An Afternoon in Luke Bryan’s Hotel Room, Where Music and Apps Collide
Luke Bryan’s right hand hovers above a tablet in his Times Square hotel room as he uses a stylus to squiggle his autograph over and over again.
The sun gleams on his white bed linens, still crumpled from last night’s sleep. The slumber came after a long day of performing songs from his new album, both at the crack of dawn on Good Morning America and well into the evening at an intimate showcase inside cramped Irving Plaza, a ballroom-style venue smaller than the stadiums he sells out on tour.
He has survived album-release day. He's uncharacteristically calm on this Saturday afternoon — though the pressure for Bryan's fifth album, Kill the Lights, to perform well is immense. Two years ago, his previous album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
Bryan, 39, is in the middle of a full-tilt promotional offensive, one that truly reflects the times — it's dependent on digital avenues and social platforms to buoy consumption and sales, whether through streaming or paid downloads.
"You can't bat 1,000, but if you try a lot of these things, you're bound to get some hits," Bryan explains, telling Mashable why he explores several interactive marketing tactics.
As Bryan signs autographs, two men from the mobile-app developer Smule configure a gold iPhone onto a nifty camera rig equipped with mics.
Bryan hands off the tablet and steps up to the iPhone setup to record himself performing his sexually-charged single "Strip It Down" on Smule’s karaoke app Sing!
The 11 other people sharing the room fall silent when Bryan places headphones over his black baseball cap and ears. He belts the lyrics, smiling at his reflection on the screen as his left hand keeps the beat, wiggling in and out of his dark blue jeans’ front pocket.
"Everything I need in them white cotton sheets," he sings, "dirty dance me slow in the summertime heat, feel my belt turn loose from these old blue jeans."
Soon, fans can use the app to find the performance, sing along with Bryan and publish their split-screen duets for all to see. It’s the same app that a British teen used to create a viral duet of Pitch Perfect 2's "Flashlight" with pop star Jessie J.
Bryan is the first country artist — behind other genre stars like Jason Derulo, Silento, OK Go, Lifehouse, Tori Kelly, Austin Mahone Cody Simpson, T-Pain and Max Schneider — to record sessions for the app. Bryan taped "Kick the Dust Up" earlier this month, and as of Monday night, app users have performed the song more than 30,000 times.
A hyped-up Bryan, grinning with his distinctly white teeth every time he hits a high note, closes his recording session with a duet of Jason Derulo’s pre-recorded “Want To Want Me.”
"I got chill bumps — this is good," he proclaims after one take. (Watch the behind-the-scenes video of him recording the Derulo duet above.) By Tuesday afternoon in rainy New York City, less than 24 hours since the duet went live, it's attracted 28 million views and 815,000 shares.
Bryan's collaboration with Sing! is just one small part of a headline-grabbing digital push that has spanned Twitter, Facebook, Spotify and even Tinder.
Bryan's team worked with the world's leading social network to create a new Facebook tool that he could use to sign digital autographs with custom messages. Fans had only 24 hours to buy a copy of his new album at LukeBryanSigning.com. In return, Bryan will sign every album cover sold — all 2,954 of them — and post them on fans' Facebook profiles.
Bryan also premiered the album's title track, "Kill The Lights," and its lyric video on mobile matchmaker Tinder. While swiping for matches, Tinder users found a video message from Bryan introducing the song, which Mashable debuted July 31.
On Twitter, Bryan roped in Target to execute #LukeBox, a project in which he wrote songs based on fans' tweets. Songwriters Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Jody Stevens helped Bryan complete 25 Twitter-inspired songs on the spot.
As for Spotify: Bryan took over the streaming service's Snapchat story, and also took over a few Spotify playlists by providing intro messages before songs played.
Bryan also helped launch the new Live for Facebook Mentions, a live-streaming feature, by using it to perform "To The Moon and Back."
Digital references have even seeped into Bryan's lyrics. On "Home Alone Tonight," his duet with Little Big Town's Karen Fairchild, he sings about a "payback picture," a selfie taken at a bar with a potential hookup that they'll both send to their exes.
"It's obviously a hookup song," Bryan says. "It's a song about two people who have been jilted a little bit, and they're out there back in the nightlife getting over it. "The cool thing about flipping the phone around and taking 'payback pictures' is it's a fresh take on telling an ex to stick it.
"The cool thing about flipping the phone around and taking 'payback pictures' is it's a fresh take on telling an ex to stick it.It's something that's very relatable."
Bryan, of course, is married, with a "C" tattooed on his ring finger for his wife, Caroline. They live together in Nashville, where he once waited tables — though only for three days.
Music still comes first
Songs on his new album — which is filled with several likely country chart-toppers, in addition to the dozen or so No. 1s Bryan already has to his name — touch on down-home genre staples: reminiscing, love-making, drinking and small-town living. Bryan credits his upbringing in rural Georgia for turning him into a "hard-working, honest" person.
"'Scarecrows' is the perfect picture of that small-town life," Bryan says. "That song had me at the lyric 'Sit there and sip on whatever anybody's older brother could get'. "
He performed some of those new songs and old favorites at Friday's Irving Plaza listening party, which was live-streamed online by Yahoo and Live Nation — and punctured with cries of "Luuuuuuuuuuke, Luuuuuuuuuuke" from the sold-out crowd, which sounded almost like sports fans booing during a game.
Bryan ripped through the album's lead single "Kick the Dust Up," incited a sing-along for "Play It Again" and sat at a wooden piano for "Strip It Down," under disco ball lights that gave the venue a middle-school-dance vibe.
"All right, who was making out during that one?" Bryan quipped before giving a shout-out to military servicemen and firefights that sparked a chant of "USA, USA, USA!"
That lead into a neck vein-popping "Kill the Lights" and a hip-shaking "Move," which Bryan described as his next "Country Girl (Shake It For Me)," a crowdpleaser from 2011.
Bryan flipped his ball cap forward for "I See You," feverishly wiggling his fingers, with his wedding ring flashing amid the spotlights.
"Drink a Beer," dedicated to loved ones lost, included a toast and swigs from red Solo cups. "Let's think about them," he said, as fans waved green glow sticks between drinks.
His corn-whiskey anthem "Rain Is a Good Thing" acted like dance potion, with couples getting touchy whenever Bryan belted "whiskey makes my baby feel a little frisky."
The cuddling continued for "I Don't Want This Night to End," which somehow transitioned into a cover of Taio Cruz's "Dynamite" and a bass-heavy "That's My Kind of Night."
A sweaty Bryan ended the night with a rendition of "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)" that featured a near twerk and doses of come-hither hip action.
"It's wonderful time in country music," he told Mashable the next day. "It's always obviously evolving, and there's always room for your contemporary artists, your artists who are more classic. I always want to go down the middle and then step out there to try new stuff ... It's almost a rollercoaster ride on each album."
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