lauren Alaina (#3), which together have garnered 232m+ streams. Jason Aldean’s “You Make It Easy” (Broken Bow/BMG, #2) is at110m, while Thomas Rhett’s “Marry Me” (Valory/BMLG, #4) and Warner Music Nashville’s Dan + Shay (“Tequila,” #5) are hitting the 100m mark at presstime and MCA Nashville’s Sam Hunt is at 92m and growing with “Body Like a Back Road.” River House/Columbia Nashville’s Luke Combs has two songs in the Top 10, “When It Rains It Pours” and “Hurricane,” soaking up 161m+. 

We asked some folks from Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon and Pandora to join our conversational playlist.

“Country music has always been important to Apple Music,” says Jay Liepis, an Apple veteran whose relocation to Nashville was announced in April. “More and more country artists and fans are turning to Apple Music, and we have been seeing steady growth and engagement around the genre. Country has always been a top-performing genre for the download business, and now, as people make the changeover to streaming, the opportunities are endless.”

Downloads, too, were a tough sell with country fans initially, but ultimately became a powerful piece of the market equation, eventually eclipsing retail in many instances. If history is a guide, wariness about a new mode of music consumption on the part of country consumers
often gives way to a full-on embrace. Many of these consumers now recognize that a streaming subscription—with all-you-can-eat access to every release—is a strong value proposition.

But our panel of experts understands that country is a world unto itself, and expanding that base means being true to the sensibility and priorities of Nashville.

“I’m fortunate to work with a team that believes, as I do, that the storytelling and authenticity that defines country music has the power to connect with people all around the globe,” says Spotify’s Head of Artist & Label Marketing, Nashville, Brittany Schaffer, who joined the streamery late last year. “Spotify has the tools and resources to help country artists not only form a deeper connection with their fans, but also engage new audiences —and bring an entirely new audience into streaming.”

To accomplish this, Schaffer says, The Spot has pursued four key initiatives: educate Spotify on country culture and strategize to raise the genre’s profile; transform the Hot Country playlist into an “enhanced playlist” along the lines of RapCaviar, with video and more; events and marketing to brand Hot Country and engage with fans off-platform; and to implement top-flight marketing campaigns for country acts that connect back to Hot Country to boost “user growth and engagement.”

While it’s still early, Schaffer reports, country music streaming is up. “Consumption began to noticeably increase 90 days after I arrived at Spotify, corresponding with the date we kicked off our first major country album campaign,” she says. “I feel a deep sense of responsibility
 to the Nashville community to expand the reach of country music, and it brings me great pride to see that we’re well on our way to doing just that.”

“I work regularly with labels, artists and their management teams to find new ways of engaging country music fans,” says Amazon Music’s Senior Label Relations Manager, Nashville, Kelly Rich. “By listening on Amazon Music, and the myriad integrations and educational activations we’ve done at various events including CRS (Country Radio Seminar) and the CMA Fest, or with our exclusive editorial programming like ‘Song of the Day’ and ‘Side x Sides,’ customers have been able to interact with some of their favorite artists and experience music listening in new ways through voice on Alexa-enabled devices.”

Amazon has made big strides not only by introducing its already abundant customer base to streaming but also by optimizing voice command for on-demand. “We’ve seen immense growth of music listening on Amazon Music through Alexa,” Rich relates. “Amazon Music is making it easier for customers to stream by developing a natural listening experience, bringing more listeners into music streaming. Customers can ask for music based on genre, artist, album, mood, activity, they can create a playlist on the fly just by asking, and find a song by saying only a few lyrics.

“We’re also bringing country music fans closer to their favorite artists through intimate listening experiences and exclusive programming,” she adds. “Amazon Music programs like ‘Side by Side’ offer listeners the opportunity to hear an artist walk the customer through the creation of a new album. ‘Today in Music’ is a daily briefing accessed only on Alexa, delivering the latest in music news. These programs are examples of how we’re working with artists in new ways, making it easier for our customers to get the content they want through voice. “

Liepis points to Jason Aldean as a prime example of how to make the streaming platform work for a release. The star’s Rearview Town bowed on premium tier only and still debuted at #1 on the album chart—not to mention Apple’s own country chart—assisted by an exclusive premiere of a live track (“Drowns the Whiskey”) and track-by-track interview on Beats 1, among other goodies. “Jason Aldean really understands the power and impact of streaming and how to use the platform,” he relates. “The success of Rearview Town speaks to the power of Jason’s rabid fanbase and shows that country music fans are ready for streaming.”

