For most aspiring country artists who move to Nashville, the typical goal is to sign with a record label and watch their careers skyrocket. This in fact was what Spencer Crandall was aiming for when he arrived in town. However, with the incredible success he’s achieved in 2020, thanks to social media and TikTok, the proudly independent singer has a new vision for himself.
While Crandall has been diligently building his music career for the last five years, it wasn’t until he harnessed the power of social media that he found the key to success: connecting with fans. When everyone was stuck at home last year, the emerging singer/songwriter turned to TikTok and Instagram to share new music and build a dedicated fan base from the ground up. All the hard work paid off, with two of his albums debuting at No. 1 on the iTunes country chart, “My Person” amassing over 26 million streams on Spotify alone, and now, he has over 1.6 million followers on TikTok.
Success like Crandall’s is typically few and far between for new artists on a record label, let alone independent ones. The secret key to his success? “There is no secret. I just fail more than anybody else. […] I try a lot and I really don’t care what other people think,” the singer admits.
To top all the abovementioned feats, most recently, Crandall also celebrated a whopping 100 million all-time career streams— another rarity for an independent, unsigned act. With a sound that melds the sensibilities of pop production with heartfelt country songwriting, the newcomer is set to continue making waves.
Sounds Like Nashville spoke with Crandall recently about his artistry, launching on social media, the massive success of “My Person,” his brand-new love song “Made,” whether he’ll sign with a record label, and more.
Introducing the next promising up-and-comer have to “get to know”: Spencer Crandall
SLN: What was life like growing up in Denver, Colorado? I reckon you spent a lot of your time outdoors?
SC: It was a lot of outdoors! My parents used to pull me out of school on Fridays just so that we could go camping. We were a very outdoors family [that did] snowboarding, hiking, fishing, snowmobiling, and jet skiing all the time. When I got to Nashville, I remember asking people, “Do you want to go camping this weekend?” But they said, “We don’t do that. That’s not something we do.” I was confused! [laughs] I played a lot of sports. I played high school football and then college football, which was a big dream for me. I got there, got two massive shoulder injuries, and was basically told, “Please stop doing this so that you can do a push-up and throw the ball to your kids one day?” I was like, “OK, what do I do with my life? It’s my identity, it’s who I am.” I picked up this crappy Walmart guitar […] and I just started learning some chords, songs and fell in love with songwriting. I started posting and believing in the early days of Twitter and Facebook and posted covers every Friday. That kept growing and growing. I met a manager, I started taking trips out to Nashville, and over the course of the last seven years, I just kept on [staying focused] on it. It’s crazy to think I’ve been in Nashville for the last five years and hitting all these milestones! It’s very fun.
Who would you cite as your biggest musical influences that shaped your sound?
That’s a great question especially for me because it’s this Frankenstein version of what I think is cool music. I take a little bit from this and a little bit from that. My dad is a country music fanatic. We’d go to Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, and Eric Church concerts. I saw Kenny Chesney play in a stadium five times, and [those were] my favorite nights of the summer. I was a three-year-old kid in the car seat, begging my parents to play “Don’t Take the Girl” over and over because it made me feel so much. That was my dad’s influence. My mom loved Michael Bublé, John Mayer, and Justin Timberlake. My older brother downloaded Limewire and downloaded all these illegal songs and underground, indie, hip-hop artists. [laughs] Lots of Eminem, Drake, and people who had fast phrasing and cadence. Somehow, it’s the Frankensteining of all those things together. I love country storytelling but I love production, phrasing, and melodic elements. I just make music that I’d want to listen to in my car. It’s always me, it’s always authentic, and I think as long as I keep doing that, it’ll be well received, hopefully.
How would you then define what “country music” is to you?
Country music is really subjective. I think it’s really evolving, changing, growing, and stretching. It’s almost hard to define it because right when we find its edge, someone comes along and we go, “Wait, well that’s country too.” Or, somebody goes backwards, like a (Chris) Stapleton. He brings the older sound [back] in a beautiful way and makes it sound so nice. If both of these sound nothing alike and they’re country, then the definition becomes a bit broad. For me, personally, storytelling is the anchor. I put it this way: pop music or hip-hop music oftentimes feels like it’s describing the scene. […] Country music is writing the script. It’s telling you what they said. It’s the actual details of the A to B storytelling. There’s kind of like a North Star about what people talk about in country music content-wise, which is also changing. But I think country fans define country music and that has always happened.
