Head versus heart; science versus art.
In the digital era where data abounds, old-fashioned music skills and modern spread sheet analysis can coexist, but deciding when to employ them is part of the art.
That was a key takeaway from an Oct. 18 panel discussion featuring two Big Loud executives, senior vp/GM Patch Culbertson and senior vp of A&R Sara Knabe, presented by the Association of Independent Music Publishers at SESAC Nashville.
In the Big Loud model, gut-level assessments dominate in signing artists and writers, while number-crunching drives the decisions when the label takes singles to radio. But with digital consumption providing the bulk of record-company revenue, getting onto the nation’s airwaves isn’t even a consideration unless the numbers justify it.
“Radio’s honestly the last thing we talk about with any artist that’s interested in partnering with Big Loud,” explained Culbertson. “It is the last thing we talk about in terms of your marketing strategy and campaign. What I want to equip all our radio team with is the power of the audience telling those stations that [something] is a hit, not that the radio person has to convince them.”
He added, “Especially for developing artists, you’re talking about the 55- to 60-week debut-single campaign. If you don’t have the hit in your hand, why are you going to go and do three or five months of radio setup and launch with that, and it’s going to be crickets when you are performing those records in front of those fans?”
The label’s roster houses 27 artists, he said, and only three of them were “research signings”: “Everybody else was a story of just either an incredible voice, incredible songs, just flooring us either performing on a stage somewhere or in our own offices, or just star quality they give off when they walk into the room.”
The approach has worked. Since its 2015 launch, Big Loud has signed and developed the genre’s most-consumed current artist, Morgan Wallen, plus HARDY, ERNEST and Hailey Whitters, a Country Music Association Award nominee for best new artist. It has also developed gold singles for Larry Fleet and Lily Rose — signs of strong market penetration, even if the songs didn’t become top 10 titles at radio.
Big Loud’s volume approach to recording may play a part as well. Since core fans demand a constant supply of new music, the label encourages artists to cut songs when they’re ready, even if no album or EP is planned. It’s part of the development process — “Even studio experience is part of their growth,” Knabe said — and more music increases the possibility that something breaks through with strong numbers.
In the Big Loud model, that’s when the head takes over from the heart.