How Jason Aldean Turned Heads With ‘Macon, Georgia’ to Score His 10th Top 10 Album
Billboard Executive of the Week JoJamie Hahr, senior vp at BBR Music Group, explains the double-album strategy that helped Aldean score a milestone on the Billboard 200.
For his latest releases, country superstar Jason Aldean decided to do things a little differently: With a double album’s worth of songs, he split his release into two separate albums, called Macon and Georgia, and spread them out over a five-month period. The result: his ninth and 10th top 10 albums on the Billboard 200, with the landmark 10th slotting in the top tier of the chart this week.
The release strategy was new for Aldean, and also allowed his label, BBR Music Group, to package the releases as Macon, Georgia and release them together on vinyl for his fan base. But vinyl wasn’t the only format he succeeded at: Aldean’s Georgia received almost half of its first-week equivalent album units from streaming, a relative rarity for country music. That also helped drive the album to No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, marking the singer’s 11th top 10. All that success helps BBR’s senior vp JoJamie Hahr earn the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
“Jason wanted to make this project special and stand out in some way, being his 10th album release,” Hahr explains about the release strategy. “We had so many songs — 20 new, with 10 previously-recorded live tracks — and we wanted to create a plan that gave his fans music in a way they’ve never experienced from Jason before.”
Here, Hahr breaks down the strategy that led to Aldean’s 10th top 10, the growth in streaming in country music and how she uses her background in both promotion and marketing to help push BBR’s artists. “Going back to the creation of music, the best marketing evolution has been done through outstanding songs,” she says. “Jason steps up his game with every project, making it easy to market to his core fan base and gain new fans with simply the quality of his artistry.”
This week, Jason Aldean earned his 10th top 10 album on the Billboard 200 with Georgia. What key decision did you make to help make that happen?
The key driving decision was made by Jason himself, when he decided to create a double album in two parts, Macon and Georgia. From that beginning, the team became involved. We were passionate about continuously releasing music throughout the project — nearly a full year — that really engaged Jason’s fan base in a way he’s never done before. That ultimately catapulted the album, and albums, to another level that really turned heads.
Throughout his career, Jason has continuously delivered remarkable music that speaks directly to his fan base, but also elevates him with every new project. The decision to make the Grammy- and Billboard Music Awards-nominated and ACM-, CMT- and iHeartRadio Music Awards-winning “If I Didn’t Love You” with Carrie Underwood the first single from Macon was another key driver that set up Macon, Georgia for massive success, generating endless opportunities, attracting his core and new fans, while also generating industry- and fan-voted awards which afforded us large-scale televised performances on awards shows. Jason had the vision for Carrie on the song from his first listen, and she so graciously agreed to sing on it.
Georgia is the second of a two-part album release, following last year’s Macon. What was behind the decision to split the two, and how did you market them separately?
In speaking with Jason, [BBR Music Group/BMG Nashville president] Jon Loba and I talked with him about the benefits of giving his fans more music, more often. He had never done that before, traditionally releasing 10-12 song albums every one to two years and then touring the music that coincided with the releases. In this new plan, we released the first part of the album Macon, and then followed up with monthly releases from the next piece, Georgia, that culminated in the full package that was released this month. Both Macon and Georgia live separately digitally, but fans can get all 30 songs on the Macon, Georgia vinyl package available exclusively at Walmart.
The key thing we consistently thought about within our strategy was how to engage partners and leverage support equally for each part for maximum exposure. We were so thankful to those partners for supporting each piece in different ways, including a SiriusXM release party for Macon that aired several times over release weekend on XM and was repackaged and streamed on Pandora several weeks later. For Georgia, Good Morning America had an amazing interview and performance piece, and iHeartCountry featured Jason in their album release party at the iHeart theater in Burbank that played across all iHeartCountry stations and streamed on their YouTube channel afterwards. A Walmart radio special hosted by Jason ran in every store across America on release weekends, as well as online. This was a program we recorded and provided to Walmart in-house. These are just a few examples of the substantial marketing support we received from partners across the board.
