Browsing articles in "Random Notes"
Sep
29

A Meow Mix Commercial Speaks To Bro-Country’s Critical Mass

September 29, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  13 Comments

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There’s that moment when every stylistic trend in popular culture reaches critical mass, and where before most everyone used to be on board with the trend, they’re now part of a backlash that brews en masse when something that had little substance or long-term future to begin with begins to sour in the minds of fickle American consumers.

This is the moment in time we find ourselves in with Bro-Country. The distaste for this hyper-trend has become so effusive, it has spread not just throughout disenfranchised country music fans, but throughout the entire American culture and beyond. People who are not even country music listeners are finding Bro-Country on their televisions when they tune into a college football game and Florida Georgia Line is singing the intro, or they hear a Bro-Country song playing out of the car beside them at a stop light or over the speakers at a store. And they’re all wondering to themselves, “What the hell happened to country music?”

Case in point, last week people were meowing over a newly-released video marrying Meow Mix cat food with what appeared to be a Bro-Country parody called “Country Cat.” The two-minute video performed by country artist J.R. Moore enlists typical sonic and lyrical tropes of country music’s current hyper-trend into a humorous advertisement as part of a Meow Mix brand relaunch.

The ad is one of the first salvos from a company called Pop Up Music, which is the Nashville offshoot of Jingle Punks—one of the leading companies in crafting jingles for commercials, television, and movies in the United States. Pop Up Music opened their outlet in Nashville just this month, and are already releasing live content. “Country Cat” is actually part of a three-part series that started with a video poking fun at EDM stereotypes, and will be debuting a new video “Hipster Orchestra” coming soon.

“People no longer just want to license hit music or pay for talent fees from standard celebrities,” says Jared “Jingle” Gutstadt, the CEO of Jingle Punks. “People want platforms and good ideas. We’ve been able to create music content as the hub of advertising strategies and ride shotgun with some of the best and brightest agencies in the world … Where in the past, music needed to be marketed, people no longer consume music the same way. People enjoy music and the audience for it is growing faster than ever before, but the way that it’s being consumed and paid for is shifting the power back to a lot of marketing and branding agencies.”

In other words, the lines between commercial or advertising content, and creative content, are blurring like never before. And this Meow Mix parody is a perfect example of this emerging paradigm. But is it really supposed to be a parody of Bro-Country, or is it just an example of country music in general? If it targets Bro-Country specifically, this would be yet another sign that the amusement at Bro-Country has become so effusive throughout culture, that it can even be used in advertising. The only way an advertising video like this works is if it resonates with the public at large, and not just with a small segment of disgruntled country fans.

j-r-moore-meow-mix-2“Some of the guys from Jingle Punks actually wrote this song, and yes, it is entirely meant to be a parody of bro-country,” “Country Cat” singer J.R. Moore explains to Saving Country Music.We wrote several songs in different country styles, but when this one came up, it became very clear that bro-country was the way to go. It was always intended to be very tongue-in-cheek, especially trying to play it straight in the beginning of the song until the reveal that it’s about a cat.” 

J.R. Moore explains that he wasn’t reluctant to put on the Bro-Country hat to pull off the parody. “People should know that the song (and the commercial, for that matter) was intended to give people a chuckle. I am actually a serious artist, with songs that aren’t intended to be jokes. But I’m not too serious to laugh at myself or a genre that’s easy to pick on (or wear fake tattoos and a sleeveless denim hooded shirt). We had a lot of fun with the song and the shooting of the video, and we hope everyone else does, too.”

For a decade J.R. Moore fronted the successful rock outfit Ingram Hill and is now launching a solo country career with an EP due out in 2015. After finding him on Twitter, it was clear he was a fan of artists like Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson. I’ve been an Isbell fan for quite a while, and though I’m a little late to the game on Sturgill, I absolutely love his music. I was very lucky to be in L.A. at the same time as him recently and was able to catch his show at the Troubadour. Great stuff.

When similar hyper trends in music began to show signs of dying like Disco or 80′s hair metal, one of the first signs of the public’s souring on the trend was the permeation of humor and parody making fun of the musical styles. To have a huge advertising agency and a major national brand recognize that a Bro-Country parody would elicit a humorous response from the public at large could speak to just where we are in Bro-Country’s lifespan. Just like Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song,” this silly cat commercial resonates.

Sep
29

Country Artists And Their Famous Look Alikes

September 29, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  18 Comments

briand-kelley-doogie-houserHave you ever been scanning through photos of your favorite (or least favorite) artists and thought, “Hot damn! That dude look just like this other dude!” From eery similarities like Sturgill Simpson and Javier Bardem’s creepy character from the movie No Country For Old Men, to Johny Paul White and Johnny Depp who I am pretty much convinced are the same exact person, here are some country artists and their famous doppelgangers.

 


Jason Isbell (Americana Artist of the Year) – Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions Quarterback)

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Brian Kelley (Florida Georgia Line) – Doogie Houser (M.D.)

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John Paul White (The Civil Wars) – Johnny Depp (part-time pirate)

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Sturgill Simpson – Javier Bardem from No Country For Old Men

sturgill-simpsonJavier-bardem-1

sturgill-simpson-2javier-bardem


Seth Avett (The Avett Brothers) – Ashton Kutcher

seth-avettashton-kutcher


Jeremy Fetzer (Steelism, Caitlin Rose guitar player) – Joey Lawrence (Blossom-era {whoa!})

jeremy-fetzer-steelismBLOSSOM


David Allan Coe – Geico Caveman

david-allan-coegeico-caveman


Scotty McCreery – Alfred P. Newman

scotty-mccreeryalfred-p-newman

Kristian Bush (Sugarland) – Lucky Charms leprechaun

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Colt Ford – Grimmace

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Tyler Hubbard (Florida Georgia Line) – A Bottle of Massengill (douche)

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Sep
26

George Strait Fans Sound Off About Auto-Tune on New Album

September 26, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  23 Comments

george-strait-the-cowboy-rides-away-live-from-att-stadiumGeorge Strait’s recent album The Cowboy Rides Away: Live from AT&T Stadium sees ‘The King’ score both the #2 spot on the Billboard country charts, and the #4 spot on the all genre Billboard 200 this week, but this isn’t because of what a lot of fans are saying, it is in lieu of it. Saving Country Music has sounded off on the egregious use of Auto-Tune on the album, and so have many George Strait fans from all around the web.

On both iTunes and Amazon, all of the top-rated reviews of the album have to do with the use of Auto-Tune or other issues with the CD, and how ticked customers are. Checks on Twitter and Facebook see the same thing: fans frustrated about what a travesty it is to have the final major concert of George Strait’s career tarnished by unnecessary pitch correction.

READ: Strait’s “Cowboy Rides Away” Album Butchered By Auto-Tune

When fans go to purchase this album online, the Auto-Tune concerns are the first thing they see, yet the issue has yet to be addressed whatsoever by either the George Strait camp or his label, or in any measurable level by the country music media. To illustrate just how widespread the unrest about this album is, here’s a selection of concerned fans sounding off from around the web.

Fans On Amazon

Matthew Begay – Why Did They Use Auto Tune On The King?

“George Strait is a great guy, don’t get me wrong, but I think whoever was in charge of the audio should be fired for trying to make him sound like T-Pain…I hope and pray to the good Lord above that they release a CD of the concert without all the auto tune.”

Rebekah Joyce – WHY would you AutoTune King George?!?!

“WHY?? Why would you ever AutoTune one of the most recognizable voices in the history of music? Much less AutoTune it beyond recognition. I bought this as a gift and after listening to it my dad called me and said ‘Thanks for this, it was really special, but I don’t think I will ever listen to it again. It doesn’t even sound like him.’…I am truly and whole heartedly disappointed in this album.”

Travis - A Good, Maybe Even Great Show Butchered by Engineering

“I’ve heard complaints about George’s vocals being increasingly auto-tuned over the last several studio albums, but for the most part my undiscerning ear was unfazed by it. Here, though, it permeates the entire CD from start to finish.”

Kevin Ratliff - Autotune has ruined this CD.

“I went to the last show so I thought this would be a great way to remember it. For some reason the producers have highly edited the songs on here and added autotune to the vocals… It is a shame they felt the need to disrespect the artists by editing the original vocals as they were in concert. I am disappointed.”

Yoav Golan - Autotuned! Sacrilege!

“Disgusting use of autotune ruins a legendary concert. The autotune absolutely destroyed the authenticity of George’s voice and makes the album un-listenable for anyone who has ever heard the real George Strait…This is an ignominious disgrace to the King of Country.”

Jamey Bearb - Horrible production! !!

“Horrible production. With the resources available for George, you’d think he wouldn’t sound like a robot with the terrible auto tune. Sounds like the engineer didn’t even try to make the pitch corrections natural…”

Fans on iTunes

Here are the top three reviews presented to customers when they go to iTunes.

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Fans On Twitter

Fans On Facebook

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Sep
24

Tyler Farr Would Like To Smack Jody Rosen Upside The Head

September 24, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  62 Comments

tyler-farr-redneck-crazyHypothetically he does, or at least metaphorically. But depending on Tyler Farr’s proficiency at internet research (which I’m guessing is pretty sub-par) and his proximity to the Big Apple where New Yorker culture writer Jody Rosen—who coined the term “Bro-Country”—makes his bed, Farr will probably just have to settle for sending verbal daggers out towards Rosen in The Arizona Republic.

Whoever invented that term, I’d like to smack him upside the head,” Tyler Farr flapped in the recent interview when the term “Bro-Country” was brought up. “I live in Chapel Hill, Tenn., which has the largest tractor pull in the South, and there’s not a lot more that you do on the weekends than drink and party. And I write what I know about.”

Yes like,

Gonna drive like hell through your neighborhood
Park this Silverado on your front lawn
Crank up a little Hank, sit on the hood and drink
I’m about to get my pissed off on”

“I’m gonna aim my headlights into your bedroom windows
Throw empty beer cans at both of your shadows
I didn’t come here to start a fight, but I’m up for anything tonight
You know you broke the wrong heart baby, and drove me redneck crazy”

“Nah, he can’t amount to much by the look of that little truck
Well he won’t be getting any sleep tonight”

That’s the pride of Chapel Hill, TN talking there, folks. Fair to say Tyler Farr didn’t actually write the song “Redneck Crazy” where the aforementioned lyrics come from, he just sold over a million copies of it and made it into his biggest single ever. “It’s literally as simple as hearing a song and saying, ‘Can I feel that? Do I know anything about that?’ ‘Yes, I do?’ ‘OK, I’m gonna record that,’” Tyler told The Arizona Republic.

If you needed any more signs that Bro-Country is dead, it’s that any time the term is mentioned in the presence of any of these Bro-Country perpetrators, they turn ballistic. It’s uncanny how they all react the same way every time. First, they profess not knowing what it is, and refuse to give any credence to the term. “I mean, whatever. I have no clue what it is,” was Tyler Farr’s response. Thomas Rhett had a similar response recently. Florida Georgia Line regularly bristles when Bro-Country is brought up, and say they don’t know what it means.

The second thing they say is they’re simply writing what they know about. “So I am gonna have songs that have partying and hot girls and pickup trucks,” Tyler Farr says. “There’s only so much you can write about. If I don’t know anything about vacuums, I’m not gonna be a vacuum salesman. It’s as simple as that.” This is the exact response Dallas Davidson gives.

These artists have made tons of money on Bro-Country, and they’re not happy to see it go away, and apparently a lack of self-awareness is their only psychological defense to coming to grips with what’s transpiring. They know the criticism is catching on, and they’re beginning to hear it from label executives and managers as well. So instead of rationalizing through what’s happening, Tyler Farr, like the rest of Bro-Country’s biggest perpetrators, decide to get their “pissed off on.”

Sep
22

Strait’s “Cowboy Rides Away” Album Butchered By Auto-Tune

September 22, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  57 Comments

george-strait-the-cowboy-rides-away-live-from-att-stadiumThough we’re still only a few months removed from George Strait’s final show as a touring performer, it’s pretty safe to say that the record breaking concert will go down as one of the biggest concert events in the history of country music, especially for an event centered around a single performer. From shattering the indoor attendance record, to all the special guests, to the circular stage, to the songs and performances themselves, country music may never top what happened on June 7th, 2014 as a farewell to a legendary country performer.

When it came to how the show would be sold to those who couldn’t attend, we knew to anticipate that commercial interests would be considered heavily in the deal. When a selection of the performances from the concert were broadcast via CMT on August 29th, it was no surprise there was a heavy dose of Jason Aldean, Sheryl Crow, and other performers that could attract eyeballs to the broadcast, even though they would also attract the ire of some of George Strait’s traditional country fans. And the same could be expected for the album The Cowboy Rides Away: Live from At&T Stadium when it was released on September 16th.

