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Miranda Lambert Returns: The Billboard Cover Story
Newly signed artists: often timid, pliable souls so happy to have a record deal that they can be easily molded into someone else's vision.
Sony Music Nashville chairman/CEO Gary Overton knew during his first conversation with
A broken heart and revenge are also territories she's visited before in hits like "Kerosene" and "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." She does so again on "Mama's Broken Heart," penned by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally and Kasey Musgraves: "Wish I could be just a little less dramatic/Like a Kennedy when Camelot went down in flames/Leave it to me to be holding the matches/When the fire trucks show up and there's nobody else to blame/Can't get revenge and keep a spotless reputation."
For anyone who thought love and marriage would soften her edge, Lambert says it's unlikely to happen. "I have that angst naturally," she says. "I always lean toward a sad song or an angry song more than a love song, but now that I am happy and in love and married, I can have the perspective of both."
"She's an artist in the true sense of the word," Overton says. "She's marching ahead. She's not trying to pander to anyone or think, 'How do I capture this audience or this crowd?' There is music within her and she listens to it. That's how she makes her records and that's how she makes up the set list each night.
"People sign up for that," Overton adds. "They see it. They see this strong woman and this incredible live stage show. When you think of Miranda, there's an image. You know what Miranda is, what she means, what she stands for. There are other artists who don't have that."
Overton further notes that despite the fiery reputation, Lambert is a kind soul with a soft side that not everyone sees. "Having been around Miranda now for the last year-and-a-half, it's very interesting," he says. "I don't want to blow her cover [because] she is that sassy, very strong woman, but I've had occasion to see that very sweet and tender side of her that a lot of people don't see [when they] just buy a ticket to a show."
A ROAD WARRIOR
It's a Friday afternoon and Lambert is having her hair highlighted and cut before taking the stage in Baton Rouge, La., on a stop of her "Revolution" tour. Juggling an interview and hair stylist doesn't pose a problem for the multitasking artist. Performing is a passion and Lambert's live show has been a major factor in her career trajectory.
"They worked hard early on in her career setting her up to be a headlining act instead of taking the easy money and continuing to open for the Kenny Chesneys and the Brad Paisleys," Overton says of Lambert's management and booking agencies. "She could have just taken the money, but said, 'No, I want to build a following,' and that's been one of the keys."
Lambert says she assumed headliner status out of necessity. "There really wasn't anywhere else to go," she says. "I had been on pretty much every big tour you could be on and I had to sink or swim at that point. I had to work and earn my spot to be the one right before Kenny Chesney at a stadium, and where do you go from there? You don't want to be an opener the rest of your career. You have to step out and get your feet wet and take that chance. I think we've done it the right way . . . A lot of money and a lot of people's lives are on the line, but so far it's working great." Lambert will wrap her current tour on Oct. 22 in Jonesboro, Ark., then hit the road again in January with Chris Young and Jerrod Niemann as her opening acts.
If "Four the Record" debuts at No. 1 on Top Country Albums, Lambert will hold the distinction of having every album she's released bow atop the chart. Lambert's booking agent, Joey Lee at William Morris Endeavor, credits her live show with spurring her success. "It's been the beast behind the whole thing since day one, since before she even had a single," Lee says. "She's always been a performer."
Lambert played her first few headlining dates in the fall of 2009 and launched her first major tour as a headliner in the spring of 2010, and has been progressively growing her business. "In the spring of 2011, we played 4,000- to 6,000-seat venues and in the fall, she's playing 5,000-7,500 seats," Lee says. "In the spring of next year, everything is pretty much 6,000-9,000 and in the summer she's doing a run of amphitheaters, which are all 12,000-18,000. Then we'll probably finish up doing arenas. 2012 will be all arenas and amphitheaters. There will only be eight or 10 fair and festival dates."
Lee says the growth of Lambert's touring has been strategically planned and next year it'll be stepping things up. "We're jumping into a lot of the major markets that we tried to stay out of in 2010 and 2011," he says. "We've primarily played secondary markets in the spring and summer now that she's jumping up to the major markets. She starts out Jan. 9."
Lee attributes Lambert's success to the fact that "she's an artist who from day one has always had something to say and still does. It reflects in her music, in her live shows and the way she conducts business. She's an all around artist -a singer, a writer, a performer and she has something to say."
During the next month, Lambert will be busy launching "Four the Record."
"Our awareness campaign started in June at the CMA Music Festival," Sony Music Nashville senior VP of marketing Paul Barnabee says. "We had a very unique street date in 11/1/11 and began to start making people think of the date. We secured the Web address and created the site www.whatis11111.com. We then hired street teams to give away T-shirts, stickers and fans, all branded with www.whatis11111.com. We also asked the teams to chalk the streets with the message."
The label capitalized on Lambert's performance on the final night of the CMA Music Fest by flying an airplane over the crowd at LP Field in Nashville before the start of the show with the question "What Is 11111?" In July, Lambert was a guest on "Good Morning America" where she revealed that the numerical message was the release date of "Four the Record."
"All those folks who signed up at the website were sent an email alerting them that it was Miranda's album release date," Barnabee adds. "We've since set up some of the usual partners such as preps, blog interviews, as well as radio syndicators. We also utilized her tour markets to continue to promote the new album and release date."
In addition, Sony Music Nashville is partnering with the Hipstamatic iPhone app to launch a "Listen & Create" photo contest where fans will take photos inspired by the song "Mama's Broken Heart." The winner will be chosen based on the photo's number of Facebook likes and will receive an autographed guitar.
And, during street week Lambert will appear on "Today" and "Live! With Regis and Kelly." On Nov. 9, she'll perform during ABC's live telecast of the CMA Music Awards. She'll also appear on "Access Hollywood," AP TV, "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Among the magazines featuring her on the cover will be Ladies Home Journal, Texas Monthly and People Country.
"Miranda's music has always been the best marketing tool," Barnabee says. "Our job is to let folks know when it's coming and just how freaking great it is."
Overton notes that Lambert often gets TV and print opportunities not generally offered to country acts, and it's no secret her music has been deemed cool by rock critics who usually turn up their noses at country. "It's scary," Lambert says. "I'm just trying to break down doors for other artists who want to be themselves."
She's happy with where her defiant streak has led her. "I'm right where I want to be right now in my life and that's a great feeling," she says with a sigh. "I have set goals and I've reached them. I just want to keep going and make sure that I stay on a good path."
Deborah Evans Price is a Nashville-based freelance journalist. Her work also appears in Country Weekly and CMA Close Up and on AOL's the Boot and watchgmctv.com.