Faced with tight radio playlists and a wealth of competition, developing country artists are looking for any way to stand out from the packed field. With that in mind, the Country Music Association is launching the CMA KixStart Artist Scholarship as a way to provide emerging artists with expert guidance and support from industry leaders.
The year-long program, named after long-serving board member and former board chair Kix Brooks, will connect up to three developing artists with industry professionals for advice, as well as provide opportunities to participate in CMA-related events, including CMA Fest, CMA Songwriters Series and the C2C: Country to Country festival in the U.K. The CMA will cover expenses related to the program.
The CMA board’s artist relations committee chair, Marion Kraft, who manages Miranda Lambert, and the committee’s vice chair, Mary Hilliard Harrington, who manages Dierks Bentley, developed the idea in early 2017 and have been fine-tuning it with board members over the last 16 months.
“We looked at the wealth of professional leaders on our board and thought what if this board could help younger artists get a leg up,” says Kraft.
Harrington notes that the program takes some cues from Leadership Music, a nearly 30-year-old esteemed Nashville program that takes executives and creatives from all facets of the music industry through eight months of training each year and serves as a major networking and educational opportunity.
To be eligible for KixStart, applicants must have a relationship with two CMA member companies in the following areas: publishing, record label, artist management, booking agency or publicity. They must also have recorded music available and live performance experience. They may not have charted a Top 40 single on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart or Country Aircheck’s charts or released more than one full-length album (self-released EPs of five or fewer songs do not count).
Harrington came up with the name that incorporated a nod to country superstar Brooks, who helped create the CMA board’s artist relations committee in 2006. “This isn’t meant to be a development program as much as a program to help an artist who has already paid the dues but needs that little extra kick,” says Brooks.
“We put a lot of time and research into finding what we felt were the right level of artists that we could have an impact on,” Harrington says. “You have to have gotten yourself a certain distance before being chosen for this. You need to have accomplished things on your own.”
The selected artists will go through an multi-day educational session together that will draw on board members’ expertise in various areas, including publishing and live music. Further instruction will be tailored to the individual artist.
“The goal is for them to be better educated about the industry and business,” Kraft says. “As young artists go through it, they could build their own alumni and support system.”
KixStart will also serve as a way to introduce the next generation of acts to the work the CMA does on their behalf (applicants must be current CMA members or have a pending application submitted). “A lot of younger artists don’t really know what the CMA does,” Kraft says. “Many only know the CMA Awards and CMA Music Fest.”
When asked how such a program could have helped him and partner Ronnie Dunn as Brooks & Dunn were coming up, Brooks says it’s impossible to tell, but he hopes it can aid developing artists now who may need an extra nudge. “I know there’s a lot of folks I consider more talented than myself who never ‘made it,’ and I can’t tell you why,” he says. “Hopefully there’s someone out there who will be recognized by this program, and some nugget of wisdom will make the difference for them.”
Submissions for the scholarship open June 1, 2018 and close June 30, 2018 via www.CMAworld.com/KixStart