September 25, 2017

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Can There Be a Global Country Music Star Who Isn’t Taylor Swift? Thomas Rhett Has Ideas …

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Thomas Rhett has a global vision, one that would make him almost unique in country music.

The rising singer-songwriter, who’s had a string of No. 1 hits on the Billboard Country charts, will make his fourth trip to the United Kingdom in the past 18 months in November, where he’ll play to approximately 10,000 fans, including an expected sellout crowd in London. While those numbers dwarf what he can draw in the states, the U.K. trip is a first step in an ambitious plan to grow an international audience that will support a true world tour, something almost unheard of for contemporary country music stars not named Taylor Swift.

“I would love to go play shows in Australia. I would love to hit more countries in Europe;it would be fun to play Dubai,” Rhett said in a video prepared for Tuesday’s “Country Music’s Gone Global” panel at the Music Biz 2017 conference in Nashville. “It sounds really unfeasible right now because nobody’s really ever done it, but [pop artists] were saying that too before they started playing in these markets. When people in the pop industry do a world tour, they’re playing in Tokyo and London and Australia. I think it would be really cool to go do a legitimate world tour someday.”

While Western pop music appeals to a worldwide audience, modern country has yet to completely make the jump across the oceans to Europe and Asia. But artists like Rhett — young, with a pop-leaning sound that appeals across genres — are starting to put in the work to build a similar world circuit.

In addition to his seven No. 1 country singles, Rhett, 27, picked up Male Vocalist of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards in April — an award usually reserved for much older artists who’ve built in huge followings — and is making his first forays into arena-sized audiences on the road in the U.S. this year. But he’s already looking beyond domestic borders.

“This is where T.R. did it right,” said Akiko Rogers, Rhett’s agent at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. “I think it’s a great case study that anyone who wants to book the international market in Europe should look at.”

The first step for any country musician with international intentions is to decide if it’s worth it. With the exception of Canada and Australia — and to an extent the U.K. — it’s largely untilled ground. Rhett, for instance, can play to 10,000 fans in a night in the U.S., a figure it will take him five shows to reach in November when he returns to the U.K. That means it will cost money to spend time overseas, and it takes a long view to see the benefit.

“That directive has to come from the artist,” said Virginia Davis, Rhett’s manager and the founder and managing partner at G Major Entertainment. “I think the desire to create an international career really has to come from the artist. I feel like his music could certainly reach a larger audience.”

Rhett agreed and saw the vision immediately, he said in the video. “A lot of people get scared because it’s not the most cost-efficient thing in the world. Going to Australia or the U.K. is expensive, and when people don’t really know who you are and you’re not really playing in big enough venues to offset your costs, it really is an investment in your career. We knew we wanted to invest in the U.K. a couple of years ago, so every time we go it just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

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