Since earning his first No. 1 song in 2013 with “It Goes Like This,” Thomas Rhett has become known as one of country music’s most successful and talented newcomers. In addition to co-writing his own chart-toppers including “Star of the Show,” “Get Me Some Of That,” and “Crash and Burn,” he’s penned hits for Florida Georgia Line (“‘Round Here”), Jason Aldean (“1994”), and Michael Ray (“Think A Little Less”), among others.
In 2016, his career skyrocketed as “Die A Happy Man” spent six weeks atop the country charts and earned him the CMA Single of the Year honor. Earlier this year, he was named the Academy of Country Music’s Male Vocalist of the Year.
In the midst of building his career stateside, the Big Machine Label Group artist, along with his team, has been steadily building his draw with audiences in the United Kingdom.
In 2016, Thomas Rhett performed at C2C: Country 2 Country, a festival developed by 02 Arena and SJM Concerts, in conjunction with the Country Music Association.
“[C2C organizers] are providing a platform globally and that helps for country music to gain exposure, for us to make a commitment to go overseas and tour,” says Thomas Rhett’s manager, G Major Management founder Virginia Davis. “We took that initial opportunity and built around it.”
Davis, along with BMLG’s international director Jimmy Chapin, WME’s Akiko Rogers, and Live Nation UK’s Anna-Sophie Mertens, will discuss the process and strategy behind focusing on overseas markets during the panel “Thomas Rhett: Breaking An International Act” for the 2017 Music Biz Conference. The panel will take place Wednesday, May 17 at 12:15 p.m. at the Renaissance Hotel Nashville.
In May 2016, Thomas Rhett followed his debut Country 2 Country appearance with a full-fledged media trip to the UK, where it was announced he would be returning to the UK for a series of shows in November, including stops in Dublin, Ireland; London, England; Glasgow, Scotland; Antwerp, Belgium; and more.
By the time Thomas Rhett returned for the series of headlining shows, his singles such as “Crash and Burn” and “Die A Happy Man” had gained traction and the groundwork had been laid with nearly a full year of promotion.
“We ended up selling out our headlining UK shows in November, so we knew the UK market was something we could really build,” says Davis.
New Opportunities, New Challenges
According to 2016 research findings from the Country Music Association, the UK market represents roughly 5 million listeners. Forty percent of adults in the UK/London listen to country music, and the UK was among the markets with the highest levels of listeners who rank the country music genre as their favorite.
Mertens names the popular television show Nashville as a catalyst for catching the eyes and ears of music fans in the UK in the past several years.
“I think people saw some background into the songwriting and everything that goes on in Nashville,” Mertens says. “The show has a great storyline and great songs they use in the show. I think people who would normally say, ‘I don’t like country music,’ began to realize that their tastes might be aligned a little bit more with what country music has to offer.”
Working radio in the UK can also offer artists the ability for different and additional radio singles, as the UK’s cycle for a radio single can last from six to eight weeks, compared to approximately 20 weeks for a radio single in the United States.
In addition to key radio stations, Mertens lists daytime television segments and playlists, including top Spotify playlists, among the top ways to reach UK fans. “We don’t have as many digital radio stations in the UK, it’s not quite as much of a thing here. There is only one mainstream station, BBC Radio2, that really embraces some country acts, and then, only some of them, not all of them. It is a publicly funded station, which means you can’t advertise on it, so it’s all about getting artists on their shows, or getting them on key playlists.”
Not that those playlists or stations need to be strictly country. Mertens names another client, The Cadillac Three, as an example. “They aren’t classed as country in the UK. They are classed as southern rock/classic rock, so we suddenly have all these avenues across the rock stations, and the Download Festival, a huge rock festival. They were on that bill. They will play to huge numbers of people, so it’s almost about finding an angle that isn’t just straight country but that you can do something with. That isn’t to say a straight country angle won’t work, but you’ve got an added bonus. And that’s why Thomas Rhett has worked so well.” The Cadillac Three will return to the Download Festival this year.
Mertens says that some of the most well-received audience targeting for UK fans of Thomas Rhett found that those fans were also strong fans of artists such as Maroon 5, Train, Jason Mraz and John Mayer, in addition to other country artists.
“He’s not that dissimilar in terms of audience profile,” says Mertens. “The age group might be 25+, they are female-heavier for sure, and lots of couples, but the range does go into older audiences as well.”
Davis says that UK fans share a deep love for country music. During her time working with Thomas Rhett in UK markets, she noticed that UK fans tend to gravitate toward an album’s deeper cuts earlier in an artist’s career. She also noticed how the fans reacted to singer-songwriter (and Thomas Rhett’s father) Rhett Akins, who opened the shows. “It was amazing seeing Rhett Akins open these shows in the UK this past November. They knew all of Rhett’s songs, they knew the Luke Bryan cuts, the Blake Shelton cuts. They were singing along to these songs that Rhett was performing, and then later the same for Thomas Rhett’s set.”
Davis calls C2C: Country 2 Country a great launching pad for artists, but stresses the key to success is international markets comes from consistency. “You have to have an artist that wants that international success and is dedicated to doing what it takes to build it.”
Davis says they are looking at 2018 to continue shows globally—hoping to build a similar career arc in Australia, as well as an additional round of UK shows in even larger venues.
“The goal is for Thomas Rhett to be able to play his music for as many fans as he can,” Davis says. “It’s about finding the best ways to reach all his fans and serve that demand with an incredible live performance.”
- CMA Honors Robert Deaton With Chairman’s Award - December 4, 2020
- Nashville Symphony, Nashville Musicians Association Reach Agreement - December 4, 2020
- Zach Williams’ “Chain Breaker” Is Most-Added On ‘MusicRow’ CountryBreakout Radio Chart - December 4, 2020