But what nobody could anticipate is that a George Strait album would be the vehicle for the most excessive, and most blatantly obvious use of the pitch correction software known as Auto-Tune that I have ever, ever heard in the history of recorded music, barring projects purposefully using Auto-Tune as a special effect. The use of Auto-Tune on The Cowboy Rides Away is egregious, and embarrassingly obvious to the point where I can’t believe that a project like this would ever be released for public consumption, especially when such a legendary performer, and such a legendary event, are involved. This is outrageous. It is an abomination. And whomever is responsible for mixing in and mastering this Auto-Tune hatchet job should be marched into someone’s office, forced to listen to King George’s masterful vocals getting transmogrified by 1′s and 0′s like lambs to the slaughter, and then be unceremoniously fired. Then a new version of The Cowboy Rides Away sans the Auto-Tune should be offered to anyone who spent good money on this album. And all this should be done posthaste.

What the hell were they thinking? Who approved this? Who believed that they could slather such excessive Auto-Tune on this project, and people simply wouldn’t notice?

Beyond the deceit that the use of Auto-Tune presents in itself, it is especially difficult to employ in this particular context where you have a live performance, and a performer who doesn’t use Auto-Tune on a regular basis. George Strait sings at times with a cadence that Auto-Tune can’t keep up with. Many times he purposefully sings by beginning a note out-of-tune to eventually bend it back into place in an attempt to squeeze the emotion out of a lyric. This is called “Twang,” and is a critical part of the George Strait experience that someone in a studio decided to destroy because of some silly notion that George Strait’s singing must be perfect. Performers who regularly sing with the aid of Auto-Tune like Rascal Flatts, they know what to do to make sure to not send the program into overdrive. When you add Auto-Tune on to a live performance after the fact, it almost always results in obvious artificial electronic sounds that erode the authenticity of the listening experience.

Auto-Tune was never meant to be used in the way it was used on The Cowboy Rides Away. As audio engineers will tell you, “Everyone in Nashville uses Auto-Tune,” and to an extent, this is probably true in the studio. But the point of Auto-Tune originally was to take errant notes here and there in an otherwise excellent vocal performance, and fix them slightly and harmlessly so an entire new vocal take wasn’t necessary. It was a tool, not a crutch. Almost immediately of course, artists like Cher, and eventually T-Pain began to use it as a vocal enhancement. But when it is administered en masse as it is on this album, the result is something much worse than what a few missed notes would ever sound like. No care, no love was put in the vocals on this album and how the Auto-Tune was administered. Even if some Auto-Tune correction was decided to be used here and there, to the extent it was used on this album is an insult to the listener’s ears.

Veteran producer Chuck Ainlay is given credit as a producer on The Cowboy Rides Away: Live from At&T Stadium. So is George Strait. I have no idea if George Strait had any say so with what happened with this album and the Auto-Tune or not. But even if George Strait himself doesn’t have a problem with it, many fans do. And those fans should demand either their money back, or an unadulterated version of this album. Because this artist, and this concert were too important to mar in such an unnecessary manner.

Sep
19

Why Lists and “Exclusive” Content are Killing Music Journalism

September 19, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  36 Comments

jack-whiteOn Wednesday night (9-17) at Fenway Park in Boston, independent music god and vinyl barron Jack White went on a tirade against Rolling Stone magazine. It wasn’t the first time the pale-faced White Striper has twisted off on the periodical. After Rolling Stone ran a cover story about him in mid June where they allegedly overblew his hatred for rock duo The Black Keys, Jack called called the magazine a “tabloid” from the Bonnaroo Festival stage during his headlining set. This certainly isn’t the first time Rolling Stone has been criticized for making a mountain out of a mole hill by a music artist. In 2009, Toby Keith went on a rant after they posted a supposedly fictitious story by actor Ethan Hawke saying that Toby Keith had chewed out Kris Kristofferson.

Jack White’s Fenway tirade took on an exceptional length and vehemence though. After taking jabs at The Foo Fighters and others for what seemed to be an argument for authenticity, Jack White said it was, “…something for rollingstone.com for tomorrow… make sure they get at least a million mouse clicks!” Jack then starting listing off lists that he characterized as ones people may see on the magazine’s website, pausing between each so the band could vamp.

15 outfits that will blow your mind that Taylor Swift wore this month, rollingstone.com!

10 reasons that rollingstone.com didn’t cover the Newport Folk Festival for 50 years straight!

12 reasons Rolling Stone won’t put a black and white cover on the cover of their magazine unless you’re dead!

Did you also know that Jan Wenner also owns Us Magazine? The tabloid capitol of magazines?

Keeping Paparazzi alive for more than 20 years, US Magazine by Jan Wenner!

Jack White’s criticisms of Rolling Stone, The Foo Fighters, and The Black Keys would probably be taken with a little more weight if they didn’t feel like they were so rooted in spite. But Jack raises a very important topic in how music journalism has evolved over the last few years, especially as print magazines have been forced to move into a more robust online presence, and what this means for the way music is covered moving forward.

No matter what Jack White and others might imply, the truth is Rolling Stone doesn’t represent even near the worst in music entertainment coverage these days. What’s so heartbreaking about what Rolling Stone has become is that it used to be on the cutting edge of in-depth and thought-provoking music reporting. Journalists and critics like Chet Flippo, Lester Bangs, Cameron Crowe, and Hunter S. Thompson helped set the standard of what music journalism was during Rolling Stone‘s formative years, and they became pop cultural figures on their own. Now like so many other online portals, Rolling Stone has to concern itself with how much traffic it draws to its website to stay financially afloat and relevant in the entertainment marketplace. Who are some of the famous Rolling Stone music reporters of today? Can you name any Rolling Stone music journalists? Is there any famous music journalists of our generation?

Rolling Stone recently opened a country music subsidiary located on Music Row—the first genre-specific portal for the legendary outlet. Like many sites, there’s a focus on lists. When sites like BuzzFeed, Upworthy, and other viral portals began to make massive inroads into the old guard monopoly of America’s journalistic space through list-based viral content, it began to affect the entire journalism landscape, including music. In April of 2013, Saving Country Music posted an article called “7 Men Who Could Immediately Make Country Music Better,” and of course, the post blew up. Though all of these artists had been featured individually on the site before, because it was a list, it was a received significantly better by the public. So then Saving Country Music posted “9 Women Who Could Immediately Make Country Music Better,” and that blew up too. Not to credit Saving Country Music for being the first in the music realm to post these type of lists, but at that time lists of this nature were not really seen in country music.

Then you began to see similar lists in larger periodicals, some with almost the same exact artists Saving Country Music featured, and the same type of style. PolicyMic for example ran a list called The 9 Real Country Stars of Our Generation in April of 2014. After Saving Country Music ran a list called “The Lessons Viewers Are Learning from ABC’s ‘Nashville‘” in October of 2013, PolicyMic ran a list called, “ABC’s Nashville Is Actually Saving Country Music.” Huh. I could have become spiteful like Jack White and call out PolicyMic. After all, by naming Saving Country Music in the title of their list they’re pretty much leaving the fingerprints on where the inspiration came from. Or I could be happy that these artists are receiving greater coverage and look at it as being for the greater good.

The latter is what I chose to do, but ever since this experience and seeing so many lists being used as a traffic crutch by so many other periodicals, I began to sour on the idea of lists in general as time went on. Saving Country Music has virtually abandoned the list format aside from when it really works to convey a thought or present a group of artists, like in end-of-year “Best Of” lists or Saving Country Music’s popular “10 Badass Moments” lists that highlight past greats of country music. In fact in August of last year, Saving Country Music published an article called 10 Reasons why Lists Suck. Of course, nobody read it. As time has gone on, even the lists Saving Country Music has posted have generally underperformed, probably because the demographics the site has fostered prefer their information in a more in-depth form.

But on other music outlets, lists have thrived, especially lists that go out of their way to highlight lesser-known artists like SCM’s “7 Men” and “9 Women” lists did. This seems to be where the music list works most ideal. For example ahead of Americana Fest this week, Rolling Stone Country posted a list of the 26 Must-See Acts. For a lot of these artists, it’s a big deal to see their name in Rolling Stone, and so they’re more than happy to post and repost links to the list on the respective social networks, and next thing you know the post becomes quite lucrative for Rolling Stone in regards to clicks.

Other outlets have latched onto the idea of covering independent artists in list form too, and discovered how lucrative it can be to creating traffic. LA Weekly ran a list called 10 Country Artists You Should Be Listening To in late June, highlighting some big acts like Eric Church, but mostly smaller artists like Caitlin Rose and Sturgill Simpson: two favorites of this list phenomenon. Tiered on three separate pages to get triple the clicks from the same reader, LA Weekly‘s list worked so well, they posted a second one, 10 More Country Artists You Need to Listen To in mid July. As can be seen on the articles, these lists were shared on Facebook 9,000 and 3,700 times respectively. That’s not bad traffic for any online outlet. Why so many shares? Because many of the small bands who were highlighted in these articles were so flattered that they took to Facebook to share this distinction, honored to be highlighted by LA Weekly, sometimes giving Facebook money to “boost” the post on their “like” pages so more Facebook followers would see it.

But the question is, what exactly is this “exposure” doing for these bands in this list format? Is there actually a measurable amount of music discovery happening from these lists, or is it more about established fan bases propping up lists by coming to a website to to have their opinions reaffirmed about the bands they already know about? Wouldn’t an individual, more in-depth profile of each band be better serving to both the public and the band if they’re truly artists “you should be listening to”?

One of the bands highlighted in one of the LA Weekly lists is a band that I happen to work with quite intimately. Though the article says that they included a photo “Courtesy of the Band,” no such permission was asked for, and none was granted. Even more troubling, the photo doesn’t actually represent who is in the band presently, nor who was in the band in its original form, nor who has been in the band for the last few years. In other words, little or no research was done, at least for that particular band in the article. It also didn’t result in any material benefit to the band. No new Facebook “likes.” No new booking inquiries or other opportunities. Though artists may be flattered to see their names in print, sometimes the results are negligible, especially when the exposure is so succinct, and the reach mostly just to the already-established fans of the respective bands. So then, what good are these lists? Are the bands really being exposed to new fans, or are outlets simply baiting rabid independent and underground fan bases just to drive up clicks to their websites?

Making this practice worse is the fact that some online content writers are paid by the amount of clicks they generate to a given article. Using independent and underground bands in your lists is beneficial because the grassroots nature of their fan bases. Florida Georgia Line’s publicity camp may not pay attention to a spot in a blog on LA Weekly for example, because they have bigger fish to fry. But an underground band will, and broadcast it out on their social network feverishly.

While exposure for any band is great,  a list really doesn’t equate to a professional review or interview of an artist, or a feature that really compels a reader to look deeper into their music.

- – - – - – - – - – -

Another trend plaguing music journalism today is the “exclusive” premier of content. Taking the form of song premiers, video premiers, and album premiers, this “exclusive” content has virtually replaced traditional album reviews and other artist features in many outlets. Instead of opinion and in-depth insight, readers are served with quick press release snippets followed by a SoundCloud player. And once again the question is, who is really benefiting from this exclusive content the most? Is it the artist, or the online outlet?

One problem with the exclusive content model is many times the outlets used are completely misappropriated for the artists being featured. Of course mainstream artists and labels have their pick of the litter when it comes to where they may want to premier their content, and have research and demographic data to know where the perfect place is for the premier. But independent artists, labels, and publicists almost seem to be happy to find any willing dance partner, as long as the website can boast lots of traffic. And for the website, it’s easy content. Maybe supply a paragraph or two of bio information regurgitated from a press release and call it good. This is much less labor intensive than conducting an interview or writing an in depth review, and the artist and label will point everyone to the “exclusive” premier to drive up the website’s traffic.

Websites use traffic statistics to lure independent artist to releasing their exclusive content with them, but many times it is not the right place for the artist. For example, Esquire has begun to do these exclusive premiers for country artists. But who is going to Esquire to discover independent country music? I’m sure Esquire‘s website gets tons of traffic, but a country artist might be better served going with a more genre appropriate outlet, even if it receives less traffic. Though Paste is a great supporter of the independent arts, they are another frequent exclusive premier partner misappropriated for independent country performers. And since many of these outlets do not know these bands, little to no love is put into whatever written content accompanies the premier.

The main ethical question about exclusive premiers is if it is truly a journalistic vehicle, or if it is an advertisement. One independent label owner I know recently did a premier for one of their artists on the music website No Depression, which allows users post their own content. No Depression actually took the post down, citing that it was advertising, not journalistic content. Many times the outlets that artists and labels partner with to premier content present a conflict of interest. This grey area between what is advertising and what is journalism makes it difficult for readers to navigate through content and figure out if a website is recommending the music, or simply advertising it.

