There’s a rhythm to the output for most popular musicians today. 

They’ll put out a new record every couple of years. They’ll build anticipation for that release by rolling out a single or two. Then, they’ll tour all across the country introducing fans to that new music.  

Album sales are nice, and when new songs get played on terrestrial radio, they build their fan base. Most make a living, though, from gate receipts. And streaming revenue is an ancillary concern. 

Eventually, they’ll start working on new material, and once they’ve written and recorded enough stuff, the cycle starts over again. 

But Zach Bryan, as the kids say, is built different. 

Technically, he’s been a full-time musician for less than a year. Until last fall, he was an active duty member of the US Navy. 

Technically, his debut studio album is only a few weeks old. Warner Music released American Heartbreak in May. 

But nothing about his career follows the typical pattern.  

Zach Bryan has been building an incredible, dedicated fan base for years by writing songs at a breakneck pace and releasing new material on YouTube and streaming services on an almost-continual basis. Today, his full catalog includes dozens of songs that have been streamed millions and millions of times.  

And even though his debut, 34-song album came out just a few weeks before, Bryan released another 9-song EP called Summertime Blues this month. 

Bryan is achieving wild success by conventional standards. American Heartbreak debuted at #5 on the Billboard 200 and #1 on the Top Country Albums chart. The breakout single from that record is starting to get airplay on radio stations all across the country. 

But online, the story goes beyond even that. In the first week the album was released, the songs on American Heartbreak were streamed 82 million times. The album set one-day records for streams of country music on both Apple Music and Spotify in 2022. 

And it’s impossible to separate the sheer volume of Bryan’s output from his digital success. The algorithms that drive listener discovery on the streaming service are grounded in proximity — songs played in sequence or even near one another on a playlist get more weight. Lengthy albums generate more data and more opportunities for that algorithmic kismet. Thus, more musical output is often an optimization hack — and Bryan is embracing a digital strategy for growth. 

While that might not be a direct analog for the work of campaigners, there are lessons here to recognize:

First, Zach Bryan understands intuitively how to meet his audience where they are. While getting featured on terrestrial radio is nice, Bryan’s fan base is young, and they live on digital streaming services. When he puts out a new song on YouTube, the crowd is singing the lyrics along with him at concerts days later. When a fan plays one of his songs on TikTok or Instagram, Bryan often shares the video on his own accounts, creating a feedback loop that deepens the connection between his music and his people. 

Second, Bryan understands himself and his brand. Because he broke through with music he recorded on his own in Airbnbs while on leave from the Navy, he continues to release songs with lo-fi production that echo back to his independent days right alongside tracks with the backing of a full band. His social media feeds often reflect that same stripped down quality. He’s just as likely to feature a candid picture from an iPhone as he is to post professional concert photography. His most recent post is a shaky video shot from backstage at a concert in Cleveland with thousands of fans singing along to one of his hits. There’s nothing slick about it, and it resonates all the more for exactly that reason. 

Third, and perhaps most importantly, Bryan understands the moment. He’s in a rush to release new music because he has something to say. This period of inspiration — where the words come easy — may not last forever. So no matter the old marketing assumptions, despite the conventional business strategies, he’s putting his work out into the world. And it’s paying off. 

It’s hard not to think that understanding our audience, ourselves, and our moment is the first step to success for all of us.