Country Music's Matchmaker

The Country Music Association is working to build awareness of the plethora of licensing opportunities the genre presents.

Many of life's best partnerships are created by a third person that sees the potential between two individuals. As it goes in life, so it goes in country music, and the Country Music Association is the genre's master matchmaker.

The trade organization, which has more than 7,000 members, was the first-ever such group formed for a single category of music.

"CMA's mission is to heighten the awareness of country music and to support its ongoing growth," says Damon Whiteside, senior vice president, marketing and partnerships, CMA. " We're not aligned with any particular artist or label or management company. We look holistically at the industry and help grow awareness and opportunities for all of the artists within the country music industry."

More and more often those opportunities include licensing. In recognition of this, the CMA exhibited at Licensing Expo for the first time in June, and co-hosted the Opening Night Party, bringing along country crooner Kellie Pickler to perform.

"Licensing is an area that we're getting more focused on," says Whiteside. "So many brands and licensees and retailers are already working with our superstar artists. We want to continue to grow those opportunities and make the licensing industry aware of all the great artists and opportunities within country."

Among the top artists currently licensing are Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton and Brad Paisley.

It's no coincidence that many of these artists also have a TV presence. Underwood starred in a live TV production of "The Sound of Music" in 2013, and Shelton and Paisley are both judges on primetime music competitions, as is Keith Urban.

"Country music is bigger than ever and more popular than ever," says Whiteside. "The artists that are out in the marketplace are more visible than they've ever been. Country music is red hot, and it really reaches a broad, appealing audience for retailers and brands."

And that audience is getting younger. Whiteside says that "many of the stereotypical demographics of the past are no longer the case," with the genre reaching the 12-18 age group more than ever before and growing rapidly among 18- to 34-years-olds.

In addition to marketing the genre and creating an atmosphere for its artists to find partners (the actual deals go through each artist's individual management), the CMA also hosts three major events every year–the CMA Music Festival in Nashville, Tenn., the CMA Awards and CMA Country Christmas, all three of which air on ABC. These events provide a regular platform to bring together corporate brands and retailers with country music and its fans.

Among the CMA's biggest partners are Chevrolet, Pepsi and Anheuser-Busch, all of whom create activations at CMA events throughout the year. Chevy has even been dubbed The Official Ride of Country Music, a title that is well earned, considering it's featured in more than 1,000 country songs.

The CMA also organizes retail activations with partners that have included Macy's, Belk, the e-commerce site Country Outfitters and Walmart.

While promoting country music will always remain the CMA's raison d'être, the licensing of its own brand isn't out of the question.

"There is a high consumer awareness of the brand. We know that it means country music to people, so we are starting to explore ways that CMA could potentially have a brand play out there in the retail and licensing community," says Whiteside.

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