Thoughts on Country Music Today

Sunday, December 14, 2008

These thoughts have been building up in me awhile now. Finally a catalyst came along to put it into prospective with facts. Rolling Stone has released their best of 2008 lists (best albums and best singles.) Now, after Christmas I will get into the year-in-review postings, but this list brings up such a strong point that I have with country music today.

First; the list…Top 100 singles only 3 songs from the country music world made the list. In fact, you have to make it all the way to #38 before you find a country music song:

  • #38 Jamey Johnson "High Cost of Living"

  • #46 Taylor Swift "Fifteen"

  • #52 Lee Ann Womack "Last Call"

The top 50 album list has 2 country albums. Yes, you read that right as well.

  • #32 Jamey Johnson "The Lonesome Song"

  • #39 Taylor Swift "Fearless"

Now, this writing is not about Rolling Stone and not being nice to country music. It’s not their issue... its country music's issue. The editors and writers at Rolling Stone understand music and know what is good and what isn't. They know what a country album is truly and what isn't. Just look at the songs. Lee Ann Womack and Jamey Johnson... Taylor Swift makes the list I believe for more of a pop concentration, that her country music accolades.

I wish I had the time to go through every single artist of today and categorize them if they are country or not. Country music today is hurting for a return to the true country music roots. Don't tell me everything you hear on the radio is country music...no way, no how. Pop-country is not country music. Just because you may know who is, heard a song from them as a child, and record an album on a country label, it doesn't make it a country song or make you a country artist. There is no written test, no requirements, no geographic location that can make you a true country artist. Its something deeper than that... something down in your soul and style of life.

If you are agreeing with me, then I have high respect for you and your country music listening prospective. If you don't, no, I'm not saying you are not a country music fan. I am indeed saying possibly a couple things. 1) You like pop-country. No problem, I enjoy it too. 2) You believe whatever is given to you on the radio is country because you don't know any better. I can understand that too, if someone says it is, then why not believe it.

Looking at the current top 25 country songs, I'd guess about 50% I would consider true country music, and that is being very conservative. I won't go into which is and isn't here.

The major labels of country music need to wake up and understand fully how they are treating the music. Country music fans want real country music, not pop. However, there is a problem. There is a market for pop-country. They think it would sell and want to release it to make money. That’s the ultimate goal in the music business, right?

So…what do they do? They allow these artists to make their music and release it on a country label. There is also an issue that some artists that are truly country music artists are not given full freedom to record what they want. The reason has been given so many times; you may already think it... It’s too country...

First. There is not a song in this world that could be "too country," believe me. The lyrics to the song "Too Country" written by the great Bill Anderson and Chuck Cannon speak volumes on this topic (sung by Bill Anderson and Brad Paisley.) There is no such thing as too country.

So, we have this problem on our hands. There has to be a solution.

I think the best solution comes in branding. Each label should have 2 logos. Don't even have to branch off into different labels as far as behind the scenes, but to the consumer... have 2 logos, one for the pop-country artists and then another label for their true country music artists that have more total control over their artistic expression is delivered to the fans.

The next problem would arise on where the current labels go where. Now, some would be very easy. Then, there would be some in the middle. Those artists would then need to decide if they want to really perform country music for the tradition and history of the music style or would they rather not and go to a more of a pop sound.

That right there would take care of the issue. The support I expect for the real country music artists would be so strong. There is a demand for true country music for real country music fans.

This would never happen. Why, well many reasons. 1) The labels would have to concede that what they actually market as real country music isn’t. 2) The same people making the decisions today of what’s on a country label would making these decisions, so, we are back to where we started. 3) They would have to give artistic control over to the artist to make the decisions of what would sell, what will be a hit song on the real country music albums. The label would think that would put way too much on the line, especially for a new artist to make that call (even though I almost would guarantee you the artist could do a better job of making that decision.) 4) Labels go with the status quo. If it seems to be working, well, why change it? What if it doesn't work...Etc.?

Maybe one day, I will awake, and there will be a return to tradition of country music fully... But I doubt it.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, why I support pop-country by writing about it or talking about it. Well, I have an answer for you. I am a music lover. I also enjoy so many other types of music…classic rock, oldies, new rock, some pop, heck even some classical. You name the genre, I probably can at least mention a song or two that I like and find talent in. With that said however, the vast majority of my listening time I love my country music beyond the human thought process and that goes for all of the sounds of Nashville. I love country music as a whole. I just believe there is an extremely skewed thought process of what is truly country music. There is no checklist or magic wand that can categorize what is and isn't, nor what is good or bad music from Nashville.

It is all about the heart and soul of the artist and their true focus. Is making a true traditional country music that would bring a smile to their face to hear, or are your priorities a little different, yet still honestly believes in the music of Nashville? Either answer is welcome in my music player....

What do you think? More importantly, why do you think that way?

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