Thirty Tigers is ready to roar a little louder.
David Macias’s marketing and artist services company is adding a country radio promotion department. The four-person team is headed by Pam Newman, and includes Ken Rush, Denise Roberts and a yet-to-be-announced west coast regional.
Thirty Tigers played a significant role in the recent career launches of Chase Rice and Old Dominion, both of whom went on to sign with Sony Music Nashville. With the added promotion team, Thirty Tigers will aim to take artist careers to the next level, without the need of a major label.
“We were partners in the Old Dominion record with Ree Guyer Buchanan, Shane McAnally and Michael Baum,” says Macias. “Pam Newman basically did all the radio promotion and got it started. Sony came in once it was developed, which is increasingly what labels do these days. They don’t want to sign anything unless somebody else proves it first. At that point, the only reason why an act would move on [to a major label] is the resources and staff infrastructure to take the movement that has started and expand it into a national conversation.”
After working at major labels, Macias says mergers and lay-offs left him feeling “out of control of his own destiny,” and recognized that artists probably felt the same way. So he founded Thirty Tigers on the idea of artists owning their own masters and having control of their careers. “We give our best advice and hardest work, but ultimately it is their decision as to what happens,” he says. Over a decade and a half, Thirty Tigers has grown to 25 employees and become a top destination for independent artists, particularly in the Americana world.
Macias says, “If we can have hit records, break hit acts and help build them to arena size status, and they can own it and be in control over what they are doing—them and their talented management teams—why would anybody do anything else?”
Thirty Tigers teamed with Rice and his manager George Couri (Triple 8) to launch the singer. “His management team is super smart,” says Macias. “We gave them the financial resources to be able to execute their vision. We worked with the now-defunct RPM promotion team to take it to radio. That transitioned into a working relationship with Columbia, who took on radio promotion for a piece of the album and they’ve done an amazing job. We’ve recouped the investment that we made and Chase is doing quite well and has ownership.”
Thirty Tigers has offered in-house radio promotion for Americana and AAA artists for years, but the recent experience with Rice, Old Dominion and rising artist Aaron Watson spurred the company to dip its paws in the country world.
“This is a 14-year-old business and we’ve done things on very pragmatic, sound business terms. We wrote the checks for Chase Rice. We know how expensive [radio promotion] can be,” says Macias. “We made those investments as we went, where we could clearly see what was working. His management was in charge and we handled the funding. So it wound up working where Chase could be in control of what he’s doing. It can be a really lucrative way to do business.”
Lately, a few Thirty Tigers acts have sold 150K records. According to Macias, that grosses about $1.2 million, and after deducting about 25 percent ($300K) for distribution to pay Thirty Tigers and Red, the remaining $900K goes to the artist. Subtract $75K for recording costs, $30K for publicity, and the act can net upwards of $700K.
For artists seeking the country radio promotion services, Thirty Tigers will alter its standard deal with a higher distribution fee, but will still never own masters.
Macias says Newman and the promo team will be very involved in the A&R process because, “It wouldn’t be fair to an artist if the people taking it out into battle don’t believe.”
Macias has believed in artist Aaron Watson for over a decade. He says the Texas-based singer and his manager Gino Genero first started working with Thirty TIgers “when they were selling six records a week. We were young and struggling and hungry together. They would come to town and sleep on my floor.”
Fast forward to February 2015, when Watson turned heads by scoring a No. 1 country debut with his latest album, a notable feat for an indie. To some onlookers, especially those gathered in Nashville for Country Radio Seminar that week, it may have seemed like the cowboy rode in to the top of the chart from out of nowhere.
He didn’t. Watson’s previous record sold 35K copies, and he runs a multi-million dollar brand.
“It wasn’t smoke and mirrors that we debuted at No. 1,” Macias continues. “It was a lot of work that had been done for the last five years. It was Aaron making the best record he’s ever made, dedicating himself to songwriting, and stepping up in every way. And it was making smart marketing investments.”
Thirty Tigers provided financial resources for Watson to bring the latest project to fruition. The album, The Underdog, was produced by hitmaker Keith Stegall. Macias adds that investing in PR with Shorefire was also a smart move, because they helped craft the narrative about Watson, which includes a lifestyle built around family and faith.
The longtime CAA artist established a strong touring career the grassroots way, by returning to markets multiple times, and involving radio when possible. He also nurtured ties to communities that Macias says may be underserved by mainstream country artists, such as the rodeo community, Future Farmers of America and fans of traditional country. “There were a lot of tactical things we did to drive the conversation about Aaron, but it wouldn’t have worked if people weren’t actually hungry for [this kind of music],” says Macias. “Now we have to convince radio that this is an organic thing and that people want it.
“We don’t want to be a stepping stone,” he says. “We want to get it started and we want to finish the job too.”