Women in Music 2018

Average Joes Entertainment Marks 10th Anniversary, Looks to the Future

Eric Irvin
Colt Ford

"As an independent record label goes in Nashville, and certainly as far as one that's been a little different than normal, it's a pretty unbelievable success story," says Colt Ford.

Celebrating a 10-year anniversary as an independent record label is a rare occurrence. But for Nashville’s Average Joes Entertainment, the multi-media company has not only survived, but thrived by finding a niche that sets it apart from the normal radio-dependent business model.

To commemorate the occasion, last month the company released an 18-track collection, Average Joes: 10 Years, available through Walmart and streaming services, featuring such artists as Colt Ford, Montgomery Gentry, Bubba Sparxxx, Brantley Gilbert, the LACs and Sunny Ledfurd. Syndicated outlet Nashville Insider will run a 10-minute documentary on Average Joes’ background, then on Nov. 28 the company will hold a 10th anniversary bash at Nashville’s The Listening Room. 

Country rapper Ford, who is the label’s biggest artist and one of its founders and owners, says it has been quite the rewarding decade.

“It's been an incredible ride. It ain't been roses all the time. It's been tough with me being different ... It ain't like we had Tim McGraw to be the flagship artist or Jason Aldean or Luke Bryan,” Ford says. “As an independent record label goes in Nashville, and certainly as far as one that's been a little different than normal, it's a pretty unbelievable success story.”

Since 2008’s Ride Through The Country, Ford has charted seven albums for the label, with 2012’s Declaration of Independence debuting atop Billboard’s Country Albums chart -- and hitting No. 5 on the Billboard 200. Ford says that was a moment that stands as a personal -- and a label -- highlight.

“To have a record that ends up being No. 1 on the country chart was just a testimony to the people and the music that this wasn't made up, some kind of gimmick or anything,” he says.

Whether it’s been Montgomery Gentry -- whose “Where I Come From” provided Average Joes with its first top 10 on the Billboard Country Songs chart and its first gold album -- or rap-flavored acts such as The Lacs, who record for the label’s subsidiary, Backroad Records, the mission has always been to let the artists create and get out of the way.

“The initial thought and business model for us was that we wanted it to be fair for the artists,” Ford says. That meant from the start, in addition to creative freedom, the label offered 50/50 splits after expenses (a move other Nashville record companies have since adopted). 

Average Joes also relied on social media more than radio play. “The original plan was to build direct-to-fan portals via both artist and label data basis and socials,” says co-founder and CEO/president Shannon Houchins. “And then nurture those relationships with on the ground activations via tours -- some self-promoted like the Declaration of Independence Tour in 2012 -- and with events like Mega-Truck Series of races which we acquired in 2014. We also leaned in early on in building our Youtube multi-channel network and made sure that it was both a label revenue stream and a stand-alone entity by being a distribution and promotion platform for outside content creators.”  

While Average Joes doesn’t shun radio play, Houchins says, “When we do approach radio, it's never our focus. In a way, we go around them directly to the fan, but at the same time make sure they know we are here and are thankful for any support we get.” 

With the support of true believers from the start, including indie publicist Ebie McFarland and attorney Scott Safford, Average Joes found its way expanding into non-traditional areas, including a comic book series promoting the artists on the label. Average Joes’ film company, Hideout Pictures, has produced Billy Ray Cyrus’ CMT series Still The King, as well as the upcoming Kate Walsh and Omar Epps film, 3022. The company has pumped $30 million into the Nashville film economy over the past two years and just established a $10 million film fund to invest in future productions. Houchins says that such diversification has kept things interesting.

“People would ask me what we do, and I say, ‘At the end of the day, we're a content company and a marketing company,’" he says. "We’ve built this massive database of people who we direct market to. If you think about it, we make an album and there are maybe 12 songs on it, but there's probably close to 100 pieces of outside content that goes along with that that can be monetized as well. Then you take into account all the fan-created content that we are able to monetize as well and at that point, the music is the smallest piece of content in the whole. We [zoned] in on that and said, ‘Okay, let's make comic books, we can get people to buy them. Let's make TV shows.’ As long as we can make stuff and it feeds my creativity. I'm always wanting to try something new.”

As for the next 10 years, the future shines bright, says Houchins. “Everything's going great, we grow every single year and that's the key. We've positioned ourselves in a great place. I'm excited as we dive into more ventures [and] continue creating stuff. That's what I like to do.”