– Kerri Edwards
Luke Bryan asked Kerri Edwards, one of publisher Murrah Music’s star employees, to manage him several times. The song-savvy executive kept demurring, thinking her life was in developing songwriters and matching songs to artists who needed hits. Then, one day, having created the showcase where all the Nashville labels saw Bryan as an artist and not just a writer, she realized if she didn’t take the chance, she might never work with the high-energy Georgia boy again.
Since aligning herself with Coran Capshaw as a young manager starting out, Edwards’ solely owned KP Entertainment has expanded to include Cole Swindell, Dylan Scott, Whitney Duncan, Jon Langston, CB30 and DJ Rock.
But Bryan’s rise mirrors the CMA SRO Manager of the Year winner’s own journey from Arista Nashville intern to publishing executive to confidante and major career builder.
Her passion and love of song inform almost every decision she helps her artists make. For Bryan, the top drawing artist of Pollstar’s Q3, that includes how to not get lost in “American Idol” TVQ, developing a beer, creating a Farm Tour of rural America and a fistful of Entertainer of the Year Awards. Pollstar’s Holly Gleason spoke with Edwards about Bryan’s myriad successes both on and off the road.
Pollstar: You met Luke at Murrah Music, where he was a young songwriter. Did you have any inkling what was ahead?
Kerri Edwards: I’d worked with him for a few years as a writer, and he had this energy. But when I finally went and saw him do this club in a Georgia college town – I’d taken a couple of writers and publishers to try and get him better co-writes – it had this (Kenny) Chesney thing.
I didn’t know how to explain it, but you could feel it and see it. I was determined to help him figure it out. To get people to see him as an artist, I did a showcase at The Stage. Every label came, but nobody offered a deal. They called and were intrigued, but nobody offered a contract.
Mike Dungan, who’d been at Arista (as the head of Sales & Marketing) with me, finally said, “I think he’s not quite ready, but I’m going to give him a deal.” That magnetic thing, that little “it” it takes, Dungan saw it.
Terry Wyatt/Getty Images – Luke Bryan
performing at Bridgestone Arena on July 30, 2021, as part of his “Proud To Be Right Here” Tour in Nashville.
And the rest is history.
Luke’s second song to radio was the best song he’d done, “We Ride In Trucks.” (Capitol head) Mike Dungan said, “All My Friends Say” to start, which surprised us, but it worked. Then I get a call from the label saying they’re pulling the follow-up, because it’s not going to work. In that moment, once I got past the shock, deciding I won’t be OK with taking an answer from a person in the middle telling me what radio said. I decided I was never going to let that be a block again. I would never not be able to ask or find out for myself. I knew this was a team, with the label, the agent, the promoter. But I felt like I needed to know all the players.
It took five or six years. A lot of Country Radio Seminars, going out on the weekends. But that 20 or 30 minutes where you’re really talking to people in radio matters. Now, people don’t even realize there was a hiccup, but there was one. And it definitely pushed me to not be comfortable, to reach out and hear what people beyond the team are thinking.
On the touring side, you’ve got an incredible team with Jay Williams at WME and Brian O’Connell at Live Nation.
We didn’t really know each other in the beginning… and it was all happening so fast. Henry Glasscock, a local promoter back then, kept telling Jay he needed to meet us. And Jay is seriously one of my favorite people! Everything about Jay, who maybe only had Dierks, or Dierks and Eric, just felt right. I went with my gut and we never looked back.
Brian, too. He has this very calm, code way of saying things. He wasn’t telling you, but he’ll say, “Maybe you should look at that?” or “Maybe you should talk to them….” He’s big on asking the right questions. Brian O’Connell is, also, old school in the idea of “you have to build it.” To build it, you have to have that meaningful support position. Whether it was McGraw or Jason Aldean, I could feel Brian watching Luke, asking us about long-term vision, the stage show and how we wanted to grow Luke’s touring.
In a crowded era of “dudes,” were you ever nervous?
It goes back to Luke’s opening for Kenny. He’d had about half a hit, and Clint [Higham, manager] and Kenny had him out there. You could see how he was connecting to that audience even then. I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but there was never a time when I didn’t think he was going to be what he is. And I still get in awe of the things that happen, believe me.
So what was the moment?
