New Country Artists Cling to the Promise of Success and Fame

Newcomers Should Pay Attention While Their Career Builds

(Straight From Nashville is a weekly column written by CMT.com managing editor Calvin Gilbert.)

Congratulations are in order for Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett and Cole Swindell, this year’s final nominees for the Academy of Country Music’s new artist of the year. It’s an impressive achievement and one that could pave the way to future success and maybe even superstar status.

In thinking about new artists, in general, it’s an interesting proposition to try to predict where their career paths will take them. Some are absolutely committed to creating great music, and others are more interested in becoming celebrities.
 
When newcomers are starting out, they’re accessible to fans and media and anxious to do anything they can to gain attention. As their career builds, that accessibility tends to diminish as they attempt to balance their professional and personal lives. It’s totally understandable. After all, there’s only 24 hours in any day.


But that’s when the business machine surrounding them starts to expand and, in many cases, causes the artists to go on auto-pilot. They trust their managers, lawyers, financial advisors and publicists to look out for their best interests. Which, of course, is exactly what they’re paid to do. And most of the time, that works out well for everyone involved.

The biggest danger is when people start thinking a career is farther along than it really is. It can happen to newcomers, acts with a platinum album and even artists with several multiplatinum albums and major tours. Oddly enough, the artists are seldom the ones who fall into that mindset. It’s the artists’ handlers who can make or break it, and the artists themselves may not even know what’s being done on their behalf.

Gretchen Wilson sold 5 million copies of her 2004 debut album, Here for the Party. As her career exploded with “Redneck Woman,” she appeared on the biggest late night talk shows and was even featured in a segment of 60 Minutes. Concurrently, her access to the country music media became more and more curtailed. Her follow-up album, All Jacked Up, went platinum, but her record sales went downhill from there.

I’m not picking on Wilson, and I don’t have any inside information on what happened. In situations like these, it’s seldom any one specific thing but rather a perfect storm of issues and circumstances.

“Redneck Woman” might be considered a novelty record in the broadest sense, but Wilson had some great album tracks and possessed what many artists are lacking – a well-defined personality. In short, she was – and is – the real deal. Given her talent and the factors that were in play with a quintuple-platinum album, she deserved better than she got.

Even in ideal scenarios, everything can still fall apart. How many artists got their big record deal and automatically assumed all their problems were solved?

With the possible exception of Garth Brooks, country artists have never been known for their business acumen. He’s always surrounded himself with a network of business professionals, but he’s the kind of guy who asks questions and wants to know everything that’s going on in his career.

New artists might be reminded that Brooks’ attention to detail is why he still has a career.

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.