Breaking Through in a Pandemic

Rising Artists Work Overtime to Find Creative Ways to Connect with Fans and Share Their Music

By Annie Reuter

Breaking into the Country genre as a new artist is never easy, but 2020 introduced another major hurdle for up-and-coming acts: COVID-19. With radio tours and concerts canceled for the foreseeable future, newcomers worked overtime to gain fans and share music this year.

Acts such as Lindsay Ell, Mickey Guyton, Niko Moon, Shy Carter and Tyler Rich navigated the pandemic with inventive album rollouts and innovative livestreams. Their efforts kept Country listeners engaged and steadily built up their fan bases.

Stoney Creek Records’ Ell unveiled her deeply personal album heart theory in August and celebrated the occasion with a 24-hour global livestream that garnered over 23 million impressions. “Lindsay Ell Around the World” included appearances from Brad Paisley in Nashville, Olympian athlete Pita Taufatofua in Tonga, The Wolfe Brothers in Australia and Twinnie in the U.K. During the 24-hour event, Ell cooked breakfast with instructions from Chef Matt Migliore and also performed a sunrise acoustic set. All the while, the livestream raised money for her Make You Movement charity fund, which provides funds to organizations that support at-risk youth and survivors of sexual trauma and domestic abuse.

“Being home meant that I could do a lot more press all around the world. It also made it possible to hyper focus and plan an incredibly successful launch,” says Ell. “We actually pulled off a 24-hour Instagram livestream event where I worked my way across the globe one time zone an hour, bringing on musicians, writers, athletes, chefs, speakers and authors as guests. It was such an amazing way to show how united the world can be in these crazy times and that we’re all going through this together…I can now look back with gratitude for the way quarantine has challenged me to think differently.”

Guyton, signed to Capitol Records Nashville, unveiled several timely songs during the pandemic, including the poignant “Heaven Down Here,” written the day after George Floyd’s death, and “Black Like Me,” a powerful look at racial inequality in America. Both songs are featured on the singer-songwriter’s Bridges EP, which was released on Friday, Sept. 11.

“This year altered all of our plans for releasing music, but it also opened me up to creating in new ways,” observes Guyton. “There was nothing harder than sitting in my apartment heartbroken and watching the world burn, but it was from that time that ‘Heaven Down Here’ was written, which I hope helps heal others as it has me. I’m so grateful for technology and social media platforms. They have allowed me to continually connect with fans when we can’t be together in person. Half of Bridges was recorded in my living room, over Zoom, with my producer 2,000 miles away. This time has allowed me to be more introspective, stretched my creativity to new levels, and been an incredible learning experience. Even with all of the uncertainty, my goal through my songwriting and music has always been for people to find hope, to shed light on what’s happening in the world and to make positive change.”

As Moon’s debut single “Good Time” continues to climb the Country charts, the RCA Nashville recording artist has pivoted from the traditional radio tour to hosting two weekly livestreams. The singer has been hosting a concert every Monday. Each Friday, he is joined by his wife, Anna, for their cooking show “Stir Crazy,” where the couple teach viewers how to make an easy meal, take questions from fans and perform together via Instagram and Facebook. Since its inception in March, “Stir Crazy” Facebook Live streams have reached an audience of over 100,000, while Moon’s Facebook page likes increased by 24.7% and Instagram followers by 44%.

“I started doing livestream concerts and ‘Stir Crazy’ because it was really important to me to stay connected with people,” stresses Moon. “To me, that meant being consistent and reliable with my livestreams. My goal through it all has been simple: provide people a mental vacation. And in return I got a little vacation, too, by doing what I love the most!”

Warner Music Nashville’s Shy Carter, meanwhile, has witnessed massive exposure via TikTok thanks to his viral musical Chick-fil-A order. The artist was featured on an episode of “Today with Hoda & Jenna” after he soulfully belted his drive-through order. After the video went viral, he had the idea to take his music safely around town.

“We saw people spending so much time being socially distanced and outdoors with their families, and we thought about how cool it would be to bring that same intimate feeling when sharing new music with them,” says Carter. “We loaded up the pickup truck and headed to different neighborhoods. What surprised me the most about the day was how emotional people got. How badly they are missing the connection that live music brings. It seemed like such a simple idea, but we were really reminded of the power that live music can have.”

Following its release, Carter’s positive and uplifting single “Good Love” also saw a boost on TikTok. Five influencers posted videos using the song, gaining over 6.3 million views, while 5,400 videos are currently posted using the track.

Big Machine Label Group’s Rich also utilized TikTok during quarantine and has experienced a growth of over 60,000 followers since lockdown began. His “Leave Her Wild” TikTok clip amassed more than 7 million views, while streams of the song increased by 4 million. While his headlining tour was delayed due to COVID-19, Rich has been promoting his debut album Two Thousand Miles, which released on Sept. 4, through several Instagram series, including “Leave Her Wild Sunday Brunch,” where he interacts with fans through acoustic performances, trivia games and surprise guests. He also took part in a virtual concert event in partnership with InCrowd, where fans experienced the show with a 270-degree LED wrap wall.

“I can’t be out on the road physically, so [I’m] using everything from TikTok to interactive virtual performances to stay connected,” explains Rich. “Recently, I’ve been utilizing TikTok as a way to reach a new area of fans. I’ve been creating video collages about my life, my wife and our journey, and putting it over songs of mine that fit the lyrical content. I miss the road immensely, but I am forever grateful for this time to grow as a writer, a husband and an artist.”

Lindsay Ell
Photo Credit: Jeremy Cowart
Mickey Guyton
Photo Credit: Phylicia J.L. Munn
Niko Moon
Photo Credit: Matthew Berinato
Shy Carter
Photo Credit: Jess Williams
Tyler Rich
Photo Credit: David McClister