Georgia also saw about half of its equivalent album units coming from streaming, a rarity for a genre traditionally driven by sales. How has streaming grown for country releases over the past several years, and what have you guys done to help boost it?
In the last several years, country music seems to be following suit in the space of more hardline streaming habits, rather than physical buying habits. It’s a fact of the music business that has been there for quite some time now, and almost all of our efforts are to promote streaming with digital advertising, and with close partnerships with each DSP to gain maximum exposure on platforms. If you look at the success of “Just The Way” by Parmalee and Blanco Brown and the substantial streaming associated, it’s impossible to separate the success at radio from the success at streaming. We focused on building consumption and streaming with a digital marketing and PR campaign before it ever went to radio, setting it up with undeniable metrics to be the most-played song of 2021. Jason is one of the leading streamers in the format, but with Macon, Georgia we had the opportunity to promote physical sales with the vinyl at Walmart. It’s been such a fun way to get back to the roots of how he first began his career, when physical was much more commonplace.
This is also his 11th top 10 on the Country Albums chart, dating back to 2005. How have you continued to evolve marketing-wise to help support his longevity as an artist?
Going back to the creation of music, the best marketing evolution has been done through outstanding songs. Jason steps up his game with every project, making it easy to market to his core fan base and gain new fans with simply the quality of his artistry. He is one of the kindest artists you could ever hope to work with, gracious, humble and welcoming, so as the industry has evolved we have always had the benefit of connecting him with each new partner and he shines and the relationships flourish. His connection to his fans is genuine and authentic and we have focused on growing alongside his fans in the online social space. He uses Instagram consistently, and you’ll see him very active on the platform, posting about his life and engaging with fans. From an artist that began his career when none of these outlets existed, it’s inspiring and cool to see him adapt and connect with his fans in that way.
You’ve worked in both country radio promo and in marketing. How do the two differ and align?
At BBR Music Group/BMG there is very little difference: It comes down to how you super-serve the partner and the market to get the maximum benefit for the artist and the music they have created. The main goal in both areas is to gain as much exposure as possible. In radio promotion, I was always taught to use my marketing skills to work songs to stations in a well-rounded way. Rather than simply calling and asking for adds and conversions, I spent a lot of time learning about our markets and what was important to the radio stations, working diligently to fit our artists and their music into that vision. Our promotion teams are always working with marketing and PR to find ways to get the most out of time in the market. For example, are there key influencers based in that market that can join the backstage hang and create content around a show and post about the music? Is there a local TV station or outlet we can visit before our radio commitments? The opportunities are endless, and it all plays together for a common goal.
How did marketing change in the pandemic? And what from that time period will remain afterward?
We are so proud of how all of our artists at BBR Music Group/BMG stepped up during the pandemic. We did daily rotating Teams check-ins with every artist to make sure they were doing okay, keep their spirits up and their creative juices flowing. We were able to collaborate with the artists and management teams on how to stay connected to fans during such a challenging time.
Fans are the core of what all marketing should be based on. During the pandemic, our artists found ways to connect with fans and partners. For example, Elvie Shane did our first-ever virtual radio tour from a studio in Nashville, where he performed five live shows a day for different radio stations and partners and was highly successful in launching his career with his first No. 1 with “My Boy.” Additionally, Lindsay Ell launched her album Heart Theory, relying solely on a virtual strategy to promote the album. She did a 24-hour Instagram livestream that featured performances, fan questions and special guest appearances.
We stayed focused on aligning the artist’s brand with their content. Some of the greatest examples of that were Jimmie Allen and Lainey Wilson and the growth of their careers in the last two years. I think we will see a resiliency to those tactics that remains as touring returns and a continuation of more creative ways to reach fans now. For example, Chayce Beckham is playing a sold out show in Nashville this week, but offering live stream codes for those not able to attend.