Since its launch in October 2016, Amazon Music’s Country Heat franchise has become a vital platform for established and new artists as country fans increasingly turn to streaming for their listening needs.
The Country Heat brand, which includes the Country Heat playlist, Country Heat radio station, and the recently launched Country Heat Radio in DJ Mode, has reached a milestone, surpassing 13 billion streams in the United States since its bow, according to new data from the digital service provider. Additionally, from 2017 through 2020, streams on Amazon Music’s Country Heat radio station have quadrupled. The numbers makes sense as more than 59% of country fans — who have been slower than hip-hop and rap fans to adopt streaming — now actively stream music, according to a presentation at this year’s Country Radio Seminar. Overall, streaming increased 15% during the first half of pandemic, according to MRC vp/head of research Matthew Yazge.
To celebrate, Amazon Music has dubbed October Country Music Month. Initiatives include today’s debut of the new Whiskey & Tequila playlist, which blends regional Mexican songs and country music. Emily Cohen, who serves as principal country music curator for Amazon Music, worked with members of Amazon Music’s Latin team, including senior music curator Amaya Mendizabal and senior music programmer Ernesto Sánchez, to develop the hybrid list.
While established artists including Kane Brown, Luke Combs, Garth Brooks (who has an exclusive streaming deal with Amazon Music) and Miranda Lambert continue to reign as some of the most streamed country artists across Amazon Music, much of the growth in streams for the Country Heat brand has been fueled by new artists.
Niko Moon and Gabby Barrett are among the newcomers who have seen their streams skyrocket over the past year, with Moon’s “Good Time” and Barrett’s “The Good Ones” being the two most streamed songs by any country artists on Amazon Music’s country chart (and across Amazon Music in the United States) in 2021. Both artists have received support from Amazon Music from their earliest stages.
“With Gabby, we first saw ‘I Hope’ really go up [our] charts before she was even signed with Warner [Music Nashville],” Cohen says. “We put out a short film helping to tell her journey and we’re part of that rise.”
In October 2019, Moon’s “Good Time” was selected as part of Amazon Music’s Launchpad program, which supports a rising artist via an eight-week programming campaign.
“‘Good Time’ really reacted and kept reacting, so if my job is to play the hits, this song was raising its hand as a hit,” Cohen says.
“With programs like Launchpad, [Amazon Music is able to] take the song and get it out there to all the great country fans all across the country, all in one moment,” Moon tells Billboard. “I remember specifically when that happened. I was playing shows, [there was a] difference between before and after with people coming up to me and telling me they had heard my music on Amazon in the meet-and-greet lines or when I would hang out after the show.”
Alongside Moon and Barrett, Carly Pearce and Tenille Arts are among the 20 most-streamed artists on Country Heat in the U.S. this year.
Country artists have also found eager listeners through Amazon Music’s Originals program, which features artists recording a song exclusively for the digital service provider.
Among the 10 most streamed country Originals on Amazon Music are Mickey Guyton’s cover of Beyoncé’s 2008 hit “If I Were a Boy,” Pearce’s version of Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away,” Maddie & Tae’s take on Diamond Rio’s “Meet in the Middle” and Brett Young’s rendition Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
The Whiskey & Tequila playlist kicks off with a new Amazon Original featuring Walker Hayes and regional Mexican artist Carin Leon with “Fancy Like (Carin Leon Remix-Amazon Original).” Hayes’ original version of “Fancy Like” has been one of the top three most requested songs of all genres via Amazon’s cloud-based voice service Alexa over the last three months.
As country music listenership has soared, so has Latin music for the service. Latin music listening at Amazon Music saw a 94% year-over-year growth, globally, according to Amazon Music. In Latin America, Latin music consumption increased 280% on Amazon Music.
The newly launched Whiskey & Tequila playlist also comes as new artists such as Kat & Alex and Frank Ray are making serious inroads into the mainstream country market with major label deals.
“There have been artists of Latin decent making country music — like Freddy Fender, The Mavericks, and Kat & Alex. We know there is a cross-over amongst country music and regional Mexican fans,” Cohen says. “We feel that there is a connection sonically and there is an audience for sure that listens to both regional Mexican and country music. On Whiskey & Tequila, we will feature artists like Carin Leon and Christian Nodal, and then country hits that move in seamlessly with that.”
Other initiatives rolling out this month include an Oct. 12 performance and Q&A from Reba McEntire for Amazon.com/live, promoting McEntire’s box set Revived Remixed Revisited, out Oct. 8. The Oct. 5’s Breakthrough Country Live will feature burgeoning artists Reyna Roberts, Sophia Scott and Ryan Garrett. There will also be new Amazon Originals from Pearce and Ashley McBryde and from Ryan Hurd.
For Cohen, the aim is to provide the broadening spectrum of sounds in country music.
“It’s just reflective of the genre and where the genre is going. Country music isn’t a monolith,” Cohen says. “It’s many different artists creating many different sounds … Here are these artists that have country, hip-hop, Latin, R&B influences, so it’s just the evolution of the genre.”
As a further show of commitment to country music, in August Amazon Prime Video announced it would host the 57th Academy of Country Music Awards in 2022, marking the first time a major music awards show will be streamed exclusively.