Jason Aldean (center) with Andrew P. Kintz, CFP, Managing Director, SunTrust Bank (left) and Billboard's Ray Waddell (right) at the Keynote Artist Development Case Study panel (Photo: Beth Gwinn)
As exhaustively detailed in the cover story of this week's Billboard, Jason Aldean has become one of country's biggest acts - on his own terms. The author of that article, Ray Waddell, welcomed Aldean and his team to Billboard's Country Music Summit this afternoon to deconstruct the strategies they've executed on the way to the singer's platinum-plus success.
Aldean's career has often bucked conventional wisdom, in terms of its approach to radio and touring. Aldean's managers (Clarence Spalding and Chris Parr of Spalding Management), Kevin Neal (president of Buddy Lee Attractions) and Rick Shedd (senior VP of operations, Broken Bow Records) joined Aldean in retracing his steps from his early days in Nashville -- when he performed more than 40 showcases before landing a record deal -- to his current headlining tour, which is seeing dates sell out impressively far in advance.
The Distinguished Panel (from left): Chris Parr, manager, Spalding Entertainment; Jason Aldead; Kevin Neal, president, Buddy Lee Attractions; Ray Waddell, Billboard; Rick Shedd, Senior VP of Operations, Broken Bow Records; Clarence Spalding, manager, Spalding Entertainment. (Photo: Beth Gwinn)
Neal said he recalls going to 10 showcases and wondering why a label wasn't signing Aldean. The artist admits it was tough. "You get frustrated. Nobody shows up and you feel like you've wasted time," he said of those early showcases.
He said most people don't know but he had an early deal with Capitol that lasted a year, during which time he didn't record any music. "I moved here in 1998 and my first single came out in 2005," Aldean said of all the years he paid dues.
Then, when Aldean's debut single, "Hicktown," exploded, Parr recalled his first time seeing the video. "The 'Hicktown' video showed up on my desk when I was at CMT. It was like a bolt of lightening," he said. "I started making calls: 'Who is THIS guy?'"
Though most new acts head out on the customary radio tour, playing acoustic sets in conference rooms, Aldean took a different approach. "For an artist, that sucks," he said of the promo tours used as a tool to court radio. "I didn't do a radio tour. I said 'if you're doing any kind of festival, I'll play it for free." That tactic allowed radio personnel to see the full impact of Aldean live with his band -- and it paid off. "That was the biggest impact at radio," he said.
Jason Aldean (center) with Chris Parr, manager, Spalding Entertainment (left) and Kevin Neal, president, Buddy Lee Attractions (right) at the Keynote Artist Development Case Study panel. (Photo: Beth Gwinn)
Unlike many artists who rush to headline, Aldean and his team took their time, Spalding said they would pass up big money offers and opted to build his career slowly.
Aldean admits it wasn't always easy to accept Spalding's strategy. " When you could play a $100,000 show and someone says the $50,000 one would be better, you think 'you've got to be kidding,'" he said, "but at some point you've got to trust the people around you. I never bitched about it once. Our thing is if we play our cards right and set everything up, the money is going to be there."
And it is. "I worked with Brooks and Dunn and not till the 'Last Rodeo' tour did we sell out amphitheaters in advance," Spalding said.
Shedd called Aldean's career "a dream scenario. He's playing the music he wants and it's connecting."
Shedd pointed out that Aldean is going to sell over 8,000 downloads of "Dirt Road Anthem this week. "That's how you can tell you've made it-if your song is a ringtone," Aldean said, joking that he'd heard his song "Big Green Tractor" so many times, he thought he was going to get sick.
Waddell asked Aldean if there is a next level. "I'd like to accomplish a lot of things," he said. "I barely have enough songs for a greatest hits. I hope to be around for a long time."
The Billboard Swarm (From Left): Billboard's Executive Director of Content and Programming for Touring Ray Waddell, Billboard Publisher Lisa Ryan Howard, country music star Jason Aldean, Billboard Editorial Director Bill Werde. (Photo: Beth Gwinn)
Q&A Part 1: Jason discusses his tour, dueting with Kelly Clarkson, and 'country rap.'
Q&A Part 2: Aldean talks about the CMT Awards, music videos and his album.
Q&A Part 3: Jason answers questions about future collaborations, touring, and more.
Q&A Part 4: Aldean talks about his career goals, Justin Bieber, and success.
Q&A Part 5: Jason chats about country going mainstream, staying grounded, and alternate careers.
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Jason Aldean signing Billboard magazine covers and poster boards. (Photo: Beth Gwinn)