Will the Next Country Hit Be Made Online?

Will the Next Country Hit Be Made Online?

Last July, more than 70 country songwriters and producers filtered into Sony Music Publishing’s Nashville office to hear a presentation from Beatstars, the popular website that allows artists to buy or lease full instrumentals for their own use. Seth Mosley, whose recent co-writes include songs recorded by Tim McGraw and Gabby Barrett, was in attendance that day, and he was compelled by the company’s pitch. He started posting beats on the platform regularly in December, hoping it could provide him with a new income stream — and another source of exposure. 

But this way of working is unusual in country music. Beatstars was initially popularized by rappers and singers in R&B and pop, genres where it’s common for vocalists to use a fully-formed track as a jumping-off point. Music-making in Nashville is often more traditional, with ace session musicians recording in revered studios — a world away from the fast-moving online beat economy. 


Every Country Music Record Broken on the Hot 100 in 2023: From Morgan Wallen to Oliver Anthony…


With time, though, Beatstars’ success stories have become more varied, spreading to realms that were once ruled by bands playing instruments. ThxSoMch and Wisp found post-punk and neo-shoegaze instrumentals, respectively, on the platform, added their own vocals, and scored breakout moments and major-label deals. And country could be the next frontier.

Beatstars is noticing heightened interest in the genre as it surges in the U.S., says Greg Mateo, the platform’s president of music and publishing. In Mosley’s six months on Beatstars, he’s learned that “anything that’s got a Morgan Wallen spin to it is in high demand.” 

That demand is growing on other music-making platforms as well. Bandlab, a mobile music creation app that now has more than 100 million users, has also seen excitement for country elevate in the U.S., according to CEO Meng Ru Kuok

On top of that, statistics from Splice, which provides producers with a massive library of samples, indicate that its 8 million-strong user base is incorporating country flavors with greater frequency this year. User searches for “country” have more than doubled compared to 2023. And their interest in samples of instruments associated with the genre has soared, including banjo (searches are up 75%), mandolin (66%), pedal steel (113%) and fiddle (131%).


There’s a Free Mobile App Helping Teens Crash the Hot 100, and It’s Not TikTok


Producer BachBeats, who sells country instrumentals online, predicts that this enthusiasm on music creation platforms is only going to increase: The recent release of Post Malone and Morgan Wallen’s collaboration “I Had Some Help,” which landed one of the biggest streaming debuts in history, “is going to bring a bunch of people from the hip-hop world into country.”

Beyoncé‘s recent references to the genre helped too, according to Xzaviar, another producer who sells country instrumentals. He says downloads of his productions “ticked up” after she released Cowboy Carter in March. 

But importantly, the phenomenon appears larger than any single act or album: Xzaviar has quadrupled his income from beat sales on YouTube and Beatstars since August, with instrumentals in the style of Wallen or Zach Bryan performing especially well. It’s notable that, even though country music is most beloved in America, only 65% of Xzaviar’s sales come from the U.S.

Beatstars is trying to capitalize on this interest — and fan the flames. In June, they launched a new playlist to highlight their top country producers. “They’re really focused on country and getting a lot of country creators on the platform,” says Kenley Flynn, vp of creative for Sony Music Publishing Nashville. (The publisher and Beatstars first formed a partnership in 2020.)


Splice’s AI Tool Doesn’t Go the ‘Push Button’ Route for Song Creation…


Still, the rise of country in the online music-making economy may not be immediately felt in Nashville. Even though pre-programmed tracks aren’t uncommon in contemporary country, this model of working — buying a beat on a website — flies in the face of the industry’s longtime system for songwriting and producing. “The biggest hurdle for us is just it’s so not how the Nashville creative community operates,” Flynn acknowledges. “These writers are used to creating from 11a.m. till 3 p.m. in a room with two or three others,” often people they know. 

And when it comes to producers, artists often find one they like and rely on that person to “cut everything,” Mosley says. In pop or hip-hop, every song on an album might be overseen by someone different, and each track could contain elements from a beat-maker that neither the artist nor the producer has met in person. That grab-bag approach remains rare in country music.

Norms are shifting in the genre, though — adaptations that are increasingly necessary since a country hit can now come from anywhere. More coastal record companies are signing country artists directly instead of relying on their Nashville office, for example. And country labels are increasingly taking part in the signing conversations around artists who go viral. 

In other genres, the hits that explode on social media platforms are often cobbled together with help from places like Beatstars or Bandlab. It’s not a stretch to imagine the next Priscilla Block or Tucker Wetmore buying a “Morgan Wallen type beat” on YouTube before embarking on a savvy social media campaign that sparks a viral trend. As a “new generation of artists and songwriters comes in [to the music industry] they’re going to use the modern tools,” says Corey McAfee, who serves as director of global copyright for Sony Music Publishing Nashville.


Country Music Consumption Is Way Up in 2023 — and Morgan Wallen Is Leading the Charge


The economics of these music creation platforms also position them to help would-be country stars. “If you’re bartending to make money and work on your music part-time, it can be very expensive to get in a room with a full band,” says David Morris, a Nashville-based rapper and singer who works with BachBeats and other country producers on Beatstars. “You need to be able to explore your sound or write to music, and you can lease some of these beats for less than $100.” (A lease comes with only limited rights, so if a song becomes a hit an artist has to make a new deal with the producer; acts also have the option to buy out beats from the start, though that is slightly more expensive.)

Band members might be able to benefit from offering their work online as well. ​​“It’s not just so-called beat-makers on these platforms,” McAfee notes. “Maybe you’re an amazing guitar player, which we know this city is full of, and you’re making guitar loops” that can be used by vocalists around the world. 

For Flynn, the math is simple. “Big songs have come from Beatstars, and there are producers on the platform that are earning tons of money by just selling their beats,” he says. For country artists and producers, “there’s a huge opportunity.”