Six years ago, Scotty McCreery had hit a major bump in the road. The Season 10 American Idol champ had parted ways with Interscope/Mercury Nashville, his label home since he won the singing competition in 2011. Though two of his albums had hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, his track record at radio was not as stellar: only one single, 2013’s “See You Tonight,” had landed in the top 10 on Country Airplay.
McCreery switched representation to George Couri’s Triple 8 Management, whose clients also include the Eli Young Band, Josh Abbott Band and Pat Green, and Couri and McCreery’s new team began meeting with prospective new label homes. But Couri already knew he had an ace up his sleeve.
“We had an unsigned artist that we were mapping out a plan for, with unreleased music in hand,” Couri says. “When he and I sat in my office and I heard ‘Five More Minutes,’ I knew I could go champion this artist and this song, without a label partner, and get it started.”
The reflective, poignant ballad, co-written by McCreery, was inspired by his grandfather’s death and the desire to spend more time with loved ones. Radio loved the song so much it began spinning it even though McCreery didn’t have a label. “We went ahead and put it up on Play MPE as a management company, so that we could get stations that loved it to play it,” Couri says. “[Triple 8 promotion exec] Karen McGuire and myself would call radio programmers and tell them about it and we were getting adds.”
In Spring 2017, McCreery became the second artist to sign with Triple Tigers Records, a Sony Music Entertainment imprint created out of a partnership among David Macias’ Thirty Tigers, Couri’s Triple 8 Management and veteran music executive Norbert Nix.
“As a manager, I had to take the Scotty project to every other label first anyway,” Couri says. “The priority is what is best for the artist — not what is best for me. But, as it turns out, even with lots of consumption and radio, every label passed, although we had more than 40 stations playing it. By this time, [Triple Tigers’ first signee] Russell Dickerson’s first single was doing well and I then proposed the idea of Scotty McCreery to Norbert Nix and David Macias. They all agreed right away. We handed the reins over to the label team, and off we went to what was a No. 1, triple-platinum song.”
And there has been no stopping McCreery since. “Five More Minutes” started a string of five consecutive chart-toppers for the deep-voiced North Carolina native. This week, “Damn Strait,” which pays homage to George Strait, one of McCreery’s heroes, remains at No. 1 for its third week in a row, making it McCreery’s biggest hit, surpassing the two-week No. 1 of 2018’s “This Is It.” The huge milestone earns Couri the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
Here, Couri discusses how the song came to McCreery’s attention, the advantages of being on a label with a tiny roster (in addition to Dickerson and McCreery, Thirty Tigers has Jordan Fletcher and a partnership with RCA for Cam), and if the success of “Damn Strait” will finally bring McCreery awards recognition.
“Damn Strait,” is No. 1 for the third straight week on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. What key decision did you make that resulted in it not just topping the chart, but staying there for so long?
The key factor is having a great radio promotion team. Label president Norbert Nix and [senior vp of promotion] Kevin Herring have built that team and their batting average is unbeaten. Radio research is strong, with folks keeping it in high rotation. And with fans consuming and streaming the song so enthusiastically, it’s not dropping off. Kevin and the promotion team always keep it top of mind for radio [and] Scotty definitely keeps his relationships going with radio too, but mostly it was the song just doing extremely well with listeners and the public in general.
George Strait was Scotty’s first concert and he sang two Strait songs on American Idol. Were you at all concerned that the clever wordplay and use of six Strait song titles in “Damn Strait,” written by Jim Collins and Trent Tomlinson, could be seen as too gimmicky?
Not once. I feel that it is as on-brand for Scotty as anything else he’s done up to this point. What really stood out to Scotty and our whole team is that the song is so much more than just a listing of song titles. It tells a complete classic country music heartbreak story all while paying tribute to one of Scotty’s musical heroes.
Kevin Herring brought the song to Scott Stem, Scotty’s day-to-day manager at Triple 8. How unusual is that, since songs usually come through the A&R department?
In our camp, good ideas can come from anywhere, and we encourage people to bring any idea any time. In the end, we are all advisors to the artist, and Scotty knows what reflects him and what does not. Since we’ve worked together, he’s been right five times in a row. And this one climbed the charts faster than any of his previous singles.
Every song of Scotty’s has gone to No. 1 since “Five More Minutes.” What is the most vital move you have made to keep the momentum going and to keep him in front of radio programmers, especially given how slowly the Country Airplay chart moves?
A radio promotion team that has very few records to think about, and arguably the best starting batting average in the history of country music: Nine of the first 11 songs to radio were No. 1s. That doesn’t happen if the promotion team has five or six singles to work on every week. Also, you have to keep the artist visible and nurture those relationships.
Triple 8 Management is a partner in Triple Tigers Records. How do you separate your management vs. label duties when it comes to Scotty, or is there a value add to wearing both hats?
Since everyone at the label and everyone at management are all completely focused on helping Scotty win, we are all rowing in the same direction and we are more incentivized to see him succeed. Total value add.
His fans have seen Scotty grow from a high school student on American Idol to someone who is married and expecting his first child. How has his maturing into an adult changed his fan base and his music?
Most of Scotty’s fans are folks that started following him when “Five More Minutes” was released. He had never even had a song in the top five at that point. He definitely had a good following prior to that, but it multiplied since having hits. When he writes about his life, it works. The audience reacts well to authenticity and all of Scotty’s hits have been authentic to him, even autobiographical. I think his maturation matches his songs and that has been a big win for him.
Scotty won new artist of the year at the ACM Awards in 2012, but otherwise has received no nominations for his work. How does having a song spend three weeks at No. 1 play into a campaign to get “Damn Strait” recognized during awards time?
An artist who had their shot and it didn’t pan out is very quickly discarded in this business, because the odds of turning it around and making them bigger than ever is harder to do than breaking a new artist, given the negative biases baked into their perception.
So, regarding awards, that means we have to overcome those biases to get the votes. Although award nominations are not the primary goal and building audiences for artists is the primary goal, we are making sure as many people as possible know about “Damn Strait” and its abnormally strong success. This, combined with Scotty’s strong and consistent track record of late, we hope will lead people to cast a vote for this artist that has overcome such incredible odds to earn these achievements.