He’d had a couple No. 1s, and you wonder, “What makes them stand out from other people?” Then “Country Girl Shake It For Me” happened. It was such a different song, produced in such a different way, especially for Nashville at that time. When they wrote that song, they called me and played it over the phone. When I heard the hook, I was like, “Oh, wow…” You just knew, even then. But to see him do it on “The CMA Awards” in front of the industry and the other artists? That was a moment.
How do you follow that?
As a manager, I think you’re trying to figure out ways to not just get artists aligned and figure out the message, but what else can define them? Is it their clothes? Is it a Spring Break show? A Farm Tour?
You guys got into “theme touring” very early. Both the Farm Tour and Crash My Playa.
Obviously Kenny owned the Spring Break thing, and we knew that. But we wanted something for Luke that was just as much who he was. Maybe we were just green, but it didn’t feel crazy, it felt like who Luke was. I remember sitting in a restaurant with Cindy Mabe, Dustin Eicher, who now works with us, trying to explain what this was. But Luke grew up in that environment, that’s his background. Where I grew up, I had to drive 45 minutes or an hour to a show; it was the same way for Luke. I remember him saying, “I wish I could set up in town like where I grew up, and bring the music to the people. They’d lose their minds.”
– Kerri Edwards
with Brian O’Connell and Jay Williams.
That is a little crazy.
We self-promote these dates! Fencing, port-a-potties, parking attendants, vendors, security! Three shows a weekend, and you have to have permits in every county. That’s crazy. And no one will ever really understand the prep… A year goes into it, and he’s done scholarships in the towns we play. If you’re from an agricultural family, we do scholarships for those kids,
And it’s something to see: 20,000 people pulling into a red dirt farm! One year, the traffic was super slow. Luke was watching the socials, concerned about it. I had to remind him: we’re playing a farm with a two-lane road.
What’s your take on social media?
There’s an instant gratification to it, especially for a fan. You can tease a song, announce a show, drop something from a TV appearance. But you better be managing expectations. It’s good and it’s bad and it’s hard to ignore. 24/7, always there. How do you balance the brand with keeping the realness of life, the wife, the kids, the music?
At the other end of the spectrum, he’s on “Idol.” People’s living rooms how many days a week. How do you keep that from eating the music? Because TVQ is bigger than people listening to the songs.
That was something that really weighed on our conversations about doing “Idol.” Getting into it, it’s a lot more in-depth than you’d ever imagine, It’s 30 contestants, 10-15 minutes with each. And Luke really engages. But he didn’t want to be “known” for (being on a TV show). We knew we had to figure out how to balance that, because those live shows are important to him. He’s a songwriter, that matters to him. He went and talked to Blake [Shelton] and Keith Urban. We did what we do with everything, really. Find the people who’ve done it. Figure out the challenges, ask the questions.
He’s not been swallowed by “Idol.” What’s the secret?
Honestly, Luke’s a workhorse. He never stopped doing the touring. He’d have never done “Idol” if he’d had to. But when he had three, four shows on a weekend, we were flying in the middle of the night to make it to L.A. to tape for three days. And it’s 12-hour days, sometimes longer. We were exhausted the whole time. But he never let go of the music side. He took that so seriously. He worked hard to promote “Idol,” but he worked even harder to promote his shows and his records.
Now you’re launching a beer.
It’s like launching a new artist (laughs). Did I ever think I’d be figuring out how to put beer on shelves? But we keep diving into weekly calls, going to talk to people.
We’re partnering with Constellation, and they’re great people. We met them maybe six years ago. Three years ago, we said, “Well, let’s talk.” They care about details, so this feels right. Two Lane Beer; name says it all.
Do you fear over-exposure? With the Jockey ads, “Idol,” beer, massive touring.
Well, those projects we’ve selected, those partnerships aren’t around monetary stuff. There’s the idea, “Does it fit?” We’ve done a lot, but we’ve said “no” to a lot more. Nobody ever sees that. I say “no” to 10 things he never sees.
The full version of this Q&A is included in Pollstar’s Artist Management 2021-2022 Edition. This special report contains contact information for all major artist management companies in the Pollstar database including their artist rosters, addresses, telephone and fax numbers, available email addresses and websites. This special confidential report is NOT included with a Pollstar subscription and is made available only to qualified concert industry professionals. Purchase a copy here.