2017 Country Power Players: The Influencer

Wesley Mann
From left: Kelley, Schumann and Hubbard photographed on July 7 at Fenway Park in Boston.

J.R. Schumann, 35
Senior Director of Country Programming, SiriusXM

The executive in charge of SiriusXM’s country programming says he’s proudest of the artists the satellite broadcaster’s top country channel, The Highway, has spotlighted early in their careers -- many who have broken through to a larger audience. (SiriusXM reaches 31.6 million subscribers but doesn’t break out listenership by genre.) During the past year, Schumann has watched two female artists who were designated “Highway Finds” catch fire: Carly Pearce, whose “Every Little Thing” is No. 18 on the Aug. 5 Country Airplay chart and has sold 138,000 downloads, and Ashley McBryde, whose single from her upcoming album, Girl Goin' Nowhere, “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega,” got early love from Schumann and helped the Arkansas native score her Grand Ole Opry debut in June.

Prior to Schumann’s arrival at SiriusXM in early 2016, The Highway played a significant role in breaking Florida Georgia Line, and member Tyler Hubbard praises the programmer’s ­continuation of the tradition of “giving new artists a chance for their music to be heard.” Adds his partner Brian Kelley: “Passion is a huge thing. He came all the way to Boston to celebrate our first ­stadium headline show at Fenway. That support is one of a kind.”

Don't Tell Him Ballads Make Bad Radio
If you talk to terrestrial radio programmers today, they’ll say, “I need tempo.” But “that’s a myth,” says Schumann. “Pick the greatest songs by the greatest artists of our time, and either their No. 1 or No. 2 song is going to be a ballad.”

There's A Lot Of Music Out There
Schumann says he receives close to 100 tracks a week, about half of them from indie and unsigned acts. To sift through all that music, he creates playlists that he listens to throughout the workday. When something grabs his attention, he replays it. He also has discovered a gem or two at local showcases. “I saw local songwriter Phil Barton perform a song he had co-written called ‘Skin & Bones.’ When I told him how much I loved it, he told me that Eli Young Band was ­recording it,” says Schumann, who lives in the Franklin area of Nashville. Schumann tracked down the song “and we ended up playing it as the first single leading up to the album launch.”

He's Excited About The Future
Upcoming songs from Brett Eldredge, Old Dominion and Kelsea Ballerini are all “amazing,” says Schumann.

This article originally appeared in the August 5 issue of Billboard.