How Sam Hunt Brought the Mixtape to Country Music

From Wandering Sound:

You did things in a different way than a lot of country artists, gaining an online following before radio airplay.

At the time, it was the most direct route from myself to the people listening. I had seen the value of the internet working for so many other artists. I didn’t have a record deal at the time, and making a full-length album is an expensive thing to do. I didn’t have the money or the backing of a record label to make a full-length album. So I had recently met a guy named Zach Crowell — I had heard a demo of his and really wanted to write with him. I had been looking for somebody who did what he did, and he did it really, really well. We hit it off personally, and we went over to his house and brainstormed about songwriting, and the whole internet thing and how I might go about pursuing a career. That was the first thing that came up, the idea that we’d sit down and record songs on acoustic guitar and put them up on the internet for free. In other genres, that’s something that happens more often, especially in hip-hop. So we just followed that model and didn’t really put too much thought into it.

Do you think it’s beneficial to continue doing mixtapes?

Yeah. I do. I think it’s important to continue to put out music, personally, in less conventional ways. I mean, I’d still like to put out my second album the way a traditional second album would come out. But I’d also like to find creative ways to put out different versions of songs, or different batches of songs in other ways, similar to the way we put out the mixtape.

Why is that? Do you think this format specifically had an impact on the way your traditional album has performed with fans?

Yeah. It gave me a foundation, even though it was very small at first, that we were able to build on. It’s important early on, when you’re asking people to listen to your music, that it’s happening without you involved. [You want] people spreading the word and telling other people about your music — [to get them] so interested that they want to share this music with somebody else. If you hear it coming from me, of course that’s what I’m gonna say — that I want you to listen to my music. But when it’s a third party, who’s just come across this music in some form and wants to share it, that’s something completely different. That’s a lot more valuable.