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Watson: Music is family business

Aaron Watson runs his music career like he would run a local, family business.

"For me, it's not about No. 1 hits or No. 1 albums, it's about paying off my wife's credit card every month, taking care of my kids  just being a husband and a dad," Watson said. "For me, music is not really an industry, it's a family business."

His independence has allowed him to stay true to himself, using hard work and hustle to get his career to where it is today. It led to his 12th album, "The Underdog," which was a landmark because it made him the first independent male artist to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. In its first week, his self-released and independently distributed and promoted album sold more than 26,000 units.

"I was sitting at the kitchen table, I had just taken the kids to school, my wife was cookin' breakfast and it was a neat moment," Watson recalled. "We got the phone call saying the album went No. 1 and we jumped up and down like little kids, dancing around the kitchen. It only took me 12 albums to achieve that, so it was obviously a big deal. It's a memory I'll never forget."

That success made his follow-up album, "Vaquero," released Feb. 24, not only an anticipated album by the country music industry, but also Watson's fans. He believes his fans are like his business' clientele, and he said if "you don't have customers, then you can't sell a product." Which is why he's been working on "Vaquero" since "The Underdog" dropped. He would wake up with the sunrise to work on music and would stay up past sunset after every show to meet his fans face to face. And fans attending the Fort Sill Summer Concert on July 4 can expect nothing less of Watson when he performs with Maren Morris and Chris Bullard.

"I truly believe the fans deserve a great product," Watson said. "The rest of the world should be out there working hard, so why shouldn't I? And that's why I get up early and I write songs. I stay up late after the shows and we greet fans and shake hands and give hugs and thank them for coming out. Hard work and hustle is what gave us a No. 1, history-making, top-charting record. That's what got us there. People ask, 'How did you chart an album number one independently?' Well, first of all, we give the glory to God, because I do think it was a God thing, but I also think that God expects me to work hard. Eighteen years hanging out after shows and hanging out with my fans, we've got a very, very, very supportive fan base."

Another part of having a successful business is building a diverse and supportive team. When it came to hiring a producer for "Vaquero," Watson chose pop producer Marshall Altman, who has produced artists like Natasha Bedingfield, Matt Nathanson and Kate Voegele.

"I'm a country boy and I don't need a country producer," Watson said. "I can make a country album. I don't need some country bumpkin producer; I'm a country bumpkin producer. I need someone who's going to push me melodically and musically. I told Marshall, 'We're not making a pop record. There's no skinny jeans on my record. There's no drum loops on my record. There's not going to be any rapping on my record.' I said, 'We're going to make a cowboy record.' And a good producer can make music of any genre. Good music is good music. A genre is really defined by different flavors of instruments, in my opinion."

And for Watson's sound, that instrument is the fiddle, which is featured on every song in "Vaquero," along with about every track he has put out.

"When I hear a so-called country band and they don't have a fiddle, I'm kind of like, 'Are you really a country band if you don't have a fiddle?,'" Watson said. "That might be my narrow-minded, West Texas point of view. But if you're going to play in Texas, you've gotta have a fiddle in the band."

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