Luke Combs counts himself as part of a class of country artists -- which also includes performers such as Kane Brown and Dan + Shay -- who came up in an era of boundless ways to connect with fans and put their music out into the world. The reach of social media has drastically changed the avenues that young performers have to achieve recognition on their own terms, before they ever step into a Nashville recording studio or land a record deal.

“I think it’s uncharted territory,” Combs explained backstage at the 2018 CMA Awards as he celebrated his win in the category of New Artist of the Year. “I think guys like myself and Kane and Dan + Shay are really lucky to be in a circle of artists who have started things on their own and then been kind of adopted by the Nashville system."

Combs achieved his first large social following in 2013, on the now-defunct Vine app, where he gained 13,000 followers by posting brief videos of himself covering classic country songs. His homegrown fanbase allowed him to self-release his first EP and turn a profit, giving him a running start at the music industry when he moved to Nashville the following year. At that point, he says, he started getting help from the professionals to begin growing his career.

"I've always believed in music being very much a team effort," Combs goes on to say. "I don't wanna say 'building a brand' -- that sounds too cookie cutter."

Combs knows that having a powerhouse team behind him is critical to reaching the level he wants to in music, and in order to find the maximum number of fans, he needs support from his team and others in the industry. Still, Combs explains, there's something special about applying that power and expertise to the career of an artist who already has some experience gaining a following on their own.

"If I do this consistently over three or four years, [if you connect a team to] someone like me or Kane Brown or Maren Morris, or whoever it may be, it's an unstoppable force, because we have taken ourselves to a certain level," he adds. "And then that staff comes in and puts their expertise behind us. I think that's a really special thing, and I'm lucky to be one of the guys at the forefront of that thing right now."