If Country Artists Were Stocks: Analyzing The Country Music Portfolio

Dolly Parton, Luke Combs et al. posing for a picture

Countless times across the internet and in conversation among friends the idea of a country music stock market has been debated.

The concept is simple: if you could buy stock in artists which would you invest in to see the highest returns as their careers take off? While simple in theory, the quality of music is 100% subjective and therefore quantifying career success becomes tricky, especially given the varying priorities of different people (i.e. radio success versus touring numbers).

Therefore, I set out to develop a system that would calculate a “stock price” for each artist in a fair and uniform way to track the trajectory of each musician’s career over time.

What I discovered during my research was that the metrics available to measure artist success are relatively limited and further constrained by data points that are not public. Thus, the final process I proceeded with relies heavily on social media.

This is far from perfect, but there are not many other options and an artist’s following on social media is a decent barometer of fanbase size; strengthened when paired with the context of music consumption data.

Ultimately, I leveraged a process that ranks artists based on their popularity / following across several social media and streaming platforms.

Based on this ranking, artists were assigned a stock price which ranges up to a maximum of $1,000. These rankings are not exclusive to only country artists, so the artists with stock prices at or near $1,000 currently include Justin Bieber, Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande and Drake who are the most popular acts on the planet right now.

This obviously does not mirror the real stock market in which equities can rise to an unlimited price, but accomplishes the goal nonetheless.

Upon completing these calculations, I pulled out the top twenty-five, who are displayed below with additional context.

Top 25 (Overall)

Chart

Included next to each artist’s stock price is the percentage change in that price in the last two months (based on the same calculation / process), as well as how their overall ranking compares to their ranking based on Spotify consumption alone. This gives insight into how an artist has obtained that price.

For example, a large Non-Spotify Delta (NSD) indicates much of their price is based on all the other platforms, which in most cases is social media.

While this list contains many of the biggest acts in the genre right now, there are a few legends who are certainly no longer in the prime of the careers. The most obvious example of this is Johnny Cash, who actually has the highest rating of any country artist.

Considering he passed away in 2003, the engagement his music sees today is extremely telling of his popularity while he was alive and speaks to the ability of great music to withstand the test of time. Other examples of legends on this list are Lynyrd Skynyrd and Dolly Parton, although Dolly Parton is still very active in the country music scene to this day.

A few other acts jump out for various reasons, starting with Luke Combs. His place as second on the list validates the calculation process as he has dominated the genre of late.

Even though Florida Georgia Line has seen diminishing sales, stalling singles on country radio, and both members are currently pursuing solo projects, they were arguably the biggest act in the 2010s. Their position to this day as the third highest priced stock is reflective of the massive fanbase they built over the years, even if some are unwilling to admit that now.

Finally, a sad reality of this list is that only five of the twenty-five (20%) are women. Their underrepresentation in the genre is a well-documented, continual frustration for many.

In terms of growth, the movement of these prices are more aligned to the bond market than cryptocurrencies.

Sam Hunt was the only artist with a net move of over 4%, with most artists in the top twenty-five staying well below 2% change one way or the other. This is likely due to the nature of the calculation being based on a relative position, but also indicative of how long it takes for most artists to make headway in the industry.

Nashville is often called a seven-year town, ten is you ask to Hailey Whitters, because most artists will need to cut their teeth for that long before maybe seeing their careers take off. Thus, it’s not a surprise there is not large movement in these prices over a two-month period.

Upon reflection, it became apparent that many of these highly priced artists have Non-Spotify Deltas (NSDs) well above 40%, indicating they do not rank as well on Spotify compared to their overall ranking. Again, this is often due to these artists having massive social media followings, for example Johnny Cash has 11 million followers on Facebook.

However, it also suggests they do not perform as well on streaming services. For an artist like Johnny Cash with no possibility of new music and generally an older fan base, this makes sense. However, Sam Hunt having a 77% NSD is a much different story. Therefore, I put together another table that quantified each artist’s share price on the same scale of $0 – 1,000, but solely based on Spotify performance.

Top 25 (Spotify Only) + Spotify Promotional Gaps

Table

This table is sorted by Price per Share based on Spotify alone, which ultimately shuffles the order of the top twenty-five while introducing a few very interesting players.

This order is more reflective of the genre’s current state, with Morgan Wallen and Luke Combs dominating streaming metrics. FGL, Thomas Rhett, Maren Morris and Chris Stapleton round out the rest of the top six and should be a surprise to no one.

However, the surprises come toward the bottom with Upchurch and Tyler Childers ranking twenty-third and twenty-fourth respectively. They were both well below the top twenty-five for overall rankings, with Upchurch at 68 and Childers at 76. Therefore, their Share Price Deltas (SPDs) are the highest on that list.

Essentially, their performance and rankings based on Spotify alone are much better than when taking all other platforms into account. Given they are both artists that exist outside of the Nashville system (yes that is possible), these numbers make a lot of sense and speak to their individual successes.

Yet the more you dive into the numbers, the more impressive they become. For two artists who receive no mainstream radio play, recognition or media coverage from most country music outlets, their presence on this list and performance on streaming platforms is a true testament to the democratization of the industry through streaming services.

