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VOL. 42 | NO. 24 | Friday, June 15, 2018

Streaming providers aim to convert country fans

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NASHVILLE (AP) — The hundreds of artists appearing at the CMA Fest this past weekend weren't the only ones trying to court new fans. Streaming music providers had a larger presence at this year's festival, hoping to convert country music fans, who have been slower to adopt streaming compared with other genres.

With roughly 80,000 people in town to watch more than 300 artists perform at multiple stages throughout Nashville, Spotify, Amazon Music and iHeartRadio's streaming platform all used the festival to persuade country music fans to use their technologies as music discovery tools.

Country music made up about 13 percent of physical album sales last year but only 5.5 percent of on-demand streaming, according to Nielsen's year-end music report.

"Spotify is looking to not just have a presence, but really start to integrate into this culture of country music fans," said Brittany Schaffer, head of artist and label marketing for Spotify Nashville.

The festival, now in its 47th year, had a new streaming exhibit area where fans could learn about the services, make playlists, find artists they liked or sign up. For the first year, Spotify had a significant footprint at the festival, including curating four days of performers at Blake Shelton's new downtown restaurant and integrating Spotify directly into the CMA Fest app, which prompted users to listen throughout the weekend.

Country Music Association CEO Sarah Trahern said its large study of country music fans that was released last year showed streaming as an area for potential growth.

"Some of the more traditional fans didn't quite know how it worked or how different services worked," Trahern said. "And that was a chance for them to interact in a low-key kind of tutorial but in a fun environment."

And some artists who performed that weekend saw immediate results in terms of increases in streaming.

Country star Dierks Bentley used the festival as a platform to launch his new album, "The Mountain." He played the CMT Awards on Wednesday night, played a late-night album release show on Thursday night and played Nissan Stadium on Sunday with special guests Brothers Osborne and Dwight Yoakam.

His single, "Woman, Amen," topped the Billboard Airplay chart the same week, and he's aiming to get "The Mountain" into the No. 1 slot on the Billboard country albums chart. In Nashville alone, his streams increased 239 percent over Saturday and Sunday during the festival compared with the previous weekend, the highest percentage increase for any of the stadium headliners at CMA Fest, according to data provided by Spotify.

Spotify also made Bentley a featured artist on its Hot Country playlist and provided users new video content of Bentley in Telluride, Colorado, where the album was written.

"He made himself really visible and accessible to the fans," Trahern said.

Other new and mid-level acts also saw an increase in their streaming numbers over the weekend.

Cole Swindell, who is gearing up for his third album, "All of It," coming out in August, played a set at the Ascend Amphitheater, played a heartbreak ballad at the stadium and had a late-night jam at Spotify's Ole Red stage. Streams of his music increased nearly 120 percent in Nashville during the festival weekend compared with the weekend before, according to Spotify.

"This festival is what got me my record deal," said Swindell. "Real music fans are here to hear the new people and find new music."

Lauren Alaina, who won a CMT Award for collaborative video and performed at the festival, saw an increase of 123 percent in her streaming music in Nashville over the festival weekend. Old Dominion had a 92 percent increase in streaming in the city two days after their performance at the stadium on Friday night. And Carrie Underwood, who played the stadium on Friday night, had her streaming numbers increase by 88 percent in Nashville alone the following two days.

"The potential for festivals as a music discovery tool is only going to continue to grow with these new technologies," Trahern said.

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Online:

www.cmaworld.com

www.spotify.com

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Follow Kristin M. Hall at Twitter.com/kmhall

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