Ronnie Dunn: ‘If You’re Gonna Be Heard, You Have to Get on the Radio’
Ronnie Dunn echoes comments made by the former CEO of Sony Nashville, saying he realized during his short spell as an independent artist that radio airplay is the fuel that powers an aspiring artist's career. During an interview with Taste of Country, the "Ain't No Trucks In Texas" singer talked about having no regrets as he moves back to a major record label.
In January, Dunn announced he signed with Nash Icon Records, a partnership between Big Machine Label Group and Cumulus Media. Reba McEntire, Hank Williams Jr. and Martina McBride are also on the label, though only McEntire has an album since its inception. It's not clear if Dunn or Williams Jr. will be next — the Brooks & Dunn frontman said he's only about halfway through writing and recording his debut on the label.
As an indie artist, Dunn was very active on social media, often stirring the pot with posts and comments aimed toward former Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia) Executive VP of Programming, Clay Hunnicutt. Dunn enjoyed the time before, during and after releasing his Peace, Love and Country Music (2014, Little Will-E Records) album, he says.
Unless you’re cool being a minstrel, hitchhiking from gig to gig," Dunn adds. "That’s fine too, nothing wrong with that.
"Almost too much," he admits, laughing.
Radio airplay was his biggest challenge. Despite some love on SiriusXM's The Highway and a few stations nationwide, the album's two singles fizzled. When Cumulus and BMLG came back to the singer with an offer to sign up with Nash Icon, he jumped at he chance.
“If you’re gonna be heard, you have to get on the radio," Dunn insists. "The internet alone is not gonna do it." Last winter, Sony CEO Gary Overton applied much less sensitivity to the same message, saying, "If you're not on country radio, you don't exist."
“Unless you’re cool being a minstrel, hitchhiking from gig to gig," Dunn adds. "That’s fine too, nothing wrong with that.”
Fans who lined up to support the Ronnie Dunn revolution didn't mind him signing another major record deal. Few, if any, accused him of "selling out." Most just wanted new music, and the chance to see him live.
“Quit posting pictures of moons and get out there and sing," Dunn says with a chuckle, reiterating the dominant message from his faithful. In July, they got their wish. "Ain't No Trucks in Texas" is sitting just outside the Top 40 on Billboard Airplay charts after 12 weeks of mostly traditional promotion (nothing from Peace, Love and Country Music broke the Top 60).
Fans appreciated Dunn's enthusiasm about a new way, and his guerilla marketing tactics. For example, he surprised fans exiting the 2013 CMT Music Awards with a live show from the rooftop of a bar that sits just across the street from Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. No institution seemed safe from his brand of truth, making his Facebook page a must-visit daily destination.
Promoting his music as an indie artist took a tremendous amount of effort, Dunn says, but adds that's where he sees the industry heading. Right now, it's a system of conglomerates, like Cumulus and iHeartMedia. The rivalry between the two hampered McEntire's singles on her Love Somebody album, and while Dunn didn't say he expects the same, he's savvy enough to recognize any and all obstacles.
“Conglomerates, that’s where it’s at right now," he says. "It’s so competitive between all the different factions. Always has been, but it’s even more pronounced now. It’s getting to the point where it’s ridiculous.”
“There are reasons for that, that we probably shouldn’t talk about it," he furthers. For now, he's once again playing the commercial game, hoping programmers nationwide will choose to play his music based on the strengths of the song. The next album will mix traditional and modern country elements, just like his last two solo albums and so many of his projects with Brooks and Dunn. Jay DeMarcus is set to produce the "lion's share," he reveals. Dunn recognizes the need to bring in contemporary points of view, but doesn't have to work hard to embrace those ideas.
“Music changes … but there’s good music in everything," he relates. "There’s bad traditional music. There’s good and bad contemporary music."
Adds the star, "I’ve just always gravitated toward whatever feels good at the time.”
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