In the last decade, alongside Tyler Hubbard, Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley has achieved 19 number-one singles on country radio, plus won Academy of Country Music, Billboard, CMT, Country Music Association, iHeartRadio, and Teen Choice Awards. Undeterred, he remains busy these days, noting that having a run of projects on his calendar outside of just recording music is “fairly typical” at this point in his career. Among those projects, he is hosting an online campaign, via the Protégé app to open a submission portal for artists to create and submit a 60-second demo to become his next protégé. The app describes itself as a platform that allows anyone in the world to apply to the top experts in every field. “Our mission to make access to dream career opportunities more meritocratic,” they note. “Life is as short as it is fun, plus I have an entrepreneurial spirit and I love to try new things,” Kelley says. “Protégé is just another chapter in the story of my career.” In this interview, Kelley offers passionate thoughts about developing new stars, but for the keys to beginning the process of establishing his creative legacy.
Marcus K. Dowling, CMT: What is the value of having an app now that eases and broadens your work and communication flow as far as sourcing for new and diverse talents?
Brian Kelley: Most of the people I get to mentor I’ve met through Nashville and industry connections. While that’s awesome, Protégé allows me the ability to meet and connect with people from literally anywhere in the world. Not everyone has the funds to move to Nashville, and even if they’re here, not everyone always has the connections to people or studios to get ahead here. Protégé allows the floodgates to open as far as me having the ability to say to artists, “hey, show me what you’ve got, and tell me your story.”
CMT: What value does good mentorship have, and how do you think someone can go about adding value to that relationship as a protégé?
BK: Tyler and I, when we moved to Nashville and started Florida Georgia Line, we had mentors assist us in becoming stronger as singers, songwriters, producers, and touring artists in the music industry. We were — and still are — super lucky and blessed to be surrounded by great people. The key to having great mentors is first to be willing to be a great student. Then, you have to be ready to open up to yourself and admit, “Hey, I don’t know everything.” Eventually, after a while, the desire exists to pass along the knowledge you’ve learned. The creative energy exchanged between mentors, singers, and songwriters is electric. We all feed off of that. Overall, mentorship, by giving back that knowledge to others, develops community. To be a part of someone’s story Plus, it’s also a lot of fun to find and develop the talent, ideas, and songs that the next great artists have.
CMT: Sonically and creatively, what sounds do you hear emerging out of Nashville are most interesting to you? Also, are you looking for something along those lines from Protégé, or do you want something else?
BK: Nashville’s going a little bit more 90s country and old school these days, and I love that sound. However, when it comes to Protégé, I’m not necessarily chasing that. Instead, I’m looking for something that feels uniquely authentic. Across the country and world, I feel like that’s what will connect with most people.
CMT: What was the most challenging thing for you and Tyler about searching for mentorship when you were young artists? Moreover, who was the one person who stands out to you as a significant mentor in your early career?
BK: Putting it all on the line — singing acapella or sharing your heart in a very vulnerable song or lyric — is difficult, frustrating, tiring, and scary. But it is also really rewarding when it pays off. Back when Tyler and I were starting, what shaped us was earning the ability to work with [acclaimed Nashville producer] Joey Moi while releasing our first four albums. Learning his creative process was like going through a master class on achieving a great vocal performance. We learned what to look for in that, plus many other lessons about the music industry that we’ve taken with us for the rest of our lives. It’s a question of fear versus faith, [ultimately]. I’d encourage anyone by saying, “Hey, this is your shot. We’re made, as humans, to take chances. Have some confidence, have fun with it, enjoy yourself, be yourself, and have the confidence to walk through the doors that God has opened.”
CMT: As far as mentorship, can you take me into that moment when it sharts to click for an artist, and you see them start that leveling up process? How does it feel, as a mentor, to see it occur?
BK: When you start to see things click — like that smile from the inside out that an artist gets when the lightbulb goes off — musically, lyrically, and vocally for a performer, that fires me up! That’s what I’m living for seeing. Sharing in that energy and joy is irreplaceable. Whether a song is a mainstream radio hit or not, when you feel like you’ve written a great song, it’s a moment, like all moments, honestly, worth soaking up. That moment, in particular, is a key part of an artist’s journey. I’m looking forward to having my mind blown.
CMT: Doing this now with Nashville South Records, a label, involved, offers a sense that you’re looking at something of a career legacy to consider, given that you’ll be birthing artists who can look directly at you and your words and guidance, for really putting them on the map. As an artist now bearing a legacy, what’s the power in and of that mean to you?
BK: Shoot! Damn! Thank you. It’s amazing and humbling to think that I could have a legacy, and honestly fires me up for the future. Being able to give other artists the ability to share in my work ethic where I’m constantly on the grind, hunting for great songs, people, and team members, plus staying creative, that’s important. Launching the next generation of hopeful musical legends who can support their families for generations to come is the icing on top of the cake and the cherry on top of that.