2017 Country Power Players: The Hustlers

Reto Sterchi
From left: Hodges, Combs and Robold photographed on July 11 at The Crying Wolf in Nashville.

A reinvigorated Sony Nashville has racked up 
an armful of No. 1 singles and albums by betting on rising stars like "Hurricane" singer Luke Combs

Ken Robold,
Executive VP/COO, Sony Music Nashville 

Steve Hodges, 52 
Executive VP Promotion and Artist Development, Sony Music Nashville

When Robold, a lifelong New Yorker, relocated to Nashville in 1994 -- knowing no one,' he says -- he was skeptical that it would be a permanent move. Twenty-three years later, he is one of the primary strategic forces behind a revitalized Sony Nashville, the label-group home of breakthrough artists Maren Morris, Luke Combs, Old Dominion, Kane Brown and a resurgent Miranda Lambert.

"Bringing Maren in really put the town on notice [that] Sony’s back and is going to be a player," says Robold. "And Luke Combs is on fire." Combs’ single "Hurricane" and album This One’s for You have topped the Country Airplay and Top Country Albums charts, ­respectively. "It’s such a deep record," adds Robold.

Delayed Gratification 

"When I signed at Sony, we had to move the release date of the album," recalls Combs. "Ken could tell I was frustrated and dropped what he was doing to pull his team together to show me why we needed to push the date to set the record up for success. Well, the album went to No. 1. Ken was right."

Spotting A "Hurricane"

After joining the Sony Music Nashville team with incoming chairman/CEO Randy Goodman in July 2015, Hodges was instrumental in getting Morris -- the first ­signing he was involved in upon joining Sony -- and Combs. Having promoted artists to radio for most of his career -- prior to joining Sony, he had spent 21 years at Capitol Records Nashville -- Hodges says of Combs, "It was easy to see there was something boiling there that was about to explode."

"Steve Gets Me"

Combs says he was impressed that Hodges "had taken the time to really dig into what we needed to grow momentum" when it came to a follow-up single. "One Number Away" was the initial pick, but Hodges and his team felt "When It Rains It Pours" was a better option after Combs performed it at a radio event. "Once Steve pitched me on the plan he wanted to execute, it was the right choice," says Combs. "Steve gets it -- and gets me," he adds.

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