Big Loud Records, led by President Clay Hunnicutt, celebrates its two-year anniversary today (Aug. 1)
“It feels like a blink of an eye,” says Hunnicutt, who in the past year has led the label to its first No. 1 song, with Chris Lane’s debut single “Fix.” Along the way, they staffed up internally, adding Stacy Blythe, Tyler Waugh, John D’Amico, Dave Kirth, Nikki Wood, Brianne Deslippe and Maggie Abrams to the promotion team.
Lane’s current single “For Her” sits in the Top 20 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. Fellow Big Loud Records newcomer Morgan Wallen’s single “The Way I Talk” sits inside the Top 40.
Big Loud will soon release to radio music from its newest country signing, singer-songwriter Jillian Jacqueline, who inked a recording contract with Big Loud Records earlier this year.
Jacqueline first arrived at the Big Loud offices as a songwriter, hoping to successfully pitch her songs to artists on the roster. Soon after the introduction, and after later hearing her in a concert setting, the Big Loud team knew she would make the perfect addition to their roster.
“The moment that I personally saw it so clearly is when she did a song called ‘Sad Girls,’ that will be on her album,” Hunnicutt tells MusicRow. “She performed it at a local Nashville bar and Nashville is such a jaded town that when you go to bars and listen to singer-songwriters, everybody winds up talking more than paying attention to the music. It was one of only two or three times when I’ve been in the room where somebody played and the entire room just shut up. Then song after song, it just got better and better. She is one of the first artists to walk in here and say, ‘This is my style and what I do.’ We’ve been able to let that out and amplify that. She has a clear vision for the artist and brand she wants to be.”
Before promoting Jacqueline’s new music to radio, Hunnicutt and the Big Loud Records team have been introducing her music directly to fans, releasing “Reasons,” “Hate Me,” “Bleachers,” and the latest, “God Bless This Mess.” She is working on her full-length debut album.
Hunnicutt, who spent 15 years with iHeartMedia prior to joining Big Loud Records, had no reservations about the fight that will lay ahead in getting Jacqueline’s music played on country radio.
The country music industry is two years on from “tomatogate,” a controversy that exploded when radio consultant Keith Hill referred to female artists as the “tomatoes” of country radio, garnish listeners preferred sparingly in a “salad” of male artists. In the past two years, newcomer female artists have made some headway on country radio, most notably with Black River Entertainment’s Kelsea Ballerini notching three consecutive No. 1 singles from her debut album, and Mercury Nashville artist Lauren Alaina reaching No. 1 with “Road Less Traveled,” after six years of trying to score a radio hit. RaeLynn earned a No. 1 debut with her Warner Nashville project WildHorse, while Big Machine Label Group’s Carly Pearce has flirted with the Top 20 with her single, “Every Little Thing.”
“I think people get way too caught up in the male versus female thing, and saying females have a problem in the [country] format and things like that,” Hunnicutt says. “I’ve been in the business 29 years. This conversation has been going on since the day I started.”
He notes that some of the females making the strongest impact on radio just happen be part of groups.
“A lot of times the format gets caught up in the solo female. There are some unbelievable female talents out there. Little Big Town with Karen and Kimberly, those are two of the most dominant women in the format. If they weren’t in bands or duos, they would constantly be nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year just as well as some of the others, or for Entertainer of the Year. I think they get discounted sometimes when we go, ‘Oh, there are no females on the charts.’ Lady Antebellum doesn’t sound like Lady Antebellum without Hillary Scott. That’s a strong female in the format. Will the format discount that because it’s not a solo female act?
“When you look back at our format’s history, and I believe this about Jillian, the women that are really great artists are women of substance. They have great stories to tell, or they are really great songwriters. They are strong, independent women. If you look at Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, go back to Loretta [Lynn] and Patsy [Cline] and some of the other generations—Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood right now—these are strong women who know exactly who they are, and they sing about things they relate to and they do it in a fantastic way.”
While Big Loud continues working with Jacqueline, Wallen and Lane on the country side, the company plans to extend its reach beyond the country genre, working with rapper/singer Ernest K Smith. Hunnicutt says Big Loud has signed on to work with other artists in various stages of development, and that there is potential for a fourth country artist on the label’s roster.
Earlier today, Big Loud announced its rebranding, bringing all of its operations under the name Big Loud. Hunnicutt says the move helps the company’s public image more closely resemble its inner workings.
“Everybody works on everything. It is a combined team effort and there are a lot of blurred lines because there are shared resources and personnel between the four companies,” Hunnicutt says. “You look at some of the great brands. Look at ESPN. There is ESPN 2, ESPN News, Classics, ESPN U, and things like that. You take a great brand and build off that. It started with four different companies, but it’s a seamless organization, internally, and now, externally.”
“The entire mantra of Big Loud is passion,” says Hunnicutt. “If we feel an artist has huge potential and great talent, that’s what we are into. We are not under any mandate to sign 15 acts or to hit a certain threshold. With artists like Morgan Wallen, we just fell in love with his songs and passion. If it’s a non-country artist that comes along, we try to work together because we are into it. These are passion projects.”
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