Without a doubt, streaming albums, songs, and videos can be a great tool to spread the word about a new album release. But it should simply be just one tool in a more diverse music journalism landscape that also offers objective opinion and traditional media coverage to help music consumers cull through content in an ever more crowded media landscape. If exclusive premiers are simply replacing the true journalistic coverage artists deserve instead of providing an additional new tool in the digital age, then are artists and fans truly being better served?

Music journalism is sitting on the brink of simply becoming a promotional arm of the music industry, and it appears to be just as bad in the independent music world as it is in the mainstream. With all the challenges facing music of all styles, including how to monetize it in the streaming age, how to navigate through the breadth of choices, and how to recapture the magic that music once meant to people, true music journalism is not becoming obsolete, it is more important that ever.

Music consumers are feeling undeserved by snippets of bio info and quick song streams in lists and exclusive premiers. Like the “slow food” movement, they want to take a little bit more time to savor their musical experiences, to learn the stories behind their favorite songs and artists, to delve into the passion that inspired their favorite albums, and walk away from the experience not just enjoying the music, but feeling more fulfilled and understanding.

As everything is speeding up and becoming more concise in the world, music shouldn’t get swept up in the rat race, it should be the respite from it, as all art is meant to be. And it’s up to music journalists, websites, and periodicals to help bring this wisdom back into the music consciousness, and to fans to engage with this more in depth content before it disappears.

Sep
15

Watch & Hear Drunk Toby Keith / Toby Refuses To Acknowledge Issue

September 15, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  61 Comments

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UPDATE: Toby Keith Publicist Punts on Drunk Concert, Indianapolis Press Picks Up Story

Many of the attendees to Toby Keith’s Saturday night (9-13) concert at the Klipsch Music Center near Indianapolis are up in arms over Toby Keith’s performance after Keith showed up drunk and stumbled through his set. Some families spent upwards of $300 dollars on tickets and drove from many hours away just to see Toby Keith slur his words and forget others throughout the concert in what one parent called an “embarrassing” performance.

Numerous fans reached out to Live Nation and the Klipsch Music Center on Monday in an attempt to get refunds to no avail. Neither Live Nation, the Klipsch Music Center, nor Toby Keith’s management have addressed, or even acknowledged the issue. Saving Country Music also made calls to both the appropriate parties at the Klipsch Music Center, which is owned and operated by Live Nation, and to TKO Management which manages Toby Keith, and neither entity returned calls.

READ: Drunk Toby Keith Blows Show in Indiana

Surprisingly, only one video from the 24,000-capacity venue has surfaced in the 48-hours since the concert, but this one piece of evidence does not put Toby Keith in a very flattering light. Singing his 9/11-inspired mega hit “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue,” Toby Keith can be clearly heard heavily slurring his words and at times trailing off, until at the end of the line, “So we can sleep in peace at night when we lay down our heads,” he descends into an inaudible garble, inspiring the videographer to exclaim, “Oh God!”.

As a courtesy, Saving Country Music has isolated the audio in question in the below video, so inquiring minds can listen and determine just how drunk Toby may or many not have been that night.

Sep
15

How Billboard’s New Consumption Chart Could Have A Big Impact

September 15, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  31 Comments

billboardWhen Billboard implemented sweeping changes to their chart configurations in October of 2012, it was predicted at the time by many that these changes would fundamentally modify the industry in historic ways, ushering in an era where popular American music would rapidly succumb to the monogenre, and distinctions of separate genres would slowly become irrelevant. Artists who did not occupy the “crossover” realm would see diminished significance, and music would all begin to sound the same.

Subsequently that is exactly what we have seen, and the fingerprints of Billboard 2012′s rules changes can be found all over malevolent trends in country music, including the rise of “Bro-Country,” the institution of rap and EDM elements in country in a widespread manner, and the continued struggles of the genre to support and develop female artists. And country music is not alone. The Billboard rap charts have seen similar homogenization, at least in part because of the new rules. Virtually every individual genre’s charts, and thus the music itself and how it’s manufactured and marketed, have been affected in fundamental ways by these changes. And it may about to get much worse.

Many of the changes Billboard made to their charts in October of 2012 were not only necessary, they were much past due. Rating consumer interactions such as streams on Spotify and plays on YouTube were important to give both consumers and industry professionals a better illustration of the importance and performance of a given track. The problematic change was a rule governing “crossover” material. It allowed artists such as Taylor Swift, Luke Bryan, and Florida Georgia Line to receive credit for radio play and other consumer activity in the pop world on the genre specific country charts. This restricted the ability for artists with no crossover appeal to be successful in their genre specific rankings, while artists that released rap remixes, or songs that appealed to pop radio as well as country to fare much greater.

But the October 2012 changes Billboard implemented didn’t fundamentally change the structure of the charts themselves. You still had an album chart, based off of how many cohesive albums—physical or digital—a given artist sold in a week period. You still had the airplay charts, which ranked songs specifically by how many spins DJ’s gave them across the country. And you had the Hot Songs chart, which now took into consideration crossover data, and a new suite of streaming and other consumer interaction data, but it was still the same fundamental chart meant to give a more broad picture of a song’s impact.

Now that all might change. Or at least, these traditional charts may be so significantly diminished in importance, they are rendered virtually insignificant, especially the album charts. And once again, with these chart changes could come fundamental musical changes from the industry to try and take advantage of these new metrics.

This new, sweeping system is currently being called the “Consumption Chart,” and it is presently being constructed by Billboard in conjunction with Nielsen SoundScan—the company that aggregates consumer data, including sales, streams, YouTube views, and other data that goes into building Billboard’s charts. Billboard and SoundScan are currently tweaking on the specifics of the new chart—one of which is how to aggregate streaming data, which is currently being tabulated by hand.  Though there is no hard and fast date of when the Consumption Chart may be rolled out, the word from HITS Daily Double is that Billboard hopes to have it in place by the very beginning of next year so that when the new music ranking system starts, it can have an entire year to give a more cohesive picture to both consumers and industry.

One of the strange aspects about Billboard’s 2012 changes is since they happened in not just the middle of a year, but in the middle of a business quarter, it created a dirty data situation where the rules governing songs changed in the middle of the game. There was also little to no warning ahead of the changes being made. Billboard’s new rules came somewhat unexpectedly and were implemented immediately. Though indications are the roll out of the Consumption Chart will wait until the end of the year, especially since Billboard and SoundScan want to give themselves proper lead time to make sure their system is road tested and debugged before being debuted to the public, there’s no guarantee we may not wake up one morning and find that the way music is measured has been massively overhauled yet again.

What Is The Billboard Consumption Chart?

To put it simply, The Billboard Consumption Chart would be a combination of an album and a song chart. Instead of just considering physical album sales to gauge an album’s performance, the new chart would take song plays from streaming data and turn them into equivalent album sales. The idea is to bridge the gap between artists who receive a lot of streaming interaction but have marginal physical sales, and artists who have strong physical sales but don’t experience a lot of streaming activity. All indications are that Billboard hopes that this new Consumption Chart will become the industry standard for rating music.

According to HITS Daily Double:

The weekly chart will combine album and track sales with audio and video streams, assigning an equivalent-album value to each, as in the TEA metric, theoretically providing a more accurate and comprehensive representation of modern-day music consumption … Billboard’s album sales chart will remain in place, but most observers believe it will take on decreasing importance over time as the business acclimates itself to the new system … In some respects, the consumption chart will mirror the present sales charts in that sales and streaming tend to correlate, with certain exceptions … Overall, the most dramatic effect of the consumption chart will be to lengthen the tails of bona fide hits by measuring their aftermarket impact, potentially providing the labels with additional time in which to market these hits.

A mock up of the new chart was made last week, and the biggest takeaway was that albums for artists whose consumers mostly listen to songs on Spotify and YouTube instead of actually purchasing the album received a significant boost in the new metric by making “album equivalent” gains from the amount of streams and plays songs received. For example, the album Settle by the EDM duo Disclosure went from #213 on the album chart based purely off of sales, all the way up to #64 based off of these “album equivalent” streams and plays. That is a 149-spot difference just from the new Consumption Chart reporting method. Another example is Katy Perry’s album Prism, which moved from #61 to #16.

How The Consumption Chart Could Hurt Older and Independent Artists

What this all means is that artists who do well with physical album sales and digital downloads could be significantly diminished in this new system, while artists who primarily have their music heard through streaming methods will see a significant boost. This could immediately put older artists, and independent artists at a significant disadvantage.

Recently we have seen older country artists such as Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Billy Joe Shaver set career chart records with their album releases because these artist’s older fan bases are one of the few demographics left that actually buy albums. But since these artist’s streaming footprint is significantly less, this new Consumption Chart would see them fare significantly worse compared to the current system.

Same could be said for many independent artists like Old Crow Medicine Show, Sturgill Simpson or Jason Isbell, whose fan bases are more likely to buy physical albums to help support the artist. These artists have seen significant boosts from chart performances recently, and this could go away under the new system. Artists who rely heavily on vinyl sales like Jack White could also see diminishing returns from the new charting system.

Since these charts are used to gauge the importance and impact an artist has in the marketplace, a diminishing of them on the charts could affect their overall sales, or their acknowledgement by the industry. Once again, just like Billboard’s 2012 chart rules, the new system very well may create even a greater discrepancy between the have’s and have not’s of music, and see more attention paid to the biggest artists, the biggest songs, and the biggest albums.

One big question for the Consumption Chart is if it takes into consideration the greater commitment a consumer shows by purchasing a physical album or downloading an entire copy instead of streaming an individual song or consuming it in a free environment such as YouTube. Does it also take into consideration that these physical and digital sales generally result in more revenue for the artist, the labels, and the industry as a whole? Where streaming is currently gutting the industry, physical sales are one of the the last bastions of revenue, including vinyl sales which are on the rapid increase.

Once again, certain changes are probably necessary to Billboard’s charts to take into consideration the new realities of consumer’s consumption habits when it comes to music. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of artists who are already struggling under the current system.

The good news is that this Consumption Chart has yet to be implemented, and so there is still time to understand what its impact might be and game plan for it, or even to influence the direction it might take before it is rolled out. This opportunity did not pose itself in 2012.

And as Billboard will probably point out, there’s no plans to put away the purely sales-based album chart. But many industry experts believe it will be significantly diminished under the new system. Some believe this new system could be dead on arrival, while others think it is necessary to keep Billboard’s relevance in the marketplace alive.

As HITS Daily Double asks, “In what ways will attempts be made to manipulate the new chart, and what new games will labels play in order to get a leg up on the competition? Will the consumption chart mean the end of the SoundScan-era emphasis on the first week of release, or will the majors figure out new ways to max out that total?”

Either way, if the changes made by Billboard in 2012 were any indication, the Consumption Chart could have a significant impact on music much beyond simply how it is measured.

Sep
11

When They Don’t Suck: Bad Country Star’s Good Album Cuts

September 11, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  56 Comments

jason-aldeanOne of the things that can be so frustrating for distinguishing country music fans is knowing many of country music’s current stars can do so much better. Many of them have sensational voices, and can write great songs when they set their mind to it. And many times you can hear examples of this when listening to their albums. The garbage that artists and labels release as singles these days usually constitute the absolute worst an album has to offer. When listening to the albums of even some of country music’s worst acts, you’re regularly surprised by the substance and the amount of sincerity they exhibit in some songs.

A few months ago Saving Country Music published and article called “Before They Sucked: Big Country Music Stars At The Start.” As a similar exercise, let’s look at some of the album cuts of the biggest stars, and see the kind of heart, and country-sounding material they’re capable of when they set their mind to it.

PLEASE NOTE: This is not a recommendation of any of these songs. This is simply an exercise to illustrate that returning more substance to country isn’t necessarily tied to recording different songs, it could simply be tied to releasing different singles. Florida Georgia Line’s recent single “Dirt” is an example of how a big mainstream act can have a chart-topping success with a song with substance if they just make the conscious choice to do so.

And this is just the very tip of the iceberg of examples. The truth is most any top tier country artist is going to have songs of substance on their album.


Brantley Gilbert – “That Was Us” and “I’m Gone”

Brantley Gilbert might be the best example of an artist who releases the most vile detritus as singles, but when you actually listen to his records, you are surprised to find songs that are not just serious and sincere, but that are downright powerful. Gilbert is the mainstream artist with a grassroots following. He’s one of the few mainstream artists left who can sell albums, primarily because his ultra-loyal fans know there are going to be some really deep songs there that the radio will never play. These songs are one of the reasons his fan base seems to be ready to jump off a cliff for him if he ordered it, and will argue for days how great he is.

