2015 Country Music Preview and Predictions

On the Rise (Artists who will see a rise in momentum in 2015)

Note: We will only be counting singles that we believe will peak within the 2015 calendar year for our ‘Predicted Single Success’, and the feature will only be used for our ‘On the Rise’ artists.

2014’s Country Music Momentum Artists: Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert, Thomas Rhett, Eric Church, Cole Swindell, Joe Nichols, Tim McGraw, Chase Rice, Brad Paisley, Lee Brice

Brantley Gilbert

After opening with sales of over 200k copies for Just As I Am, Brantley Gilbert looks poised to emerge as country music’s latest commercial powerhouse. His latest project is chalk full of radio smashes in the making, and with the most loyal fanbase outside of Carrie Underwood, look for Gilbert to have a huge 2015, and perhaps even receive a male vocalist nomination at the CMA’s and/or the ACM’s.
Predicted Single Success: “One Hell of an Amen” (#1, Gold or better), “Lights of My Hometown” (#1, Platinum or better)

 

Lee Brice

The one artist Curb records is handling correctly, Lee Brice has broken out as one of country music’s most reliable hit makers. With huge hits like “I Don’t Dance”, “Hard to Love” and “I Drive Your Truck” already under his belt, Brice is poised to make the jump to the genre’s A-list. He’ll be one to watch in 2015, and like the aforementioned Gilbert, may just snag a male vocalist nomination.

Predicted Single Success: “Drinking Class” (#1, Platinum), “That Don’t Sound Like You” (#1, Platinum)

 

Dierks Bentley

2014 was a monster year for veteran performer Dierks Bentley. He scored two huge platinum #1’s in “I Hold On” and “Drunk on a Plane”, while receiving seemingly endless critical acclaim. Look for that momentum to continue into 2015, as new single “Say You Do” appears to be catching on, and Riser being loaded with potential radio hits. Maybe, just maybe, Dierks will catapult onto the A-list.

Predicted Single Success: “Say You Do” (#1, Gold or better), “Five” (#1, Platinum) OR “Riser” (#1, Gold or better)

 

Josh Turner

Since “Find Me a Baby” bombed in 2013, Josh Turner hasn’t been heard from on the airwaves until just recently with “Lay Low”. Fortunately for Josh, “Lay Low” is exactly the kind of song that connects with listeners, and that radio will eat up. Turner is a proven radio act, look for him to re-gain momentum in 2015.

Predicted Single Success: “Lay Low” (Top 5, Gold or better)

 

Kip Moore

Many had Kip Moore pegged as one of the artists to graduate to A-list status in 2014. Safe to say that they were very, very wrong in that prediction. “Young Love”, the lead single to Moore’s sophomore album (rumored to be titled Smoke) stalled just outside the top 20, while the next single, “Dirt Road”, failed to even make the top 40. However, Moore’s Spotify exclusive EP Soundcheck (Live) features material that has the makings of some enormous hits. Things are looking up for the young star.

Predicted Single Success: “Lipstick” (#1, Platinum), “Come and Get It” (Top 5, Gold or better)

 

Kacey Musgraves

Despite strong album and single sales, critical darling Kacey Musgraves hasn’t really caught on with radio (outside of top ten hit “Merry Go ‘Round”), a prime example of this being “Follow Your Arrow”, which was certified Gold and won CMA song of the year, despite not even cracking the top 40 in terms of airplay. But between Taylor Swift, one of country music’s big three female artists, cutting ties with the genre, and country radio trending towards more substantial lyrical content, it may just be Musgraves’ year to breakout at radio.

Predicted Single Success: *Lead Single off New Album* (Top 10, Platinum)

 

Zac Brown Band

Zac Brown and his band recently suffered their worst performance at country radio to date, with “All Alright” peaking just inside the top 20. They’re poised to rebound however, as they’re heading into a year in which they will, in all likelihood, release their fourth full length studio album. With no other band positioned to take on the role as country’s top vocal group, Zac Brown Band may be set up to have their strongest commercial year to date.

