The past year has been a transformative one for Clayton Smalley.
In that span, he’s gone from total unknown to multiple adds on Spotify and Apple curated playlists, nearly 200,000 streams on Spotify and a reliable bonafide hitmaker.
As he prepares the release of his sophomore EP, we caught up with Clayton to talk about what the past year has meant to him, what he’s learned over that time, what listeners can expect from his new release and more!
Pro Country: It’s been one year since you released your debut single “Ride or Die.” What has the past year been like for you in your career? What is the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself or the industry along the way?
Clayton Smalley: The past year has been a real eye opener about how the music industry works! One of the highlights was attending CRS (Country Radio Seminar) in Nashville back in February. I got to meet a lot of radio programmers from around the country and also attend events for Universal Music Group and Curb Records. There are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes that I never knew about. Luckily, the guys I’m working with are there to answer any questions I have. Last fall, I played quite a few live shows, which was a great opportunity to showcase my original music, but obviously this year has been a different story. During the pandemic, like most artists, I’ve been doing a lot of live streams, which has kept me connected with fans. The biggest thing I’ve learned over the last year is how much I love to play music for people! Not being able to play live shows has been an adjustment, and I’m looking forward to things getting back to normal. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone!
PC: With “Ride or Die,” you made the transition from doing cover to releasing original music. Can you talk about making that transition and how much you have enjoyed the creative process?
CS: It has been amazing! There’s nothing like playing a show or livestream and people asking you to play your original music instead of covers, or looking out and seeing someone singing along to a song that you’ve created! I’ve even had a few people cover my songs and tag me, which is a little surreal.
PC: Your debut EP Whiskey Sunrise was released in November, has earned nearly 70,000 combined streams and has played a big part in earning you over 12,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. Is there a level of validation that you feel with the success you had with that EP?
CS: Absolutely! I am so humbled by how many people have streamed, saved and bought that EP. My friends, family and fans really came through for me, pre-ordering the EP and I believe that’s what helped get the attention of the editorial team at Apple Music. I still can’t believe Whiskey Sunrise was featured alongside Miranda Lambert’s Wildcard album on the iTunes Country main page. This was my maiden voyage, and I absolutely did not expect it to do as well as it has. When you think about the amount of music being released, it’s pretty daunting to think that you’re going to get anyone’s attention. It’s just pretty awesome to see the Spotify and Apple Music heat map that shows where people are streaming from around the world. I love that, and I’m so happy that something I’ve helped create has had an impact on someone somewhere.
PC: Your 2020 single “Happy Place” landed on major Spotify playlists and featured an interesting social media campaign, spearheaded by yourself and your collaborator John Griffin. What have you learned about the marketing side of releasing music that will help you as you prepare to release new music in the future?
CS: That was so cool to be on the “New Music Nashville” playlist on Spotify. It was my first Spotify editorial feature. I need to give a shoutout to Travis James who curates “New Country 2020,” and Nate Decker who curates “Country Words” playlist. Both those guys have been really supportive, adding many of my songs to their playlists!
As far as the marketing side, I’ve learned that it’s a lot of work! John is so amazing at this and has taught me a ton along the way. For “Happy Place,” because the song is about fishing, we decided to do a promotion on National Go Fishing Day, which was June 18th. On that day, we asked folks to share a lyric from the song, tag me and use #HappyPlace. The idea was that seeing everyone posting the lyric would make people curious about checking out the song. I had a lot of notifications that day, and I still get folks tagging me in their fishing photos.
PC: You released your newest single, “Watch Me Fall,” written by your collaborator John Griffin, in the middle of July. Why did you decide to record the song? What does it mean to you?
CS: “Watch Me Fall” is one of the favorite things I’ve recorded and released. I heard this song for the first time last summer at Jammin’ In Jammies (a writers’ round put on by Megan Barker) at The Nashville Palace. John played it for the first time there, and you could have heard a pin drop! I knew from that moment I wanted to cut that song, and John was gracious enough to let me do it. I LOVE that song!
PC: Overall, what has the overwhelming response to the music you have released in the past year meant to you both personally and professionally?
CS: It’s been a dream come true! I’ve always wanted to pursue music, and now that I am, I’m a happier person. There is literally nothing more rewarding than putting something out there that you’ve created and having people message you or come up to and tell you they love it or it moved them in some way! It’s just crazy and amazing!
PC: You’ve been teasing new music on your social media recently. What information can you give about the music you’ve been working on? What can listeners expect to hear?
CS: The newest thing we released is a country cover of the very popular pop song “Slow Hand” by Niall Horan. John Griffin and I were in a conference call with my awesome producer David Flint and were talking about our next steps. The original idea was to take one of the biggest current “pop country” songs and transform it to a traditional country song, which I still want to do eventually, but Dave’s idea was “let’s take a true pop song and make it country,” which I was definitely down to try. I love the way this track turned out!
In addition to that, earlier this month, I spent a week in Nashville recording my next project. It’s going to be another EP that I cannot wait for everyone to hear! The EP features songs I wrote with John and songwriter Steve Dean, who has an amazing resume including six number 1 hits in country music. It has been a blast writing and getting to know Steve! He’s a great guy and awesome writer.
We also wrote a couple of songs with another amazing singer/songwriter that people should know about, Timothy Baker. John, Timothy and I took an idea of John’s and wrote a line dance song called “These Boots Were Made To Dance,” which I also cut my half of vocals on while in Nashville. We’ll be releasing a duet of that eventually as well.
PC: Is there anything you’d like to add?
CS: Thank you, Justin, for giving me the opportunity to talk about my music and introducing me to your followers. I really appreciate what you’re doing for independent artists like myself.