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Crooner turns industry knowledge into streaming country startup

Jeff Best, Founder of Countrymusicradio.com. Photos Ben French
Jeff Best, Founder of Countrymusicradio.com. Photos Ben French
"I started Country Music Radio because as a musician and an artist, you cannot get airplay the way that you would want to get airplay," says Jeff Best during a phone interview from a popular honky-tonk bar in Nashville. "What I'm trying to do as owner of Country Music Radio is say, 'hey guys, here's every country station streaming live on the internet that you can listen to for free.' We're a portal for country music on the Internet. For independent country artists, we also have our own radio station."

is an online music portal linking over 1400 country stations nationwide and broadcasting independent country artists from around North America. Based in Youngstown, the site spawned the leading application for iPhone and android country downloads. Best's server tracking indicates the site draws an average of 150,000 listeners daily. Country Music Radio listeners stay logged on for an average of 5 minutes and 32 seconds. Not a bad start considering Best claimed to have learned everything he knows about technology through his start-up.

"Country Music Radio was our first foray into this cultural space, and it's certainly one of the reasons (Best) was so attractive," says James Cossler, CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator, where Best has his offices. While the YBI focuses on e-commerce and software start-up businesses, Cossler was impressed by Best's "intimate knowledge" of the country music industry, from performance and production, to marketing and distribution.

"Anytime you've got deep institutional knowledge paired with unbridled passion, you're going to have a successful company," Cossler says of the charismatic Best. "An e-commerce like Country Music Radio fits our sweet spot."

Country Music radio is the newest of the nine lockable companies located on the Youngstown Business Incubator campus. An additional 24 portfolio companies use lab space on the grounds. The collegial environment helps Best navigate technological concepts which he found intimidating when he began developing Country Music Radio.

"The incubator gives you office space, they pay for your electric, your copiers, basically all sponsored by the state of Ohio and Youngstown. They foster all their businesses. It helps -- my building is all software and tech developers."

Best knows firsthand the difficulty of securing the record industry funding necessary to gain airplay in the P1 radio market (such as local ClearChannel stations). He learned, too, the limitations of distributing music strictly through local mom-and-pop broadcasters.

"To get heard on a P1 station like K105 in Youngstown would cost you hundreds of thousands in record promotions. And even when you pay a hundred grand, there's no guarantee they're going to play you," Best explains. "Most independent artists don't have major record distribution, and most mom-and-pop stations don't stream on the Internet. If you're playing on a small station in the middle of nowhere, that's great for your ego, but what else does it do for you?"

By functioning as a nationwide aggregate of mom-and-pop stations, Best hopes to boost second-tier radio play artists to a global platform. Like Pandora and IHeartRadio, CountryMusicRadio.com offers listeners a variety of specifically country music. Best's station-aggregate method sets the website apart from similar popular music sites.

"It gets to the corners that a wider-sweeping site like Pandora doesn't. I want fans to be able to listen to sites from all across the country," says Best. "This is about people, this is about money. Mr. College Kid can't afford to buy all his favorite bands, he just wants to listen to his country station back home."

At this point in Country Music Radio's development, Best's focus is on maintaining the momentum growing between listeners and new music by giving country fans ever more reasons to visit his website. Best's line of thinking presents a new opportunity for independent or smaller-label country musicians to reach listeners further away than second-tier radio distribution could without the capital investment of a major label.

CountryMusicRadio.com's live stream promises to provide listeners access to "the best country music you've never heard;" Best's model for achieving that is to build a stronger organic network between artists and listeners.

"Did you know country music sells three times more than any other genre? County music fans will buy and utilize downloads. Not as much as you'd think," says Best. "Here's a scary number from SoundScan: 85 percent of music that's sold in country music is CD format. Once they get that CD, they'll put it on their iPods and computers. But they just want that George Strait CD with his picture on it."

At this point in the site's development, Best's focus is on maintaining the growing momentum between listeners and artists by giving country fans more reasons to find and purchase their music online. Best's latest innovation is to stream live shows from the nation's hottest honky-tonks. Country Music Radio's first live feeds are from Toostie's, a bar known in country music circles for being the hub of the genre.

"I'm booked right now to add 17 more clubs in Nashville, Oklahoma, Texas," says Best. "Just like everything else I've done, I'm using technology that's already there."
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