Building the Community: Josh Baer & TheBenjiChord - Country Central
We are back with the Building the Community Series and I couldn't be more excited to share with y'all the brains behind the operation of the new country music outlet Country Central. For those who haven't heard of Country Central, the boys describe it as "a curated, community driven, one stop shop for all things country music such as fan input, reviews, artist topics, playlists and statistics". I will be the first to say how impressed I am with the job Josh and Benji and the rest of their team do with this page and how insightful it is for listeners and fans of the genre. Personally, I am always reading up on their cool statistics and the reviews they provide. There is a lot I take away from what they have going on. I sat down with Josh and Ben and talked about how Country Central got started, their plans for the future and how being a community driven space is very important to them.
First Picture: TheBenjiChord, Second Picture: Josh Baer
Get To Know Josh
"I actually, I just recently got into Country Music. The genre that I'm the biggest fan of is Hip-Hop and R & B. I used to work for an Instagram page that focused specifically on Rap and Hip-Hop. I did that for quite a few months before I started with Country Central. What really changed my focus to this page was seeing that the niche of graphics-based information was pretty wide open for the genre. I didn't know too much about the genre so I took it as a personal challenge, portfolio piece and way to learn more about country music up until 2020. Early 2020, the only Country act I was listening to really was Tyler Childers and his album "Purgatory". I knew Luke Combs’ name, but didn't even know who Morgan Wallen was until August 2020 when my girlfriend at the time played one of his songs and it caught my attention. I am completely new to the genre. I'm based in Miami and nobody “Country” comes down here. I’ve gone from not knowing who Morgan Wallen was two years ago to now, where I can say where most every artist is playing right now in the country. It's been a crazy learning experience for me and I'm learning the genre. I have to defer to Ben, because Ben is my historical archive. I will tell Ben "oh look, someone's releasing a song". Ben will say "well, actually that's a cover and that was covered before, way back in the 90's, so be sure you include it's a cover."
Get To Know Ben
"To add on to Josh, that's the beauty with the lane we have. The cool thing about Country Music is that it’s bringing in artists from all different genres. Whether you like it or not, it's a good thing. The collaborations bring different perspectives and people with a variety of backgrounds. With technology and the pandemic, it's cool to see that Josh is a microcosm of that.
Quick background on me, I'm from Texas and based in Houston. In particular, as far as Country Music is concerned, I've been listening to it in many ways, shapes and forms since I was a kid. I didn't know what Country Music was, but the first song I heard was Lonestar's "Amazed" on the radio. At the time, they were doing the cross format push and it was like a Pop hit. My mom always listened to an Adult Contemporary station and would never let me change it. I'd hear that song every other day and it was a big ballad. I loved the songwriting and the melodies and that was before I knew what the Country genre was, in particular. As I got older I would date and break up with multiple girls who loved Country Music. I was able to learn about all the great songs. Tim McGraw is a big part of the reason why, along with Kenny Chesney, George Strait, Faith Hill and Shania Twain; just all the heavy hitters. For me, those artists were what Country Music was all about. I took a break from Country Music for a while. I'm a big Rock and Roll guy, really love guitar and have played it since I was a kid. I went to UT in Austin for college and got into radio. I worked on promotions for a radio station in Houston. I was meeting artists on the ground floor and doing a lot of the work of putting together a show. That opportunity got me back into the genre. At that time, Florida Georgia Line was blowing up. “Bro Country” as a whole was blowing up, like it or not. For me, I liked the heavy bass, heavy guitar mixed in with a Country voice and Pop melodies. This was when I fully reconnected with Country music. I’ve wanted to express my opinions about it ever since then. I saw there was a wide open lane in the genre. People always joke that Country is 5 years behind other genres, but that's a good and exciting time for us creators."
Q & A With Josh and Ben
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Country Central and how did this journey start for you?
Josh: "Like I said, I used to work for this Rap page and this dude was essentially just a talking head - similar to what Grady Smith is in Country Music, the way he presents his opinions and views about songs and other information. He didn't have a huge YouTube following, but a big Instagram following, so I worked for him. I had this drive where I wanted to make more than one graphic a day in order to update people. He didn't want to do that. Shortly, my contract ended and it didn’t get renewed. I was traveling with my girlfriend in North Carolina around the holidays. I was bored, unemployed and wondered, why not start something with Country Music? Why not learn a new genre and everything? Literally, in some random cabin in the woods, I hopped on my computer and looked through Instagram to see what handles were available. The name Country Central came up first and was available. It had good alliteration and I was surprised nobody had taken it. Basically I just started with that and the most bare bones logo I've ever created. Everyday I would challenge myself to learn something and post about what I had learned. My god, would I be bullied by people now if they saw the original stuff. It was the most basic information and graphics I didn't even like. It was just me trying to keep myself going during unemployment. I would spend close to 6 hours just to make a few graphics that I’d post to 27 followers. That's where it all started. The first post that really blew up was one where I posted a fun fact about the song "Famous Friends"; how the song includes the different counties in Nashville. From there it turned into this massive following."
