Country Music News: 2008 In Review

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Christmas holiday has come to an end. The children are playing with their new toys as the adults enjoy their toys as well. Exchanges and returns are ongoing at the retail stores, and maybe a few gift cards are being spent on gifts that weren't received or already had been delegated for that gift card use. In these final few days of 2008, we take the time to reflect on the past year.

Country music's past year has been more about a few topics that have evolved throughout the year, rather than specific events. The explosion of cross-over artists into country music (Jessica Simpson, Jewel, Kevin Costner, and Darius Rucker to name a few) has been one of the hot topics of this past year. An ongoing conversation will continue into the new year on the success of these artists have done in country music. Darius Rucker certainly has had the most success of these artists, including a number one hit for him on the country charts; the first number one country music hit for an African-American artist in 25 years.

A heated ongoing topic over the past year, that has been ongoing for a couple years now, has been the "new country" or "pop-country" sound in country music. This topic will also be very alive and well into the New Year.

The biggest story of the year, however, is not only a country music issue, rather an issue with the music industry as a whole. Yes, you already guessed it... the economic impact on the industry. Thus far, CD sales were down about 16% on the year in total. Digital sales were up a considerable 28%...just another indication to the digital age coming to music as a whole. The grim actual numbers will not be available until the year ends, of course.

News/Talk radio this year has become the leader in overall radio station formats. Up until this year, country music held the largest number of radio station formats. Now, news/talk takes over by just 40 stations (2,064.) In the past year, 30 country radio stations have gone away, yet, news/talk formats have grown by 40. No other format even comes close to these two formats. For example, the 3rd most format style, Contemporary Christian holds 945 stations.

The XM and Sirius Satellite Radio merger took place this year, with a new lineup for satellite subscriber's radios back in November. Luckily, country music fans didn't see much of a change, with the exception of losing the WSIX radio simulcast.

The Country Music Association celebrated 50 years of serving country music this year. The CMA Awards crowned Kenny Chesney as Entertainer of the Year. Shania Twain made a surprise appearance during the awards show that was co-hosted by Brad Paisley (Male Vocalist of the Year) and Carrie Underwood (Female Vocalist of the Year)... the current Male and Female Vocalist of the Year. The Academy of Country Music awarded Kenny Chesney (including the fans in part of the decision process for the very first time,) Brad Paisley, and Carrie Underwood the same awards as well during there show in the spring.

Many country artists this year welcomed new additions to their family... Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, Darryl Worley, Joe Don Rooney, Martie Maguire, Clay Walker, Dierks Bentley, and Josh Gracin. There is something certainly in the water in Nashville.

With births, there is also death. This year country music lost 4 legends...Ken Nelson on January 6th at age 96, Eddy Arnold on May 8th at the age of 89, Jerry Reed on September 1st at age 71, and Charlie Walker on September 12th at age 81.

Independent labels had more success in 2008 with artists such as Taylor Swift. Oh, yes, Taylor Swift. Her highly-anticipated sophomore album "Fearless" was released on November 11th and sold 592,000 units in the first week. Sales of her debut album remained strong as her career. It seems not a week went by that there wasn't a story about Swift's amazing success. However, in the final month of 2008, Equity Music Group shut its doors commenting on the status of economy and not able to secure credit as reasoning for the closure of the label.

New artists that came along in 2008 were many of the crossover artists as well as The Lost Trailers, Lady Antebellum, James Otto, Chuck Wicks, and The Zac Brown Band with their debut single "Chicken Fried."

Did I mention Taylor Swift? With album sales alone, this past year is owned by her... she is at the top of all the country year-ending charts. Her name can't be mentioned enough as we look back on this year in country music. She was on magazine covers, celebrity news websites, television shows, and magazines. She also made covers of music magazines. Oh, in her personal life, she had a big year... at the age of 18, graduating from high school just may be her biggest accomplishment of 2008, along with her career successes.

Reflecting back the past year has had its high points and its low points. I guess that certainly fits a music genre that is about life and its ups and downs.....