In this Fast Five post, we sat down with multi-talented Executive Producer Chris James of YourCountry on AXS-TV. He shared details on how Country music is changing, what artists can do to get noticed by industry professionals and TV producers, and news about an exciting new TV show opportunity open to artists from every genre. Even if you aren’t a Country artist, you’ll be sure to take away something great from Chris’ advice.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your show on AXS TV?
I’ve been involved in the music industry for over 27 years, and currently I’m the Executive Producer for the show Your Country on AXS TV. The network (founded by Mark Cuban) is known for its live music festival broadcasts. In fact, the network, for its second consecutive year, covered the Southern Ground Music & Food Festival live from Nashville. That festival brought in more than five million viewers! This year, AXS TV is broadcasting 20 hours of live coverage over three days at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival, April 25-27.
2. Can you define what country music is?
It’s difficult to define country music today. If you’re thinking of old-soul Country, you aren’t going to hear that in country anymore unless you go and see an artist who does a throwback song or performs on an awards show, like ACA or ACM. The traditional sound isn’t really the definition of Country today. Times are changing with respect to the past, and a lot of good Country music isn’t just coming out of Nashville. There is a big focus on writing catchy songs, and that involves crossing and developing genres.
Colbie Caillat is a good example of this. Even country networks started playing the song “Bubbly” that originally broke her on YouTube. She wasn’t technically a country music artist, but it had that Country sound. Taylor Swift is another good example, now she is a true a country artist, although as she began to get bigger and have greater influence, she changed her sound. Everyone is fighting for a voice. They have to find a way to stand out.
3. What are the top three most important qualities you look for in a Country artist when you are selecting talent?
- Be original. Don’t try to sound exactly like someone else, otherwise you won’t stand out as a singer.
- Write catchy songs. Artists can learn how to do this by listening to what’s out there in the industry at the moment, and being inspired by what they like. Two musicians who do a great job of this are Chase Rice, who co-wrote the song “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line, and singer Kelley James. You can watch and learn more about them in these videos from YourCountry, including a special on Chase and a series on Kelley.
- Artists need to be socially active online. You’re fighting for the attention of your audience, and most of your audience are active on social media. At the same time, aspiring artists shouldn’t expect a large social media following to do all of the work for them. You still have to write and perform great music, but social media will help you connect with your fans and promote your talent on a broader level. One group who has done a great job with their social media is Florida Georgia Line. The band has talent and works very hard on the road, and their social media is an extension of that to their fans. Actually being out on the road helps you achieve that.
4. Do you have any upcoming opportunities at Your Country available for musicians?
Now through April 30 we’re accepting submissions for CountryUP, a new TV segment airing on AXS-TV. This is a search for the freshest new talent in music, but rather than just focusing on the voice or songwriting chops of the contestant, it takes into account the whole package of the artist. This is a competition where we will have contestants participate in challenges like creating their own music videos, songwriting, running viral marketing campaigns, performing unplugged, acoustic sets and more. The final winner will earn the title of 2014 CountryUP champion, record and release a single to radio, and perform in their own music video, which will also premiere on AXS-TV.
You don’t have to be an traditional Country artist to participate. Since Country music now incorporates so many different elements, we want musicians from every genre to enter CountryUP. Our hope is to find the next big artist, and we will strive to discover talent that works hard and is deserving. We want every genre of music to CountryUP!
5. What advice do you have for up-and-coming artists who are striving to get TV opportunities? What can they do to improve their chances?
My biggest piece of advice for any artist is to never say “no” to an opportunity. If you want to make it in the music world, you have to keep trying and not give up. Work hard, and don’t regret artistic decisions. Also be careful to not rely too heavily on other people or their promises to help you in your career. Build personal relationships, but remember that you have to define yourself as an artist and it is up to you to further your career.