Anatomy Of A Hit: Jerrod Niemann’s ‘Lover, Lover’

Jerrod Niemann“You can never anticipate the beauty of a hit record. It’s like falling in love,” says Skip Bishop, VP of promotion at Sony Music Nashville.

Phyllis Stark 8/10/10 Radio-Info.com

In this instance, he’s talking about Jerrod Niemann’s recent No. 1, “Lover, Lover,” a song WBCT Grand Rapids, Mich., operations manager Doug Montgomery calls, “THE 2010 summer song of the country format.”

Jerrod Niemann coverIt was the kind of record that every label hopes for: one that quickly catches fire first with radio programmers, then listeners, and ultimately moves the sales needle in a significant way. Niemann’s new CD, “Judge Jerrod & the Hung Jury,” debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart on the strength of the single and scanned nearly 80,000 units in its first month of release. The single has sold more than a half a million downloads, and continues to steadily sell at a rate of 30,000-35,000 a week.

But every record faces some hurdles, and “Lover, Lover” was no exception. For starters, Niemann’s career had gotten off to a false start when he signed with the now defunct indie Category 5 Records, which unsuccessfully released a couple of singles from him in 2007. Second, “Lover, Lover” was a cover of a somewhat obscure pop single from the band Sonia Dada, originally titled “You Don’t Treat Me No Good” when it was released in 1992. Third, Bishop says, a small group of radio programmers initially thought the single was a little too progressive.

Skip Bishop“There was a small handful of programmers—a very small handful—that were very vocal about the fact that they thought the record was kind of too hip for the room,” says Bishop. “They made a little noise about it.”

Once the record started making phones ring at radio, that contingent was quieted. “From the first spin it was a tremendous phone record, and obviously a tremendous download record,” says Bishop. “The downloads started coming so quickly on this, and surpassed so many other singles on the chart that the information was readily available that this record was nothing but real.” From there, the single had a smooth ride to the top of the chart.

Montgomery reports that feedback from his audience about Niemann has been very good, although, “None of the listeners spell his name right while sending in e-mails about him.”

After Category 5 imploded, Niemann self-financed and co-produced the “Judge Jerrod” album with David Brainard. He’d been signed as a songwriter to Sea Gayle Music for five years when the publishing company’s principals decided last year to launch a label, Sea Gayle Records, with Niemann as the flagship act. The label hired a team of indie promoters to work a single, “One More Drinking Song” to radio last fall, and that single charted for just one week before the label team changed course. Sea Gayle had, by then, entered into a joint venture with Sony Music Nashville, and the staff there quickly identified “Lover, Lover” as the album’s breakthrough hit.

While Bishop says the indies had done “some really good work” with “Drinking Song,” at the point they decided to change course, “the train had just barely left the station.” In internal meetings, Bishop says, “‘Lover, Lover’ literally just jumped out at us as something that felt like a very large hit. Everybody concurred, and it just felt like it was going to be a tremendously successful record. [So] we started fresh.”

Early radio supporters of the record emerged, including the programmers at WKIS Miami, WBCT, KEEY Minneapolis, KCYY San Antonio, KBEQ Kansas City and WOGI Pittsburgh. “Tons of people jumped on this record early,” Bishop says.

“From the very beginning, Froggy listeners had an opinion about ‘Lover, Lover,” says Keymarket Communications VP/programming Frank Bell, who programs WOGI and its “Froggy” sister stations. “It’s one of those songs that’s a bit polarizing, with [the] pop-oriented crowd liking it more than the more traditional country fans. The phones started ringing right away, though, and we were able to add Jerrod to a previously scheduled club date we had. It was a weeknight show at a brand-new venue, so there were maybe only 200 folks there, but Jerrod had everyone in that room gathered around the stage for his entire set. It was one of those ‘You know this guy is going to make it’ sort of moments.”

WBCT’s Montgomery had a similar experience, saying he, “Saw Jerrod play [the song] live to a crowd of about 300 and had them engaged and singing along by the second verse.”

Montgomery says he’s “glad to see an artist who has paid his dues in the trenches having success. I hope he can find a way to re-release his earlier hits that didn’t get played because too few PDs look deep enough for hits off the beaten path.”

The fact that “Lover, Lover” was a pop cover—something that can be an issue with some programmers—did come up from time to time, Bishop says, but for the most part programmers were unaware it was a remake. The ones that did remember it did so fondly, he says, “So it almost acted as a positive for the guys that knew it.”

Montgomery was among those who’d never heard the original, but responded to the “groove” and felt in his gut Niemann’s re-make would be a hit.

As a former AC programmer and consultant, Bell was familiar with the original, and says, “It was one of those songs that never really tested at AC—probably too musically adventurous for the format at that time—but it was still a memorable song with a great hook. I thought Jerrod’s take on it was inspired … There was no concern about it being an AC remake simply because I knew that song had not been exposed that much in the early 1990s.”

Niemann’s past label affiliation also turned out to be a positive because he’d made a lot of friends at radio the first time around who were rooting for him when he re-emerged.

“He has a lot of support and a lot of people who know his music intimately at radio already,” says Bishop. “They were very excited that he had signed with a major and were supportive from day one. His history from being out there [previously] was very beneficial to our campaign.”

Once the single began climbing the chart, Bishop says it became “a very rare incidence of everyone supporting it at the same time. You could really monitor the growth of this record once it took off. It took six to eight weeks to really get its footing, and when it did it was a very steady and consistent climb. It just really took on a life of its own and garnered support as it went up the chart from everybody. There were very, very few naysayers.”

Bishop says singles like that are “rare and wonderful, and why we all do what we do.”

He’s hoping—and expecting—to repeat the experience with Niemann’s next single, “What Do You Want,” which ships to radio Sept. 7. The label is holding off on it for now because, Bishop says, “the recurrent play on ‘Lover, Lover’ is huge” and is still moving a lot of sales, both digital and physical.

And while the add date for “What Do You Want” isn’t until Oct. 4, Bishop expects that radio won’t wait, especially since so many programmers were instrumental in the next single choice. “I’m anticipating a second No. 1 record, and I hope that we get this album gold sooner than later,” he says. “It feels like it’s certainly on that path.”


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