You’re at this place where you’re somewhat comfortable being an independent artist and not rushing to sign with a major label. Have you always been in this spot? When you first moved to town in August of 2016, were you looking for a record deal?
Yeah, that’s what I thought the end all be all solution was. I thought, “I’ll get there, somebody will scoop me up and take me to star mountain.” I always thought I’ll be in some bar playing a song and some guy at the back will be like, ‘You should sing on the radio!’” It just didn’t happen that way. I’ve always focused on what I can control, which is my fans, my music, and my socials. I was really focused on building that. The record label thing, I think, is super interesting but so out of my control. But what I can do on a day-to-day basis is feed people great music, interact with them and grow on social media. The record deal used to be what I thought was the end all be all, but as the internet continues to grow and evolve, it’s just an interesting landscape.
Where does the possibility of signing with a record label lie then?
It’s so out of my control. To me, it’ very similar to dating. It’s like asking, “When are you going to get married?” It’s very interesting. Of course, it’ll be amazing to partner with somebody who gets what I’m doing and can add value to my music and business. It’s just finding the right fit. I’m very excited about the opportunity if it comes. But until it does, I’m going to control what I can control- which is making great music, making things I love with people I love, and building it like a lego [set].
Your biggest single to date is “My Person.” It continues to kill it on the Digital Streaming Platforms (DSPs) and recently got added to rotation on SiriusXM The Highway! Did you have a hunch about what it’ll bring you and your career thus far when you first co-wrote it?
That’s a good question. You hope that that’s what’s going to happen. But I think there’s always a part of you that’s battling unrealistic and realistic. So, you try to set goals. You obviously want a song to do what “My Person” does because it’ll change your life. I’ll say this: I posted a clip of that song on my Instagram and it just got a different response. If I post unreleased music, some people will be like, “Love it,” or “good!” But this one was like, “I want to use it at my wedding. Can I illegally download this anywhere?” People were telling me in droves. I think I got a thousand DMs, which is ten times more than what I get on a song. That’s when I was like, “OK, obviously there’s something here.” I think that’s the beauty of the internet today. You can do market research even before something comes out. I wrote that song, showed it to my people, they showed me love back and I went to my manager the next day and said, “This song is special. I don’t know what it’s going to do, but it needs to be out in the world.” Over the course of two years, through TikTok and SiriusXM and all those things, it’s built to this [big song]. We always say it lovingly—it just won’t die! [laughs] I don’t want it to! Normally, a song has a life. It tapers off very naturally. But this song is the zombie song. Just as soon as we think it’s going to go, something crazy happens. An influencer uses it, it gets picked up on SiriusXM, and we just keep cheering it on because we love the song and the fans love it. It’s been really fun!
If you could pinpoint one main thing you attribute the success of “My Person” to, what would it be?
I think it’s giving vocabulary to something we all feel or want to feel. It’s what really great songs and songwriting do, especially in country music. It’s something that’s so universal that everyone can feel it. Yet, it’s specific enough to be a story and real and authentic.
You recently released a brand new song, “Made,” which is another great country-pop love song. You penned this one with Ian McConnell, Andrew Beason, and Jeff Cherry. What’s the story behind this write?
Jeff Chery is actually my manager. He’s way more musically talented than he lets anyone know. We’re working on a big project that we’re keeping a little hush-hush, but he sent me some tracks and asked if it was the vibe [I wanted]. I was listening to a podcast that had referenced one of my favorite shows, The Good Place. In that show, he says, “Maybe soulmates aren’t as real we thought. Maybe, soulmates aren’t found—they’re made. It’s something you build together.” It hit me and I paused the podcast! It’s exactly how I feel about love. It’s not this fairytale. It’s not just easy. I’ve watched my parents married for 35 years. There’s a lot of ups and downs. There’s a lot of [intentionally choosing] to be with somebody. So, I brought that idea to the [session] with Andrew and Ian. It was one of those songs where we got so excited and crushed it in two hours and we went to produce it and the rest is history. I posted it on TikTok, it got watched 4 million times and changed the course of that song. It has that same “My Person” ability, where if all I said was, “All soulmates aren’t found, they’re made,” something flips on [for listeners] where they’ll go, “Oh, I think that’s true.”
Of course, we have to talk about social media and TikTok. What’s your secret—that you can reveal—for success and all the attention you’ve garnered through those platforms?
