Country rapper talks about his struggles with mainstream radio
Country music artist Colt Ford, who is scheduled to perform at the Florida Theater of Gainesville tonight, with doors opening at 8 p.m., spoke to a group of about 20 UF telecommunications students about his experiences in the music business Thursday afternoon.
Ford spoke about his experiences as the co-founder of independent label Average Joe's Entertainment, which has given him the freedom to pursue business as he sees best and to record albums the way he feels is right. But not being part of a major record label also makes it more difficult for him to get radio time -- even stations in Athens, Ga., his hometown, and Atlanta don't play him.
"Radio for me has been extremely difficult," he said. "A radio station in Florida shouldn't sound like a radio station in Kansas City."
Part of the reason he has had trouble getting played on the air is that disc jockeys at corporate stations are unable to play new music that hasn't been approved. He said his music, which, stylistically, is a fusion of country and rap, hasn't been approved because it is different -- but he has the numbers to prove that people like him.
His newest album, "Declaration of Independence," debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's country music chart and he was recently nominated for American Country Awards' breakthrough artist of the year. And it's easy to look online to see people's reactions to an artist, he added.
"I obviously don't fit into Nashville's system," Ford said.
He described Nashville's country music scene as a tradition that has become unwelcoming to change. He thinks independent record labels can present artists with opportunities to be themselves and said he hopes independent labels grow in strength -- although he thinks radio is becoming "extinct" as people turn to the Internet to find new music.
"That's what has to push music forward," he said.
YouTube, Pandora, Spotify and Facebook have played a huge role in giving exposure to artists.
"If people like it, they'll find it," Ford said. "Look at that dude in Korea!"
Students interested in managing musicians should try to develop creative, new ways to market artists, and they should start by working with local talent in the area, he advised. They should also be honest with their artists about the business side and encourage them to "take care of their fans."
The reason he loves being a musician -- besides music -- is the fan interaction, he said.
Ford's other love is golf. Before he pursued music for a living, he was a professional golfer, and he said he considered attending UF on a golf scholarship. In the end, he went to the University of Georgia, playing music on the side until he and his wife decided he needed to focus on one or the other. He chose golf, but never stopped fiddling with music on the side.
When he finally decided to shift his focus to music, he found that many people called him a rapper -- something the bearded, cowboy-hat wearing, country boy still doesn't understand. He thinks country should embrace artists with a range of styles.
"I think it's cool to merge music genres," Ford said. "Who has one genre of music on their iPod?"