From blowing up on Spotify as an unsigned artist to breaking records with new album GIRL, Maren Morris' career has long been shaped by streaming -- and her own smart strategy.
How do you use streaming in your daily life?
I use it a lot when I work out or when I’m in the car. I’m always trying to up my own bar, and that only happens when you’re a sponge to the giant world of music. But I still believe in purchasing music. I buy albums on iTunes and don’t just stream them. That’s the healthiest way to tell an artist that you’re a fan.
GIRL set the record for the largest debut-week streaming sum for a country album by a woman, with 23.96 million on-demand U.S. streams, according to Nielsen Music. How did you work with platforms on the rollout?
It’s not just about a sponsored post or tweet. It’s about working with these teams and thinking, “How can we diversify this album and give fans something else?” I was just doing this project with Apple Music where I went into the studio with [producer] Dave Cobb to reimagine three of my songs. When they came to us with that idea, I thought, “Wow, I never would have done it on my own.”
So you’re looking at how to extend an album’s life span at a time when there’s so much music out there to choose from.
For sure. My biggest fear is that streaming platforms become like country radio and only playlist men. They’re falling into that same corporate bullshit trap that country radio is so desperately trying to get out of. On some of the most popular country playlists, the first 15 songs -- which is all people are ultimately in the car long enough to listen to -- are all dudes.
GIRL track “The Bones” has been streamed over 32 million times in the United States even though it wasn’t originally a single. Did that surprise you?
We just wanted it to be an instant-grat release before the record. Now that it has surpassed my actual single, “GIRL,” [on Spotify], we’re all laughing. The beauty of these platforms is how they’re a democracy -- you just have to pay attention. [The success of “The Bones”] has changed the order of singles. We’re looking at video treatments. “The Bones” getting on whichever playlist is very lucrative and important, but it’s not just numbers on a page: When that song starts in my set, people lose their shit -- [it mirrors] the streaming platforms’ favoritism.
Country music has a reputation for being slow to adopt streaming. Why is that?
I think it’s an age thing. A lot of the older age group just listens to the radio. But the audience for country is becoming younger, and a lot of that has happened in the last few years with [cross-genre collaborations like] me being on a song with Zedd, Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line, [Chris] Stapleton and [Justin] Timberlake.
Streaming is a huge source of data. Do terms like “skip rate” -- the percentage of users who skip a song within its first 30 seconds -- make their way to you?
(Laughs.) I’ve never heard of that, and I never want to know. If I’m in the studio, of course I’ve got this barometer for what feels catchy, but my job is just to be creative and put on great shows. When there’s good news, like “The Bones” streaming well, I welcome it, and I think streaming is moving our industry forward. There’s so much that needs to be rectified as far as royalty-fee legislation for songwriters goes, but that’s always going to happen when you’re catching up with new technology. We’re in the pioneer days. Ultimately, these platforms have brought a lot of good into our lives.
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What factors contributed to GIRL breaking the records it did?
After the success of “The Middle” [with Zedd and Grey] and her first record three years ago, we felt like a lot of people were waiting on what she was going to do next: a pop record? A country record? There were incredible playlisting plans from every single partner. We don’t ever really have a guarantee ahead of time about where a song’s going to be, but “The Bones” ended up getting a lot of pop playlisting out of nowhere. We also announced a tour on the same day we launched the first single.
Does streaming give you the freedom to build album campaigns not contingent upon radio play?
Absolutely. Her first No. 1 [on the Country Airplay chart, “I Could Use a Love Song”] took 44 weeks at radio, but we weren’t ready to wait that long. “GIRL” is still performing really well at country radio, but we believe we can have songs at country radio and also songs like “The Bones” that can go everywhere. That’s why you have to make sure you’re checking all the boxes with streaming partners.
How will Maren juggle the desire to be an albums artist with streaming audiences’ appetite for new music?
I think Maren will always make full albums, but it wouldn’t surprise me if when she starts writing again we do things in a nontraditional way: If we love a song, let’s just put it out.