NASHVILLE, Tennessee- After hearing her on Sirius XM the Highway and seeing her fun and vibrant social media posts, I was instantly drawn to Ashley Cooke. I was excited to feature her in my column.
After winning the coveted Country Showcase at Belmont College, the communications major was just starting her new career path when the pandemic hit and forced the recent college graduate to temporarily move back home.
Cooke informed me that no one in her family was musical and she was exposed to very little country music at all.
“I didn’t grow up in music at all. My parents were not musical,” she said.
Yet artists like Rascal Flatts, Florida-Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, and especially Taylor Swift impacted the young girl, and she began writing poetry and songs at age 11 and as a teen, even spent some time in Nashville.
“I fell in love with not only the music and the lyrics of country music, but also the culture,” Cooke said.
She moved a lot as a child. Her dad was in corporate and growing up, and both she and her sister, got into the entertainment world quite young.
She explained, “My sister and I both got into entertainment really young, and I started writing songs and performing when I was 11. My sister got into acting. We moved around a lot. I lived in 19 different homes before I was 18. When people ask where I’m from, I just say Florida, because it’s where I was before Nashville.”
While living in Florida she said, “All my friends wore camo and drove Jeeps, went mudding and the soundtrack to all of that was county music.”
Since she had come to Nashville often as a child, she was familiar with the town. Belmont was the only college she applied to once she graduated high school.
“Belmont always felt like home,” Cooke said.
And while she majored in communications and marketing, part of her always held onto the music aspect of it all as she wanted to be close to it. “It was the best of both worlds. Everyone at Belmont has a thread of music in them,” she said.
During her senior year at Belmont, Cooke entered a contest called “Country Showcase,” on a whim. This contest was/is a huge deal for emerging artists. People like Brad Paisley, Florida Georgia Line, and Chris Young have won this competition.
And while not pursuing music per se, she knew that anyone could enter the competition, not just music majors or songwriters. When she won, everyone was like, “Where the hell have you been?”
Once she got her feet wet in the music world again, she decided to go of it. Cooke graduated in 2019 as a “baby artist” from Belmont. At that point, she hadn’t done music in quite a while.
“I was pumped to play the shows, do the networking thing and all the stuff and then the pandemic happened,” Cooke said.
As a marketing major, she could no longer do the regular things she had learned about to promote her career. She spent her quarantine in Florida, where her parents lived at that time.
Cooke, like many others, turned to social media to get in touch with her fans. She discovered TikTok, which she had on her phone but had never posted.
She said, “The first video that I posted on TikTok was called the ‘lay me down challenge.’ I was one of those weird anomalies where my very first video went viral. It got over 2.7 million views, seemingly overnight.”
And while it is not required that artists promote themselves on TikTok, as Cooke said, “Why wouldn’t you use the tool? You don’t have to be an influencer. If you have art to share, the blood, sweat, and tears of the music industry is getting people to listen to what you have to say. You are now able to reach (fans) via a social media platform that constantly pumps out content to new people.”
And before Instagram and TikTok existed, Cooke and her sister would make iMovies on their phones. They both have worked with marketing, branding, and movies for much of their lives.
After her newfound fame on TikTok, the then-independent artist released a song that would eventually go to number one on SiriusXM’s The Highway’s Hot 30 Countdown, “Never Til Now.” It was an album cut off her EP, Already Drank That Beer. She posted the song on TikTok and before she knew it, 40,000 people had used the video to make a duet with the cut.
“It just organically blew up with no push from anywhere. Because of that, so many people found this song and related to it. Country music is all about storytelling and many are finding their voice in this song,” the singer said.
After that happened, Cooke and her producer, Jimmy Robbins decided to turn the song into a duet. The song, which vocally matched Brett Young’s range, went even more viral than before when he joined her. Young was honored to be part of such a great song.
By this time, Cooke was getting noticed and was courted by several record labels. In February of 2022, she settled on Big Loud Records alongside many contemporary country artists like Morgan Wallen, Hardy, and Lauren Alaina to name a few.
“Big Loud respected my vision and my skill with social media. They were just pouring gasoline on the fire that I already started. They were like ‘How can we help?’” she said.
Cooke recently released two new singles with her Big Loud label that showcase her signature style, which embraces the energy of pop music but includes the depth of Country. Her “bold vocals and authentic songwriting” (CMT) are on full display in the biopic tunes, “running back” and “dirt on ’em.”
When they wrote the song, “running back” it was about a guy she always found herself comparing to others. She would gladly go running back to him if fate allowed it.
“We wrote the chorus with that in mind, not really thinking about the football element. When we wrote the verses we thought it would be cool to do a metaphor about a high school football player. It reminds you of young love and the first time you really fell head-over-heels for somebody,” Cooke said.
The song “dirt on ‘em” is also autobiographical, but not about the same guy as “running back” she advised. It is a song about a guy she was told not to date because he had a bad reputation.
With the song “dirt on ‘em,’ “I just gonna see what happens,” she confessed.
As rising country artist Cooke wraps her second consecutive tour with Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Cole Swindell, the female powerhouse shows no signs of slowing down. Cooke’s year of bucket list firsts also included a national television debut on ABC’s “The Bachelorette with her smash hit single, “Never Til Now.” In 2023, she will be joining Brett Young on his 5, Four, 3, 2, 1 Tour.
As her music continues to resonate with fans nationwide, the vibrant vocalist’s star will continue to rise. Keep Ashley Cooke on your radar. She is just getting started.
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