Brantley Gilbert’s last album Just As I Am is culpable for two of the crappiest singles found on country radio today: “Bottom’s Up” and “Small Town Throwdown.” But there are also a couple of tracks that show a lot of substance and heart, and even capture Brantley breaking away from his mumbling singing style. “That Was Us” starts out feeling like you’re average four minute laundry list pablum, but it reveals itself as a waltz-timed memory trip that includes moments of vulnerability and even self-effacing honesty. “I’m Gone” is another one from Just As I Am that is driven by mandolin and steel guitar, and aside from a Richie Sambora guitar wank-off bisecting the song, it’s a good reminder that Brantley Gilbert is a songwriter that writes his own stuff, and can write in story form with very strong results.


Justin Moore (w/ Miranda Lambert) -  “Old Habits”

Maybe a little too sappy for some, while others won’t be able to get past what they consider Justin Moore’s fake accent, but boil this one down at 212° F and you’ve got an old-fashioned country heartbreaker that could jerk tears from some of the most hardened mainstream country haters. Why in the hell wasn’t this released as a single instead of Justin Moore’s Mötley Crüe screech fest tribute? You have Miranda Lambert on the track who is a hot commodity, and a hell of a lot more feeling than anything we’ve heard from Justin Moore in a long time. I fail to see how this wouldn’t perform much better than “Home Sweet Home” which stalled out on the charts in the 30′s. Give this song a chance as a single, and mainstream country steps up its game immediately.


Blake Shelton – “Lay Low”

There’s a few songs on Blake Shelton’s Based On A True Story that are not nearly as bad as “Boys ‘Round Here.” Truth is, Blake Shelton has never defined the worst country has to offer, especially when it comes to his album cuts. It’s that his alligator mouth gets ahead of his hummingbird ass more often than not. Songs like “Do You Remember” and “Grandaddy’s Gun” get brownie points for effort, and so should “Lay Low.” What’s good about this song is it really revitalizes the mood of mid to late 80′s country before everything went Garth crazy. It’s smooth and laid back. It doesn’t say much, but what it does say fills the spirit with a warm, relaxed feeling. It reminds you of what country sounded like before … you know … people like Blake Shelton came along.


Trace Adkins

If you want an example of an artist with one of the greatest voices ever to grace the genre, and who threw his talents away by defining his career through stupid singles, look no further than Mr. “Honky Tonk Badonka Donk” himself. The simple fact is Trace Adkins has entire albums of songs that are way more substantive that what is symbolized by “Brown Chicken Brown Cow” and the other bull he’s released to radio. This guy once won the ACM for Best New Male Vocalist, and is a member of the Grand Ole Opry. His last album Love Will… is full of serious love songs, and as one would expect, it virtually flopped despite being arguably his most mature album yet. The Trace Adkins career arch is one that conveys that you may get hot with big singles, but you can also die by them when you become a joke to many listeners.


Jason Aldean – “Church Pew or Bar Stool”

Jason Aldean has never been a songwriter; he’s always been a pure singer and performer. But one thing he has done over his career is establish a theme surrounding his music of the small town identity that looks at the world through the simple eyes of the forgotten people in America’s heartland and hometowns. Songs like “Amarillo Sky,” “Water Tower,” and “Flyover States” speak very specifically to people forgotten by time and technology, and that struggle to find their identity in a challenging new world while still holding on to who they are.

We have to remember that Jason Aldean wasn’t a huge star until “Dirt Road Anthem,” and his label Broken Bow wasn’t a big deal until Jason Aldean. As time has gone on, just like so many stars who get overtaken by the Music Row machine, Aldean has backslid into chasing trends and losing touch with what made him unique when he first entered the business. But throughout his discography, you can hear the sentiment that gives a solemn assessment of lost America and its forlorn residents.

Sep
10

Hank3 Talks New Hank Williams Movie & Upcoming Tour

September 10, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  50 Comments

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Hank William III, or Hank3 as he goes by, has been causing quite a stir over the last few weeks from his vocal concern about his grandfather being portrayed by British actor Tom Hiddleston in the upcoming biopic I Saw The Light. The 3rd generation performer has been posting his thoughts on Facebook, been quoted by TMZ, and has been leaving comments right here on Saving Country Music saying that an American, or a Southerner, or someone else besides Hiddleston would be a better fit for the role of Hank Williams. Coupled with Hank3′s hard-edged style, he’s come off as abrasive to some, while many Hank Williams fans agree with his sentiment and are concerned about the direction the biopic is taking.

When I spoke to Hank3 today for an extended period, I didn’t find a cocky, closed-minded individual suspicious of a foreign actor and who secretly wishes he would have been considered for the role (Hank3 does have some acting experience, and even his hardest detractors must admit he looks and sounds the part). What I found was a man seriously conflicted, being eaten up not just by the idea of Hiddleston playing his grandfather, but that the entire biopic project was commencing on an unsturdy foundation. He also feels bad for the position his criticism is putting Hiddleston and his vocal coach Rodney Crowell in.  “For some reason it is deeply embedding in my skull and I can’t get it out,” he says. “Just the fact of why the hell is this bothering me right now because I’ve got a hell of a lot of other stuff on my plate right now.”

Hank3 is currently prepping to embark on a West Coast tour where he’ll be playing shows that could stretch to three or four hours, and as his own tour manager, he is busy rounding up crew and gear, and finalizing all preparations. Worrying about Tom Hiddleston’s Hank Williams role should be the last thing from his mind. But here he is amidst a public skirmish involving huge press outlets and international players.

For the first time since the issues with I Saw The Light arose, I talk to Hank3 in depth about the movie and his concerns, as well as about what fans can expect from his upcoming tour and if any new music is on the way.

Check Hank3 Tour Dates


You’ve been a vocal opponent of the choice of Tom Hiddleston to play your grandfather Hank Williams in the upcoming biopic I Saw The Light. You’ve already spoken a lot on the subject publicly, but what did seeing the first videos of Tom Hiddleston perform your grandfather’s music tell you about Hiddleston’s ability to pull off the role genuinely?

Unfortunately the way they’re approaching it is doing it in the public eye, so that in itself doesn’t seem very smart. If he’s supposed to be working on his craft to really dial in this role, doing it in front of folks is probably not the best way to do it. And then, if you’re going to put it publicity out there and have him singing and then put a link to Hank Williams singing next to it? Yeah, that’s really bad. Unfortunately, they’re acting like he’s going to be singing a lot in the movie, and that in itself is a letdown. Almost everyone that I talk to hears no resemblance, and it’s alright if there’s no resemblance. Hopefully the acting will make up for it. But the main point that I will still stand by no matter what happens in the future, I still think for an Americana icon, an American needs to play that role. To have a good foundation, and to make the best of a movie, and to take it to the next level and make it feel as real as possible, yeah… My example is the Coal Miner’s Daughter movie. It’s a very well-made movie that people could identify with on many levels.

For some reason, this is really bothering me. I don’t know why. I don’t have anything to lose or gain from it. But for the approach that is happening with this movie is just not sitting right with me. And it’s not just me. There’s a lot of people I talk to out there that just don’t understand it. And this isn’t about Tom [Hiddleston]. This is about the choice. I’m not out to diss his acting or anything like that. I’m just going to shoot from the hip. I don’t think it’s a good pick, especially hearing what I did. Anyone can sing in a low register like that. I don’t hear any nasal twang to it. I honestly just want to see the best movie that can be made, because it’s been a while since they’ve made one that’s been good. Your Cheatin’ Heart had some moments, but honestly, Audrey [Hank's wife] killed that script, and took out most of the real things about it. I guess I’m so vocal about it because I care, and I want to see the best movie made. I try to let it get out of my head, and God only knows why this one is rubbing me raw, but it is.

Well this is supposed to be the definitive biopic, or at least that’s how they’re portraying it, based off of Colin Escott’s biography which is the definitive biography of Hank Williams. So this is the big one.

Yeah, I may have a shady reputation here and there and might say some things, but all in all I’m pretty humble about what I do, and I’m not out to put anybody down. But when it comes to something as important as this, I have to say some things. It goes from the street, all the way up to the corporate level in Nashville. There’s already a lot of people shaking their heads. And I know it just puts Tom [Hiddleston] in a bad situation.

To get into those areas that are really deep, you need to getting into the areas around here. Here in Tennessee, in Alabama, in Louisiana, to live it, eat it and breathe it. When Johnny Depp did Hunter S. Thompson, where was he? He was living in Hunter’s basement. No disrespect to Rodney Crowell, but there’s two Hank Williams walking this earth right now.

I know you have no direct say so in the Hank Williams estate; that’s handled by Jr. and Jett. But it doesn’t sound like they reached out to you at all to get consultation, or even to vet the populous to try and find the best person to play Hank Williams. You have may not wanted the role even if it was offered to you, but the resemblance is there both with your voice and your likeness. Why wouldn’t they reach out for a screen test? You’ve done some acting in the past. Did they even reach out just to say, “Hey, we know your passion for your grandfather, why don’t you come in and at least give us your advice or consultation?” None of that happen with you or your father [Hank Jr.]?

Yeah, there’s been nothing. And that could be because of politics, and because I don’t have that big time mover and shaker manager in my corner. But no one has approach me, and I’m a very easy to get to guy.

And unfortunately, the BBC, the Europeans, they all have a huge appreciation for Hank Williams. That’s not a question in my mind. There is a true love there. But for the role, and for the movie, it’s just doesn’t feel right. It’s going to be hard to look at for someone like me, or someone who is a die hard Hank Williams fan. It’s going to be a very big hurdle to overcome. I know Tom [Hiddleston] has fire in some of his roles, but if you really do your homework on Hank Williams, he was a very cocky individual who would stare you down almost like you were going to be getting into a fight. It’s an intensity that’s kind of different. There’s a lot of things in the nose structure and the jawline, just basic stuff. I’m not trying to gain the press, I’m just giving an opinion. And unfortunately, my opinion isn’t what they’re wanting to hear.

Hypothetically, let’s just say the filmmakers did reach out to you, either in the future or in the past to get your opinions, or to try out for the role. Would you have been receptive to those things, and would you be receptive to those things now?

I tell every director my weakness of what they have to work with, and what they have to pull out of me. I’ve been on a movie set, I’ve done it. People like Earl Brown have said to me, “Well, you can do it, you’ve got it.” It doesn’t matter if people are pitching TV shows at me or documentaries, or anything, I always tell them what I’m like as a person, and what to expect. And then as far as your job as a director, you’re going to have to heighten it to the next level to really get what you need out of me. I’m open, and I tell folks the pluses and the minuses, and I’m the first one to say I’m no super great actor, and I’m no super great singer. I always shoot straight. I do the best that I can, and some folks get it, and some folks don’t. But a lot of people have the potential for this role. It’s just getting the right foundation up under it.

The director is Marc Abraham, and he hasn’t done much directing. He’s mostly a producer; a behind-the-scenes type guy, and he’s done a lot of horror and action films. He’s a guy that definitely has a name in Hollywood, has made a lot of movies, and people know him. But this is only the second film that he’s directed.

As Jeff Bridges would say, a young director, sometimes they don’t know the rules to break. Every movie you make you learn something and it takes time to hone in on your craft. It doesn’t sound like a very seasoned guy for that role. I hate to look at anything just on paper, but if you’re looking at who the lead guy is, who the director is, yeah man, it’s kind of so so, for all that Hank Williams has done.

Some people are saying, “Well, you’re criticizing something that hasn’t even been made yet.” Any movie is going to necessitate the audience to suspend disbelief. But I guess the counterpoint to that would be to speak now or forever hold your peace, because as soon as this movie production begins, people can chirp all they want, but it’s not necessarily going to change anything. What would you say to people who say you’re not even giving it a chance?

I just know that there’s some things there that you can’t teach, no matter how hard you try to polish it or morph it into something you want. And unfortunately, this movie is going in that direction. With this, it’s like, I already know. No matter how much you polish it, it’s not going to hit the potential that it could, just because of what they’re sticking with, or where they could take it. Just like a guitar player that might know a million and one notes and he’s a guitar whiz and all that. But he has no feel. And this is falling under that category. It’s just not going to have much feel, because Tom is already going to be worried about this role, he’s already getting flack over it. Many many people are just not impressed as far as the whole situation around it.

And it definitely puts Rodney Crowell in a strange position. I’m definitely not wanting to be hard on him. But if if Rodney Crowell is the voice coach, it says a lot right there too.

And for some reason it is deeply embedding in my skull and I can’t get it out. Just the fact of why the hell is this bothering me right now because I’ve got a hell of a lot of other stuff on my plate right now.

