The secrets of recent surprise smash hits Rich Men North of Richmond and Try This in a Small Town have been shared by music industry experts.
Oliver Anthony, from Farmville in Virginia, struck all the right chords with his heartfelt blue-collar anthem Rich Men, which slams those he deems as elites for being out-of-touch with regular Americans.
And now those in the know say the Billboard Hot 100 smash benefitted from clever tricks that turbocharged its success.
First, they say, is the continued influence of music downloads on the singles charts.
Downloads are slumping in popularity thanks to streaming – and are fast heading for the same obscurity as CDs and cassette tapes.
But they still form a significant part of a song’s Billboard Hot 100 ranking. That means interested fans can coordinate and spend just 99 cents to get a song they love riding high in the charts with relatively few downloads.
That boosts publicity for the track and may also help boost streams, further cementing the song’s position in the charts.
Oliver Anthony struck a chord with fans after sharing his blue-collar anthem
Rich Men North of Richmond was self-released August 11 and became a sensation, with 17.5 million U.S. streams and 147,000 downloads sold in the tracking week ending August.
It was a similar story with Jason Alden’s Try This in a Small Town, another song which spoke to Americans who feel disaffected by mainstream entertainment.
Many of those who downloaded both songs undoubtedly enjoyed them on their own merits.
But music industry experts told The New York Times there was also likely a large faction of people who downloaded of streamed them to ‘own the libs.’
In doing so, they have been able to shoot a song with controversial content to the top of the charts and force a discussion among quarters who they may feel have ignored them.
Conservative podcaster Clay Travis told The Times: ‘People are just angry over the way that I would say the woke universe has taken over so much of content.
‘And I think what you’re seeing is a backlash and a rebellion.’
Anthony releases his music without a record label
Jason Aldean scored a number one earlier this summer with his incendiary Try That in a Small Town
But the controversial video in front of the Maury County Courthouse in Tennessee prompted a ban by the CMT
Cultural commentator Jaime Brooks added: ‘Now you’ve got these people with an obvious stated interest in using the charts to give the impression that their niche beliefs or views are popular.’
Country singer Jason Aldean’s song ‘Try That in a Small Town’ saw similar traction by climbing to no.2 in the Billboard Hot 100 following controversy over its music video.
At its peak, the chart – which slams bad behavior and warns transgressors to try their antics in the eponymous small town – was being downloaded 100,000 times a day.
The song was branded racist over a video showing Black Lives Matter protesters, as well as a scene shot on the steps of a Tennessee courthouse which once witnessed a racist lynching.
Aldean insists he is not racist – but the controversy ignited the interest of conservative podcasters who’ve also helped shape the national discussion, even if they have small audiences.
Joe Rogan hailed the song on his smash-hit podcast, while far-right activist Jack Posobiec gushed: ‘(I) Don’t even remember the last time a new song hit me like this.’
Those podcast further supercharge interest in the songs and trigger interest from podcast fans happy to spend 99 cents to help popularize a song sharing views they feel are similar to their own.
They’re also happy to support anything they deem anti-mainstream – including artists like Anthony and Aldean who’ve come from nowhere – even if the podcasters who push them have audiences far bigger then traditional networks.
Oliver could be a rich man south of Richmond if merchandising sales take off
The populist anthem has already attracted a legion of devoted followers
The country anthem has stormed ahead of offerings from Dua Lipa and Taylor Swift
Oliver Anthony has insisted he’s keeping his feet on the ground and claims he turned down an $8 million recording contract – although he’s said to be earning $40,000-a-day.
In a social media post, he wrote: ‘I don’t want 6 tour buses, 15 tractor trailers and a jet. I don’t want to play stadium shows, I don’t want to be in the spotlight.
‘I wrote the music I wrote because I was suffering with mental health and depression.’
Neal Harmon, co-founder of Angel Studios, said social media and podcast platforms were enabling content to be marketed directly to the ideal target audiences.
His company distributed ‘Sound of Freedom’, a movie on child trafficking which reaped the same benefits of widespread online support. It took $180 million despite minimum promotion in mainstream entertainment outlets.
‘Wrote a great song, and the audience loved it,’ Harmon said.
‘The key moment is that people can stand up and do it themselves instead of answering to those who have traditionally been the ones to say what should succeed or what should fail.’
Just weeks ago, the musician – real name Christopher Anthony Lunsford – was a relative unknown with just a few hundred social media followers
Aldean’s music video features footage of Black Lives Matter police protests
‘Try That in a Small Town’ hit 11.7 million on-demand audio and video streams between July 14 and 20
On the back of becoming a household name, Oliver shared a bit more about his background.
‘My legal name is Christopher Anthony Lunsford. My grandfather was Oliver Anthony, and ‘Oliver Anthony Music’ is a dedication not only to him, but 1930’s Appalachia where he was born and raised. Dirt floors, seven kids, hard times,’ he wrote.
He said that everyone now knows him as Oliver but that friends and family still call him Chris but adds that ‘either is fine.’
Oliver claims he dropped out of high school in 2010 and got his GED at the age of 17. He claims his politics are right down the center and has so far refused to comment directly on the Republican or Democrat parties.
He describes in detail the conditions he worked under that ended up inspiring his songs once he left school.
‘I worked multiple plant jobs in Western NC, my last being at the paper mill in McDowell county. I worked 3rd shift, 6 days a week for $14.50 an hour in a living hell. In 2013, I had a bad fall at work and fractured my skull.’
The Farmville, Virginia native has been performing as a relative unknown for years, and characterizes himself as just ‘an idiot with a guitar’
Oliver moved back to Virginia, he says, and was unable to work again until six months after the injury.
In 2014, he started working in ‘outside sales’ in industrial manufacturing, which he says has taken him ‘all over Virginia and into the Carolinas.’
‘Ive spent all day, everyday, for the last 10 years hearing the same story. People are SO damn tired of being neglected, divided and manipulated.’
Of his living conditions, he says he lives on a $97,500 piece of farmland (which he claims to still owe $60,000 on) inside a 27-foot camper with a tarp on the roof that he bought for $750 on Craigslist.
He reiterates that his success is ‘nothing special’ to do with him to the point of self-deprecation.
‘I’m not a good musician, I’m not a very good person. I’ve spent the last 5 years struggling with mental health and using alcohol to drown it. I am sad to see the world in the state it’s in, with everyone fighting with each other. I have spent many nights feeling hopeless, that the greatest country on Earth is quickly fading away.’
He then calls for unity and a deviation from the same internet culture that has made him famous.
‘I HATE the way the Internet has divided all of us. The Internet is a parasite, that infects the minds of humans and has their way with them. Hours wasted, goals forgotten, loved ones sitting in houses with each other distracted all day by technology made by the hands of other poor souls in sweat shops in a foreign land.’