He may have a pair of number one singles to his name, but Michael Ray knows better than most how to best cultivate a dedicated fanbase. “Nothing is better than doing it one fan at a time,” the country singer says with steely determination. The man speaks from personal experience: before breaking out with his 2015 self-titled debut, an eclectic musical articulation of a time-tested talent featuring twin smash singles in “Kiss You in the Morning” and “Think a Little Less,” Ray spent years building a hardcore audience in his native Florida. With one name-making show after the next, the Eustis, Florida native built a grassroots following never caring the size, scope or reach of his show. Nonetheless, his rowdy, high-energy and rock-influenced live performances, which drew inspiration from Garth Brooks’ use of passion and spectacle, soon took hold and quickly saw him selling out 2,000-seat venues in cities from Orlando to Tallahassee. But he was never satisfied: as he’s proven in the years since, having moved to Nashville and grinded for years as a songwriter before leading a major-label record deal, hard work doesn’t scare Ray. It’s why even now, as he readies to release his much-anticipated sophomore album, anchored by its fast-rising lead single “Get To You,” the singer still believes each live show he performs is undoubtedly essential.
“Never be complacent,” the 29-year-old says of his mindset each time he steps onstage. “There’s always different ways you can grow as a performer.” He’s certainly put in the work: Ray has spent the past several years pounding the pavement on headlining tours when he’s not taking cues from some of the industry’s best tour mates including Darius Rucker, Kip Moore and Sam Hunt. The way Ray sees it, each concert he delivers is not only an opportunity to showcase his rare talent and continue building his fan base, but it’s also the culmination of countless people’s respective time and dedication. To that end, he’s not about to disappoint. “It’s all the work the musicians put into the record. It’s all the work my band puts into it. It’s my label, management and booking. Everybody’s put so much work into making this one show happen,” he explains. “So every night after a show when I go in the back room of the bus and chill out I try to think what I could have done better. The show has to always be getting tighter as we grow.”
It’s this mindset of never settling and constantly upping the creative ante that has Ray feeling more confident than ever as he heads out this fall on his “Get To You Tour.” “I only know one speed and that’s 100,” the musician says with a laugh. “In anything that I’ve done in my life it’s all about taking the attitude of ‘This is what we’re going to do so let’s do it!’ I keep the pressure on myself as motivation.”
He knows the moments he cherishes most — like when he first heard a crowd belting the lyrics to “Kiss You in the Morning” back to him at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia, or when he first played the Grand Ole Opry — never happen by accident, and Ray is itching for more of them this fall. “I want every person who attends my show to leave saying they’re coming back,” he says with a wide-eyed smile, “and next time they’re bringing two people with them.”