Well, it’s your grandfather. You’ve been doing this Reinstate Hank campaign for years. You’re one of the biggest champions in trying to preserve his legacy and pay it forward to a new generation. And this movie symbolizes such an amazing opportunity to do that. That’s the promise of the movie if they do it right, is it could have a huge impact on revitalizing the understanding of who Hank Williams was to the American culture and to the music culture of the world.

But I will say, with or without this movie, Hank Williams’ music is still going to do that. I had to bring that up earlier today. No matter, his music is going to be timeless, and movies come and go. At the end of the day, his music and what he did is going to outlast the movie, and be passed on for generations. That is why he is as special as he is.

You’re 41 years old now, which is hard to contemplate for your fans, but probably even harder for you because you’re still doing your punk and metal music, you’re still stretching out shows to four and five hours. Where do you find that energy? It must take a big toll.

I approach every tour like it is my last tour. I am the strongest / weakest person you’ll ever meet. It’s a weird Jekyll and Hyde relationship. It’s just like art—you create, and then you destroy. And when I go out on the road, I’m putting it on the line, I’m taking it to the next level, I put 100% into my shows. Some nights, the voice just feels too good and the audience wants more, and it will end up being a five hour show. But no matter what, I do two hours of country. It’s like I have to go the extra mile to be able to rock out, and to pay respects to my fans and to make sure everyone got their money’s worth, I always do two hours of country, and then I go off into the Hellbilly and all of the other sounds.

It’s pretty intense for right now. And one day it might not be as hard, but where I get that energy and that drive from is playing every show like it’s my last show, and putting it on the line while I can. Because if I make it to my 50′s then yeah maybe I’ll get back into the country fairs and not be as intense. It’s hard to say where I’ll be. You look at Lemmy and you look at Willie. Who knows what the future holds. Right now I’m very proud to have the diverse audience that I have. A lot of people have preconceived notions of about how fame was just handed to me when it’s not been like that. It’s hard to carve out your own niche when you’re standing in the shadows of Hank Sr. and Hank Jr. But I feel comfortable that people have accepted me for Hank3. Not everybody gets it, and not everybody is supposed to. It’s a long show, and it’s a hard one. I’m trying to put on the biggest little show in a bar out there, and know that there’s no one else in the world doing what we’re were doing as far as at the level that we’re at.

Where is your band sitting these days? There’s been a lot of interest if Andy Gibson (steel guitar player) will be returning.

Some of the guys just need a break every now and then. I’m sure when I’m recording another record, I’ll check in and see what’s going on with Andy. Dwayne [Dennison] is not going to be out on this next tour. And just for the record, this last tour was barely able to get off the ground. I got double booked. I got confirmed on a show I didn’t give the go ahead on, and just as of yesterday I got a crew together, so this one has been down to the wire. So were having to work extra hard on this gig.

And word generally on when we could expect a new album or albums, or what we could expect from them once they’re released?

I can’t go off full bore into a whole other project just yet until I break even off of the two records that I released. So once I break even from Brothers of the 4X4 and A Fiendish Threat, then I can start putting my efforts off into either a new country record, or whatever it is. So right now I’ve just been doing a good bit of side work, and playing to keep playing. But there’s nothing officially set at this point. I’m basically in road mode still. And as soon as I hear that I have broken even, I’ll move on to the next one.

Sep
9

Scott Borchetta Tried to Convince Taylor Swift to Stay Country

September 9, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  59 Comments

taylor-swift

Taylor Swift, who just made her big switch from country to pop, is the focus of Rolling Stone‘s cover story in the latest issue, and the in-depth feature finds Miss Swift dunking in the ocean fully clothed and dropping some very interesting tidbits that could help country music perform its postmortem about why Taylor Swift left and what it really means.

The first interesting nugget from the article is how the Country Music Antichrist and head of Big Machine Records Scott Borchetta attempted to keep Taylor Swift in the genre, or at least tried to convince Swift to give him some country singles that he could use to keep her in the country fold.

A casual fan won’t notice much difference, but to Swift and her brand, it’s a big step. She says she won’t be going to country-awards shows or promoting the album on country radio. When she first turned in the record, she says the head of her label, Scott Borchetta, told her, “This is extraordinary – it’s the best album you’ve ever done. Can you just give me three country songs?”

“Love you, mean it,” is how Swift characterizes her response. “But this is how it’s going to be.”

But even more interesting is the wisdom, either purposeful or accidental, that Taylor Swift dropped about trying to pursue a dual musical life, and what the result could be…

One of the quizzical things about Taylor Swift’s country departure is how unnecessary it seemed. The genre has moved so far in the pop direction, she wouldn’t need to deliver Scott Borchetta three country songs to stay country. Swift could simply release any song she wanted to country radio, and they probably would play it. In fact, some country stations are playing Swift’s new single anyway. But this course would have continued the incessant conflict that has dogged Swift’s career since its inception about how she’s not country. By officially making the switch to pop, she puts most of those criticisms to bed.

Also, since Borchetta is being portrayed in the article as trying to keep Swift within the country fold at least to some extent, it shows that Swift’s decision was not based on business. Something else that was strange about Taylor’s move to pop was it seems to be going against the grain of the current trends in popular music. Most pop music is moving towards country not away from it, because country is seen as the greenest pasture at the moment, continuing to gain market share and solidify its place as the most popular genre of music. But Swift’s move appears to be more philosophical, and perhaps, a little more long-sighted; more long-sighted than the view country music is currently taking of itself.

In the Rolling Stone article, Swift acknowledges that her last album, 2012′s Red, straddled the boundary between country and pop. “But at a certain point, if you chase two rabbits, you lose them both,” Swift says.

While most people will likely gloss over this point in the article as they try to spy a wet Taylor Swift nipple through her white shirt or obsess on if it’s really Katy Perry she’s apparently calling out with one of her new songs, there is wisdom here that country music would be smart to heed. When you try to appeal to everyone, which country music is trying to do right now by being so open to pop, rap, and EDM sounds, you end up not capturing anyone. All of the “rabbits” (to use Swift’s analogy) go hopping away, and you’re left in the popular music lurch, just like rock music is at the moment.

The fashionable claim to make right now is that genres don’t matter, and you don’t just hear this from country music’s biggest pop stars, but from independent and Americana artists like Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson. But what Taylor Swift did by declaring herself pop is she proved why they still do. Taylor Swift is the most popular artist of the current generation, and she felt the need to more clearly define herself and her music, not because it was necessary or even commercially lucrative, but because it was smarter in the long-term and extricated her from confusion and conflict. She defined herself as pop against the wishes of her label, and against popular trends. And now her career is on more sure footing, and she can be more confident in herself and in her music moving forward, and ironically, gain the respect of many of her country detractors over the years for finally being honest.

Again, most will allow for this wisdom to zoom right over their heads. But Miss Swift just proved she’s one step ahead, and one measure wiser than the industry she just left.

Sep
8

Why Jason Aldean Deserved to be Snubbed by the CMA’s

September 8, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  58 Comments

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This post has been updated (at bottom).

When the CMA Awards nominees were announced on Wednesday September 3rd, one of the most high-profile snubs in years occurred when Jason Aldean was left in the shade with zero nominations. As one of country music’s few stadium draws, and as the reigning Male Vocalist of the Year of the rival ACM Awards, the snub seemed somewhat curious, even to those who may count themselves as Jason Aldean detractors.

It was definitely curious to Jason Aldean’s father Barry Williams, who took to his Facebook account to vent about his son’s snubbing.

Ok, somebody help me out here. We have a country artist who has had at least a dozen number one singles, is the most downloaded country artist of all time, consistently sells out stadiums, has broken attendance records set by George Strait, Kenny Chesney, and even Paul McCartney. Yet he doesn’t even get one nomination for the CMA awards this year. He has been consistently shunned by the Academy the last couple of years when it was obvious that he was deserving of the Entertainer of The Year Award, based on statistics, not popularity of the Academy. This current failure to recognize Jason for his accomplishments only furthers my opinion that the CMA’s are a joke and a farce. I don’t want this to sound like “sour grapes”, but the statistics should speak for themselves.

This citing of statistics is the same argument Clear Channel DJ Bobby Bones used when he complained about his snubbing by the CMA’s. Bobby Bones also asserted, “Jason Aldean got screwed too!

First, let’s dispense of this idea that Jason Aldean has been “consistently shunned by the Academy…” No, Jason Aldean has never won Entertainer of the Year, but he’s been nominated three times, and has been recognized by the CMA’s just as much as any male artist over the last three years.

In 2013, Jason Aldean was nominated by the CMA for Male Vocalist of the Year, Entertainer of the Year, and Vocal Event of the Year. In 2012, Aldean was nominated for Male Vocalist, Entertainer of the Year, and Single of the Year. In 2011, Aldean was nominated for a total of five awards, including Entertainer of the Year, Single of the Year, and he won Vocal Event of the Year for “Don’t You Wanna Stay” with Kelley Clarkson, and Album of the Year for My Kinda Party. You combine this with Jason’s nomination for the Horizon Award in 2010, and that is twelve total CMA nominations, and two wins—hardly a shunning by the CMA.

Something else to be factored in is this was an off year for Jason Aldean due to his album cycle. Aldean’s last release was 2012′s Night Train, which was not eligible along with many of the album’s biggest singles for this year’s awards. Aldean’s new album Old Boots, New Dirt is about to be released and will be eligible next year. And let’s face it, Night Train was a step down from Aldean’s previous album My Kinda Party, which set the pace commercially for country music in 2011. My Kinda Party has sold over 3 million copies, while Night Train only reached 1.6 million.

Boiled down, what happened in 2014 was Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley both re-entered the CMA Awards top male tier because of big years. Dierks Bentley’s Riser album has been quite successful both commercially and critically, and Keith Urban’s new album and American Idol judgeship probably caused him to be more prominent in the minds of voters. It does seem a little strange Urban would be up for Entertainer of the Year and not Aldean, but it’s not so out of the realm of possibility that it should be taken as a sign of impropriety any more than the dozens of other reasons we already know the CMA is flawed.

But favorable “statistics” or “popularity” is not a guarantee of anything. That’s why people vote for CMA nominees and winners instead of using stats to determine the outcomes. Critical reception and other intangibles always must factor into these types of decisions, and that is where Jason Aldean may have shot himself in the foot this year. In the midst of the initial rounds of CMA voting, Jason Aldean released his latest single, “Burnin’ It Down.” Though the song quickly revealed itself as a commercial blockbuster, it was heavily criticized in its initial reception, including by many of Jason Aldean’s core fans. “Burnin’ It Down” symbolized such an abandonment of country music’s sonic values, it may have compelled many of the CMA voters to shudder at the idea of putting a check mark beside Aldean’s name. Jason Aldean has a history of stretching country music’s borders with singles, including country rap tunes like “Dirt Road Anthem” and “1994.”

On September 1st, Jason Aldean streamed his new album through the viral site BuzzFeed. Simply using that forum to preview his new music speaks to just how low brow Aldean seems to be aiming with this new project. Aldean states, “I’m the same dude, but we’re gonna start over and hit some uncharted territory here…If somebody can put a definition on what country music is, please tell me…I’m pretty knowledgeable in country music, and I’ve never once seen where it says, ‘Country music doesn’t have a drum loop.’” 

Actually Jason Aldean, country music does have a definition, and drum loops are nowhere to be found. Songs like “Burnin’ It Down” go strictly against how country music is defined by the CMA for example, which defines country as…

…the sound of Jimmie Rodgers yodeling – Keith Urban blasting out a guitar solo – The poetry of Hank Williams Sr. on “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” - A room full of convicts cheering on Johnny Cash as he sings “San Quentin, I hate every inch of you” - Alan Jackson speaking for the common man in the wake of September 11th - Feisty Loretta Lynn, and tearful Tammy Wynette - Roy Acuff showing off yo-yo tricks at the Grand Ole Opry - Miranda Lambert performing a heartfelt ballad - The King of Country George Strait – The showmanship of superstars Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley and Taylor Swift.

Jason Aldean goes on to tell BuzzFeed,

“It’s great to put your stuff out there and give your fans a chance to tell you what they think. But if you’re not careful, you can read way too much into what people are saying. No, [“Burnin’ It Down”] is not Hank Williams Sr. or George Jones, but this also isn’t the ’60s and the ’70s. As great as that music was, you have a new wave of artists that were influenced by a whole different world of music, and country music is gonna evolve just like any kind of music.”

See, this is the justification all of these artists give for releasing music that is not country. They know it’s wrong, and so they try to justify it to themselves and the public as “evolution,” and then expect the country industry, like the CMA, to snap to and help serve it to the public.

