By Dan Andrews
Last week’s CMAfest 2012, formerly known as “Fan Fair,” had many new surprises making this year’s event possibly the greatest ever. With more artists, more stages, and more interaction, the Country Music Association has sent a resounding message to Country music fans that the CMAfest is not looking to rest on its reputation, but strive to make each year bigger and better.
The week started out with the two-day Billboard CMA Country Music Summit. The event included panels on the success of high profile Country music superstars such as Luke Bryan and the duo Thompson Square. The artists discussed what decisions worked in their career and what didn’t. For Thompson Square, using other writers’ songs pushed them to the next level. One question asked from the audience was about how the band felt about being songwriters yet singing other writers’ songs to which Keifer Thompson responded “pride will get you back at Kinkos.” (Thompson was employed at Kinkos before finding success as a Country Music artist. ) Luke Bryan claimed that touring college towns and getting his CD into as many hands as possible was pivotal in the success of his career. Other panels held topics such as touring, revenue generating and a variety industry related topics.
Later that day I caught up with Keifer Thompson at the “Cricket Wireless Muve Music” press event. I had heard Thompson telling a fan earlier in the day that he played trumpet in his church’s choir. I asked him how his spirituality affects his writing process as a song writer, and if his faith makes writing Country music harder or easier.
Impressed that I caught that statement, Keifer first asked my name and then responded: “It definitely makes it easier because I know what I won’t talk about. You are never going to hear Keifer Thompson talk about going out and getting hammered every night and doin’ all that stuff. Spirituality is a huge thing with me and Shawn. I was born into a Southern Baptist family. So was Shawn. God is at the forefront of what we do every, every day. It’s a big thing. We don’t write Christian music but it (spirituality) definitely guides us in what we will and won’t talk about
On Wednesday, the band Edens Edge held their fan party. The connection between the band members and their fans was remarkable. The immense talent of this band indicates that their new album is destined to be a major hit and a must have for anyone who enjoys beautiful and passionate country music. Every fan who attended the party received a picture with the group and autographs. Not only will this band’s musical talent propel them to the top of the charts, but the commitment to their fans will create a dedicated group of followers.
On Thursday, I attended a show by Curb recording artist Rachel Holder. Her singing ability and her stage presence are impressive. Her current hit single “In Your Arms” has been steadily climbing the charts. Out of all the new and rising talent at the CMA Festival, Rachel Holder’s performance truly set her apart. She shows great promise in becoming the next household name. If her performance is an indicator of Curb Records’ standard, then it appears that the company has a very bright future ahead.
Finally, on Thursday night I took in a performance by 15-year-old Knoxville resident Greylan James. He performed at the club 12th and Porter. His performance was so amazing that even the jaded, seen-it-all, Nashville Natives who hear the most talented musicians in the world nightly were blown away. I chose to cover Greylan’s performance over seeing the major acts perform at LP Field. It was great to watch the crowd’s reaction to this talented young singer outside of his hometown. I have always preferred to cover an artist on the journey to becoming a huge celebrity, rather then waiting until they have made it big. With Greylan James, I believe that I am covering the beginning of what will be a very successful career.
There was lots of music and even more marketing at the recent Country Music Association festival. From marketing TV shows to marketing the next big act in Country music, many new methods stood out to me at the CMAfest.
The first marketing technique that really caught my eye was by a young singer named Lizzie Sider. At the popular Billboard CMA Country Music Summit, I noticed her cd was on every chair in the room. With the thousands of CD giveaways during the festival, this was the most effective technique to get to industry insiders! It was a direct yet subtle approach.
The most popular marketing technique I noticed at festival was “cellphone charging stations.” When tens of thousands of fans converge on an area, cellphones drain quicker. This is partly because the cellphone is searching for a signal. Also with more usage of a cell phone for taking pictures, sending text messages and video at the fair many cell phones batteries drain and need recharging. CMT the Country Music Television network had a “recharging station.” Fans were able to plug their cellphone into a charging station that had multiple cellphones charging adapters. While charging their cellphone, exhausted fans were able to sit in lawn chairs and relax. CMT had “My Big Redneck Vacation” on television screens located at eye level. This was the perfect use of a captive audience. CMT even brought in the stars of the show to sign pictures and take autographs.
Another popular attraction at music festival was “HGTV The Lodge.” The Lodge offered fans a chance to meet major country artists every day of the festival. A typical day, for example, would include Little Big Town, Easton Corbin and Kellie Pickler. Also going on would be Chris Lambton, host of HGTV’s “Going Yard,” participating in a meet and greet with fans. Todd Davis, designer, contractor and host of HGTV’s Room Crashers designed a blank room in the theme of a popular country song as part of HGTV’s The White Room Challenge competition, which took place at The Lodge daily. Casey James, third-place finalist on the ninth season of American Idol, performed live on the GAC Living Country Stage.
HGTV’s The Lodge offered fans and viewers a unique interactive experience. Fans were encouraged to participate in multiple activation areas, such as the HGTV Red Carpet photo booth and DIY Network’s “Ice My Cup” cooling station, which gave out free flavored shaved ice. “The Hook-Up” was an interactive newsstand in The Lodge. Here fans could even treat themselves to an ice cream sandwich in celebration of the new series, Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America. The whole process was a very well coordinated event. HGTV’s top notch public relations official on site, Paul Byk, was onsite to keep the media informed and assist in interviews and photos. It is interesting to note that all the action took place in a building that was built to look like a farm for the fair.
Country music group The Lo Cash Cowboys had a novel idea for keeping fans entertained during the parade. They threw soft rubber balls that looked like baseballs with their logo on it to the souvenir-hungry crowd.
The Country Music Hall of Fame converted their meeting room into a rest area for their members. The room had ice cream, soda, water, chairs and a sofa. For an idea that cost so little, this was a brilliant marketing technique because it gave members a personal bond with the museum. With temperatures soaring outside, it was awesome to be able to go inside to relax and cool off.
Finally, BMI, a company a leader in rights management which collects license fees from businesses that use music, held the nightly “BMI Tailgate Party.” This event took place just outside the stadium every night before the doors opened. Fans were able to see hot emerging acts such as the “Florida Georgia Line” perform and then easily walk to the stadium entrance which was about 100 yards away.
The synergy between music and business made a better experience for the fans.