Jason Aldean: Party Crasher
Spalding says "My Kinda Party" emphasizes Aldean's vocal ability. "Sometimes that's gotten lost on his more uptempo party material, but new songs like 'Fly Over States,' 'Church Pew or Barstool' and 'Don't You Wanna Stay' bring out the fact that Jason is a really good singer."
"He's playing out a lot, and his vocals are stronger," Knox says. "But he's always liked those more difficult melodies. We never had the opportunity to exploit that more than once on a record, but for this one, with 15 songs, we took some time and really tried to build a true superstar's record." That said, Knox adds, "we spent less time on vocals than we ever have. Jason was really on his game this time around."
For all the pride he takes in Aldean's slow-and-steady rise, Spalding says that the singer's long-awaited arrival presents its own set of challenges.
"I had 18 years with Brooks & Dunn, and I've always said that it's hard work getting to certain spots in your career, but it's harder work maintaining it. As your organization gets larger and your touring gets larger, expectations get larger as well. We used to fly under the radar, then we'd hit these numbers that made people say, 'Holy shit, look at what Jason Aldean did! I didn't even know he had an album out.' Now when we launch an album, everyone's looking. We're not that kid any more, sneaking through the night, jumping out and scaring everybody."
Indeed, Broken Bow senior VP of legal and financial affairs Paul Brown says he's "heard people around Nashville compare 'My Kinda Party' to seminal albums that led to huge advances for Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney."
That newfound prestige is part of what convinced the singer and his camp to stretch "My Kinda Party" to 15 tracks. "I probably went through 5,000 songs and narrowed those down to 20, then Jason picked the 15 he liked best," Knox says. "We always give the label around that many to use for bonus tracks, but this time Jason was like, 'Forget the bonus tracks-let's put them all on there.' He wanted to go for it."
Broken Bow executive VP of marketing Jim Yerger says, "It's one thing to make a long record and another to make a record with a lot of great songs. In my mind there are eight or nine singles on this project. Obviously, we won't get to all of them. But at the end of the day it's about quality and quantity. While the industry's turning to the Six Pak model, we felt we'd go the other way."
Yerger adds that the label isn't raising the album's price to reflect the extended running time. According to him, "My Kinda Party" will go on sale in its first week at Walmart for $9.99 and at Target for $7.99.
Growing Aldean's digital sales is a priority for the label, says Brown, who estimates the digital portion of the singer's previous sales at approximately 10%. "I anticipate that going up," he says.
To that end, Yerger points to a "very aggressive" digital marketing plan that includes awareness-raising activity on MySpace, a full-album stream on CMT.com and behind-the-scenes, in-the-studio footage Broken Bow is servicing to various social networks. Upcoming TV appearances are also scheduled for "Today," "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" and the Country Music Assn. Awards, which air Nov. 10.
"Unfortunately, with the way things are done, Jason doesn't get nominated for awards but he does get offered performance slots," Brown says. "And we always get a big return from those, even in markets where we have absolutely no radio airplay. As a small label, it's frustrating when the No. 1 most-played single is not up for single of the year."
That perceived awards-show lockout is more or less the only limitation that Brown and Yerger say Broken Bow faces as one of Nashville's independent labels. "People aren't nearly as worried about what kind of label an act is on once you have meaningful results," Yerger says. "Everything here has grown proportionally with the level of success Jason has had."
"Because they're independent, they're nimble," manager Spalding says. "When we come up with an idea and go to the label, they don't have to go to business affairs in Nashville and then go to New York. They're not sitting on it for three weeks, worrying if some urban act is going to ask for the same thing."
Spalding acknowledges that the relationship "hit a speed bump a while back when we lost two of our biggest promotion people to Big Machine. It felt like during that period we weren't hitting on all cylinders, but it didn't take them long to bring in [senior VP of promotions] Carson James and shore everything up."
In spite of the inroads made by Broken Bow and rival Big Machine, Spalding is hesitant to conclude that "a huge shift" has taken place on Music Row. "I could throw a rock from my office and hit probably 20 independent labels that aren't taken seriously at radio," he says. "Why? They don't have a hit act."
Yerger doesn't disagree with Spalding. "Since we've been in town, we've probably seen 60 or 70 independent labels start up, spend money and go home," he says. "We've never compared ourselves to anyone but ourselves."
"We think we're in a slightly different business as some of the other labels," Brown adds. "We're not in the business of shipping records. We're in the business of scanning records."