The Hot Seat: George Couri

Published in The Music Network


In the US, country music doesn’t suffer an image crisis. It’s a colossal, mainstream business. George Couri knows this. Some years back, the Austin, Texas-based artist manager made the conscious decision to shift his attention away from rock and pop and focus on the country genre. Now Couri is targeting Australia for his stable of artists, which includes breakthrough acts Joe Nichols, Jack Ingram, Eli Young Band and Kevin Fowler. TMN caught up with the 888 Management President.

Greetings George, what brings you to Australia?
I’m down here setting up Jack Ingram and Joe Nichols, who are both coming out here for CMC Rocks the Hunter next March. Jack might continue with two shows after that, and Joe is definitely coming back in the first week of May for a headlining run of about seven dates. We’re very serious about coming to Australia on a regular basis. My guys spend a lot of time focusing on the US and sometimes we go into Canada. But I’m putting the vast majority of our international efforts – 90% — in Australia.

Why Australia and not the UK or another European market?
You have to have a champion in whatever market you’re talking about. Between (promoter) Rob Potts and Universal, there are two entities willing to begin developing these guys here more. The potential here is massive. And it seems the fans here are like in the US — once you get them they’re loyal to you.

What’s Nashville’s perception of the Australian country scene?
It’s considered one of the strongest markets, though people don’t talk about it much. When Tim McGraw does really well, and Alan Jackson sells a lot of tickets very quickly, that makes its way back to the country music business in the US. Those two tours in particular have raised a couple of eyebrows, they’re reminding people there’s a lot of country fans in Australia. The artists selling out the big arenas here aren’t necessarily selling lots of records, but when they hear somebody is coming they feel it’s an event not to miss.

Does Australian country music still suffer an image problem in the US?
Well, musically, they’re a little different. Australian country acts seem a little more folk or Americana than what the mainstream Nashville country artists do. I’d love an Adam Brand or some other Aussie act to get in there and have success in the US Country radio is a big part of it and you have to spend time getting all the program directors to know the acts, and to believe there is something beyond the song. Collectively, there are more music radio stations in America that play country than for any other genre. There are 140 stations that really matter. To get those program directors to invest in playing your music, you really have to spend time. It can be a long run. It won’t happen a week here and there.

How are country record sales holding up in the US sales?
Other genres have declined in the US faster than country, but country has still declined. The percentage of sales in digital is higher for every other genre than country. In the last two months, and in the next few months, a lot of big, established hot country artists are putting out records – Zac Brown Band, Jason Aldean, Taylor Swift, Reba McEntire, Rascal Flatts, Sugarland. And they’re all selling. Taylor Swift sold a million in a week, which is a lot more than her last record did. Jason’s last record did about 100,000, while his new one did almost 200,000. Your blurb mentions you’ve taken artists from playing to a couple hundred people to playing to tens of thousands.

How have you done that?
Persistence. One of my artists, Eli Young Band, worked their tail off in the Texas area for 5-6 years. When we met they were doing 300 people in a market, up to 1,000. We’ve now had a top 10 hit and sold 19,000 tickets to a Dallas show. They’re five-times bigger than they were three years ago. We talked to fans more, occasionally gave them downloads, included them in things, allowed them to voted on T-shirt designs. Make everything about including the fans. Don’t treat them like you’re marketing to them, continue to make good records and work hard.

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