Here’s my secret: there is no secret! I just fail more than anybody else. I post a lot, and a lot of those videos don’t do anything. If you go to my page right now, I have two million followers and something will get watched 5,000 times. Percentage-wise, that is garbage. That’s terrible! [laughs] But I’m basically gathering more data than anyone else and I’m trying more. The only way I learn is by trial and error and failure. I allow myself to withstand the judgment of others and myself. Through that process, I find a couple of things that work and when I find something that works, I double down and hit it really hard for a while until it stops working. If nothing else, my secret is that I try a lot and I really don’t care what other people think. I don’t worry about numbers and views. I’m really trying to think of it from a macro view rather than a one video view.
What, in your opinion and from your own experience, does the future of music and TikTok look like?
TikTok allowed us to find artists we love. It’s taking away the middleman. Anything that makes our life easier, we’re going to gravitate towards it. What TikTok is doing is saving us time. In the past, there were so many curators between artists and fans. Now, it’s immediate. I’m always asking myself, “What do I want as a fan?” I want access, speed, quantity, and quality. I think TikTok allows for a faster funnel to get things to fans. Especially in country music, we lean a little more conservative and slow to find trends. What TikTok is doing is speeding up the process exponentially. Labels, managers, artists and writers—everyone’s a little confused and trying to figure it out, still, because it’s so new. I think as it matures, it’s going to continue to prove that the internet is so much more powerful than we think because it connects people to what they want as fast as possible.
With so much going on in your life and career, how do you find time to unplug and be still?
I’m not good at it if I’m being honest. It’s something that I wish I’m better at. Yesterday, I had a bit of a day off. I had some time to be bored, which is something I actually try to build into my schedule. I was sitting on my phone and just got lost in the TikTok rabbit hole. I was like, “What am I doing?! I can’t edit, post, be on TikTok all day and then be on it for fun [as well]!” Really, for me, the word “intentional” is what comes to mind. Being very intentional with my time, who I spend it with and how I spend that time. For me, it’s being outside, visiting Colorado, hanging out with my parents, [who] live in Nashville now. Golf is a really big one as well, because I keep my phone in the car for three or four hours. Working out helps. I try really hard to not check my phone as I’m going to bed because I don’t sleep as well. It’s embarrassingly harder than I wish it was. But, the intentionality of spending time with loved ones and just unplugging is really good for me.
I know you’re opening up for Kidd G right now, before going out on tour with Ashley Cooke for your “My Person Tour.” Ashley and you are the perfect tour mates, just with TikTok and being highly sought-after independent artists. How stoked are you about hitting the road?
So stoked! Stoked’s the only word, my friend. The full-circle nature of a song is getting to watch someone sing it back to you and tell you the stories at the merch table about how it changed their life, went through a breakup, or was their first dance song. So, I’ll get to find the full-circle moment again as an artist. Ashley’s amazing, my fans are amazing. To already see the response to the tour is so much fun and it gives me so much hope for the future. It feels very rewarding. It’s a lot to come to a show! You got to get a babysitter, pay for gas, and hotel for some people. I try to make it as fun as possible and as amazing an experience as possible. I’m just so excited to get back on the road!
How did you celebrate your recent achievement of 100 million all-time career streams?
That’s a good question! I’m terrible at celebrating anything. I was going to just go bowling with a couple of friends. But my mom was like, “No! We have to pause, take a deep breath and really appreciate this.” She and my manager took charge of planning the party. They rented this incredible venue and we had catering. It was really special and great for my manager and I to take a deep breath and realize [the journey] from the college dorm with the Walmart guitar to a 100 million streams. It’s exciting because it gets you excited for the future. I have awesome parents, awesome management, awesome fans and just awesome people in my life, which is why I’m very grateful for.
What else can fans expect from you for the rest of the year and in 2022?
There is another project coming in 2022. I put out an album called Wilderness last year. It’s similar in a lot of ways and I think it’s a continuation and evolution of some of those ideas. I’m so excited to create music. We’re going to be playing more shows next year and just double down on those things that I love!
To wrap, if there is one thing new fans can take away from this interview about you, what would that be?
I hope it’s just sheer gratitude. I’m not a signed label act, but I get some of these opportunities because people see the numbers and the numbers come from people and the people come from the internet, and they come from telling each other [about my music]. I’m just so grateful! So, if you’re [reading] this and don’t know who I am, I’d love to invite you into our infrastructure. I have a fan club called “Stadium Gang,” and I love those people. I hate the word “fans,” because it’s like I’m here and they’re there. We’re really a family and a community that we build together. That’s what I hope they take away from it.
Stream Crandall’s new single “Made,” his smash hit “My Person” and more below.