Jay DeMarcus. Photo: Courtesy of The GreenRoom
As one third of superstar country group Rascal Flatts, Jay DeMarcus has some notable experience in the country music industry.
After two decades of selling over 23 million albums, earning 17 No. 1 hits and nearly four dozen awards, and selling more than 11 million concert tickets, DeMarcus has spent the last few years taking his artist expertise and immersing himself into the business side of the industry.
DeMarcus launched his Christian music label, Red Street Records, in 2018 with flagship group Avalon and worship leader Lauren James. Over the next few years, the label slowly signed more artists to its roster, including Cade Thompson, Jason Crabb, Tom Yankton, and more.
At the beginning of 2022, DeMarcus added a new endeavor to the growing Red Street empire: Red Street Country.
Pictured (L-R, front row): Red Street Records Owner/Chairman Dan Crocket, Andrew Millsaps of Neon Union, Leo Brooks of Neon Union, Red Street Records Owner/CEO Jay DeMarcus and Red Street Records’ Kelly King; (L-R, back row): Red Street Records’ Kelly Rich, JAB Entertainment’s Aaron Benward, Jimmie Allen, Red Street Records’ Alex Valentine, and Red Street Records’ Harrison Sokoloff
With singer-songwriter Ryan Griffin as its flagship artist, the label has grown substantially since its launch, signing rising country duo Neon Union and forming an impressive team of industry executives, including Alex Valentine (General Manager), Kelly King (Sr. Director of A&R), Kelly Rich (Chief Operating Officer), Mike Craft (Chief Financial Officer), Andy Elliott (SVP of Country Promotion), and more.
MusicRow recently caught up with DeMarcus and Griffin to talk about the new country division, what the first few months have been like, and look ahead at the future of Red Street Records.
MusicRow: Why did you want to start a country division?
DeMarcus: When I first opened Red Street, I wanted to make sure it was something I was going to be good at and that I wasn’t just wasting everybody’s time. We started out really slow, signing a couple acts out of the gate. The more we got into it, the more we started to take some baby steps toward success. I realized it was something that I had a real passion for. I was really excited about the opportunity to pass on whatever experience I’d had in the last 22 years with Rascal Flatts to younger, up-and-coming artists and help them be prepare for things that I wish somebody had been around to tell me. That concept of being not only a label head, but also a quasi mentor, was really appealing to me.
When I figured out that I really loved doing this, at the end of last year I sat down with my business partner, Dan Crockett, and he asked what the next step for Red Street was. I said the logical next step would be to get into the country space because that’s where I’ve spent most of my career. After a couple of discussions, he said, “I think that makes a lot of sense. Let’s dive in and hire the team and find the artists that you want.” With Dan’s backing and support, I started to put a team together to launch our country division, but I didn’t have an artist.
Pictured (L-R): Dan Crockett, Owner/Chairman RSC; Ryan Griffin; Jay DeMarcus; Mark Lusk, former President, General Manager RSC. Photo: Cooper Smith
What made Ryan the perfect fit as Red Street’s flagship artist?
DeMarcus: I brought Ryan in to see if he was even interested in signing another record deal. He’d had some success launching “Salt, Lime & Tequila” by himself and worked very hard to turn that into a hit last summer.
After we had spent some time in the writers room together, I got to witness his work ethic and how talented he was, not only as a vocalist and musician, but as a songwriter. He was one of those people that I was really drawn to, even before there was a thought of opening up a country division. When we decided to green light the country division, my first thought was Ryan. I thought it would be a match made in heaven. Thank God, and thank Ryan, because he was open and excited about being a part of something new.
Ryan, what made you believe in this label and sign on?
Griffin: I previously had deals with Sony and then Warner Brothers, but when the pandemic hit, I got a call that I had been cut. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next and I put out this song, “Salt, Lime & Tequila.” It ended up taking off and making a life of its own.
Ryan Griffin. Photo: Dove Shore
I got a phone call from Jay just after Thanksgiving and he asked me out for coffee. He told me what was going on and that he wanted me to be the flagship artist, and there was no second thought. That is what I had been praying for and what me and my wife had been dreaming of. I’ve done the majors and, to be completely frank, it just wasn’t a really good fit for me. I wanted a place that really felt like a family, and one thing that Jay has done incredibly well is cultivate this family dynamic within the label.
Jay is always available and comes at it from an artist’s perspective, which is amazing. I look at Jay as a mentor to to help me through some of these road bumps and to help me avoid some bumps because he’s been doing it for so long. I’m really thankful to be a part of a label where the head understands what it is to be an artist and the proper things to put our time, energy and resources behind.
Jay, what are some lessons you’ve learned since getting into the business side of the industry?
DeMarcus: One of the major things that I’ve learned is I love it very much. It’s very rewarding for me to be able to pass the baton to the next generation of country music stars.
I’ve also learned that there was so much more about the music business that I didn’t know. I’ve had to surround myself with really good people and, thank God, we’ve had really good people come to us that I can lean on and that can teach me the things that I don’t know. I didn’t understand the administrative side of running a label and the nuts and bolts that make a label run. The basics of running a business have been a fast education for me, and I’ve been grateful to have good people around me.
Who have been good resources for you as you’ve gotten into the business side of things?
DeMarcus: One thing that I don’t have is a shortage of dear friends in this town, and I pride myself on the relationships I’ve built. My manager, Clarence Spaulding, and Randy Goodman, who signed Rascal Flatts at Lyric Street Records and is now the head of Sony Nashville, have been on speed dial since I started this.
It’s been amazing to be able to dive into my digital Rolodex and look at all the people that I’ve been blessed to be friends with for over 25 years. They have been so gracious, kind and giving with their time and advice. Everybody’s been really supportive, and it’s been really overwhelming to see the support for Red Street from our community and friends so far.
What do you have planned for the next few months?
Griffin: We have been out across the country on our radio tour, and it’s been so cool to meet everybody face-to-face. We also have “Salt, Lime & Tequila” on country radio and we’ve been out touring with Old Dominion and Walker Hayes, so it’s been a blast.
We’re currently in the midst of our “Slow Down Sunrise Tour” and it’s just been incredible. Seeing people sing the lyrics of my songs back to me is something I’ve dreamed of my entire life. It’s been such a fun journey and knowing that I get to do that every night for the next couple months is a really good feeling. It’s an awesome experience knowing that the song is connecting, and I know that I have a family and team behind me that has my back, believes in me, and wants to see me succeed.
What are some of your goals for Red Street Country?
DeMarcus: The immediate goal for me is to be a real player in this industry because I’m really passionate about what we’re building over here. You can tell by some of the people that we’ve brought on to the staff and the people that we’ve already had on the team, that we’re bringing on people that are very experienced in the music industry. I’m really thrilled with the moves, promotions and new hires that we’ve made, and hopefully it makes the statement that we’re here to stay and leave our mark on the music industry. This is all I know how to do—I don’t know what my life would be like without music.
I’m really grateful for the opportunity.