When Barrett Baber was asked to audition for The Voice in 2015, he was torn. On one hand, it represented an opportunity to do what he loved most — sing — on a national stage. On the other, it would be a huge disruption in his life. If he made it, he would likely have to stop teaching high school debate in Arkansas, which would mean a major loss of income for him, his wife, and two small children.
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“I was just so tired of playing weekend gigs in smoky bars to 12 people,” he says. “I’d been playing music all my life in and around Arkansas, and I knew if I didn’t go to this audition, I might always regret it.”
He ultimately decided to take the risk. “I said, ‘Okay, I’m not teaching this year. My teaching salary is $41,000. That means I’ve got to find a way make at least $41,000 from appearing on this show to break even,’” he says. “I approached it like a job, because for me, it was. From the moment I decided to walk away from that teacher salary, my music has been my business.”
Baber’s “blind” audition was a huge hit: all four judges invited him to join their teams. He ultimately went with country superstar Blake Shelton since the two belong to the same genre.
“Once I knew I was going to be on the show, I went to work,” he says. “That $41,000 was constantly in the back of my mind. We spent months sequestered in a Los Angeles hotel, and I was worked 10-12 hours a day on setting up my business so that I at least had the opportunity to make the most out of the opportunity if things went well on the show. I put my music up on the DSPs, launched a website, and started designing merch that I thought people would want to buy.”
Baber, who sold advertising on TV and radio before beginning his teaching career, knew that getting support from local NBC affiliates and country radio stations would be key in securing votes from The Voice viewers. “The shows aired on Tuesdays and voting ended on Wednesdays. So every Wednesday morning, I would get up at 4 a.m. and start doing call-ins with radio station morning shows across the country,” he says. “There were 12-15 stations I would call every week, talk about the show the night before, ask people to vote and always mention the website and my original music to help drive merchandise sales and downloads. Giving fans in those markets a sense of ownership in regards to my successmade them invested in my story. They cared, they voted, and I made it to the finale and a Top 3 finish,” he says.
Baber did more than make it to the Top 3. Over the course of the 16 weeks that the show aired, he sold and shipped almost $30,000 in merchandise directly from his website. He leveraged social media and search ads to help direct viewers into actional purchases. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of downloads of the studio versions of the songs he performed on the show, Baber scored thousands of downloads of songs from his original projects that he had released before his initial audition, meaning he captured 100% of the revenue from those sales.
“During the final few weeks of the show, I spent a lot of time planning for two scenarios,” he says. “First, what do I do if the label associated with the show picks up my contract option? Second, what do I do if they don’t? I had a feeling that unless I won, they wouldn’t exercise their option, so I knew there could be a real opportunity to build something independently from the amount of publicity generated from being on the show. My goal was to prepare so I could really hit the ground running the moment I had the chance.”
Baber’s album option wasn’t picked up, but he immediately signed with booking agent WME and locked in a slot opening for Rascal Flatts’ Las Vegas residency.
Three years after his appearance on the show, Baber is still hustling just as hard as he was during filming. “I work hard on the music
Those marketing hours have paid off: Baber, along with the help of manager Kenny Lamb, has scored multi-year endorsements from brands including Bad Boy Mowers and Coca-Cola, plus several smaller deals. “In 2016, Barrett was one of our top musical influencers for Walmart,” says Amanda Whittaker, Director of Shopper Marketing on the Coca-Cola team for Walmart US. “We chose to partner with Barrett because he resonates with our shoppers, delivers results and has proven himself as a positive brand ambassador. We are excited to continue building this relationship.”
Baber released his debut CD, A Room Full of Fighters, in 2016 which debuted in the Top 10 on the iTunes Country Album Charts. He was able to get the project into Walmart stores, without a label or distributor, and onto Coca-Cola displays in thousands of stores. A bonus track he co-wrote with Lamb for Coke, called “Your Name,” appeared on the album and was used by the beverage company in various in store ads and promotions. “That felt like a huge win, because it opened the door to growing the partnership with Coke, which is a brand I really love,” he says.
Baber moved to Nashville two years ago and says he’s never felt more at home among a community of people. “I played a showcase at 3rd & Lindsley this week, and the love and support I got was amazing,” he says. “My landlord was there. My dentist was there. Dozens of my co-writers were there. That’s the kind of town Nashville is.”
Being part of the Nashville community has made him rethink his one-man-against-the-world approach to his music, he says. In fact, securing his first outside cut (for Cody Johnson’s project due out in October) played a part in him rethinking his strategy.
“I’ve loved operating independently these past few years, but being in Nashville has shown me the value of strategic partnerships with the right publisher and label,” he says, noting that the importance of radio play and streaming can’t be overstated in country music. “I feel like now that I’m getting feedback like ‘This song sounds like a hit,’ that some key partnerships could really take my career to the next level.”
The addition of a label or publisher, like anything else, is a cost-benefit analysis, Baber explains. “Just like I had to believe in myself that I could earn more on The Voice than as a teacher, I’ve got to believe whatever team I ultimately work with can deliver more value to me than I’ve been able to create on my own. At the end of the day, all I can control is my effort and attitude. I wake up every day ready to continue to push towards a tipping point.”
Brittany Hodak is an international keynote speaker and award-winning business leader. Entrepreneur calls her an “expert at creating loyal fans for your brand,” and she is widely regarded as the “go-to source” on creating and retaining superfans.
An accomplished speaker, she has been invited to speak to audiences and organizations across the world, including American Express, WeWork, Compassion International, Sony Music, Inc., and the United Nations, just to name a few.
She is a Guinness World Record Holder who”s been named to Advertising Age’s 40 Under 40 list, Inc.’s 30 Under 30 list, and Billboard’s 30 Under 30 list. She was awarded the distinction of Most Disruptive Marketing Entrepreneur at the Empact Awards at the United Nations.
Brittany has published more than 350 thought-leadership articles for a variety of national media, including regular columns for jonathanlewisforcongress.com, Adweek, and Success. She has been featured on shows for ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CNBC, Bloomberg, Fox News, and more.
Brittany is the co-founder of The Superfan Company, a multimillion-dollar fan-engagement agency that has created successful campaigns and products for globally known brands including Walmart, Disney, Amazon, Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, the Boston Red Sox, and many more. In 2015, she was offered deals from four of the five Sharks on ABC’s Shark Tank at a valuation of more than $4 million.
She is a summa cum laude graduate with a B.A. in communications from the University of Central Arkansas, and she holds an M.S. in marketing from CUNY Baruch’s Zicklin School of Business.
She has been studying, researching, and writing about the phenomenon of fandom for nearly two decades … and even longer, if you count her years as a radio-station mascot, which she considers the “front lines” of fandom research!