When Neil Mason isn’t playing shows and recording as part of BMLG band The Cadillac Three (known for their Gold-certified single “The South”), he is helping other artists and songwriters build their own careers via his own company Badlands Management.
Among the artists and writers on the Badlands Management roster are Austin Jenckes, who released the single “If You Grew Up Like I Did” and has played supporting slots for Brothers Osborne, and Ashley McBryde, as well as Josh Dunne, who co-wrote the Brantley Gilbert/Lindsay Ell hit “What Happens In A Small Town,” and Stephen Carey.
Also on the roster is hit songwriter and newcomer artist Ray Fulcher, well known for co-writing eight tracks on Luke Combs’ record-breaking No. 1 album This One’s For You, including the Triple-Platinum certified single “When It Rains It Pours.” Fulcher is a co-writer on three of the five songs on Combs’ new EP, The Prequel and is on Combs’ “Beer Never Broke My Heart” summer tour, before he launches his own headlining tour this fall.
On May 24, Fulcher and Badlands independently released the six-song EP, Somebody Like Me, which has since earned more than 10 million streams on the various DSPs. Spearheading the project has been the infectious track “Anything Like You Dance,” which has gained more than 6 million streams.
“It’s a really exciting time to be an independent artist,” Mason says. “I think streaming is changing the game and fixing a lot of the game for major labels, but it can be such a big thing for an independent artist to get of the ground. The DSPs have all been really good partners for us and they were willing to meet and listen to music really early on. They were great about discussing programs they are developing in each of the companies and what the opportunities are to plug in with each of them. It’s just kind of the Wild West right now, in a good way.”
Neil and Ray talked with MusicRow about the release of Somebody Like Me, the launch of Badlands Management, and centering an artist’s early career on streaming and touring.
Neil, how did Badlands Management start?
Mason: With Austin Jenckes. I had been his publisher for a few years. When that came to an end, he was having a baby and was looking to make a record. We had a really good thing with the publishing thing was just running its course.
We used to be roommates and I was his first co-write when he moved to Nashville; we had a long history of knowing each other. I said I wouldn’t mind taking a shot at management. So, that was where it started. I’ve developed artists more on the musical side, like producing and writing side and then Ray came along this past year. He had a lot of his EP already close to done and Jonathan Singleton was producing it. We got into that at the end of last year.
You wear a lot of hats being in a band, learn the touring side, meet a lot of promoters, dealing with booking agents, typically having a manager yourself, seeing the inner workings of their company and dealing with labels. This is my third band and third record deal so I’ve seen a lot of pieces of those puzzles, and I think that it just happened as a natural progression. The other thing is, I just find there is a lot of downtime on the road and we work from our phones most of the time anyway. I’m in Nashville a few times a week and most of the time that ends up being enough.
Why was this the right management fit for both of you?
Fulcher: After the first couple of times we met, I felt like our vision was in line and it was worth exploring. [The Cadillac Three] has done a great job building a fanbase. So I knew it would be someone I can lean on for that. But he also knew a lot of things about the business that I didn’t. For me, more than anything, I knew he was a guy who would speak for me and it would come across the way I wanted it to. And he treats people well in this town and not everyone is that way.
Mason: The thing I really saw was that Ray has a really strong work ethic and a good vision for what he’s about as a songwriter, as an artist and as a storyteller. He understands that getting this thing off the ground, it’s not necessarily about whether you have a record deal or waiting for that. When you are ready to go and you have the music…when Ray and I met he almost had the EP to a place where it was ready.
What was it about these songs that made you feel like they were songs you wanted to sing as an artist?
Fulcher: For me, the challenge was by the time I put it out these songs, it had been three years, and in the meantime, I’m blessed to have that success with Luke. But at the time, Luke didn’t have a record deal when we wrote those songs, and those could have easily just been my songs, but they weren’t so I had to figure out how to write songs that spoke in the same language but didn’t sonically sound like that. After that, the question was just “What do I want these six songs to be?’”I wanted each song to be a different layer of who I am as a writer and an artist. We wanted to use those songs as a template for what the music looks like going forward.
Did you want to be an artist when you came to town?
Fulcher: I came to town wanting to be an artist, but I had no idea of how it worked. The songwriting thing was just something I started when I got here because I have a passion for writing but that’s also just what you do—everybody writes, everybody plays. I started writing, and I had done like five or six songs in my life, but luckily it was something that came kind of natural. So it just happened that songwriting came first, which I’m thankful for.
Neil, The Cadillac Three started early in building an international fanbase. Is that something you are looking at even now as you build Ray’s career as an artist?
Mason: There is an opportunity in Canada and in the UK and Europe. They are each kind of their own animal. The UK is in a unique spot right now because the country scene as a whole is growing. The fans are gravitating towards it, so there is a real opportunity there. Also, geographically, it’s just a smaller country so it’s easier to navigate than Canada or even the United States for that matter.
The idea was to get this EP out and then look at going overseas in 2020. [The Cadillac Three] didn’t have a huge fan base here when we started over in the UK, but the first show we put on sale over in the UK, it was a 100-person club and it sold out. We may as well have thought we sold out an arena, you know? The biggest thing I’ve seen with that fanbase is consistency. If you are loyal to them, they are loyal back.
In the conversations Ray and I had early on before we started working together, I realized he had that drive to keep going back. If you play that 100-person club this time, you want to play a 300-person venue the next time. We were very like minded in that approach, so we’ve been approaching all the headlining touring in the states, too. The financial investment is the hardest part about jumping into that whole thing. You are not only putting that money down on that one trip, you are saying you are going to put that money down three or four times next year and the year after. It can take 10 times before you are actually making money on that investment, but I think the payoff is in the fans and the loyalty. The fans over there are more than just singles-based fans. They know the whole record.
Are you guys shopping for a label deal?
Mason: It’s a constant conversation. I think what we are looking for is a partner who understands who Ray is, what he’s about and the stories he wants to tell as an artist. As we continue to build off of the streaming numbers and touring, we’ll continue to get closer to figuring out who a right partner might be.
Ray, what have you learned from Luke Combs, just from being in the writing rooms and being out on the road?
One thing that he’s always said is, and I think you see that it’s worked for him, is “Never operate out of fear.” If there is something you want to try and you believe in it, and your team believes in it don’t let the fear of how it is going to be received control what you do. I think he’s led his career like that and it’s worked.
We’ve had conversations about the decisions we all have to make, like about record labels and publishing and management. He’s like, “It doesn’t matter what sign is on the front of the building, as long as that person believes in you and is your champion.” You could go some other place that could be more sexy or whatever, but if you’re just a number, it doesn’t matter.
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