Music

Who Is Drew Baldridge and How Did He Land a Top 10 Country Airplay Hit Without a Label?

Faith in yourself can take you far. And if country singer-songwriter Drew Baldridge has his way, that belief— and the power of a good song — will take him straight to No. 1 on Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart. 

For the current chart dated July 13, his sentimental ballad “She’s Somebody’s Daughter (Reimagined)” stands at No. 10 with a bullet, marking only the second time a self-released single has reached such heights since the chart debuted in 1990. (Aaron Watson accomplished the feat in 2017, when “Outta Style” peaked at No. 10).  

Baldridge’s song is still gaining traction: On the July 13-dated chart, it is being played on 144 of 145 reporting stations and drew 18.3 million in audience, up 7% from the preceding week, according to Luminate. (A new chart will be available on Friday (July 12) via the Billboard Country Update, and will be updated on Billboard‘s website as of the following Tuesday.)

His name may sound familiar to longtime country fans: The Patoka, Illinois native has been in Nashville for 13 years. Previously signed to independent label Cold River, his 2016 album Dirt on Us reached No. 11 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart — and between 2016 and 2018, he charted four songs on the Country Airplay chart, with Dirt on Us’ “Dance With Ya” climbing the highest, to No. 48. But after his record company closed in 2019, Baldridge says he “lost everything,” including subsequently parting ways with his manager and booking agent. 

Out of faith in himself (and out of necessity), he began unintentionally laying the groundwork for the success of “She’s Somebody’s Daughter” four years ago. In 2020, as the pandemic shut down the world and students missed in-person graduations, he began promoting a song he’d written earlier called “Senior Year.”  

“I posted on social media, ‘Hey, Class of 2020, I’ll do Zoom concerts for anyone who wants one’,” he says. He quickly was doing seven or eight concerts a day for kids around the country from his couch. As the country slowly opened up, he played graduations and backyards around the country, first just for his expenses and then for a modest fee. Over 2021 and 2022, he played 300 backyard concerts and worked on building his TikTok audience. In almost every city he played, he’d call the local country radio station to see if he could stop by and let them know about “Senior Year.” The song peaked at No. 50 on Country Airplay and gave Baldridge a game plan for what was coming with “She’s Somebody’s Daughter (Reimagined).” 

Baldridge first recorded “She’s Somebody’s Daughter” in 2019, but Cold River didn’t release it as a single because fellow country artist Tenille Townes put out the similarly titled “Somebody’s Daughter” and the label wanted to avoid confusion, but he did put it on streaming services. He then re-recorded the song for his 2021 wedding as “She’s Somebody’s Daughter (Wedding Version),” for his wife and her father to dance to.

That version quickly went viral. “I posted it on TikTok on our honeymoon, and it got 10 million views in a day,” he says. “All these girls started this trend called the ‘daughter trend,’ where they would act out the song and then in the chorus, they’d have pictures of growing up with their dad. Before long, we had four or five hundred million plays on TikTok, and I had 100 million streams.” The song has now earned more than 1 billion impressions on TikTok, he says. 

At the end of 2022, he recorded a third version — the “Reimagined” one — with more instrumentation that he felt would work at radio as the song continued to gain fans. He played a Fireman’s Picnic festival outside of St. Louis last year and recalls “everybody singing every word” to “She’s Somebody’s Daughter,” he says. “I immediately got off stage, and I’m like ‘You know what? I can’t get labels as excited about this as I am…Screw it. I’m just going to do it myself.’” 

Instead of hiring an outside independent company that specialized in promoting songs to country radio, Baldridge, 32, decided to form his own dream promo team, who would work only for his Lyric Ridge Records. He called the friends at radio he’d made during his station tours and asked for recommendations. His timing coincided with major label cutbacks, and he found the market was flooded with great promo people who had been let go during recent restructurings. He built his own staff, handpicked by names that radio programmers suggested. His core team is former MCA exec Louis Newman, former WSOC promo director and Records exec Chele Fassig; Gwen Foster, who worked for Stone Country Records, and former Sony execs RG Jones and Brent Battles.

The team divided the stations up by relationships, as opposed to regions — to take advantage of their experience, and out of economic necessity. “I can’t afford to let these people travel for so long,” he says. “So I had to literally find people that had relationships where they could just sit home and call them and if we need to travel, I’ll travel.”

Baldridge knew many of the program directors from his Cold River days, but there were a number of new ones who he hadn’t met — so he’d go visit them, while also visiting PDs who were “tough on the record,” where he felt a face-to-face meeting would help. “I’d be like, ‘Be honest with me. Where do you need to get it to [on the chart] for you to play it? Do you need to see a 42? Do you need to see a 30 before you jump on it? I still believe in radio. This is what I’ve always dreamed of, and how do I work with you and become a partner with you to get it there?’” 

Through his past radio tours and studying and talking to his radio friends, Baldridge grew extremely savvy about the inner workings of radio promotion. In conversation, he’s fluent in radio jargon, familiar with how many daytime spins a certain chain needs before it will even test a record, or how high the song has to reach on the chart before hold-out stations will contemplate adding the tune. “The biggest thing is asking questions: ‘Why do we have to wait for research?’ Why can’t you play it now?’ Figuring out who’s in control of the station. If I didn’t figure it out, I don’t have a career.” 

