As Billboard continues to shine the spotlight on the five artists selected by country radio for tomorrow night's New Faces Show at CRS, Thomas Rhett took time to reflect upon the groundwork he laid at stations late in 2011.
"It feels like it was yesterday rather than it being two and a half years ago when I embarked on my first radio tour," said the Valory Music Group artist. "I really didn't know what to expect. My dad (Rhett Akins) had told me a little bit about it, but I'm not sure that you are ever fully prepared to travel five days a week going to three different stations a day. It was just me and my guitar. Some mornings, you go in and do the morning show at 5 a.m., and you sit in the conference room with guys you don't know and they don't know you. You play them two or three songs and hope that they love you. You do that for a solid three or five months, just trying to promote that first single."
That release, "Something To Do With My Hands," made it to No. 15 on the Country Songs chart, and paved the way for future successes like "Beer With Jesus" and "It Goes Like This," which topped the Country Airplay chart in October, and was the second most-played song on the airplay list for 2013. As strenuous as the radio tour schedule was, Rhett says it was definitely something he has fond memories of looking back. "It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. I got to meet so many cool people, and got to see the country in four months. It was one of those things where you get to break the ice with everyone. Coming back and getting to play New Faces is comparable to a reunion and seeing old buddies. They've watched you grow the last couple of years, and you get to play hits they've helped you create. It's going to be a fun night."
More 'New Faces'
What makes his selection to the CRS finale all the more amazing is the fact that just like he made a commitment to radio, it reflects that radio feels the same way. "If you talk to any artist, there's definitely times where you're on the road your first year where you ask yourself ‘Did we really just sell 13 tickets to a 1,000-capacity club? You wonder if you're ever going to make it, and you're out there chugging away calling radio stations, and trying to get as much exposure as you can. But, at the end of the day, it's all about the song and those radio programmers taking a chance on you, and giving you that 8:30 a.m. slot when everyone is going to work or the 5pm slot when they are going home to hear you for the first time. To be selected in that company is a big honor. It lets you know that your hard work paid off, and it feels good that your radio peers believe in you enough to put you on that stage."
Rhett said that there were a few programmers that were there for him early on that have become great friends as well as supporters. "Gregg Swedberg at KEEY in Minneapolis would even play songs that weren't on a record on his station. There were songs he liked that I had never put out that he'd play. Mike Moore at KWJJ in Portland was another. He was spinning the song long before he should, and always wanting the new single before anyone else," said Rhett, who also cited KRTY in San Jose as a station that was an early believer. "I've just made a lot of good friends all over," he says.
NOTE: Each day this week, The 615 takes a look at a different participant in the New Faces Show that closes Country Radio Seminar week in Nashville. Radio programmers voted Brett Eldredge, Tyler Farr, Cassadee Pope, Charlie Worsham, and today's featured artist -- Thomas Rhett -- onto the lineup.