Earlier this year, after his first single, "Missin' You Crazy," fizzled out at No. 25 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart, developing Capitol Nashville singer/songwriter Jon Pardi went to Universal Music Group Nashville (UMGN) chairman/CEO Mike Dungan with a big question.
"I asked him, 'Do you just want to start over? I'll rewrite everything,'" Pardi recalls, recounting the story hours before a headlining club gig in Georgia. "And he said, 'No-we like what you're doing.'"
Now, it appears, Dungan isn't the only one. Three weeks ago, Pardi's second single, "Up All Night," cracked the top 20 on Country Airplay after 34 weeks, and currently stands at No. 19 on the chart and No. 23 on Hot Country Songs. This week it also climbs to No. 91 on the Billboard Hot 100. It's sold 249,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Though written more than two years ago, "Up All Night" fits perfectly into the current country trend: an upbeat, escapist tune about taking your girl and your truck down a dirt road.
"I had the title lying around. I had the drum loop before they were standard issue in a country song," says Pardi, who wrote the tune with production partner Bart Butler and Brett Beavers. "There's no deep thought in it. It's all fun."
That's the song's appeal, says Fletcher Keyes, PD at WWQM Madison, Wis. "It's fun, uptempo, hooky-all the ingredients of a hit song." The station has played the tune more than 900 times, according to Nielsen BDS, and Keyes says it was the station's No. 1 testing song across all demos at one point.
Pardi says the single's slow build has been nerve-wracking, but UMGN senior VP of marketing Cindy Mabe feels it has given the label time to establish him. "Jon is breaking through station by station, one fan at a time, but he is making very loyal fans," she says.
The 28-year-old artist from Dixon, Calif., co-wrote 10 of the 11 songs on his debut album, Write You a Song (out Jan. 14), with such established Nashville writers as Kent Blazy, Tia Sillers and Casey Beathard. Melody has always come easily to Pardi, but since signing to independent music publisher Song Factory in 2009, 18 months after he moved to Nashville, he has concentrated on his lyrics. "I've really been studying lyrics, printing out lyrics to songs I love and reading them like a letter," he says.
Since the release of "Missin' You Crazy" in the spring of 2012, Pardi estimates he's made no fewer than 300 radio station visits, and Mabe says those will continue. "We will keep showing up until we break through," she says. "If we show the fans we are building, the decision-makers will keep buying in." A video for "Up All Night" premiered on Vevo on July 19.
Touring has also played a vital role in Pardi's development. The musician, booked by William Morris Endeavor and co-managed by C3 and Red Light, has opened for a number of like-minded acts, including Luke Bryan, Eric Church and, more recently, on a package tour with Justin Moore and Dustin Lynch.
"Keeping Jon out on the road has been the most important thing we have done," Mabe says. "He wins fans everywhere he goes. Justin Moore and Dustin Lynch have been cutting through the pack and building their own unique audiences in exactly the same way we are trying to build Jon's audiences. Justin has a very loyal base. That is what we envision for Jon, so it was a great grouping."
The experience has made Pardi an engaging live performer, though he admits he still gets too excited onstage and needs to slow down: "No one understands what I'm saying." But at least he's got his non-verbal communication down. "You've got to put a good dance move on the down beat, get a little hip-shaking in there for the ladies," he says with a laugh. "I did that before the whole Luke Bryan thing happened, but he takes it to a whole new level."