Baldridge also has a little insider knowledge: For the past three years, he’s been a weekend jock on KKGO, Los Angeles’ country station. On Saturday mornings he hosts a regular shift, while his Sunday shift is a greatest hits show focused on music from the ‘60s-‘90s. He doesn’t program his shifts, but the station has added “She’s Somebody’s Daughter” — and two weekends ago, for the first time, “I got to intro my own song and intro out my own song, which is the coolest thing on the planet,” he says with a laugh. “And with these DJs and [programmers], I have a way to connect with them that I didn’t have four years ago.”

One programmer he connected with is Bo Matthews, operations manager/program director for San Jose, Calif.’s KBAY, who tested the song and then quickly added it. “It’s such a great song with beautiful lyrics and a big ol’ hook,” Matthews says. “When everything is in sync, it’s exciting to watch a song take over with listeners. It’s just such a sweet song, and an easy listen.” 

The song has reacted well in many other markets after testing, and been immediately added to medium or even power rotation for maximum plays. “There have been times we’d go from eight spins one week to 90 the next,” Baldridge says. “It’s just been a wild roller coaster ride.” 

And an expensive one. So far, Baldridge says he’s spent $340,000 on radio promotion, or almost $10,000 for each of the 36 weeks the song had been on the Country Airplay chart. The tally tracks with the estimated $500,000 it generally costs to land a No. 1 country radio hit. “I remember going to my wife and saying, ‘Hey I believe in this song, I know you do too. We’re going to have to spend a lot of money to do this, but I don’t want to look back in 30 years and say, ‘Why didn’t we try?’,” he recalls, adding that his spouse immediately agreed.  

Baldridge owns the masters to his music, so his streaming revenue — along with his touring earnings— have largely funded his radio promotion. Baldridge, who has also written songs cut by Bailey Zimmerman, Chase Matthew and LOCASH, is signed to Sony Music Publishing Nashville and credits CEO Rusty Gaston as a longtime supporter.

His costs also include playing radio shows for stations that ask. “I don’t turn radio down — they come first,” he says. He usually plays solo to hold down costs, and has often covered his expenses by selling merchandise at the shows. 

With no major label support or leverage behind him, Baldridge has found that radio stations just want to “play songs that people want to hear. They’re not [discounting] us for not being on a major. They’re just playing songs that are reacting to their fan base.”

Indeed, “She’s Somebody’s Daughter” is one of three songs in the current top 10 that doesn’t have a major label behind it: Bryan Martin’s “We Ride” (No. 5) is small indie Average Joes’ biggest hit in 12 years, while Shaboozey’s “A Bar Song (Tipsy)” (No. 6) is on indie Empire, which did not have a strong country presence previously.

“The listener has more power than ever before, and I am proud of country radio for supporting these artists, and doing something different,” Matthews says. “Country is hotter than ever before. The audience is clamoring for great music and finding it on their own… It’s our job to not only introduce them to new music and be curators — but also meet them where they are.”

Not surprisingly, fellow indie artists are reaching out to Baldridge, asking if his team can work their songs to radio. “There are actually some singles on the chart right now that are working really well that I turned down, just because I’m really selfish for this first No. 1 and I just want proof of concept that I can do it — and I need to be focused on me right now,” he says. “Could it be something down the road? I don’t know.”  

His biggest piece of advice to artists trying to follow in his footsteps is to work on building their brands at social media, so they have a story before taking the song to radio. For him, he’d hit the 500 million plays on TikTok “and without those social media apps, I don’t have a Top 10 record,” he says.

And of course, he doesn’t discount the appeal of a quality song. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to have a song that draws some sort of emotion and that people want to hear all the time,” he says. “As much as radio may like you and have a relationship with you, they ain’t going to play a turd over and over again.”

Two weeks ago, Baldridge signed with UTA for bookings with a fall headlining tour planned. He’s also in talks with potential managers — but, surprisingly, not a lot of labels have come calling following the song’s success. 

While Baldridge is a little curious at the lack of interest, and says he’d love to find the right label partner, he’s also is going in with eyes wide open and isn’t sure there’s a reason to give up the control and money that comes with signing a deal. With Cold River, he earned a 16% royalty, meaning the label kept 84% of the money coming in (and was paying the upfront costs), making it almost impossible to recoup. “If that’s the case, why would I want to be in a record deal if I can’t have a real partnership?” he wonders.

But first, Baldridge wants to reach the top of the charts — and KBAY’s Matthews believes that nice guys can finish first.

“It’s going to go No. 1.  He’s already top 10, and that is all real. He doesn’t have a machine behind him.  He has a great record, and kindness. That wins,” Matthews says. “He’s one of the nicest humans in Nashville. I haven’t met a person in radio that isn’t rooting for him. Everyone playing it feels like they are a part of something special. I am excited for him to go No. 1 … so is everyone else.” 

“I’m going to speak it into existence,” Baldridge says of hoping to reach No. 1 within the next 10 weeks or so. “As soon as we’re No. 1, I want to have the next one ready. And, you know, if that’s with a partner label or that’s just me and my team, I’m not slowing down.”  

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