How a Bearded Country-Rocker Pivoted to Social Media Influencer During the Pandemic
Before Tim Montana signed with BBR Music Group/Music Knox Records to release his major label debut, Long Shots, the longhaired, bearded mountain man from Butte, Montana, would watch quietly as the career path he carved out for himself was repeatedly questioned by Nashville executives and managers.
While Montana was building an audience of music fans as a hard-touring country-rocker, playing shows with ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Hank Williams Jr., he was also cultivating an online following as an unconventional social-media influencer. He may not have had the massive numbers that some lifestyle influencers command, but his posts appealed directly to an underserved market: calloused-hands, salt-of-the-earth guys scrolling through their phones on their lunch hours, who saw in Montana a bit of themselves — and who were interested in the same products he uses on a daily basis, from grills and knives to coffee and crossbows.
Still, the Music Row gatekeepers didn’t get Montana’s side hustle.
“They would look at me and kind of laugh,” Montana says. “One of them, I remember saying, ‘So, are you an influencer or a musician? Because you can’t be both.'”
Turns out, Montana could. And when the pandemic shut down the live music industry in March 2020, cutting off his primary source of income, he leaned into the fledgling influencer brand he had created. With 63,000 followers, Montana is a “micro-influencer” speaking to a curated, hyper-specific audience, but his pivot was nimble, successful, and, to some, enviable.
“When Covid hit, some of those same people would call me when their acts were taken off the road. They were saying, ‘Oh, how do we get this [artist] on the influencer train?’ I’m sitting there going, ‘I thought you were a musician — you can’t do both, right?’ It just kind of came full circle,” Montana says.
Montana’s entree into the influencer sphere was born from smoking meat. After hearing about Traeger Grills from a buddy in the motocross stunt troupe Nitro Circus, the charismatic Montana talked his way into a comp grill and began posting photos on Instagram of himself cooking ribs and brisket for his band, wife, four kids, and even Dave Grohl. (They met at a barbecue cook-off in Memphis, became bros, and now grill together for famous friends like Robert Patrick). Traeger, which has crafted a reputation among barbecue enthusiasts as the cool cook’s grill, signed Montana as a spokesperson.
According to Jeremy Andrus, Traeger’s CEO, Montana exhibits a certain type of genuine enthusiasm that helps the Traeger brand appeal to everyday consumers and celebrities alike.
“We believe that great brands have some level of personality and even irreverence, and when we met Tim, we said, ‘This guy’s one of us,” Andrus says. “When Tim connects us, he doesn’t say, ‘Hey, I’m an ambassador for this brand.’ He says, ‘I freaking love my Traeger.’ You can’t buy that authenticity.”
“I just started posting what I thought was funny videos, and people started engaging,” says Montana, who has promotional deals with companies like Traeger, the knife company Gerber, Snap-On tools, the veteran-owned Black Rifle Coffee Company, and Polaris all-terrain vehicles, among others. “There’s no class on this. I don’t know what it is, but I have really good engagement. I don’t have ten million followers, but when I put something out, people are interested in it, and they go research it and ultimately go and buy that product.”
Montana says that ability to speak plainly to his followers “saved my ass” over the past year and a half. Unable to tour, he signed a deal with Velocity Outdoor, which markets products like crossbows and airguns, to become the face of six of its brands. Russ Rowan, the company’s Chief Brand Officer, says they were drawn to Montana’s scratch-and-claw mentality, as well as his bona fides as a hunter and outdoorsman.
“He’s super passionate about being in the outdoors and he’s extremely educated about it. His energy level is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Rowan says. “We all know what happened in the music industry when people stopped touring. And yet he stayed busy doing social postings. He just kept pushing and pushing. There’s no off-switch with him.”
“You have to look at how many musical acts died in the last 18 months,” says Jarred Taylor, co-founder of Black Rifle Coffee Company and its SVP of strategic partnerships. “Once touring was taken away, you had a lot of artists that never had to fend for themselves and you saw the sink or swim. Tim is not Garth Brooks. He’s not selling out 65,000-person arenas. But what he can do is supplement that income with all these brand deals, by being a very likable and trustworthy guy.”
In the process, Montana is gaining fans of his music, some of who hadn’t heard his brand of rough-hewed country, hard rock, and, what he calls “Western rock” — inspired by his Big Sky Country upbringing — before they saw him on Instagram. The partnerships have been a direct pipeline to new sets of ears.
“It’s about the right brands. Because, you know, Snap-On has probably a couple of million email addresses of mechanics and mechanics are probably going to connect with my world and my lifestyle,” he says.
Montana’s music hasn’t secured the same kind of mainstream radio play of BBR Music Group peers like Jason Aldean and Jimmie Allen, but he’s undeterred. “Radio, let’s be honest, it’s just an audience,” he says. “I can find an audience through Snap-On as well. So why don’t I go with that, or the grill world, and try to do my own thing there?”
While influencing his way through the pandemic, Montana fell into acting too (“I was content creating and becoming a mediocre actor by talking to myself in the garage,” he says). He landed a role in a Western shooting in his home state — The Last Son, with Thomas Jane, Heather Graham, and Machine Gun Kelly — and recently finished filming another Montana-set period piece with Jane and Gabriel Byrne. At the wrap party, he cooked for his castmates and posted about it on Instagram, tagging Traeger and thanking them for delivering a grill to the set.
He’s also incorporated some of his partners into the campaign for his album. Black Rifle Coffee and Orange Amplifiers appear in the music video for “Do It Fast,” and Montana wears an Indian Motorcycles hat in the video for “Cars on Blocks.” He’ll be playing both of those Long Shots tracks live when he kicks off a cross-country summer tour in June, in addition to juggling a recently launched line of his own merch, the next logical step of his gig as a spokesperson.
“It’s one thing to sell other people’s products, but what if I’m selling my own product?” Montana says. He has a clothing brand called Ol’ Boy, a line of cigars, and the hot sauce company Whisker Bomb with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons that’s expanding into barbecue sauce and salsa.
“I’m kind of spreading myself thin on a couple of things,” Montana admits. “But I don’t have to do everything — all I have to do is dream up the crazy content.”
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