Regardless of what is pushed down people’s ears, fans will always be drawn to the voices and characters that captivate them the most.

To illustrate this, it’s necessary to look at how these artists are leveraged across Spotify: in simple terms, how much their music is promoted through official Spotify playlists and playlists of media outlets with large followings. Total playlist reach is a metric which measures the total number of listeners of playlists which feature at least one song from said artist.

Upchurch has a total playlist reach of 1.7 million people and over 935,000 followers. Dividing playlist reach by followers gives a ratio / leverage of 1.8. Similarly, Childers has around 800,000 followers with a playlist reach of 8.1 million for a leverage of 10.1. While this indicates Childers is featured in prominent playlists much more than Upchurch, these are still very small figures.

Comparing these leverages to those of artists with similar Spotify share prices produce drastically different results. Sam Hunt has a total playlist reach of almost 50 million for a leveraged index of 23.7. Maren Morris has a playlist reach of 136 million, but almost 360,000 less followers than Upchurch, resulting in an index of 234.7.

The fact that Upchurch has even remotely similar numbers on Spotify as Maren Morris given the astronomical difference in the way they are promoted is insane.

His, and other artists such as Tyler Childers’ ability to compete with big Nashville artists in these categories prove that in the streaming era fans will support their favorite artists with or without big label marketing and promotion.

People gravitate to authentic entertainers who they connect with the most, and these artists are much more likely to withstand the test of time compared to overleveraged artists who burn out quickly.

Hence why you see legends like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Alan Jackson still on this list well after their peaks.

My Stock Picks

Outside of the top twenty-five, the remaining artists and their projected stock prices are listed at the end of the article. If you do not see your favorite artist, that is most likely because their share price does not register on this scale (priced below $0). If it makes you feel any better, you can tell people they have yet to IPO.

Looking at the list, I picked out a handful of artists I believe are undervalued and would be great investments if it were possible to buy equity in them. They are as follows in no particular order.

Lainey Wilson ($412) – New on the scene with a critically acclaimed debut album, she’s as authentic as it comes and incredibly charismatic. For proof look no further than her recent conversation with Steve and Wes on Whiskey Riff Raff.

Zach Bryan ($298) – A relatively unknown newcomer with a unique voice and rabid, grassroots fanbase, his stock is set to rise dramatically now that he’s signed a record deal.

Midland ($551) – Despite being one of the most well-known bands in the genre, they are priced exceptionally low, likely due to the difficulty groups have faced maintaining momentum during the pandemic. I’m confident when full touring resumes there will be a market correction and they will rise to their rightful place as one of the top acts in the genre.

Riley Green ($676) – With the amount of success he’s had off just one full album and a stockpile of unreleased music reminiscent of the cold war, his stock is set to reach new heights with the release of his highly anticipated sophomore album.

Randy Houser ($727) – Albeit a very well-established artist, he emerged from the bro-country era in a huge way with his 2019 album Magnolia, which is still not talked about enough to this day. He is due for new music soon and with the swing of the genre heading back toward a more traditional sound, he’s set up for a big one that could send his stock soaring.

Jon Pardi ($896) – $896 is a relatively high price for a value pick, but this is indicative of his superstar potential. His last single, “Ain’t Always the Cowboy” is one of the strongest, most traditional songs to grace mainstream country radio’s airwaves in the last few years, yet only peaked at #3 on Billboard’s airplay charts.

He is arguably the most traditional artist of his generation signed to a major label and between California Sunrise and Heartache Medication, he has produced two of the deepest albums front to back from within the Nashville machine in a long time. It’s only a matter of time before he begins receiving the accolades he deserves and his stock trends even higher.

Kacey Musgraves ($909) – Another highly priced pick, Musgraves is an absolute superstar who won four Grammys in 2019 and has fans clamoring for a new album. While it may be a departure from a traditional country sound, her stock price still has plenty of room to rise in the coming months.

Parker McCollum ($620) – A Texas artist, who alongside others like Cody Johnson are proving they can be successful in the Nashville scene without losing their roots, falls into the category of those who saw their rapid ascension slow due to the pandemic. However, with touring slowly starting to resume, and a new album on the way, he is going to ride his further strengthened fan base to an entirely different level with his stock following suit.

Let us know which artists you would invest in to take your portfolio #ToTheMoon.