Country music is in the identity crisis of its life. Left and right, artists are trying to turn country music into something it isn’t for the short-term commercial gain. There’s no better examples of this than Jason Aldean’s “Burnin’ It Down” and “Dirt Road Anthem.” If any entity is in a position of leadership to at least set some moderate boundaries around what country music actually is before its sound is lost to the monogenre forever, it would be the CMA. “You can read way too much into what people are saying,” Jason Aldean says, but perhaps Aldean isn’t reading enough.

As many of country music’s other big acts at the moment are turning to more substantive material in the face of growing negative sentiment about the direction of country music—including Florida Georgia Line who helped write “Burnin’ It Down”—Jason Aldean decided to take a different approach. And perhaps that cost him, as it probably should have. An institution like the CMA should not reward someone who is so flippant about defining country music. The CMA should reward artists who excel at showing the public the beauty of what country music truly is.

***UPDATE (9-9-14): Jason Aldean has responded to his CMA snubbing. He told Rolling Stone Country in part,

Obviously it’s disappointing. We’re still out there selling out shows. With maybe the exception of Luke [Bryan], I don’t think there is anybody else out there that is doing the kind of touring numbers that we’re doing. It’s frustrating, man, but at the same time, I don’t know how…what do you do? Things like that are out of your hands.”

“When [the nominations] came out, everything stirred up a hornet’s nest with everybody. All the DJs on the radio were talking about it and everything else. Which is cool. I do appreciate the fact that there are people out there who do realize what we’re doing. It sort of validates my reasoning for being upset.”

It is what it is. You can bitch and complain about it, or you just go and keep doing things the way you always did.

In fairness, George Strait has also been selling out shows and breaking attendance records, not just Luke Bryan.

Sep
5

Nashville’s Independent Artists Speaking Out About City’s Growth

September 5, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  40 Comments

“You can’t just roll into town anymore. It’s a fucking arms race to find the last affordable rental. More Wayne Newton than Waylon Jennings.” — Caitlin Rose

It’s that penultimate moment—that tipping point—when a town or neighborhood known for it’s cool, rich, and creatively-vibrant culture becomes so awash with interlopers, gentrifying hipsters, and retiring baby boomers that the critical mass point is reached in redevelopment, rising rents, and real estate prices and the entire thing implodes, leaving in ruin the whole reason people desired to be in the area in the first place, and taking with it the inspiration that brews beneath the streets, the collaboration that is fostered in its venues and low rent space, and a magical time and place on the musical timeline falls victim to imported money and urban renewal, maybe to be harbored once again in another part of town or another town altogether, or maybe not.

east-nashville-muralNashville—not Music Row Nashville—but the independent underbelly of Nashville and specifically the East Nashville portion of town, have been the rallying point for the current generation of vibrant country and Americana artists that make up the heart of what independent roots music has been all about for the last half decade to decade or so, but even going back to the 70′s when songwriters from Texas were moving to the city to be closer to artists who may cut their songs. East Nashville’s affordability gave artists the ability to be flexible with their income, allowed them to be able to only work part time, or dedicate themselves solely to their craft in a way that wouldn’t be possible amidst a higher cost of living. East Nashville was the creative generator of Music City, churning out songs that inspired the rest of the town, and the rest of the industry.

But all that might be changing, or has changed, depending on who you ask.

In late June Saving Country Music published an article entitled How Nashville’s Economic Boom Could Kill Its Creativity, later to be reposed by American Songwriter. In just the short two-month period that has since passed, as more and more development breaks ground and other massive building projects get announced, Music City may have finally reached the point of no return; at least that is what some of the artists are now saying.

On August 21st, performer and songwriter Caitlin Rose, daughter of well-known songwriter Liz Rose, went on a Twitter rant about what she sees currently going on in Nashville.

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Caitlin Rose

“Everyone can stop moving to Nashville now. We’re full. Thanks.” Caitlin said in part. “Did y’all hear they’re tearing down all of Nashville and putting one giant Margaritaville in its place? People come to Nashville for the music. They stay for the expensive chain restaurants and condo culture. They never leave… Everyone’s got dreams of making it in Music City, USA. Most of them don’t. Like barely any of them.”

This marrying of concerns about the percentage of independent businesses and the ability for young artists to make it in the city speaks to complexity of the gentrification issue. It’s not just the low rents, or even the concentration of creative types in a certain locale that sees the formation of a creative epicenter, it’s also the inspiration that can be drawn from cool old buildings, independently-owned business, mural art and graffiti, and a menagerie of other community elements that go into building a creative forward environment. “Just saw badass dude biking down Charlotte with a raccoon on his shoulder and a box full of blankets. Fuck new Nashville and condo culture,” Caitlin Rose tweeted out a few days later.

"This is where my grandfather's house used to be" native Nashville resident Justin Townes Earle tweeted out last year.

“This is where my grandfather’s house used to be” native Nashville resident Justin Townes Earle tweeted out last year.

Justin Townes Earle, son of alt. country forefather Steve Earle, has been another vocal opponent of Nashville’s gentrification. Earle grew up in the city, and regularly takes to Twitter to complain about the bulldozing of landmarks, the building of condos, and the general scrubbing away of everything Music City is supposed to be about. Earle recently told American Songwriter, Nashville is where I was born and raised, I never got away from the city, but the city is definitely not the city that I grew up in…It’s pretty crazy, people here think they live in New York. They live in Nashville, and it’s hard to swallow sometimes. I had a fucked up childhood so I lived in over 30 houses in the city, and I think that maybe two of them are still standing, and one of them is part of an apartment complex.

Otis Gibbs is one of East Nashville’s most identifiable musician residents, and offers a slightly different perspective. His Thanks For Giving A Damn podcast regularly features friends and neighbors from his East Nashville haunt, and he likes to hoot and harp on the East Nashville way of living regularly on Twitter.

“Amy Lashley and I moved here seven years ago from Indianapolis, but the growth in East Nashville started long before we came along,” says Otis. “People like Chuck Mead, Skip Litz, Joe McMahan, Kevin Gordon, Sergio Webb, Mike Grimes and later Todd Snider were living here and touring the world twenty years ago, or more. Back before that people like Guy Clark, Marty Robbins, Roy Acuff, Grady Martin and a lot of others lived here. This has been a neighborhood full of creative people over the last few decades, but the national media is just now catching on.”

Otis shared a picture with Saving Country Music of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Susanna Clark on Guy Clark’s porch in East Nashville that speaks to the history of East Nashville as a bastion for creative types.

Guy-Clark-

“Nashville is home to the best pickers in the world,” says Otis Gibbs. “It’s an embarrassment of riches and it’s easily my favorite part of living here. I played a venue in Zurich, Switzerland a couple of weeks ago and saw a poster advertizing my neighbor’s band. He owns the house next to mine and he’ll be playing that same club next month. The first time I ever met that same neighbor was when we both played a festival in Springfield, Illinois. He walked up to me back stage and said, “I think you live in the house next to mine.” That sort of thing happens all the time. I once learned who moved into the house down the street from me by reading his name on his road cases as he was moving in.”

Otis says home ownership for East Nashville’s musicians is one way to hold on to heart of what the community has become over the years.

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Otis Gibbs

“It’s always nice to see musicians in my neighborhood who own their homes. It’s cheaper than renting and if property values get as crazy around here as some people suspect, they’ll have something to show for it. I have friends in South Austin who bought their homes back in the day and have seen their homes quadruple in value.” 

The problem is when those homes values increase, if the musicians aren’t already locked into ownership, they are locked out of the community in rising prices and rents, and that is the new dilemma arising for many of East Nashville’s musicians. One of the biggest points of contention in the community is the splitting of lots so that two new homes can be built on the same original lot. Along with the demolition of older apartment complexes, this has seen the inventory of older and cheaper housing in the city dry up, and with it, much of the original character of East Nashville neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods, including East Nashville’s Inglewood and Rosebank districts are looking to restructure zoning laws to help stem the tide of gentrification.

Still, growth and lot division is occurring because of the demand for more living space in East Nashville, and where there are losers, there’s winners as well. Craig Havighurst, a writer and the co-host of Music City Roots has a different take on condos and all of the commotion about Nashville growth.

Urban creative hives require urban scale and urban density, which is something I feel we’re only beginning to approach from South of Broadway all the way out to Green Hills. Two houses on one lot are a way to provide critical housing supply without sprawling. It might prove to be one of the best accidental policy ideas the city’s ever had. Because better to build in and up than out. Complaints that the houses are too large for their lots are entirely subjective and based on the look and feel of a kind of neighborhood that isn’t necessarily compatible with urban dynamism. The new people fill new restaurants and coffee shops, where those aspiring musicians find jobs while they develop. And a lot of those new arts and music professionals bought starter homes in Inglewood and Sylvan Park. We can empathize with folks who are seeing their rents rise and still acknowledge that for many, this was a good investment that will make their future more secure.

What everyone can agree on is that the cultural dynamic that exists in Nashville at the moment and has helped give rise to artists like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Caitlin Rose, Justin Townes Earle, Cory Branan, Tristen, Lindi Ortega, many more countless names in the past, and who knows who in the future, is in every music fan’s interest in seeing preserved because of the musical riches it has afforded us for the last few years, and for decades before.

Sep
4

What Is Garth’s GhostTunes, And Is It A Game Changer?

September 4, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  35 Comments

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Today (9-4) at a press conference in Chicago ahead of the very first concert of Garth’s world tour and his official comeback from retirement, he announced that he was going digital, and doing so by launching his own digital company. As one of the last holdouts to the iTunes generation, Garth’s music couldn’t be found in either a downloadable or streamable form anywhere on the internet. The 3rd best selling artist in the history of music insisted that he did not want to piecemeal his material out in individual songs, but wanted to sell his music digitally as entire albums out of respect for the album concept. This insistence on special treatment compared to every other artist already dealing in digital is what made Garth unwilling to work with iTunes, Amazon, or anyone else.

Now that all changes. Garth has launched GhostTunes LLC, which allows the artist to select how their songs or albums are sold. Just like iTunes, artists can choose to allow consumers to buy individual songs if they want, or they can choose to only make their music available as cohesive albums. GhostTunes also touts the ability for artists to bundle music together in a manner not seen by major digital retailers, meaning if artist’s so choose, they can sell two albums, three albums, or their entire discography together at a discounted price. Maybe they take seven songs from seven different albums, and offer them as an EP. Offer a live DVD with two separate albums. They can also bundle digital albums with physical albums, or other merch like T-Shirts, stickers, etc.

garth-brooks-bundleFor example, as a promotional deal from Garth Brooks and GhostTunes, Garth is making his entire career’s work available for one price. Eight studio albums, a double live album and DVD, and two new digital albums not even released yet are being made available to the public digitally for $29.99. Compared to the sticker price of 12 albums from comparative digital retailers, that is a steal. Of course, if you already have Garth’s CD’s, you’ve been able to burn them into iTunes or your digital music program for years. And since the music listening paradigm is already shifting dramatically away from downloads to digital streaming, at some point all downloads may lose their intrinsic value. Still, from the regularly dollar-driver Garth, this digital package seems like one hell of a deal.

Something else GhostTunes touts is the ability to purchase music, and listen to it immediately (meaning, without having to go through the time {or the data allowances} to download it), and it will immediately show up on your respective music devices in a derivative or hybrid of cloud technology. This makes GhostTunes sort of a cross between a download store like iTunes, and a streaming service like Spotify. Rights deals have already been signed, and GhostTunes already gives consumers access to millions of songs.

All of this sounds interesting, and GhostTunes is offering just enough wrinkles in their service to delineate themselves from the competition, including offering more flexibility to musicians which in turn might entice more hardcore fans and Audiofiles to the format, but is GhostTunes truly a game changer in digital music?

Releasing all of Garth’s music digitally is most definitely a game changer. As part of Garth’s announcement of going digital, GhostTunes erected the biggest virtual billboard any small-time technology company could ever imagine. The sheer volume of people coming to check the format out and pick up their Garth bundle is going to create the momentum to make GhostTunes a player in the digital music space if nothing else happens subsequently. But who is this all about? Is this about Garth Brooks the artist finally figuring out a way to release his music digitally, or is this about Garth Brooks the GhostTunes founder launching a forward-thinking digital music company that can make the rest of the industry offer more choices, and service artists better?