Ben: "The only thing to add is the reason Josh was able to find this success. With all these pages and other people that are passionate about Country Music, is there such a thing as a wide open lane? I work in IT and help drive business to sell automation software that makes your life easier. That's what Josh has done for fans with a lot of his content. The album breakdowns, statistics, all the things fans are curious about are there for the people who wanted the information but just didn't know where to look. Looking is a pain. Josh has consolidated all of these cool facts and important things about the genre into a one stop shop for Country Music. It looks incredible. Fans can see the page and remember it. Nobody else is really doing that. It is a lot of work and Josh has put the time in."
Q: Most memorable moment so far with Country Central?
Ben: "I was in the Jersey/New York City area a couple months back, during the summer. Josh and I had already connected and I’d done a few reviews and content pieces with him at this point. I did a HARDY review on his album "A Rock". Flying from Texas to New York, I brought my cowboy hat, of course. I wanted to stand out and have a gimmick. We were at this one interesting casino/bar and there was a Country style bar. I was drawing some attention and had some nice girls coming up to me and got talking. This one girl was asking me where I was from and stuff like that. I brought up the fact that me and Josh run this blog and the girl happened to follow us already. I asked her who her favorite Country artist was and she said HARDY which was super random. I didn't even ask for her number, I just showed her our blog and she was familiar with it. That was such a cool moment for me."
Josh: "I would say the collaboration, seeing how far we have reached as a group and how we are able to spread the genre a bit. I think one of the coolest moments is interacting with people. It ties back to what I think stands out with our page. We don't just exist as a press and release schilling company, we aren't just formatting a new release and telling people to check it out. I really like the interaction with the followers. That's why I really like "Hot Take Tuesday's". It allows us to engage and have discussions and talk to followers as people. A really cool moment occurs when I post something and every once in a while I will see who's sharing it. I saw a verified account reshare the post and it was Blake Ferguson, the long snapper for the Miami Dolphins, my hometown team."
Q:What is your vision for Country Central?
Josh: "I think the end game is never to have an end game. I want Country Central to be a place that's community driven. I really want to establish it to the point where it's completely interactive. We are always adapting and changing to fit new apps and ideas to help people stay engaged."
Ben: "It's a cultural thing. I want Country Central to be a culture. I think Nashville is a melting pot in a lot of ways. You can see it, with artists being from all different places. It's a global world. During the pandemic, we all learned it and how we can connect with each other. We have the solution to many of our problems - it's our phone. I can contact someone on the other side of the country or in Norway or Sweden about this stuff. We can all learn from each other. Even when I see an opinion or something I don't agree with, I feel like I'm better because of it. I engage with people that don't agree with my top 10 songs for an artist and that's okay. Country Central is a culture of every walk of life regardless of what religion you are or politics, we can all come together to talk about Country Music. My big goal is expanding out, whether online or in person, and meeting followers where they are. I want to make events surrounding Country Central."
Q: What advice do you have for anyone who's trying to become an entrepreneur and start their own podcast, business, service etc.?
Ben: "Have a Josh. And by that I mean you need to be organized. Lack of organization is the reason people get burned out so quickly. Many people are talented, have so many ideas and are creative, but if you aren't 10 steps ahead - even if it's setting up a vacation, things will always go wrong. Josh is one of the most organized people I've ever met. No matter what project you are starting, hold yourself accountable and be organized. Take 30 minutes or an hour from being on your phone and put that time toward something you're passionate about."
Josh: "I'd say if you are working with a computer, file management is crucial. If you aren't working with a computer, it’s your personal organization. That is the bread and butter of why we are able to run like this. It's file management, planning then templates, then content and then aesthetics in that order. I've created a spider web for information, posting calendars and I plan months in advance, and have indexes. We have drives where you submit a review, then someone else picks it up and edits it, then it gets sent to me to post. It's a series of approval. Plan for everything, every kind of contingency and emergency and this is general for life. Every day dedicate some time to what you're focusing on and give yourself time to focus on things that make you better outside of the scope of what you're doing."
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