IEBA Panel: Kane Brown’s Rise From Social Media Star To Country Luminary

Pictured (L-R): Pam Matthews of IEBA, Kane Brown, Martha Earls and Braeden Rountree. Photo: Rick Diamond/Getty Images for IEBA

Pictured (L-R): Pam Matthews of IEBA, Kane Brown, Martha Earls and Braeden Rountree. Photo: Rick Diamond/Getty Images for IEBA

RCA Nashville artist Kane Brown was the focus of one of IEBA’s many touring panels as IEBA’s 46th annual conference wrapped this week in Nashville.

Brown was joined by his manager Martha Earls and his WME agent Braeden Rountree for a panel to discuss Brown’s rise from social media music sensation to one of RCA Nashville’s newest artists.

Brown built his ardent fanbase one song at a time. He would upload covers of country songs such as George Strait’s “Check Yes Or No.” Brown’s rendition of the hit has been viewed more than 10 million times. Eventually he began adding his own original material.

“It was pretty crazy,” Brown says of his rapid career rise. “I was working at Target, stocking at 4 in the morning. I was working at FedEx. Then on my off time—I’m a huge game nerd—so I would literally play video games all day. I decided to put videos on Facebook, and it just went viral. So going from playing video games and putting videos on Facebook to opening for Florida Georgia Line is crazy.”

“I got a call from Martha Earls, and this was probably nearly two years ago,” recalls Rountree. “She said I might be interested in Kane. At that time, I think Kane had 100,000 Facebook followers, which I thought was pretty impressive. Then about four months later, Martha said I should check out the Facebook page again and in literally three or four months it had gone from 100,000 to 1 million followers. Each day I looked at his socials, he was getting about 90K new followers per day. I go to my bosses and am like, ‘We need to make a move fast.’”

Pictured (L-R): Rountree, Brown, and Earls.

Pictured (L-R): Rountree, Brown, and Earls. Photo: Rick Diamond/Getty Images for IEBA

In 2014, Brown crowdfunded his debut EP, Closer, which reached No. 11 on the iTunes chart. In October 2015, he released “Used To Love You Sober,” which topped the country singles chart and No. 2 overall.

“In the country space, we haven’t had anyone who has really broken on social media,” said Earls. “So the question was, ‘How do we move this from this large fanbase online to see if these people will buy tickets?’ And so that would have been Oct. 21 of last year when you put ‘Used To Love You Sober’ on iTunes. After that it was like, we are on the right path. Then it was a question of how to give Kane room to develop his live show, but also go out and play to all these fans. That was when Braeden got very involved.”

They booked a series of six shows. Each show sold out within 30 minutes to one hour. A show at a 550-seat venue in Darlington, South Carolina, sold out in an hour. A second show was added and it sold out in eight minutes. It was quite a feat for Brown, who at the time, had only four original songs to perform, including “Used To Love You Sober.” He filled out the rest of his hour-long performance slot with a collection of cover tunes.

In spring 2016, Brown signed with RCA Nashville. His single “Used To Love You Sober” just went gold. “It’s a big deal to go RIAA-certified Gold with no real radio airplay,” Earls said. “That’s pretty significant.”

From the beginning, Brown has made it a point to meet all of his fans, a decision that often resulted in three or four-hour meet and greets. “One meet and greet was held in 40-degree weather,” recalls Brown. “I stayed the whole time, though.”

Brown’s team set up a more formal meet and greet process. “These fans that got to know Kane online—and it’s almost like online stars are like any type of celebrity now—fans really want to meet them. So we came up with a manageable system,” Earls says. “People can apply for meet and greets. At each show where we did meet and greets, we would encourage the venues to tell them there would be a meet and greet. That helps sell tickets, too.”

“I’m always trying to make my fans happy,” Brown says. “If I don’t meet them in a meet and greet, sometimes they will come say hi outside my tour bus.”

Artist Kane Brown, and manager Martha Earls. Photo: Rick Diamond/Getty Images for IEBA

Artist Kane Brown, and manager Martha Earls. Photo: Rick Diamond/Getty Images for IEBA

He says that signing with a major label imprint hasn’t changed how he interacts with fans. “They understand that how I broke through into country music, it’s a new wave and they don’t want to change anything that I’ve done. So if I want to post something they usually let me,” Brown quips.

“They understand that the social media aspect is what brought Kane’s fans to him, so we don’t want those fans to feel they are not being served anymore, because they are the ones who call radio or buy tickets or an album,” says Earls. “Having the time and resources and structure to create a really great album is the next step.”

Currently, Brown is opening for Florida Georgia Line’s Dig Your Roots tour, which he says has been an intense learning experience for him as a performer.

“I learned to play to the back of the crowd. Your biggest fans might be in the back of the room and may not have enough money to buy a ticket to be in the pit area. So just making them feel like you see them all the way back there. It was a huge step going from being in a bar to being onstage with Florida Georgia Line.”

In November, Brown will headline his own series of shows, as part of Monster Energy and Outbreak’s Ain’t No Stopping Us Now tour. Past headliners for the tour have included Kendrick Lamar, Cole Swindell, Macklemore and more.

“Everyone has been so inclusive and willing to help,” Earls says of the Florida Georgia Line team. “Not just for Kane, but the musicians in their band helped the musicians in Kane’s band. Their tour manager helped our tour manager. So, I think the level of everything that they learned this summer has prepared us for the tour this fall. I don’t think we would be ready for it like we are without the Florida Georgia Line tour.”

Brown will perform at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena tonight (Oct. 13) as part of Florida Georgia Line’s Dig Your Roots tour.

Kane Brown. Photo: Jason Davis/Getty Images for IEBA

Kane Brown. Photo: Jason Davis/Getty Images for IEBA

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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