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Experts Explain Why Eric Church’s ‘Chief’ Debuted at No. 1

Eric Church
Michael Buckner, Getty Images

When it was announced that Eric Church‘s latest album ‘Chief’ debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, lots of people were surprised since Church has never had a No. 1 single on the Country Songs chart. Billboard recently spoke to some industry insiders in order to figure out the true reason the North Carolina native was able to take ‘Chief’ to the top of the charts. They all seemed to agree that Church’s loyal fans and his overall talent for writing great albums start-to-finish launched him into the spotlight.

Billboard first spoke to Church about the No. 1 album. “We played a lot of shows and we’ve made other records that people regarded well enough that they were going to buy this record. There was excitement. I didn’t know there was this kind of excitement,” Church said. “I don’t tweet. I’m not a Facebook guy. I don’t do any of those things. To have this kind of success the first week, it’s about the music. [It is] really restoring my faith.”

Church is the first artist since 1967 (when Bobbie Gentry’s ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ topped the charts) to take an album to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 without having a No. 1 single beforehand. Capitol/EMI Nashville president Mike Dungan said that Church’s success comes from his “spin-to-sale ratio,” meaning people react to hearing his music by actually going out and purchasing it. “When people hear him, they are immediately interested,” Dungan says. “Listen to all three of his albums back-to-back and I think you’ll agree that there isn’t one artist working in this town who has made three records in a row that are this great.”

“In the very beginning [with "Sinners"], we put him in an opening slot on a superstar tour,” Dungan continues. “It ended up just not feeling right. We knew pretty quickly that it would be better to start outside and work our way in than the other way around. He started playing smaller venues, playing later at night to mostly male audiences, and the word of mouth took him from playing for 100 people a night to thousands, so he’s worked his way up to where he is now out on the road — and it keeps building.”

Billboard also had Nate Deaton, general manager at Empire Broadcasting’s KRTY in San Jose, Calif. weigh in on Church’s album success. He said, “The [album's] sales just reflect what the fans already know. Since day one … we have believed in Eric Church. ‘Chief’ is a great project. [It's] not a record of three singles and some filler, it is a great album with a start, middle and end.”

“I think by and large country radio as a group has missed Eric Church,” Deaton further explains. “Whether it be bias against different-sounding material or just that programmers don’t get the connection he has with fans, they are simply wrong … The first album, ‘Sinners Like Me,’ may not have been a radio favorite, but anyone who has ever been to a Church show knows the impact it had. Watch the fans hold up their boots during ‘These Boots,’ or sing every word of ‘Sinners Like Me’ back to him and you’ll see the impact the music has.”

Read Our Album Review for Eric Church’s ‘Chief’

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