It’s October and the temperature is falling, but Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” remains a sunny island of summer warmth on country radio. Considering the song was recently certified Gold for over 500k downloads and the duo has now been added to CMT On Tour: Jake Owen, this particular island should stay hot through the even the coldest days of winter.
Amazingly, this has all happened in advance of hitting critical mass on the monitored airplay country charts. How, you ask? Through a combination of aggressive touring and grassroots fan building in secondary/small radio markets. And of course, having a killer song is pretty critical as well.
For the uninitiated, Florida Georgia Line (FGL) is Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, who (you might have guessed) hail from Florida (Kelley) and Georgia (Hubbard). The pair met while studying at Belmont University and began writing songs together, playing local clubs when they could.
Kelley had been working on “Cruise” with his friends, Chase Rice and Jesse Rice (no relation), when he took a demo version to Hubbard and producer Joey Moi. The ensemble finished the tune and with Moi’s experienced hand guiding the recording, a hit-in-waiting was born.
“It was one of those songs that just happened—and we’re glad it did,” says FGL’s Kelley. “We knew we had something we loved but could never imagined it would be something like this.”
At the time, FGL was essentially operating as an independent through Big Loud Mountain, a partnership between Craig Wiseman’s Big Loud Shirt publishing enclave, manager Kevin “Chief” Zaruk, and Moi. Not having the major entertainment finances behind FGL meant the typical high dollar radio promotion push wasn’t in the cards, at least in the beginning. FGL’s day to day manager Seth England felt building from the ground up would be the right approach, citing as justification the massive costs and unrealistic expectations created by treating brand new artists like superstars.
“The problem with that is it leaves little room for natural growth with fans,” explains England.
The duo had already begun building a fan base through their busy touring schedule and wanted to continue the work they had started. That included visiting friends in radio and refining their stage performances.
“They wouldn’t take no for an answer,” recalls England. “We recognized that secondary radio was the perfect place to begin since we were independent. We made it a very serious focus and followed up in many markets with club shows, and treated those stations just like we treat major markets now. It was really intriguing what can be built in some of these secondary markets. In a way, we had some of these major markets surrounded with radio support, and hardcore fans, before we ever approached them with Republic Nashville.”
Helping to surround those markets with secondary airplay were veteran promotion representatives Rick Kelly, of Marco Promotions, and Jerry Duncan, of Jerry Duncan Promotions. Kelly says he and Duncan heard the music in demo form before its official release, and were immediately excited about the project. “They already seemed like a fully formed act,” says Kelly.
“I distinctly remember thinking they were an independent act with all the key ingredients: great songs, great singers, hard working, good looking, personable, and already touring,” adds Duncan. “All they needed was radio support.”
Kelly and Duncan sent the music out, and the early feedback from radio was very encouraging, with support from WXMM/Appleton, WI; SiriusXM; KBXB/Sikeston, MO; and more. FGL was also added to the lineup on the popular summer Country Throwdown Tour with Gary Allan, Rodney Atkins, and others.
“We did as many radio visits as we could possibly squeeze in during the Throwdown tour, and were able to impact a good cohort of stations in tour markets, and in transit to other dates,” says Kelly. “The song was really reactive for our stations. It was during this time that SiriusXM came on and started really supporting the record, which seemed to move the needle considerably.”
Touring has been the other critical component of the FGL success story. England and the Big Loud Mountain team approached Buddy Lee’s Kevin Neal, who helped build Jason Aldean’s career as well as that of touring warrior Colt Ford. FGL, England figured, had a lot in common with these artists.
“We felt like they had obvious commercial appeal but had an edge that these small clubs would eat up early on,” says England.
Thankfully, touring isn’t a chore for the duo, who love to be on the road and in front of enthusiastic crowds. “We get to make new friends, see new places and watch the effect music can have on people,” says FGL’s Kelley. “We also have a real brotherhood within our band and that makes it a blast.”
Wisely, FGL’s team recognized the importance of giving concert-going fans an opportunity to purchase the duo’s music at live dates. FGL released its debut EP, It’z Just What We Do, in May and had it ready to roll for the summer concert season.
“We wanted to have more music out than just ‘Cruise,’” notes England. “That can be a bit of a misstep with new artists just getting a record deal. You’ll see artists release a single and not have any physical music for fans to buy live.”
In July, FGL signed with Big Machine Label Group’s Republic Nashville. The label immediately ramped up the promotion efforts for “Cruise,” which had already sold 100,000 downloads independently.
“By the time the record hit major market radio in August, we were on about 80% of MusicRow stations, with about 14,000 spins to date on the single at that panel, and about 116,000 singles sold,” says Marco’s Rick Kelly.
“I’m not sure the Republic Nashville staff sleeps,” adds England. “They have jumped on board with our vision, didn’t ask to change a thing – they just wanted to blow it up, and they have. Scott Borchetta and Jimmy Harnen have surrounded themselves with an incredible staff who deeply care about their artists.”
Blowing it up is exactly what is going on. Sales are already impressive, and yet “Cruise” still has some room to grow on the charts, considering it is only No. 12 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart and No. 6 on the MusicRow Chart.
Beyond that, Republic Nashville will release the duo’s debut album Here’s to the Good Times just in time for the holidays on Dec. 4. Beginning in 2013, FGL will be opening Luke Bryan’s headlining Dirt Road Diaries Tour.
It’s a crazy moment in time for the guys, but for FGL’s Kelley, it’s exactly what he wants. “Needless to say, our lives are a whirlwind right now, and we love it!”