Predicted Single Success: *Lead Single off New Album* (#1, Platinum or better), *Second Single off New Album* (Top 5, Gold or better)

 

Jason Aldean

For a while it appeared that Aldean had been taken over by the likes of Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton and Florida Georgia Line in terms of overall commercial impact. Those thoughts were quickly erased when Aldean’s Old Boots, New Dirt opened with 278, 000 copies sold in its opening week, and when the controversial “Burnin’ It Down” spent multiple weeks at the airplay penthouse, and was certified platinum with relative ease. Aldean’s latest LP is loaded with radio friendly tunes, the type that will further establish Mr. Aldean as a radio and sales force. Going into 2015, Jason Aldean may just be an early favorite to take home an Entertainer of the Year trophy, which would be the first of his career.

Predicted Single Success: “Just Gettin’ Started” (#1, Gold or better), “Show You Off” (#1, Gold or better) OR “Gonna Know We Were Here” (#1, Gold or better), “Miss That Girl” (#1, Platinum)

 

Maddie & Tae

Maddie & Tae emerged in 2014 as one of the most buzz worthy new acts on the country music scene with their acclaimed anti-bro sing-a-long “Girl In a Country Song” and a critically praised iTunes EP. Between all the media attention these girls have been getting, and radio playlists that are veering towards more substantial music, Maddie & Tae are set up to have a big 2015.

Predicted Single Success: “Fly” (Top 10, Gold or better)

 

Sam Hunt

Sam Hunt appears to be the biggest new artist to hit the airwaves since Florida Georgia Line in 2012. His debut single, “Leave the Night On”, is one of the biggest hits of 2014, and his latest hit in the making, “Take Your Time”, is blazing up the radio and digital sales charts, while his debut project Montevallo opened with sales within striking distance of veterans like Tim McGraw, Lady Antebellum, and Dierks Bentley. Look for 2015 to be a stepping stone in what looks to be a lengthy and successful career for Hunt.

Predicted Single Success: “Take Your Time” (#1, Platinum), “Break Up In a Small Town” (Top 15, Platinum or better)

 

Brett Eldredge

The 2014 CMA New Artist of the Year has exploded over the past two years, posting a multi-week #1 Platinum single with “Don’t Ya” in 2013, and having the most played song of 2014 with #1 Gold hit “Beat of the Music”. Now, Eldredge is into the top ten with his latest effort “Mean to Me”, which he performed on reality TV show Big Brother. It’s become his fastest rising single to date, and sales have been strong for the heartfelt mid-tempo ballad. Eldredge seems to be connecting with listeners and Radio PD’s alike, so it’s only a matter of time before Eldredge is a top-end star in country music.

Predicted Single Success: “Mean to Me” (Top 5, Gold or better)

 

Jake Owen

Jake Owen had one of 2014’s bigger hits, both at radio and at retail with “Beachin'”, and followed it up by winning over the hearts of critics with the moving “What We Ain’t Got”. That’s the sort of balance that will help Owen maintain his status as an instant-add artist at country radio, and a style that will help Jake graduate to A-list status.

Predicted Single Success: “What We Ain’t Got” (Top 10, Gold), *Lead Single off New Album* (Top 5, Gold or better)

 

Chris Young

Over the past year and a half, Young has changed his blatantly neo-traditional style, to one that recalls something a bit more mainstream. Results have been mixed in terms of quality, but haven’t been half bad in terms of success. “Aw Naw” garnered #3 Billboard peak to go with a Gold certification, while “Who I Am With You” got a #1 Mediabase peak along with a Gold certification. His latest single, the wonderful “Lonely Eyes”, is catching on with listeners, and looks to be yet another solid hit for Young. This could be Young’s year to start his trek towards upper-echelon status.

