Anatomy of a Hit: How LoCash Landed the Year's Most Unlikely Smash

Jake Harsh

Notching a hit is rarely easy, but when the record is on a brand-new independent label with no track record and the act in question has been kicking around Music Row for years with minimal chart impact, it’s presumable that oddsmakers would set the bar pretty low for success.

Enter Reviver Records and LoCash, which just scored the unlikeliest of hits when “I Love This Life” peaked at No. 2 on the Country Airplay chart dated Jan. 19 in the single’s 47th week on the list.

The duo — Preston Brust and Chris Lucas — first charted in 2010 via a deal with Stroudavarious Records after several years working as an independent act then known as LoCash Cowboys. Radio was certainly aware of the hard-working and eminently likeable duo. And although it eventually began scoring successful cuts by other artists as songwriters, a hit of its own eluded it.

That finally changed when fledgling Reviver took an interest and signed the pair. First, indie promotion team Star Farm worked “I Love This Life” until it hit the 40s on the chart. Then in July 2015 the label hired its own promotion team, headed by senior vp promotion Gator Michaels. (Star Farm continued to work the project throughout the life of the record, according to Michaels.)

In a previous interview, Brust told Billboard, "When Gator Michaels came onboard, it was an amazing moment because he came in with a vision, he came in with a plan, he came in with belief. The record was already doing really well, but … he knew exactly what needed to be done and he did it. That guy is a rock star in the radio world.”

Michaels, who admits his early expectations were that “I Love This Life” would just do well enough to be a foot in the door at radio, deflects the credit to his staff and to the act, calling LoCash “the two hardest-working people I’ve ever met in my life. They’re kind of the poster boys for [the idea that you] go out and work harder than anybody else and your time will come. That’s what’s happening right now.”

Working in the duo’s favor was plenty of goodwill for it at radio, particularly after it paid out of pocket to fulfill its commitments to play shows for radio after Stroudavarious’ successor, R&J Records, shut down in 2012.

“There was a group of believers that got on this record early and stayed in it for a very long time,” says Michaels of the single’s radio supporters. “It’s a little bit stunning when you break down the numbers of stations that have played this record more than 1,000 times.” Among the many supportive programmers he cites is WPGB Pittsburgh PD JD Greene, who has “got almost 2,300 spins in on this record.”

High Times For LoCash: Veteran Duo Celebrates First Top 10 Hit

Michaels credits some of that support to the duo’s existing relationships at country radio and some to the fact that “the song just worked. It’s still testing through the roof for a lot of people at radio. It just struck a chord with the audience. It’s a very happy, positive song at a time when a lot of people are just looking for something positive in their life.”

The record continued to build momentum during the notoriously tough holiday season, says Michaels, because, “It’s a song about the things that really matter — about your family and your faith and your friends and happiness, and that is what the holidays are all about.”

But the battle for airplay wasn’t easy. “I have a staff that got bloody,” says Michaels. “It’s easy to forget [now] that in the middle of [last] summer, the true dog days … the staff’s out just pounding their head against a brick wall and going back the next day and doing it all over again. We were scratching and clawing and fighting trying to get one or two adds. There was a big stretch of time between February and June that there was never more than two adds in any given week. We always had something, but never had more than two. Then we started seeing a little bit of research, getting a little bit of momentum, and one and two turned into four and five. And then suddenly four and five turned into double-digit adds seven months into the single. Kind of crazy.”

Michaels says of his team, “Every single day they believed that this record deserved to be on the radio and wouldn’t take no for an answer. They kept going back and knocking on doors after people told them over and over and over again that they weren’t interested. They would get up the next week and make the call. They just never stopped believing. I’m
incredibly proud of the work they did.”

Michaels also gives some credit to a rival label. He says the breakthrough success Black River enjoyed last year with Kelsea Ballerini was a rising tide that lifted the perception of all independent labels at radio. “It cracked open the door and gave us a little bit of extra energy as we were fighting along the way.”

The road got bumpy again for the label in the final push for the top of the chart. The single spent eight weeks in the top 10, but due to bad timing it got stuck behind a record that claimed the summit for six weeks, Thomas Rhett’s juggernaut “Die a Happy Man.”

While he admits to some understandable disappointment that the single fell just short of the peak, Michaels is still happy to celebrate a No. 2 hit. He says the single is “flirting with gold. In the next six to eight weeks, knock on wood, all indications are we’ll have a gold single with this. For the first release from a brand-new independent label in Nashville, that’s not too bad.”

The next LoCash single, “I Know Somebody,” goes for adds Feb. 22, and the band will release its first full-length album later this year.

“There’s a lot of people that doubted whether this brand-new label, with an act that has been around for a few years, could deliver on a hit,” says Michaels. “I think we’ve answered those questions pretty clearly at this point. We have every reason to believe that the LoCash momentum is just getting started.”

This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.