Full list of artists and their projected stock prices:

  1. $976 – Johnny Cash
  2. $972 – Luke Combs
  3. $970 – Florida Georgia Line
  4. $969 – Sam Hunt
  5. $966 – Blake Shelton
  6. $966 – Luke Bryan
  7. $964 – Maren Morris
  8. $963 – Miranda Lambert
  9. $962 – Lynyrd Skynyrd
  10. $960 – Thomas Rhett
  11. $960 – Jason Aldean
  12. $959 – Kane Brown
  13. $959 – Chris Stapleton
  14. $955 – Keith Urban
  15. $955 – Kenny Chesney
  16. $953 – Carrie Underwood
  17. $952 – Lady A
  18. $952 – Dolly Parton
  19. $952 – Dan + Shay
  20. $949 – Tim McGraw
  21. $944 – Shania Twain
  22. $943 – Eric Church
  23. $943 – Morgan Wallen
  24. $937 – Rascal Flatts
  25. $931 – Lee Brice
  26. $930 – Zac Brown Band
  27. $929 – Alan Jackson
  28. $928 – Willie Nelson
  29. $925 – Jake Owen
  30. $925 – Kid Rock
  31. $923 – Dierks Bentley
  32. $913 – John Denver
  33. $912 – Brooks & Dunn
  34. $912 – Gabby Barrett
  35. $910 – George Strait
  36. $909 – Kacey Musgraves
  37. $909 – Brett Young
  38. $908 – Chris Young
  39. $906 – Brad Paisley
  40. $905 – Dustin Lynch
  41. $905 – Kelsea Ballerini
  42. $900 – The Chicks
  43. $896 – Jon Pardi
  44. $895 – Brantley Gilbert
  45. $893 – Elle King
  46. $889 – Darius Rucker
  47. $880 – Sheryl Crow
  48. $874 – Toby Keith
  49. $873 – Little Big Town
  50. $872 – Old Dominion
  51. $870 – Billy Ray Cyrus
  52. $858 – Billy Currington
  53. $840 – Justin Moore
  54. $840 – Cole Swindell
  55. $839 – Chris Lane
  56. $836 – Uncle Kracker
  57. $834 – Chase Rice
  58. $832 – Dylan Scott
  59. $831 – Josh Turner
  60. $828 – Russell Dickerson
  61. $826 – Waylon Jennings
  62. $825 – Jordan Davis
  63. $817 – Trace Adkins
  64. $813 – Randy Travis
  65. $813 – Reba McEntire
  66. $812 – Travis Tritt
  67. $810 – Alabama
  68. $796 – Upchurch
  69. $788 – Blanco Brown
  70. $780 – Rodney Atkins
  71. $778 – Lauren Alaina
  72. $775 – Hank Williams, Jr.
  73. $770 – Hunter Hayes
  74. $766 – Brothers Osborne
  75. $763 – Brett Eldredge
  76. $763 – Tyler Childers
  77. $762 – Parmalee
  78. $753 – Kip Moore
  79. $751 – Cody Johnson
  80. $749 – Mitchell Tenpenny
  81. $749 – Carly Pearce
  82. $746 – Trisha Yearwood
  83. $745 – Maddie & Tae
  84. $745 – Chris Janson
  85. $740 – Eli Young Band
  86. $735 – Merle Haggard
  87. $734 – Scotty McCreery
  88. $727 – Randy Houser
  89. $719 – Jamey Johnson
  90. $710 – Jimmie Allen
  91. $710 – Ryan Hurd
  92. $705 – HARDY
  93. $696 – Cody Jinks
  94. $695 – Michael Ray
  95. $690 – Garth Brooks (inaccurate due to his lack of music on streaming services)
  96. $687 – Craig Morgan
  97. $686 – Mason Ramsey
  98. $681 – Aaron Lewis
  99. $676 – Riley Green
  100. $654 – Niko Moon
  101. $646 – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
  102. $643 – Gary Allan
  103. $642 – Sugarland
  104. $626 – Colt Ford
  105. $620 – Parker McCollum
  106. $614 – Matt Stell
  107. $614 – Whiskey Myers
  108. $606 – Thompson Square
  109. $603 – Devin Dawson
  110. $586 – Sturgill Simpson
  111. $583 – Tenille Arts
  112. $562 – Montgomery Gentry
  113. $561 – Granger Smith
  114. $551 – Midland
  115. $543 – Easton Corbin
  116. $536 – Clay Walker
  117. $532 – Ingrid Andress
  118. $527 – Big & Rich
  119. $520 – Raelynn
  120. $511 – Joe Nichols
  121. $477 – LANCO
  122. $459 – Danielle Bradbery
  123. $449 – Jameson Rodgers
  124. $449 – Ashley McBryde
  125. $436 – Cam
  126. $412 – Lainey Wilson
  127. $397 – Priscilla Block
  128. $395 – Walker Hayes
  129. $386 – Tyler Rich
  130. $369 – Jerrod Niemann
  131. $343 – David Nail
  132. $342 – Tenille Townes
  133. $307 – David Lee Murphy
  134. $305 – Morgan Evans
  135. $298 – Zach Bryan
  136. $290 – Kameron Marlowe
  137. $283 – Jana Kramer
  138. $277 – LOCASH
  139. $213 – Taylor Ray Holbrook
  140. $210 – Elvie Shane
  141. $160 – High Valley
  142. $150 – Muscadine Bloodline
  143. $137 – Jon Langston
  144. $128 – Chris Cagle
  145. $112 – Tyler Farr
  146. $94 – Travis Denning
  147. $87 – Aaron Watson
  148. $58 – Caitlyn Smith
  149. $45 – Lindsay Ell
  150. $30 – Caylee Hammack
  151. $26 – Logan Mize
  152. $18 – Frankie Ballard
  153. $7 – Canaan Smith
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STAY ENTERTAINED

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