In the years since his 2018 multi-format smash “Heaven,” breakout country star Kane Brown has filled his dance card with a long line of duet partners across multiple genres, including Swae Lee & Khalid (current single “Be Like That”), John Legend (“Last Time I Say Sorry”), Lauren Alaina (2017’s “What Ifs,” his first country chart-topper) and Thomas Rhett & Ava Max (“SCOOB!” soundtrack single “On Me”).
And he considers his year-plus partnership with Dr Pepper to be among those duets, too. “I feel like it’s almost like a musical collaboration with another artist, in a way,” says Brown, who first began appearing in retail, digital and social ads for the soft drink in 2019. His most recent campaign video for the brand, “The Perfect Duet,” features an interview with Brown and his wife Katelyn Jae and debuted in August to coincide with the launch of Dr Pepper & Cream Soda. “It’s great to connect and bring what you do to the table to take it to another level, and bring the experience to more fans and people in addition to your own fanbase.”
For his latest collab with the brand, Brown will play his first concert at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium in an exclusive live-streamed performance sponsored by Dr Pepper & Cream Soda on October 8 at 7:30 p.m. CT. Fans can register to virtually attend the concert at Dr Pepper Music’s website, and vote for the songs they’d like to hear Brown play at Set the Set, a concert-request app. The program is overseen by music-marketing firm Music Audience Exchange, which helped broker Brown’s partnership with Dr Pepper and will produce the live-stream event.
Ryan Stevens, senior director of brand marketing at Dr Pepper, says the brand’s ongoing relationship with Brown is a natural extension of its longtime use of music in its commercials — including spokescharacter Lil Sweet (played by “American Idol” alum Justin Guarini) who appeared in a summer spot duetting with the “Doctor” (Will Green) for a Cream Soda-themed parody of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian.” “We felt like this theme of delicious duets came about in a natural and organic way with Kane and his wife, along with the fact that he does a lot of collaborations with different artists,” Steven says. “It seemed like a really good fit.”
Songs for Screens caught up with Brown a few days after his performance at the first virtual Academy of Country Music Awards to learn more about his approach to his musical duets, prepping for his Ryman return and making new music during quarantine.
Songs for Screens: One of the themes to your partnership with Dr Pepper has been around the concept of “duets.” You’ve released many duets this year alone, with Khalid, John Legend, Swae Lee, Nelly and others. Do you have a favorite, and why?
Brown: I feel like there is something great that comes from each collaboration. I don’t know if I can say I have a favorite. Every artist has something to offer and learn from other artists, and each collab has a different dynamic. With John, we wrote “Last Time I Say Sorry” after working together and meeting at “The Voice,” which was amazing. With Khalid, this was the second song we’ve gotten to do together; the first was a remix of his song “Saturday Nights,” and now it’s great to get him on one of my songs. With Marshmello, I had written “One Thing Right” a while before the AMAs a few years back, and afterward we connected and he did his thing on the song. I feel like it can take a song to another level and as a fan, it’s always great to see artists you love work together. It’s also great to be able to introduce yourself to a new fanbase.
What do you miss about playing live shows?
I miss seeing my fans and being able to play for them. It’s the best feeling in the world having your fans sing your song back to you. It will be great to get out and be able to play some new songs that I haven’t gotten to play in a show yet. This allows me to do that and hopefully by the time we’re able to get back out to fully touring they know all the words to the new ones, too.
How excited are you about the upcoming performance at the Ryman in Nashville, and what can we expect?
I think you can expect to hear some of the new songs, some of the ones we started out with together, and some surprises. I don’t know if everyone who will see this has been to the Ryman before, but performing there has a whole other level of history. Just the feeling of getting to play there and think back to the legends who have walked onto that stage adds a whole other element.
How are you adjusting to life in quarantine, especially as a newlywed and new parent?
Getting to spend time with [my daughter] Kingsley and be able to see all these milestones, like her get her first tooth, and start to stand up, has been a great thing. My wife and I always appreciate when we get to be home with our family, and we are grateful for that. It has definitely been an adjustment for recording music or doing Zoom sessions with the band, but we’ve been writing a lot. And we’ve been working on ways to keep sane, and been able to change up the health and workout routine a bit because after the first few months to make sure we are staying as healthy as possible.
Have you been able to stay creative — are you making more new music?
We were able to release “Mixtape Vol. 1” and “Be Like That” during quarantine, which was great to be able to get to the fans. We are working on new stuff and new collaborations and really new ways and ideas to bring performances and connect with fans as much as possible. They mean the world to me so finding new ways to be able to keep up with them; like this show with Dr Pepper, has been great. Creatively, I’ve also been working with a band called Restless Road, and it’s been great to be able to be more of a musical mentor role and support all they are doing. They were on tour with us before we had to come off the road, and they killed it out there.
Songs for Screens is a Variety column sponsored by Anzie Blue, a wellness company and café based in Nashville. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column highlights noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV. Follow Hampp on Twitter at @ahampp.