In GhostTunes’ infant stages, it’s hard to tell what effect it might have, but the inherent trouble for GhostTunes the company is that digital downloading is already next to antiquated. Garth has been retired so long, he missed the evolution of not one, but two music delivery mediums, and streaming is where everything seems to be headed. In the short term, with the slightly older demographic Garth appeals to, many of which are still trying to get used to iTunes, the GhostTunes format may still be appealing…for a while. But eventually GhostTunes would have to figure out how to compete in a non-download environment. Giving consumers the ability to listen to music right after purchase without downloading it is a start, but where does it go from there?

ghosttunesHowever, there may be the perfect little niche in the digital music marketplace for GhostTunes to thrive. As Saving Country Music has pointed out in the past, there exists a desire from both consumers and artists to create a more sustainable digital environment for music. You don’t have to go far to find story after story about how the payouts from streamers like Spotify and Pandora are abhorrently low, and do not create a sustainable environment for musicians. GhostTunes, with its cheaper, quasi-streaming ability could be a potential solution; if not in its current form, then in whatever form it may take in the future.

When you really look at it, GhostTunes is a “for the artists, by the artists” type of digital format. Though most artists and independent consumers may naturally see someone like Garth Brooks as the enemy, the idea he built GhostTunes around was to give artists more control—something that was lost in the advent of iTunes. GhostTunes still has to prove its relevancy in the marketplace to survive. But it might be a good start. GhostTunes might also challenge the bigger streaming companies like iTunes, Amazon, or even some of the streamers, to augment their formats—allowing artists to offer songs only in the album format, or bundled with physical merch. Some other formats like CD Baby and BandCamp already allow such bundling, but GhostTunes could take this practice mainstream.

Something else to consider is the future is not totally etched in stone for Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and other streamers. None of these companies have been able to show sufficient enough profit to convince the public of their long-term viability. iHeartRadio’s parent company Clear Channel is sitting under a mountain of debt and continues to turn in quarterly deficits. These streaming companies and subsidiaries are predicated on what they might do in the future, not the profits they are making now. And meanwhile Congress and many artist advocacy groups are looking into trying to increase payouts companies like Pandora music give to artists and songwriters, which could eventually disrupt their streaming model and put them out-of-business, or limit their growth.

In the end, there’s a good chance GhostTunes will be small, and remain small. And it seems like Garth Brooks would be just fine with that. In the press conference Garth said, “What we’re trying to show the rest of the industry is that you can do this for any artist and we want you to do this for any artist. It’s a beautiful format that is young, it’s flexible, it’s small. I want to stay small because I don’t want corporate wagging the tail of the dog.” But its effect on how we all consume music may be much greater depending how the digital music wind blows in the coming years.

READ: Why NPR Should Offer a Streaming Music Service

Sep
3

2014 CMA Awards Nominees, Picks, & Prognostications

September 3, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  46 Comments

cma-awards-001On Wednesday morning (9-3), the nominees for the 48th Annual CMA Awards were announced on ABC’s Good Morning America and through a CMA Live stream. The 2014 CMA Awards will happen on Wednesday November 5th on ABC, and will be hosted by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood.

Leading all nominees with nine is Miranda Lambert. Dierks Bentely also turns in a strong showing with five considerations. And amongst the critic’s favorites, Brandy Clark comes in with two nominations, including for New Artist of the Year, and steel guitarist Paul Franklin also receives two nominations.

Though Taylor Swift has officially declared herself pop, she still rounds out the Female Vocalist category with a nomination. And despite officially retiring from touring this year, reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year George Strait shows up once again for the distinction.

The other curious takeaway from the nominations is Jason Aldean isn’t nominated for anything. After the year he’s had, this is nothing short of astounding. There is a story here somewhere, maybe doing with his infidelity, or with his label Broken Bow. The exclusion of Jason Aldean could set up as a big night for Luke Bryan.

 

Entertainer of the Year

Whether Taylor Swift would be included in this category was one of the biggest questions heading into these nominations. She’s been a perennial Entertainer nominee for the last half decade. There also seemed to be a slight chance we could see Florida Georgia Line here with the huge year they have had. In the end, Big Machine Records gets shut out, Miranda Lambert is the female representative, and King George shows up yet again, challenging the notion that last year’s win was a parting gift.

This is a two horse race. Luke Bryan has put together an incredible year, and has to be considered the front runner, but George Strait with his touring success can’t be ruled out. Remember at the ACM Awards earlier in 2014 when George got picked over Luke, members of the Luke camp erupted. This duel will be the big drama of the night.

Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert have no chance. Blake Shelton would be the dark horse.

  • Luke Bryan – Winner 
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Blake Shelton
  • George Strait – Another Potential Winner
  • Keith Urban

 

Male Vocalist of the Year

Blake Shelton has been a shoe-in for this distinction the last few years, just as his wife Miranda Lambert has been the shoe-in for the females. But Luke Bryan has to be considered the strongest in the field. If Luke gets locked out of the Entertainer of the Year, the pressure may be to give Luke Bryan Male Vocalist as a consolation prize. Eric Church and Keith Urban are not contenders. Keith is simply the name the CMA’s are using to fill out the lists this year. Dierks has put together a great run with Riser, and would be both the dark horse, and the critical favorite.

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Luke Bryan – Winner
  • Eric Church
  • Blake Shelton – Other Potential Winner
  • Keith Urban

 

Female Vocalist of the Year

Of course the CMA nominates Taylor Swift in this category despite her not considering herself country anymore, though hypothetically this is for the year that just passed—before Taylor made her pop declaration. And lacking any real candidates because of the exclusiveness of mainstream country music, the CMA taps Martina McBride again to fill the 5th spot. Country music is not developing female talent, and perusing this category annually proves this.

Miranda runs away with it.

  • Miranda Lambert – Winner
  • Martina McBride
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood

 

Album of the Year

Since Eric Church’s last album Chief swept this category at the award shows two years ago, he has to be considered a contender. But you just don’t feel the same momentum for The Outsiders. If label politics win out however, he may walk away with it. This is the award the Eric Church camp will be lobbying heaviest for.

But this all feels like it is setting up to be a big night for Luke Bryan, and Crash My Party is a front runner. Keep an eye out for Dierks Bentley too. This would be considered the critical favorite of the bunch. Sorry Keith, you’ve got no chance.

  • Crash My Party, Luke Bryan – Winner
  • Fuse, Keith Urban
  • Platinum, Miranda Lambert
  • Riser, Dierks Bentley – Other Potential Winner
  • The Outsiders, Eric Church – Other Potential Winner 

 

Song of the Year

“Follow Your Arrow” would be the winner that would have the media agog over its liberal message in what’s considered a conservative environment, but that subplot may never have a chance to materialize. Fairly wide open field here, but let’s all hope Dallas Davidson doesn’t walk away with any hardware. “Automatic” and “I Hold On” would be the two songs that balance the critical and commercial success a Song of the Year usually needs to win, but if the CMA wants to make a statement, “Follow Your Arrow” may just prevail. There weren’t five better songs out there in country music?

  • “Automatic,” Nicolle Galyon, Natalie Hemby, and Miranda Lambert 
  • “Follow Your Arrow,” Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Kacey Musgraves
  • “Give Me Back My Hometown,” Eric Church & Luke Laird
  • “I Don’t Dance,” Lee Brice, Dallas Davidson, & Rob Hatch
  • “I Hold On,” Dierks Bentley & Brett James 

 

Single of the Year

Boy, the CMA’s and mainstream country music are really showing just how bereft they are by these song nominations.

  •  “Automatic,” Miranda Lambert
  • “Drunk On A Plane,” Dierks Bentley
  • “Give Me Back My Hometown,” Eric Church
  • “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s,” Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill
  • “Mine Would Be You,” Blake Shelton

 

New Artist of the Year

Very cool to see Brandy Clark’s name here, and simply her nomination has to be considered a victory. But she has no chance. Thomas Rhett has been pegged as one of the next country superstars for a few years now, and his pedigree may be enough to best Kip Moore and Cole Swindell, who are the other strong contenders.

  • Brandy Clark
  • Brett Eldredge
  • Kip Moore
  • Thomas Rhett – Winner
  • Cole Swindell

 

Vocal Duo of the Year

Who, who, and who? Once again mainstream country proves how top heavy their talent is, and how terrible they are at developing new acts when it comes to trying to round out these categories with artists that are deserving of such a distinction. The world will end before anyone but Florida Georgia Line walks away with this.

  • Dan+Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line – Winner
  • Love & Theft
  • Swon Brothers
  • Thompson Square

 

Vocal Group of the Year

Good to see the Texas scene represented here (at least to some degree) with Eli Young Band. Zac Brown should win it, Lady Antebellum doesn’t have a chance since it’s an off-year for them. Little Big Town is the reigning champion, and there seems to be a lot of energy behind them lately.

  • Eli Young Band
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town – Winner
  • The Band Perry – Other Potential Winner
  • Zac Brown Band – Other Potential Winner

 

Event of the Year

Cool to see names like Vince Gill, Paul Franklin, Dolly Parton, and Kenny Rogers show up, but in the end there’s probably only two strong contenders. “We Were Us” would be a dark horse, but its rise and fall on the singles charts was pretty fast. “Somethin’ Bad” shouldn’t be nominated for anything and would be an embarrassment if it won, which it very well might.

  • “Bakersfield,” Vince Gill & Paul Franklin
  • “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s,” Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill – Winner
  • “Somethin’ Bad,” Miranda Lambert duet with Carrie Underwood – Other Potential Winner
  • “We Were Us,” Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert
  • “Can’t Make Old Friends,” Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers

 

Music Video of the Year

So, so blah. So many great videos out there, and we’re nominating “Somethin’ Bad” and “Drunk On A Plane”?

  • “Automatic,” Miranda Lambert, directed by Trey Fanjoy
  • “Bartender,” Lady Antebellum, directed by Shane Drake
  • “Drunk On A Plane,” Dierks Bentley, directed by Wes Edwards
  • “Follow Your Arrow,” Kacey Musgraves, directed by Honey & Kacey Musgraves
  • “Somethin’ Bad,” Miranda Lambert & Carrie Underwood, directed by Trey Fanjoy

 

Musician of the Year

Good to see Paul Franklin land two nominations this year. Normally this is the hardest category to forecast, but you have to feel like Franklin is the front runner for 2014.

  • Sam Bush, mandolin
  • Jerry Douglas, dobro
  • Paul Franklin, steel guitar – Winner
  • Dann Huff, guitar
  • Mac MacAnally, guitar
Sep
2

Justin Bieber Thinks It’s Cute to Mock Country

September 2, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  65 Comments

justin-bieber-cowboy-hat

Warning: Language

Once again the internet is going ape shit over another Justin Bieber arrest. Apparently he was joy riding his ATV in Canada on his father’s land when he thought he’d ram a minivan and assault the occupants on Friday as pop starlet Selena Gomez held on to his adorable little hips for dear life. Meanwhile the rest of us were working jobs. The fact that this asshole thinks he can do just about anything while hiding behind an army of bodyguards and lawyers is nauseating enough, but now he’s decided to add country music to his cultural lampoon list, along with Ann Frank, Argentina, Australian landmarks, and the rest of the world when he visited the Yasukuni Shrine in Japan dedicated to the memory of war criminals.

Last week Bieber, shirtless and bored, and joined by B-level rapping prospects—like he always seems to have hanging around him in an attempt to make it look like he has friends and any semblance of street cred—decided to take to Instagram and post a snippet of his mocking rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” With a pursed and insulting smirk indicative of a 14-year-old who’s never had his ass kicked and hasn’t gone through the most basic adult cognitive development, Bieber sings the chorus of “Ring of Fire” while strumming chords on a guitar.

Then later he posted a picture of himself wearing a cowboy hat sideways, saying “They gave me the sad cowboy hat.” (see above)

Yeah I know, let’s not give this little shit any more attention than he deserves. I just want to let him know that if he thinks it’s cute to mock country, or if he has any designs on “going country,” which he has talked about in the past, he will meet stiff and spirited resistance from this particular quadrant of the American media. Country music may be cute to you Bieber, but to some of us, it is a part of our culture and heritage. So do me a favor, and keep Johnny Cash out of your adolescent and vacuous mouth unless you’re willing to sing with respect.

Sep
2

“It’s Not Fair,” Brad Paisley Says, “I’m Not Going To Take This Anymore”

September 2, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  58 Comments

brad=paisley

Brad Paisley is mad as hell. “I’m not going to take this anymore,” he attests to The Associated Press in an article posed on Monday (9-1). He later goes on to declare, “It’s not fair.” What is Brad not going to take anymore? What is not fair? According to Paisley, it’s not fair that he got jobbed by the criticism of his song “Accidental Racist” from last year. And now the critics are being unfair when it comes to his new album Moonshine In The Trunk. This is the reason he “leaked” his album early, and unspokenly, why the album hasn’t sold well.

“I’m not going to take it when they tell me, ‘You shouldn’t have done that,’” Paisley says to the AP about recording “Accidental Racist” with LL Cool J. “I’m a musician. Don’t tell me I shouldn’t have done that. I am going to say what I want to say, and this album is what I want to say right now.”

