“I’ve been around for about two years now and I have yet to put out an album,” says Breland, calling from a tour stop in Boston on a 7 degree morning. “My momentum is a direct result of people discovering the music on their own time, checking out playlists, and diving in on all these different streaming platforms.”
The DSPs have noticed. AppleMusic gave Breland his own radio show, Spotify used him to help launch a Nineties country campaign, YouTube named him an Artist on the Rise in 2021 and, on Monday, Amazon Music announced the songwriter behind viral hits like “My Truck” and “Hot Sauce” as their latest Breakthrough Artist. Only the second country artist to receive the designation (Gabby Barrett was first in 2020), Breland will get the platinum treatment from Amazon Music: high-profile placement on playlists, a featured interview on the Country Heat podcast, an Amazon Original recording session, and more.
It’s all part of Breland’s goal to not just release an album this year, but transition into one of Nashville’s most visible creative forces. He’s well on his way, having co-written and guested on tracks like Keith Urban’s “Out the Cage,” Nelly’s “High Horse,” and Dierks Bentley’s “Beers on Me,” Breland’s first hit on terrestrial radio. That’s in addition to songs under his own name, like “Throw It Back,” also with Urban, and “Cross Country.”
“I only just recently started having some success at traditional radio with ‘Beers on Me’ with Dierks and Hardy, but my music has always streamed really well. It’s the main thing that I have,” he says. “Over the next few months, Amazon is going to help support what it is that I’m doing and help bring me from a new artist that people are just starting to learn about to hopefully a household name.”
As principal music curator at Amazon Music, Emily Cohen recalls watching Breland’s “My Truck” explode on the platform in 2020, a slice of success that allowed the singer to make his way up the ladder of Amazon Music playlists: from Fresh Country to the Country Heat playlist, onto the Country Heat station, and now as Breakthrough Artist.
“It’s a very simple thing to say, but it always starts with the music. Breland was a top performing artist in 2020 with ‘My Truck’ and then had one of the most popular tracks on Country Heat in 2021 with ‘Throw It Back,’” Cohen says. “His breakout moment came in August 2021, with his streams increasing 2.5 times globally compared to the previous month. So as a curator, I’m always looking for the hits. And Breland is definitely known as somebody across our service who makes hits that our customers really enjoy.”
New artist programs are a key component of the streaming services — every DSP has their own spin on how to highlight emerging talent. Chris Graham, Amazon’s global co-head of artist relations, says their campaign stands out because of the time it devotes to a featured artist. “Breland is going to see a six-to-12 month campaign from us. That allows us to focus on more than just one focus track or single. We’re plugging him into all of our biggest looks that we can give an artist,” he says. “We’ll get behind him for the long term and be committed to him. The longevity is really what sets it apart.”
But Amazon Music is also throwing money at developing new artists, specifically independent artists who, unlike Breland, aren’t yet signed to a label deal and don’t have a support system in place. On Monday, the service officially announced its Breakthrough Development Fund, which gives financial support to indie artists in areas where their career may be lacking: with a PR campaign, a social media team, or with livestream tech, for example. Amazon Music quietly launched the Breakthrough Development Fund in January with “Fingers Crossed” singer Lauren Spencer-Smith. February’s recipient is Muni Long, the “Hrs and Hrs” hitmaker previously known as songwriter Priscilla Renea. (While Renea may be independent, she has more momentum than some of her peers: her songs have been recorded by Rihanna, Ariana Grande, and Miranda Lambert.)
“If we look at Breland, he’s signed to a label, he’s got a strong management team, he’s got access to PR, access to his social team — a really wide swath of folks that are able to support him. But a lot of independent artists don’t always have access to those teams,” Graham says. “So the intent with the Development Fund is trying to open up that door for them to get to that next level.”
Graham won’t disclose exactly how much money Amazon is providing via the fund. It depends, he says, on what the artist needs. “When we’re talking about PR and social campaigns support, those things have a different cost. So there’s not a set monetary value that we provide each artist.”
The ultimate goal, according to both Graham and Cohen, is to build fans for their selected artists. Of course, that also benefits Amazon Music: the more popular an artist is, the more customers-slash-future-subscribers will search for their songs. That’s especially true of the still growing number of country fans who stream music. Last fall, Amazon Music’s Country Heat brand surpassed 13 billion streams since its first station launched in October 2016.
“We’ve seen a ton of success,” Cohen says, singling out Breakthrough alum Gabby Barrett. She says to keep an eye on other up-and-coming artists, especially the indies. “I’m really just choosing the best music, and it feels like the labels are snatching them up so quickly.”
Last week, January’s Breakthrough Development Fund recipient Lauren Spencer-Smith inked a major-label deal with Island Records and Republic Records.