Jason Aldean: The Billboard Cover Story

Jason Aldean

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Whatever its original purpose, the out-building at

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But, in the end, Night Train is most notable for what Aldean does so well: find a balance among edgy production and alpha male lyrics and unadulterated romance and present it in a way that-live and on record-appeals to both genders. "Alabama-they were the masters of that," Aldean says. "They could come out with 'Mountain Music' or 'Tennessee River' and then turn around and come out with 'Feels So Right.' Go out and have fun and be those guys that like to party, then turn around and make every woman in America want Randy Owen."

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Aldean says it boils down to believing in the songs. "If you say, 'I'm going to cut this song because I know the teenagers are going to love it,' well, then you're going to alienate everybody else," he says. "When I cut my record, I'm just going to cut the things that I like, and whoever likes it likes it. That's too much work to try to figure out the demographic. That's too much like a business."

The business of Jason Aldean is robust and growing, which brings new opportunities but also means more is at stake. Still, no one on Team Aldean is complacent, and next year they're going to take things to the proverbial next level, particularly on the touring front.

Aldean's touring in 2012 has built on the headlining status established last year, and brings the added bonus to fans of having Luke Bryan onboard as the latter's career also surges. "Luke could have gone out this year and probably headlined on his own, so the fact that he decided to put it off another year and went out with us helped us out," Aldean says. "Us and him both having huge years sent everything over the edge, and it has been fun."

The tour, booked by Kevin Neal, president of Nashville independent agency Buddy Lee Attractions, Aldean's career-long agent, and promoted by Live Nation Country Music president Brian O'Connell, will wrap in October as one of the biggest country treks of 2012, a year when country fielded more headliners than ever. Not only has Aldean posted huge boxscores in markets like Atlanta ($1.3 million gross, 37,789 attendance, two sellouts), he has also topped the 20,000 attendance mark in places like Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Camden, N.J., and sold out his first stadium show at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, that moved 27,450 tickets.

At these celebratory shows with Bryan, one can truly gauge the fervor of the audience, made up of rural and suburban 20-somethings, equal parts male and female, who know the songs and come to party. Aldean's shows reflect a lifestyle, and he's not hopping on an existing musical trend-these fans are digging a sound that hasn't strayed too far from what Aldean was playing when he first caught Knox's attention at the Buckboard in Atlanta more than a decade ago.

Aldean is savvy enough to know how cycles run and the value of good timing. "In the music business, especially the country music business, every 10 years or so you're going to have this changing of the guard, this wave of new artists that comes in," he says. "It just so happens that we kind of came in at that time, with guys like me and Luke and Eric and Miranda [Lambert] and Blake [Shelton] and Carrie [Underwood] and Taylor [Swift]-a lot of young acts that came out right about the same time. We kind of jumped right in there in the middle of that stuff, and we're one of the fortunate ones to be able to have a career."

But Aldean knows building the live thing is the surest path to career longevity, and if there's a model in that regard, for Aldean it's Jimmy Buffett. "Here's a guy that hasn't had a hit in forever, but he's a prime example of an artist that went out and basically created a market for himself. And now the guy can go play wherever he wants and sell it out," Aldean says. "We all know that as far as having radio hits and being on top of the world, it ain't going to last forever. If you can go out with your live show and turn people on to that, where you have that fan base that's religious and they're going to come see you when you're in that town, once your radio success is gone and you're not a mainstream guy anymore you can still go out and play your shows."