Surprise Guests Filled CMT’s Second Annual #NextWomen Event

Pictured (L-R) front: Jana Kramer, Kelsea Ballerini, Rachel Farley, Mickey Guyton, RaeLynn, Angaleena Presley, Maddie Marlow (Maddie & Tae), Tae Dye (Maddie & Tae), Lindsay Ell, Kelleigh Bannen, Natalie Stovall; Back (L-R): Rose Falcon, Cassadee Pope, Lee Ann Womack, Leslie Fram, CMT SVP of Music Strategy, Kristen Kelly, Sarah Darling, Lauren Alaina, Danielle Bradbery. Photo: Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Pictured (L-R) front: Jana Kramer, Kelsea Ballerini, Rachel Farley, Mickey Guyton, RaeLynn, Angaleena Presley, Maddie Marlow (Maddie & Tae), Tae Dye (Maddie & Tae), Lindsay Ell, Kelleigh Bannen, Natalie Stovall; Back (L-R): Rose Falcon, Cassadee Pope, Lee Ann Womack, Leslie Fram, Kristen Kelly, Sarah Darling, Lauren Alaina, Danielle Bradbery. Photo: Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Although Brandy Clark was unable to perform at CMT’s Next Women of Country event due to an illness, surprise guest Shane McAnally took the stage at Nashville’s City Winery to offer remarks about the CMA New Artist of the Year nominee, whose story is inspiration for all women in the Country genre today. “Brandy has the lowest charting single in history to be nominated for a CMA,” he said of the track on her independent project 12 Stories, because it was not promoted to radio. McAnally noted that every label in town had the opportunity to put out her album but said, “We don’t know what to do with it.” Perhaps, he said, the same perception Kitty Wells, Shania Twain or Loretta Lynn may have received before Clark. The industry darling has recently been signed to Warner Bros. Records in Los Angeles.

Because of the uphill battle for women in today’s male-dominated format, Leslie Fram, SVP of Music Strategy at the Viacom company, started the women’s event in 2013 as a way to support women across all of CMT’s platforms.

This year’s second annual event was co-hosted by Fram and Lee Ann Womack, who unfortunately did not sing. “I love when women can support other women,” said Womack in her introductory remarks after surprise guest Gavin DeGraw welcomed her to the stage.

Kelsea Ballerini, Mickey Guyton, RaeLynn and Maddie & Tae performed as the new class of Next Women of Country initiative. Current inductees include 25 artists. Of those, Angaleena Presley, Lindsay Ell, Jana Kramer, Natalie Stovall, and Kelleigh Bannen also performed at the 2014 event, while many others attended.

Jewel made a special appearance as a newly announced mentor for the initiative, offering lessons from her 20 years in the evolved business. “I really think this is cyclical and women will again be played,” she said, addressing the young stars. “In the meantime we need to make sure we’re signing enough women. You have to know the business to protect your art, but the business can be every bit as creative as the music.” She stressed the importance of directing your team by communicating your vision, because fans don’t fall in love with a single, they fall in love with an emotional connection to artists as lifestyle brands. “Arrogance is the antithesis to art, so stay hungry and educated…My mind doesn’t have a sex. Women can be taken seriously as writers. Don’t worry about being the cute next thing because your thoughts are your fingerprint.”

Chris Loss, Stoney Creek’s VP, Promotion introduced the label’s triple-threat, Ell, who sang “Shut Me Up.” Pres./CEO of Warner Music Nashville John Esposito revealed Kramer, who sang “I Got The Boy,” off a forthcoming 2015, Scott Hendricks-produced album.

Dot Records GM Chris Stacey introduced the imprint’s first signing, Maddie & Tae. The 19 year olds sang the top 10 single “Girl In A Country Song,” which was noted as the fastest moving and selling since one by Taylor Swift. Recently promoted SVP of Promotion at Valory Music Co., George Briner, introduced RaeLynn, who sang the highest charting debut single for a solo artist, “God Made Girls.”

UMG Nashville Chairman/CEO Mike Dungan introduced Guyton and Bannen. Guyton performed the self-penned “Better Than You Left Me,” which she debuted at CRS in 2013. The single version is expected to impact in January, and Dungan noted that 75 percent of the stations that have heard it have committed to adds. He praised Bannen, saying she “sings in a range that’s different.” She is working with producers Jason Lehning and Jedd Hughes on her album, which is expected to include “Church Clothes,” the extraordinary title she performed.

Ballerini, introduced by CEO of Black River Entertainment Gordon Kerr, flawlessly performed “Stilettos.” Presley took the stage for “Pain Pills,” the video for which recently premiered on CMT. Stovall, who will appear on the CMA red carpet and in a commercial during the ABC-TV broadcast, offered “We Are” with an introduction by Cumulus’ Brian Thomas.

Fram pleaded with McAnally to conclude the event in Clark’s absence with a performance of his co-written “Merry Go Round,” to which he agreed but not before quipping, “Seems weird to be singing for the Next Women of Country event, but some of my close friends would say, ‘close enough.’”

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Eric T. Parker oversees operations and contributes editorial for MusicRow's print magazine, MusicRow.com, the RowFax tip sheet and the MusicRow CountryBreakout chart. He also facilitates annual events for the enterprise, including MusicRow Awards, CountryBreakout Awards and the Rising Women on the Row. [email protected] | @EricTParker

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