With Email Newsletter, He Serves Country Music Fans From a Political Perch


But Mr. Bardella, 33, now spends most of his time trying to build the business of The Morning Hangover, hoping his insight into Republican politics and voters will translate into an understanding of the country-music industry and its fans.

Photo

Mr. Bardella in his office in Washington.

Credit
Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

“Nashville and Washington have a lot in common,” he said from behind his desk in Washington, citing the backstage handlers and elements of performance. “They are both one-company towns.”

He said he wanted to bring Americans together — the music fans, at least — and if marketers follow, so much the better. “When you look at what’s going on right now in our country, all of the turmoil, conflict and negativity,” he said, “I think now more than ever there is a need to build platforms that can unite large groups of people from all walks of life and any geography, around something positive.”

Though he did not comment for the Times Magazine article, its framed cover hangs on one of his office walls, next to an illustration that accompanied the article, depicting Mr. Bardella juggling phones, BlackBerries and newspapers. Next to it was another frame containing mementos of an Eric Church concert at Madison Square Garden.

Mr. Bardella saw his first big country concert in summer 2011, when Mr. Church performed on a bill with Jason Aldean. “I’ll never forget that show as long as I live,” he said. “They just killed it.”

In summer 2015, he and his girlfriend (now wife), Miroslava Korenha, traveled to Nashville to see the Rolling Stones perform. Mr. Bardella posted a video of Brad Paisley, the opening act, on YouTube. The clip ended up with 20,000 views, and Mr. Bardella had a new business idea.

He poked around LinkedIn to find the names of the big players at most of the major country music labels, management companies and talent agencies in Nashville, adding the big shots to The Hangover’s email subscription list.

“If your boss is reading something, you probably will too,” Mr. Bardella reasoned.

Greg Oswald was one of Mr. Bardella’s targets. He and his partner, Rob Beckham, run William Morris Endeavor’s country music business out of the talent agency’s Nashville office, dealing with the careers of dozens of country artists including Mr. Aldean, Garth Brooks and Chris Stapleton. Mr. Oswald is a busy guy (“so damn busy,” as he puts it in his Southern drawl).

This is why he was surprised last winter when nearly every day he found himself opening The Morning Hangover, which he had never signed up for, written by a guy he had never heard of. “It’s quick snippets of news about clients and the Nashville landscape, current stuff that happened last night, television appearances and people’s birthday’s,” Mr. Oswald said. “It’s quick and easy and they’re making my life a little easier.” William Morris Endeavor has since become an occasional paid sponsor of the newsletter.

Because Mr. Bardella is seeing shows in the Washington area where The Morning Hangover and the two local country radio stations (WMZQ and WPOC) are the only interested media outlets, he gets special treatment. “I get an hour with them, I get to go on the bus with them, they play me new stuff, I get a level of access and quality of time I would never get in Nashville,” he said.

And country singers and managers who read his newsletter can trust that Mr. Bardella is going to reward that trust with friendly coverage. “His spin on things, it’s such a useful and beneficial thing because he doesn’t do the divorce rumors, he doesn’t do the slapping someone story,” said Mr. Paisley, the country star. He texts Mr. Bardella when he sees him on TV and invites him to hang out at his house in Nashville to talk politics. “Kurt captures the heart of what Nashville is about better than so many people who live and work there.”

By pulling together country celebrity news for dawn delivery, Mr. Bardella is also helping morning radio programmers and D.J.s to fill their airtime. “Kurt is giving country radio what it needs,” Mr. Paisley added, “and radio is the lifeblood of country music.”

Mr. Bardella has kept his political life mostly separate from his country music one so far. But he and his business partners — Scott Tranter and Brian Stobie, who headed the data operation for the presidential campaign of Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida — know they are learning more about a voting demographic by noting which song, which singer, which Opry appearance compels a subscriber to click a link. (Next, they are considering newsletters to cover other leisure interests that are popular among those who lean Republican, like CrossFit and Nascar.)

It makes perfect sense to Mr. Bardella, who voted for Hillary Clinton, that President Trump connected so ably with this demographic, speaking to them in their language.

“You can see why ‘Make America Great Again’ resonated,” he said. “It’s basically a lyric in a country song.”

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