Zach Bryan Is Country Music’s Statistical Anomaly… Here’s The Proof

Zach Bryan country music
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This week, Zach Bryan’s “Something in the Orange” officially impacted country radio, meaning the song was sent to radio programmers across the country to be played on FM airwaves.

While this process usually involves a large campaign from an artist’s label doing whatever it takes to entice spins, Bryan was quick to make it known that he’s not pushing anything with the standout track from his American Heartbreak album.

Regardless of how much promotional effort Zach Bryan’s label Warner Records is putting behind the song (I suspect it’s close to none), this will be an extremely interesting litmus test for country radio.

As an institution, it has historically been extremely stubborn in its refusal to spin anything but homogenous, mass-produced, pop-leaning country music from artists signed with Nashville major labels. Zach is the exact opposite of this mold and thus has been almost entirely shunned from the FM airwaves broadcasting mainstream country music around the country. There are some stations that play his music, but they’re few and far between.

However, that has not stopped Zach Bryan from building a rabid fan base that is loyal to all his many musical projects. In fact, between the two versions available on Spotify, “Something in the Orange” has already been streamed close to 131 million times on that platform alone since its release in April.

It’s extremely rare for a song to be consumed that much, that quickly, all without mainstream radio support.

So, while we wait to see if Zach can do the impossible and score a radio hit without playing the game, let’s look at four charts that illustrate he’s already doing the unfathomable.

The first visual displays two metrics for each of the 45 most popular current (living) country artists: number of times they’ve been played on the radio since tracking began, and their Spotify popularity. Spotify popularity is a 0-100 scale which ranks all artists on the platform based on how often songs by that artist are streamed, weighted for recency (higher numbers indicate more popularity).

Of the plots, Zach Bryan is a clear outlier amongst even the biggest names in the genre.

He is one of only three artists to have a popularity at or above 80, joining Luke Combs (82) and Morgan Wallen (84), who are widely regarded as the two leading acts in country.

However, Zach Bryan has less than 10,000 plays on the radio compared to over 1 million for Morgan Wallen and almost 2 million for Luke Combs. That’s 100 and 200 times the exposure respectively and makes Zach Bryan’s streaming prowess that much more impressive.

Drilling one step further into Zach Bryan’s popularity on Spotify yields another outlandish result.

Taking the same group of 45 artists and comparing their Spotify popularity to their number of Spotify monthly listeners, his plot once again stands out. Spotify monthly listeners measures the amount of unique people that listened to at least one of that artist’s songs in the last 28 days. It’s a decent indication of the size of an artist’s fan base and a better indication of how much exposure the artist receives on Spotify through curated editorial playlists with huge followings.

Not surprisingly, Zach Bryan does not have as many monthly listeners as many of the top artists, including almost half the amount that Luke Combs and Morgan Wallen have. But what he lacks in relative quantity of fans, he more than makes up for in quality of fan loyalty.

For his music to be streamed enough to have a popularity of 80, only slightly less than Combs and Wallen who have twice as many listeners, Zach Bryan listeners are choosing to consume his music almost twice as much as Combs and Wallen. Not to mention considerably more than other huge acts with a similar number of monthly listeners (Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Tim McGraw and Sam Hunt).

Zach Bryan’s fans are engaging with his catalog at an insanely high rate. And Spotify is not the only platform where this is occurring.

YouTube has increasingly become an important and lucrative medium for music consumption, right up there with Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora. The next chart once again displays the same 45 top country artists, this time comparing YouTube subscribers to YouTube Engagement (average number of video likes and comments in the last month divided by subscribers).

Bryan is one of only four artists to have engagement above 1%, which while seemingly small, is actually elite amongst top country performers. The most similar artist to Zach from this perspective is Kacey Musgraves, a six-time Grammy winner and someone who has seen massive success despite ultimately losing her own battle with country radio.

Furthermore, Zach’s engagement on YouTube is twice as high as other artists with large amounts of buzz and similar YouTube subscriber counts, including Maren Morris, Cody Johnson, Tyler Childers, Riley Green, Hardy and Old Dominion. While Zach still has a relatively smaller fan base compared to more established acts, his fans engage with his videos far more often, a clear signal they are passionate about him and his music.

Simply put, they can’t get enough Zach Bryan.

The final chart comparing the same two metrics for Instagram exemplifies this better than anything.

On this platform, no one comes close to Zach Bryan’s 14.5% engagement rate, beating out Morgan Wallen, Riley Green, Hardy, Bailey Zimmerman and Tyler Childers by a large margin. Not to mention the rest of the group who all have an engagement rate below 6%.

Of course, it is easier to have a higher rate with a lower number of followers, but Bryan’s follower count is at or above every artist above the 6% threshold except Morgan Wallen.

When evaluating artists and projecting their futures, strong engagement is one of the best indicators of someone who will not only continue growing their fan base but will be around for a long time (if they so choose). In this regard, there no one else in all of country music that is more projectable than Zach Bryan.

“Something in the Orange” was only added to three radio station’s playlists on its impact day (October 3), bringing the total number of adds to 23. While it’s still very early, that is certainly not the huge splash many had hoped for. However, Zach has proven throughout the entirety of his young career he will not be held back by lack of radio play.

He is a statistical anomaly, a self-made superstar, and only just getting started on his journey to becoming the most successful and influential country artist outside of the Nashville ecosystem.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock