Pollstar Live! 2024 Panel Preview: Genre Spotlight, Country!

February 8, 1:45-2:30 PM, LA Ballroom P2

CMA Fest 2023 Day 1
FAST CAR AND HIGH LONESOME: Luke Combs and Vince Gill perform on stage during day one of the CMA Fest 2023 at Nissan Stadium on June 08, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/WireImage)

Milly Olykan  | Country Music Association, Moderator
Jeff Krones  | CAA
Mandelyn Monchick  | Red Light Management
Curt Motley  | UTA
Tara Traub  | Live Nation
Stacy Vee  | Goldenvoice

The Grand Ole Opry will celebrate 100 years in 2025 and though it is now a fully multimedia undertaking, it is, at its core, still a radio show and its longevity and persistent success tells a truth (with the accompanying three chords, of course): country leans on radio more than any other genre. It’s been true for years but with the rise of streaming and country’s more tentative embrace of it than other branches of the music tree, it’s still true.

Saying Nashville is a factory town for the country music industry is hoary but Music City’s unipolarity in the country universe has created a distinct culture which can be inscrutable from the outside.

As UTA’s Curt Motley summarized, cheekily, for Pollstar, there’s a specific formula everyone thinks an artist has to follow.

“​​You got to move to Nashville, get a publishing deal or really, you work in a restaurant, then get a publishing deal, then get lucky and play some gigs, get a deal with the manager, get a record deal, get your teeth capped and then get a song released,” he said.

That formula’s been a success historically and still is now: at least a dozen of the Top 100 North American tours on Pollstar’s 2023 year-end rankings were country artists and that’s without including Taylor Swift — certainly many of her eras were very country indeed.

But there are new paths being blazed. Motley — one of the speakers on the “Genre Spotlight: Country!” panel — represents viral sensation Oliver Anthony, who required a different approach. Zach Bryan, repped by WME, signed a deal while still in the Navy, garnering attention from YouTube videos filmed on an iPhone. Not exactly years of writers’ rounds at the Bluebird.

Country is opening new markets, too, in North America and elsewhere. Panel moderator Milly Olykan is the Country Music Association’s vice president of international relations and development; there’s no better person to analyze the possibilities for “America’s music” to be the world’s.

Panelist Jeff Krones may know a little something about the cross-Atlantic appeal of country, too, having been born in the UK. Now the co-head of CAA’s Nashville office, he represents a cross-section of artists: among them, rockers Twenty One Pilots and country artists including Hailey Whitters and Luke Grimes. Grimes, who first turned heads as an actor before his country career took off, is just one example of how country multihyphenates find crossover success. His “Yellowstone” co-star, Lainey Wilson, is another great example; she’s managed by panelist Mandelyn Monchick of Red Light, an Impact NextGen honoree. And then you’ve got to get those stars (and future stars) on the right stages. Live Nation SVP Tara Traub and Goldenvoice Vice President Stacey Vee can tell you all about it. They’ll join the aforementioned Motley — a veteran agent who got his start repping Sawyer Brown and has worked with Toby Keith and Jamey Johnson.

Does the success of Anthony, Bryan and others mean trails are being blazed beyond that well-worn path Motley described? Can country capture audiences with streaming and TikTok and YouTube alone or are radio tours still necessary? How many stadium acts are there, really? 

Nearly a century after the Opry whistled on to the radio, country’s still got plenty to teach us.