Predicted Single Success: “Lonely Eyes” (Top 5, Gold or better), *Lead Single off New Album* (Top 5, Gold or better)

 

Radio Breakout Artists (Artists who will see success with a breakout hit at country radio)

2014 Radio Breakout Artists: Cole Swindell, Frankie Ballard, Eric Paslay, Chase Rice, Sam Hunt, Maddie & Tae, Parmalee, Jon Pardi, The Swon Brothers, Chase Bryant, Dan + Shay

Ryan Kinder

Ryan Kinder recently signed with Big Machine Label group, after “Kiss Me When I’m Down”, his debut single failed to take off and Kinder’s label shortly thereafter, collapsed. Fortunately for everybody with functioning ability of hearing, it appears that there’s a pretty good chance the aforementioned song gets re-released to radio, and it could wind up being one of 2015’s biggest hits.

Dallas Smith

Dallas Smith has already established himself as a mega-star in Canada with radio friendly material, so it’s only a matter of time before Smith breaks out as a force to be reckoned with in Canada. The one thing that may get in Smith’s way is if he doesn’t get the proper promotion. If handled properly, Smith could end up being one of the biggest breakthrough stars of 2015.

Kelsea Ballerini

Kelsea Ballerini recently scored her first career top 40 radio airplay hit with the breezy “Love Me Like You Mean It”, and if the rest of her material is as radio friendly as her first single, she’s a sure bet to score a top 20 hit eventually. What works her in her favor is the fact that iHeartRadio’s On the Verge program has only picked one female artist out of their five total selections (Craig Campbell, Dustin Lynch, Sam Hunt and Chase Bryant being the other four.) She could be one to watch.

Mo Pitney

I’ll admit, a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea who Mo Pitney was. Over the past two or three weeks however, I’ve seen a handful of articles about how this guy’s going to be the new face of traditional country music. After listening to his new single, “Country”, their may be some logic to the statement. It’s a damn solid song, and radio friendly to boot, not to mention that Pitney’s voice is very strong. He could make a splash in the new year.

Brandy Clark

Yes, maybe I’m going out on a bit of a limb with this one, but between Clark signing with a major label and her recent nominations at both the CMA and Grammy awards, there’s a lot of buzz around the “Follow You Arrow” and “Drunk Americans” songwriter. While her music may be a bit too deep and female-y for country radio, there’s certainly a chance that they take a risk and play music from this wonderful artist.

Josh Abbott Band

Josh Abbott Band has already developed into a huge act in Texas, and now their music is starting to be pushed in America. Their new single, “Hangin’ Around”, is a radio friendly little ditty that could potentially turn into a moderate airplay hit. Another thing that Josh Abbott Band has going for them, is the fact that their name is a big enough one that they could be a solid choice for iHeartRadio’s ‘On the Verge’ program.

Dylan Scott

I know this pick may seem a little odd, seeing as Dylan is signed with Curb records, but Dylan Scott may be capable of scoring a moderate radio hit. His music is as radio friendly as it comes, both thematically, and from a sonic standpoint, making it very possible for Scott to score a hit in the mid-20’s (though if that were to be the case, it would take a lengthy chart run.) His biggest disadvantage is obviously his aforementioned record deal, but if everything works out, he could be on the rise.

Mickey Guyton

Like the aforementioned Mo Pitney, I had no idea who Mickey Guyton was. I checked her out, and damn, this woman can sing. Not only that, but she also seems to have some buzz around her, at least by the standards set by new, female artists these days. And yes, that is her biggest challenge, her gender. It’s not fair, but it’s just how country radio rolls these days. Even so, a top 20 hit is still very doable, and I’ll be glad if it happens.

Canaan Smith

Canaan Smith is already starting to make waves with his single “Love You Like That”. It’s approaching top 40 on the airplay chart, and has been selling like crazy considering how little radio has played it. Canaan looks poised to make some noise in 2015, he’s marketable, he sells, and he’s radio friendly. What more could you ask for?

