Country musicians, like most musicians today, have been forced to market their craft in the digital age. Digital music sales surpassed physical sales for the first time in 2015, and social media is key to building and maintaining one’s popularity.
24/7 Wall St. has identified the most popular country music stars of today by looking at album sales, online followers, popular releases, and more. Some stars, such as 25-year old Hunter Hayes, have spent their entire careers working in this modern system. Others, such as the great Dolly Parton, have adapted to it, winning over a new generation of fans with their talents.
Social media popularity seems to come much easier for many younger artists compared to their older contemporaries. For example, country group Lady Antebellum – which released its first full-length album in 2008 – has 10.9 million Facebook likes. In comparison, Garth Brooks – the best-selling solo album artist of all time – has only 2.2 million likes. Leading the pack is Taylor Swift, who is known for her masterful usage of social media. Swift currently has 74.3 million likes.
To determine the most popular country music stars, 24/7 Wall St. constructed an index of various measures related to Billboard charts and internet presence. The number of times a respective artist’s album or albums appeared on Billboard’s year-end Top Country Albums chart for the years 2012 through 2016, the number of likes on an artist’s Facebook fan page as of 08/15/2017, the number of Spotify followers as of 08/15/2017, and the average daily Wikipedia page views from 08/14/2016 to 08/15/2016 were all given full weight. The position of an artist’s top charting album on Billboard’s year-end Top Country Albums chart from 2012 to 2016 was given half-weight. The positions of an artist’s top charting album every year from 2012 to 2016 were given quarter weight. For artists who toured in 2016 and were among the top 200 grossing North American tours, the total value of their 2016 ticket sales were given full weight in the cases that would boost their overall score. Data for gross ticket sales and the list of the 200 top grossing tours in North America came from Pollstar. Only artists who had an album on Billboard’s year-end Top Country Albums chart between 2012 and 2016 were considered.