Exclusive: Kelsea Ballerini Talks Touring, Country Radio and Making Honest Music

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Kelsea Ballerini is a double winner in this year’s MusicRow CountryBreakout Awards, claiming the categories of Female Artist of the Year and Breakout Artist of the Year. She topped the MusicRow chart twice in 2015, first with “Love Me Like You Mean It,” in June, followed by “Dibs” in December. Calling from her porch during some rare downtime, she chatted with MusicRow shortly after learning about her wins.

Read more about the MusicRow CountryBreakout Award winners in the new issue of MusicRow.

MusicRow: You toured with some of country’s biggest stars last year. What did you learn from them on the road?

Ballerini: A really cool thing about last year is that I didn’t do a full tour from top to bottom. I did pieces of a lot of different size tours with a lot of different artists. With Lady Antebellum I got to see how arena shows are put together and all the behind-the-scenes of that. I played my first arena with them. I opened for Keith Urban at a couple of festivals and got to see how the festival world worked, and how the audience responds to different things. Then I did a lot of club dates too. It was cool to do the whole spectrum of shows and learn how to navigate each one.

MR: You are headed to Australia in March. Tell me about that.

Ballerini: I’m touring and doing a lot of stuff with the awards show there. I didn’t realize that Australia has a huge country music market and huge fan base. I think we are about to release my album over there too. It’s a new thing for me and I’m excited.

MR: What was your goal when you were making the album?

Ballerini: I wrote songs and tried to make a record that was as “me” as I could make it. I didn’t try to water it down to fit anything, and I just tried to make the best record I could. I think that by not trying to fit it into any frame or box, it allowed it to be honest and truthful and maybe different. It was really cool to see fans and radio embrace it like they did.

MR: What do you hope the next single will be?

Ballerini: “Peter Pan”—it is my favorite song on my album. When we recorded the album and talked about the singles, I said, “We have to get this song out there.” It’s one that I relate to, and am proud of lyrically. In my live shows a lot of girls gravitate toward it, which has been a really fun thing to watch. I’m so proud of that song.

MR: What does country radio mean to you?

Ballerini: I started as a fan and that is still the core of who I am as an artist. Radio is a huge way to discover music. That’s how I discovered songs that I added to my iPod, and found out about concert tickets that I would go buy—because I heard it on the radio. For me, that was the importance of it, and in country music specifically, it’s a relationship. Way before I got to be an artist I was told that country radio and country artists have an important relationship, because when they believe in you, they’ll champion you and really support you and give you a voice. As an artist that’s all you can really ask for.

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Sarah Skates has worked in the music business for more than a decade and is a longtime contributor to MusicRow.

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