Craig Wayne Boyd

The latest winner of reality television series The Voice has something to prove. For one, he has to prove that The Voice isn’t all about the coaches, and that the show can produce a star with actual staying power. Yes, Cassadee Pope, Danielle Bradbery and The Swon Brothers have all seen moderate success so far within the country music industry, but none of the above three have shown indications that they have staying power within the industry. Secondly, Craig has to prove that traditional country music can work on radio. He has the fanbase, let’s see if radio bites. His path will be an intriguing one to watch in 2015.

Brothers Osborne

This duo has already seen some moderate success, with top 40 hit “Let’s Go There” and the top 30 hit “Rum”, but have yet to see anything that resembles substantial success. However, that early, mid-level buzz may have caught radio’s attention, enough to see top 20 level success in 2015. Their not exactly a stereotypical radio act, but maybe they can get into medium rotation on playlists.

 

On the Decline (Artists who will see a decline in momentum in 2015)

Lady Antebellum

Oh how the mighty have fallen. For a solid five year stretch, Lady Antebellum was the go-to radio band, scoring smash after smash after smash. Now, it takes a lead single for them to score a substantial hit. “Downtown” (lead single off Golden) was huge, “Goodbye Town” only peaked at #11, followed by a #1 in “Compass”, which was technically the lead single off the Golden re-release. “Bartender” (lead single off of 747) was enormous, but “Freestyle” (thankfully) isn’t looking like it will amount to much. Sales have been underwhelming for both albums, and Lady A seems to have lost their status as an A-list act. The management of these guys has been horrendous, from the single choices, to the re-release of Golden, to the rushed release of the unspectacular 747. Darn shame. They are legitimately talented.

Jerrod Niemann

If Niemann and his camp had played the cards right, Niemann could have been on my ‘On the Rise’ list as an artist potentially poised to make the jump to the A-list. Unfortunately, they were stupid enough to release “Donkey” as a single, it bombed, and now his status has plummeted. Had they released “Buzz Back Girl” as the follow-up to Platinum smash “Drink to That All Night”, it would have been a top 10 hit, almost guaranteed. They torpedoed his momentum, and now he’s in danger of losing relevance.

Frankie Ballard

Frankie Ballard’s inclusion on this list is mainly because of how high he set the bar for himself in 2014. The chances of Frankie building on the momentum of two #1, Gold hits seems unlikely, simply due to the abundance of male hitmakers on radio nowadays. I’m not saying he won’t be a consistent hitmaker in the near future, but it seems unlikely that Ballard keeps his current torrid pace up.

Rascal Flatts

Just when it looked like Rascal Flatts had re-established themselves as a solid, go-to radio act with the lead single “Rewind” off the album of the same name, they decide to release the horrendous “Payback”. It missed the top 20, and became their lowest peaking single to date, proving that as seldom as it may be, radio does get it right on occasion. Because of that debacle, it looks like the excellent new single “Riot” won’t become the substantial hit it should be. They’ve been slowly declining for a few years now, but it looks like this may really be it for the veteran trio.

Toby Keith

Yes, Toby hasn’t scored a major hit since the outstanding “Beers Ago” went top five in 2012, but now it seems his top 20, or even top 30 days at radio may be over. His latest single, “Drunk Americans”, has struggled to gain traction at radio, barely scraping the top 30 after several weeks. After years of being a staple on radio playlists, it seems like Keith will be relegated to the same tier as genre legends George Strait and Alan Jackson.

Dustin Lynch

Dustin Lynch gained, and lost all momentum in 2014. He scored a big, three week #1 with lead single and title track off his sophomore album “Where It’s At”, and has seemingly let most of that momentum slip away with his new single “Hell of a Night”, and it makes sense too. Not the single choice mind you, but why it’s struggling to muster medium-level airplay. Bro-country is done. I went over that extensively in my year recap, and many other country music blogging powerhouses such as Saving Country Music have discussed at length. So why release a generic, bland, run-of-the-mill bro-anthem when there were a handful of better, catchier, less-bro options on the album? It makes no sense, and may have set Lynch up for a disappointing 2015.