Country-music management team Chris Kappy and Lynn Oliver-Cline are showing the Nashville establishment how to build an old-fashioned country-music career in a 21st-century way. With Luke Combs, they turned their focus away from the typical country-album-release models and radio promo cycles and toward social media and streaming. (Before Combs had a record deal, his song “Hurricane” accrued a million streams.) While this kind of strategy is common in pop, it’s groundbreaking in country, where physical product plays an outsize role and things have been done the same way for decades.
“Some people are a little freaked out, saying, ‘It’s like the wild wild west. Nobody knows what’s really going on,'” says Oliver-Cline of the increasingly volatile country music business. “No, we know what’s going on, but it’s all in how you use it to your client’s advantage.”
Kappy and Oliver-Cline, who met in the Nineties while working with Hootie and the Blowfish and Sister Hazel, take their cues directly from Combs’ fans, down to involving them in the process of picking which T-shirts to sell. In early days, if a song resonated online, the managers would rush to release it — like the smash ballad “Beautiful Crazy,” which was originally being held for Combs’ upcoming second album but ended up on the deluxe edition of his 2017 debut, This One’s for You.
To establish a trusted channel of communication between artist and listener, Kappy — who learned the ins and outs of fan engagement during his 15 years at music-cruise company Sixthman — created a Facebook group and christened it the official place to talk all things Luke Combs. Then he quickly put Combs himself in front of the fans by live-streaming impromptu performances, building on the Vine videos that Combs relied on early in his career. “They just want to see Luke sing. So we’d go live at rehearsals, at his hotel room, in our office. I wouldn’t even give him a chance to say no,” Kappy says. “By doing that we were letting the fans in behind the curtain early on.”
Their detailed, collaborative spirit is an approach that’s more often boasted about by an artist’s team than practiced. “They may say, ‘We’re all about the fans,’ but they’re not,” says Oliver-Cline. “From the beginning, we put our money where our mouth is.”
Yet for all their digital savvy, Kappy and Oliver-Cline are most at home on the road with their clients, mingling with fans and noting which songs are connecting. Says Oliver-Cline, “We’re definitely not making decisions from the desk.”