Hot Seat: Spotify editor Peter Stevens on prioritising country music
With the emergence of artists like Seaforth, Morgan Evans, Rachael Fahim and Brad Cox, Australian country music is in rude health.
The rise of emerging artists alongside stalwarts of the industry like Keith Urban and Lee Kernaghan has led to a new age of prosperity for the genre, and big streaming services like Spotify are taking notice.
Australia is also Spotify’s third-highest streaming market for country music, behind the US and Canada.
Peter Stevens senior editor – music culture & editorial at Spotify, recognises that the age of streaming has the opportunity to bring more Aussie artists into the spotlight both here and overseas than ever before.
In a Q&A exclusively obtained by TMN, Stevens outlines why Australia is a priority market for expanding country.
Are there differences between Australia and New Zealand in terms of listeners’ appetite for country music and its popularity? My impression is that Australia is a priority market for expanding country, but correct me if I have that wrong?
Australia is definitely the priority market for expanding country. There is a presence in New Zealand, but being a smaller territory, with less artists breaking out globally right now, we can more confidently say Australia should be the focus (Not to discount NZ in any way though). In terms of English-speaking territories, country music is primarily breaking out of the US.
Canada, Australia and the UK – Australia has a strong and ever-growing presence in the global country music story.
How would you characterize the growth of country music in Australia and New Zealand?
Specific to the platform, as the idea of streaming becomes more ubiquitous and expands outside of metropolitan areas and into regional areas (where there are large country audiences) we have seen an uplift in consumption of country music in Australia via our flagship ‘Fresh Country’ playlist, as well as general streaming numbers around country music.
Country music has always had a strong presence in Australia, in line with our vast interior and open areas known as the ‘outback’ or ‘the bush’, inspiring the common themes of country music, along with everyday life and the general themes within country music that we see globally. We are also seeing local artists moving toward the more contemporary style of country music which has a widespread global appeal, opening up more opportunities, but still holding local cultural relevance.
Australia has always produced country music artists – are there more now than ever? And who are the standouts?
Country music has always remained consistent in Australia, but with the recent uplift in popularity of the genre, we are seeing more artists entering the spotlight. Global streaming services are providing opportunities around discovery, opening up more opportunities for global potential with our local artists.
Some artists of note are – Morgan Evans, Keith Urban (kind of goes without saying!), Rachel Fahim, Seaforth, Mick Lindsay, Casey Barnes, Melanie Dyer, The Wolfe Brothers, Missy Lancaster, Bryce Sainty, Route 33, The McClymonts, Travis Collins. If we mention NZ, Kaylee Bell is their biggest recent prospect.
What is Spotify doing to cater to its country listeners in NZ and Australia?
We have a flagship Country playlist ‘Fresh Country’ which features the best recent country music from Australia and around the globe, as well as two mood-oriented lists: ‘Country Chill’ and ‘Country Party’. We position these to appeal to both regional and metropolitan listeners, to break down the barriers of what audience can be defined as country fans.
For the regional audience, we like to provide a sense of affinity for the music that originates from where they are from, and with metropolitan listeners, we encourage a sense of escape or nostalgia, to the regional areas they may have visited or have a mental image of.
Are the playlists Country Chill and Country Party for both Australian and New Zealand listeners?
They both feature AU and NZ artists and are programmed for both regions.
Is there anything else we should know about country music in Australia and NZ?
It is world-class, and has a devoted following! These are local artists telling their stories and connecting strongly with their audiences, nothing is more important than that when it comes to music. The biggest yearly events are the CMC Country Music Awards followed directly by the popular CMC Rocks Festival, which attracts both local and international artists.