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How Can Young Country Artists Stand Out?



In terms of lasting popularity, country may be the most stable genre in music. There is an international fan base that simply knows what it likes, sprouted from the American South but now recognisable in the UK and elsewhere also. On top of this fan base however, the genre also benefits from the fact that there’s always something new happening.

To give just a few examples, we’ll start with the finale of the hit musical competition show The Voice, which featured a woman named Spensha Baker. Baker was picked as a team member by Blake Shelton and displayed better and better country chops throughout the show. Following her performance of Taylor Swift’s pop country song “Red,” Shelton said she was destined to make country music history. And this is at least in part because Spensha Baker happens to be a young, African-American woman. While not unheard of, it’s simply the reality that this is not the usual demographic for country, and it speaks to the genre’s broadening appeal.

Another example comes in the form of Sam Hunt, a Nashville up-and-comer who’s already had a couple of hits and seems designated for major things. One article called him the future of country music on the grounds that he’s combining genres in a way that appeals to people who might not ordinarily tune in. The article termed his style – a “polarizing synthesis of rap and pop and Actual Country” – “bro-country,” which at least in the U.S. is probably an appropriate term. Hunt isn’t the first to blend pop and country (Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift certainly come to mind), and it remains to be seen if he will inspire others like him. But given his explosive popularity it’s fair to wonder if he’s actually paving the way for the next era or iteration of this kind of music.

And then there’s the rise of country music in the UK, which can’t be ignored, particularly recently. While there have long been those in the UK who appreciate the American stars (and plenty of those stars have toured in Europe), the UK’s own stars are beginning to break out. Names like The Shires, Ward Thomas, The Wandering Hearts, and Catherine McGrath are becoming mainstream. The Wandering Hearts just released a long-awaited debut album, and The Shires brought UK country to Royal Albert Hall! The genre is catching on to say the least.

The interesting thing is that it will only continue to do so from here. Artists and groups like Spensha Baker, Sam Hung, and The Shires will only inspire more young artists to take up country, and in another year or two we’ll be talking about more breakouts. And that begs the question of what an up-and-coming artist in this increasingly crowded business can do to stand out. The answer is probably some combination of making catchy, quality music and meeting the right people. But we have a few other ideas to look out for as well.

Collaborate With Other Artists

I keep coming back to Sam Hunt when thinking about how a modern country artist can truly stand out. The UK groups have the advantage of representing the first real wave of British country music, and someone like Spensha Baker has a built-in platform with The Voice. Hunt, however, earned his acclaim simply by tweaking country music in a way that pop, rap, and singer/songwriter fans could all appreciate. Then I think about some famous mash-ups like Miley Cyrus’s Notorious B.I.G.-infused “Party In The USA” (check it out on YouTube), and I can’t help but wonder if collaboration is the fastest path to stardom. It’s easier said than done for an up-and-comer, I realize, but cross-genre hybrids would seem to be advisable insofar as any young artist can make them happen without surrendering his or her sound.

Get Into Games & Films

It goes without saying that working on a film soundtrack – even a little-known indie film – is a huge deal for an artist. But games, too, have become more of an avenue for musical exposure. In some cases artists have collaborated with mobile game designers, but the real surprise has been via slot arcades on the internet. This genre of gaming has long relied on promotions and free slots, to the point the platforms even advertise that free slots and variety keep players coming back for more. Part of that variety means incorporating themes though, and those themes have come to include major bands like Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, etc. Again, this is easy said than done for an artist on the way up, but partnering with any game developer in this or a similar capacity is as big a deal these days as appearing in a film.

Sing About New Topics

Even those who adore country music can freely admit that it tends to cover a fairly limited scope of topics: romance, nostalgia, longing, and lifestyle pretty much sums it up. It’s basically a requirement to cover these subjects and themes if you’re going to make it in country, but it would seem that any up-and-coming artist blending them in with new talking points would have a leg up. Consider, for instance, the gentle, pretty tune “Made In England” by The Shires. It’s actually a remarkable blend of these same themes and the feeling behind them with a deep, genuine attachment to England. Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes sing about England the way American country artists sing about the South, such that it’s familiar but also strikingly new.

Be Interesting On Social Media

We’ll wrap up with a simpler tip, which is simply that any artist looking to make it in country music ought to make sure he or she is interesting online. With so many artists marketing themselves so heavily, a little bit of genuine personality can go a long way. Putting it another way, one thing hasn’t changed in music over the years: letting your fans get to know you is always going to be a good thing, and that’s true in any genre.

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