As 2021 draws to a close, Amazon Music’s Emily Cohen is reflecting on a year of great music and is proud of the role her company has played in supporting the rise of talented newcomers like Niko Moon, Gabby Barrett, Anne Wilson and Morgan Wade as well as continuing to create opportunities during the pandemic for fans to stay connected to their favorite artists.
“At the beginning of the pandemic our team created program content to help customers adjust to more of an at home lifestyle,” Cohen, Amazon Music’s Principal Music Curator tells SLN, citing playlists such as “Feel Good Country” and “Liquor Cabinet” as examples.
Amazon Music also gave fans who were stuck at home more entertainment options through livestreaming. “It was pretty incredible to watch our team prioritize livestreaming as a key kind of mechanism to continue to forge strong relationships with fans in the absence of touring,” says Cohen. “It’s something that we definitely leaned into and in August of 2020 we partnered with Twitch to combine live-streaming with On-Demand listening in the Amazon Music app as well. Since last spring we’ve hosted livestreams with Keith Urban, Eric Church, Florida Georgia Line, Dolly Parton, Luke Bryan, Luke Combs, Tim McGraw and Gabby Barrett. We’re continuing to work with artists and their teams to create these virtual events and we are excited to do more of that in 2022.”
Cohen has been with Amazon Music for five years and her passion for her work is obvious during the interview. “My job is to program country, Christian, folk and Americana playlists and stations across Amazon Music,” she says. “Maybe this shows my age but it’s kind of like that record store clerk back in the day where you’d ask them, ‘What do you think about this? What should I do if I want some relaxing music or country or workout music?’ It’s deciphering and listening to full records thinking of where I can put music on new release centric playlists like ‘Country Heat’ or ‘Fresh Country.’ Where can I put music for workout? Love songs? Cooking or things like that that really set for mood for a certain activity? That’s what I’m looking for every day, to serve the best music to our customers and for the experiences they are looking soundtrack.”
Cohen says her favorite part of her job is discovering and supporting new artists. “To be there at the beginning of someone’s career and feel like you are witnessing lightening in a bottle or you’ve discovered something new that the consumers love is truly incredible,” she says. “To have a hand, even like a small part in their success overall in this industry, is really rewarding and fulfilling. It’s the reason I love doing what I do.”
Cohen and her team are always on the lookout for great new music. “I love learning. I’m voracious,” she says, “and I think a lot of us on the programming team are in terms of reading blogs and listening to the radio. I’m listening to what my other curators and others on my team are programming. I think I’m constantly trying to find artists and watching things on TikTok. For me, it always begins with the music. It sounds very simple, but is this good and then sort of how do we go from there? What else is happening with this artist in the general music marketplace? Are customers reacting really favorably?”
Cohen says there were several breakout successes that ruled the Amazon Music country charts, citing Carly Pearce, Niko Moon, Gabby Barrett, and Tenille Arts among the 25 most streamed artists on “Country Heat” in the U.S. “I think back to how it all started with Gabby Barrett,” she says. “It was before I think she was even signed to Warner. We saw a reaction and the song ended up on our charts. Obviously, she was coming off of American Idol and had that fan base, but for me I’m like, ‘Okay this is a very new artist, creating original music, let’s lean into this.’ It was an easy decision for me to continue to program Gabby Barrett.”
Moon has also had a banner year. “It was amazing to see Niko’s trajectory over the past couple of years,” she says. “We saw him as really vibrant, infectious and energetic, just radiating positivity. It’s something people were really looking for this year, just to see somebody be happy all the time and make really positive music, so it’s wonderful to see ‘Good Time’ be one of our most streamed country songs this year. What I’m sort of seeing in overall trends is a mix of those superstar artists with developing artists really having moments which is really, really exciting for the genre overall.”
In addition to curating country playlists, Cohen also works with Americana, contemporary Christian, folk and gospel music. “We’ve definitely seen worship music is still having a moment and Christian in general is having a moment. Gospel is awesome music and definitely for us it increased,” Cohen says, citing “Christian Hits,” ” Relaxing Christian,” “Feel-Good Christian” and “Divine Sound” as some of Amazon’s most popular Christian playlists. “We’ve also seen continued growth in ‘Divine Sounds Radio,’ our main station destination for the genre. Some of the top 10 most streamed Christian tracks this year include ‘You Say’ by Lauren Daigle, ‘Battle Belongs’ by Phil Wickham and ‘Less Like Me’ from Zach Williams.”
Cohen singled out Anne Wilson as one of the Christian community’s most successful breakout artists. “I’m really excited about the trajectory of Anne Wilson,” Cohen says. “She had a massive smash this year with ‘My Jesus’ and from June to November of this year her monthly streams on Amazon Music in the US have grown more than five times. It’s pretty impressive for an emerging artist. For being so young and going through everything that she’s been through, this is pretty incredible and she’s on major tours. I just think 2022 is going to be really, really big for her and I can’t wait.” She released her first album, My Jesus, in April and since May her streams have increased 18x.
Cohen also predicts 2022 will be a great year for DOE. “I’ve seen her music react on our ‘Gospel Now’ playlist and on gospel programming which is really exciting,” she says. “Koryn Hawthorne is also someone I love. I know she’s not entirely new, but she’s somebody that I’ve always been kind of excited about. She’s a powerhouse and I’m excited to see what she brings in 2022.”
Reyna Roberts, Morgan Wade, Breland, Allison Russell and Lily Rose are among the newcomers in the Americana and country genres Cohen expects to see shine in 2022. “Reyna is pretty incredible. I really think she’s going to take this industry by storm,” Cohen predicts. “I think Morgan Wade is going to continue at an even bigger pace than she did in 2021. That whole record is amazing. Personally, that’s one of my favorite records of the year from start to finish. And Lily Rose is somebody too that I’ve had my eye on for a while now. I saw on her Instagram that her song ‘Villain’ went gold which is incredibly exciting. It’s one of my favorites from her, so I’m looking forward to what she’s going to do in 2022 as well.”