Schaffer underscores the goal of getting artists, labels and other music professionals to “see Spotify as more than just a DSP, and as a collaborative creative partner. The earlier we can hear the music, understand the vision behind the record, as well as the general release plan, the better equipped we are to help bring the project to life, help artists connect with fans in new and unique ways, add value and drive streams.”

Crucial to that partnership has been helping country artists get traction with music fans outside their accustomed base. “Not every song is a fit for every playlist, but when you find a song that works in another genre, mood-based, or algorithmic playlist, the song and artist are naturally exposed to a wider audience, which can have a profound impact on an artist’s trajectory,” Schaffer points out. “Artists such as Thomas Rhett, Kane Brown, Florida Georgia Line and, most recently, Dan + Shay, have exploded on Spotify because of placement on various pop playlists, including Today’s Top Hits. I hope we can continue to expose country music to new audiences, including through non-country playlists.”

“One of my favorite success stories with Amazon Music is our continuous growth in country music and streaming,” says Rich. “We’re always innovating on behalf of our customers, which has led to an incredible increase in shares of country music on our service.” She notes that global playlist Country Heat reaches fans in more than 35 countries.

Rich also cites an on-the-ground activation at CMA Fest as a key point of contact with the country consumer: “Each night at NissanStadium, the evening’s host engaged with Alexa to announce performers through Amazon Music voice features. When the host asked Alexa to play a song, a light ring activated across the stadium, mimicking the light ring of an Echo device to signal their performance. We will continue to find innovative ways to bring country listeners into Amazon Music through our product and at marquee country music events throughout the year, which will ultimately propel future growth.”

“For the most part,” says Pandora’s Beville Dunkerley, “Nashville’s record labels really seem to value streaming as much as they do terrestrial radio. We’re working hand in hand to make Pandora an automatic part of any release rollout plan. And I hope the labels are also educating their artists on the countless opportunities in the streaming world, as well as our considerable impact on the charts.”

Dunkerley points to Pandora’s Sounds Like You show, which Blake Shelton agreed to headline on the day he dropped album Texoma Shore, as a signal success story. “When we got that yes from him, it had nothing to do with money,” she says. “Blake is one of the top five most played country artists in the history of Pandora, and our numbers proved to his camp just how wide our marketing reach would be for his new album.”

What’s more, she points out, fans were singing every word to music that had been released mere hours before.
“When I explained to Blake how our RSVP system works —rewarding his most frequent listeners with free tickets—his eyes lit up,” Dunkerley recalls. “Pandora doesn’t throw events for the industry; we cater to fans first.” Those events frequently bring dormant users back into the fold, she adds: “One fan at our recent ‘Up Close With Dierks Bentley’ show told me that the event prompted her to resurrect her Pandora account after several years, and she claims to be hooked again.”

Pandora, like Spotify, has an ad-supported tier, and Dunkerley says that sponsored Pandora Premium access “has been a game-changer.” By giving users access to on-demand at no cost except watching a short ad, she says, they can have “a taste of Pandora Premium in hopes that they’ll upgrade to the subscriptions service. In the streaming world, the most effective advertising is the most demonstrative; you have to really showcase the product to sell it.”

There’s still work to be done, but Rich summarizes the overwhelmingly optimistic view of the DSPs: “The more we educate the music industry, artists and customers about music streaming, the better it will be for those who have been hesitant to transition to streaming. We remove access barriers by offering breakthrough pricing, voice and personalization.”

The rich get richer. (7/30a)
The dominant platform keeps growing. (7/29a)
Thunder from Down Under (7/29a)
A day in the park (7/28a)
Perpetuating a grand tradition (7/28a)
From tender shoots to mighty oaks.
Let's do the numbers.
It is not the name of a Henry Miller novel.
Could be. Dunno.

 First Name

 Last Name


Captcha: (type the characters above)