The lampooning of “Accidental Racist” by late night talk shows and Saturday Night Live before the release of Paisley’s 2013 effort Wheelhouse has been and continues to be at the forefront of Paisley’s rhetoric about Moonshine In The Trunk, and a scapegoat for any and all problems the country star might encounter. But what effects “Accidental Racist” actually had on the fortunes of Wheelhouse, and especially the fortunes of Moonshine In The Trunk, seem quite inconclusive, if they didn’t indeed result in a net positive. Yet Paisley continues to drive this “Accidental Racist” point home, and lately, with a good deal of vitriol and spite that is uncommon from Paisley, and a little short-sighted, especially when considering the wealth and success he’s attained from the industry in what could very well result in a Hall of Fame career.

Maybe the sales for 2013′s Wheelhouse were a little bit too low for Paisley, but it debuted at #1 in country, and #2 overall on the Billboard charts, and sold around 100,000 copies during the first week. Couldn’t the curiosity factor of “Accidental Racist” actually have boosted sales? It sure did for the song itself. As Saving Country Music explained at the time, “Accidental Racist,” despite not being released as a single, became an accidental hit. It charted on Billboard’s Country Digital Songs Chart at #18, and their all-encompassing Hot Country Songs chart at #23. The case could certainly be made that the criticism of “Accidental Racist” created extra interest in Paisley’s music. Maybe Paisley did not receive the type of sales numbers he was used to experiencing in his career, but that’s every artist in this new music streaming environment.

But back to this Associated Press story. “Whatever critic wants to give it two stars, I don’t care,” Paisley claims in the story. But apparently he does care, or at least he cared enough to fire off an angry tweet about a review from For The Country Record, which said about the release, “[It] presents few standout hits, particularly commercially, and seems a curious but desperate stab to push boundaries in a way that’ll make him relevant again.” Paisley later deleted the tweet, and has been trying to present himself as uncaring about criticism, “Because guess what? People know better, they’ve heard it,” he tells the AP. “They’ve heard it, and I got the first presentation of it.”

Ah yes, the whole “leaking” of the album that Brad Paisley put so much effort into. He recruited Jeff Gordon, Ellen Degeneres, and even a NASA Astronaut to help him “leak” the album in what was presented to the public as actions being against his record label’s will. He also took what had to be a time consuming position as a judge on ABC’s new reality singing competition Rising Star to help get his face and music out there in the public more prominently. And what was the result? Debut sales for Moonshine In The Trunk were roughly half of what they were for Wheelhouse a year ago. Estimates have sales around 48K to 53K.

In the Brad Paisley story, the AP says, “Paisley enlisted friends old and new … to help him leak every song on ‘Moonshine in the Trunk’ before its Aug. 26 release, trading jabs with his record label boss along the way.”

Yes ladies and gentlemen, this is the Associated Press, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (a clear violation of the AP stylebook to use all caps for emphasis) that is helping to perpetuate this absolute boldface lie that Brad Paisley leaked anything against the will of anyone, especially his record label who was clearly in cahoots with the entire operation. And despite the majority of Paisley’s fans continuing to believe this lie, a strange and disturbing twist surrounding Paisley’s whole “leak” exercise is that the people doing their journalistic service to the community by pointing out the fallacy of Paisley’s “leak” claims are the ones seen as the enemies and party poopers.

Because apparently you can’t criticize Brad Paisley. “What I don’t like is that I’m held to a way higher standard than other people,” Paisley continues to the Associated Press.It’s not fair. It’s not fair in this town. When I do ‘River Bank’ and they go, ‘Well, what else you got,’ because it doesn’t mention cutoffs and it doesn’t do the things that everybody is complaining about, you know what I’m saying?”

Yes, Brad, I know what you’re saying. You don’t think it’s “Bro-Country,” and so people don’t have a right to criticize it, and it can’t be a bad song.

“I control the presentation,” Paisley told Billboard’s Country Update. “That, to me, is the most important thing now. Some music critic—let’s say they don’t understand what I’m doing and give me one star. My fans, they know better. The heard it first. Guess what? If you’re writing a review, you don’t matter now, because they’ve heard it. They’ve made their own mind up.”

Yes they did Brad. They did make their own mind up. And in pretty resounding numbers, they appear not to be impressed. This was the danger about the whole “leaking” exercise and the Rising Star judgeship. If it didn’t result in a rebounding, or at least a stabilization of sales and radio play, then it looks even worse for Paisley because of the effort exerted.

Is Brad Paisley really held to a higher standard than other artists? Is he receiving heavier handed criticism than let’s say, Florida Georgia Line? Are all criticisms simply based off of misunderstanding, or is there serious stylistic concerns by critics being convey in an intelligent and persuasive manner?

The problem with country music today is not the critics. The problem with country music today is there are no critics. There’s no Chet Flippo. There’s no Lester Bangs. There’s nobody from a major music publication willing to speak out and hold these artist’s feet to the fire, and to give them objective, honest criticism. And so when somebody does, these artists and their fans are appalled. Either you’re 100% positive, or you’re a bully, and there should probably be a law against you. Apparently the media is supposed to pretend the album leaking was real, and report how unfair it has been for Paisley recently without questioning his logic whatsoever, or soliciting anyone for a rebuttal or differing viewpoint.

The entire country music media community has simply become a promotional arm for the industry. The media publishes puff pieces that are nothing more than thinly veiled advertising copy, and the labels in turn advertise with these outlets. Everyone else is simply “haters” who are on the outside looking in when it comes to exclusive content and access to the artists. And this doesn’t go just for mainstream labels and outlets, but independent labels and outlets as well.

One of the reasons “Bro-Country” has taken over the airwaves is because popular media has taken a subservient and complicit role to the industry. There are no checks and balances. And that’s also the reason Brad Paisley’s career is in a tailspin. Brad Paisley is not the problem. The reason his album isn’t selling well is not because of the blow back from “Accidental Racist.” Please. America struck that whole episode from its memory many many months ago. It’s because Brad Paisley is an aging artist, and the styles of popular country music have regressed so dramatically recently that there’s no space for an artist like him. It’s over. His run as a preeminent star in country music has passed. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been afforded an astounding music career filled with tremendous success. And to cry “It’s not fair,” is not Paisley’s place. How about the hundreds of artists just as talented and entertaining as Paisley who never had their chance in the spotlight? Brad Paisley has sold 12 million records and has 14 CMA Awards, including Entertainer of the Year.

Brad Paisley has some good songs on his new album, as iterated by critical voices including Saving Country Music, For The Country Record, and many others. “Shattered Glass” and “American Flag On The Moon” are great tracks, but will Brad Paisley release these as singles? Will his label put the same big money behind them like they did “River Bank”? Or will he schlep out the schlock on the album, and then blame the critics when people bitch about the quality?

It sucks right now for Brad Paisley, and a lot of country music’s older artists who are getting shuffled out of the spotlight. But after the untold riches Brad Paisley has been afforded, he shouldn’t be complaining about the critics. He should join them in the effort to return some substance and balance to the format, so that songs like “Shattered Glass” and “American Flag On The Moon” can thrive on American radio, and not be relegated to album cuts that barely anybody will hear in the evacuation of the album unit as a relevant encapsulation of an expression of an artist.

But what do I know. Apparently since I’m a critic, nobody is listening.

READ: Album Review – Brad Paisley’s “Moonshine In The Trunk”

Aug
29

Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers are BACK!

August 29, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  4 Comments

legendary-shack-shakers

In November of 2012 it was announced that Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers were bidding it farewell after 16 years of service—or at least were going on an indefinite hiatus with no future plans to tour or record. Frontman and founder Col. J.D. Wilkes had a new band called The Dirt Daubers with his wife Jessica, and the drummer Brett Whitacre was suffering from a strange heart condition that made him susceptible to fainting spells. All indications were pointing to it being the right time to mothball the project, much to the chagrin of the many Legendary Shack Shaker fans from all across the globe.

But Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers are like a force of nature and couldn’t stay gone for long. After their nearly three-year hiatus, they are about to embark on a big tour starting at the Muddy Roots Festival and routing up through the Northeast with the Whiskey Shivers opening. And according to the band’s frontman, there’s also a new album in the works, roughly scheduled to be released next summer.

col-j-d-wilkes“I guess I have musical A.D.D.  I always like to keep ‘em guessing…” says J.D. Wilkes about deciding to bring Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers back again. “[Brett Whitacre] will be drumming again and he is indeed doing fine. He has a new daughter and a thriving art career. Things couldn’t be better… Our sound is ever-evolving, so come catch the ‘New Testament’ era of our story arc!”

According to J.D., just because the Shack Shakers are back up and running, that doesn’t mean The Dirt Daubers are going on the back burner. What started as a stripped down Appalachian-style jug band became a raucous, near Shack Shaking affair on their last album Wild Moon. “I always play the music I feel at any given period. Jessica was getting more into rock n roll, so we wrote a record together. The Dirt Daubers will always be the band that my wife and I are in. Therefore we will continue playing from here on out, alternating tours with Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, my book signings, painting gigs, filmmaking stints and solo banjo appearances. All of these express different facets of who I am.”

In fact J.D. is quite the multi-faceted Renaissance man, including representing the United Nations in a cultural exchange between Kentucky and Ireland, and working with an overlooked old-time music elder, 84-year old fiddler Charlie Stamper who has a record due out next month on June Appal Records. “I am very content with my accomplishments, many of which pay me nothing monetarily but reward me with a deeper satisfaction…”

After playing through the Northeast in September, the Shack Shakers will be heading over to Europe in the fall, and then up through the Midwest in November.

Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers Tour Dates

August 30 – Cookeville, TN @ Muddy Roots Festival

September 3 – Lexington, KY @ Cosmic Charlie’s

September 4 – Louisville, KY @ Zanzabar

September 5 – Newport, KY @ Southgate House

September 6 – Columbus, OH @ Rumba Cafe

September 7 – Detroit, MI @ Magic Stick Lounge

September 9 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom

September 10 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Cafe

September 11 – Brooklyn, NY @ Knitting Factory Brooklyn

September 12 – Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Club

September 13 – Asbury Park, NJ @ Asbury Lanes

September 14 – Lancaster, PA @ Chameleon Club

September 15 – Washington, DC @ Black Cat

October 17 – Carbondale, IL @ Hangar 9

October 18 – Paducah, KY @ Maiden Alley Cinema’s Oktoberfest

October 21 – Brighton, UK @ Concorde 2

October 23 – Newcastle, UK @ The Cluny

October 24 – Saddleworth, UK @ The White Hart

October 25 – Glasgow, UK @ Broadcast

October 26 – Leeds, UK @ Brudenell Social Club

October 30 – Deventer, Netherlands @ Burgerweeshuis

October 31 – Haarlem, Netherlands @ Patronaat

November 1 – Nijmegen, Netherlands @ Doornroosje

November 12 – Chicago, IL @ Double Door

November 13 -Green Bay, WI @ Lyric Room

November 14 – Rock Island, IL @ Rock Island Brewing

November 15 – Ames, IA @ DG’s Tap House

November 16 – St. Paul, MN @ Turf Club

November 18 – Sioux Falls, SD @ Bigs Sport Bar & Billiards

November 19 – Omaha, NE @ Reverb Lounge

November 20 – Columbia, MO @ Mojo’s

November 21 – St. Louis, MO @ 2720 Cherokee

Aug
26

Free Music Now Seen as an Inalienable Right by Consumers

August 26, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  61 Comments

no-moneyFor a while, it looked like the 2015 Super Bowl Halftime Show might be the first in modern history to showcase a country music artist. Rumors had Carrie Underwood in the running to appear on what has become the most-watched musical performance of the entire year. A country music artist filling that slot only makes sense in the current music climate where country music is ruling the roost over all of the other genres, but in the end it wasn’t meant to be. Whether Carrie was ever considered, the three finalists for the coveted spot were announced as Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Coldplay, with the final choice to be announced soon.

But there was an addendum to the news of the three finalists that has sent some sectors of the entertainment world into a tizzy. Apparently the NFL is not willing to pay the eventual halftime performer for their services. In fact, the NFL expects the performer to pay them.

Though there is no question the exposure to television’s largest audience of the entire year carries with it a monetary value, the idea of an entertainer paying an entity to perform is a dramatic, and dangerous flipping of the paradigm that could have implications much farther beyond a 20-minute halftime show. It seems fitting that this paradigm shift would be presented with the backdrop of the NFL, whose coffers are the most flush of all professional American sports, while their greed appears to have no limit. Football players also don’t receive guaranteed contracts like many professional athletes, and can be cut at any time. It’s also the sport that sees the greatest physical toll endured by its players. In other words, the NFL is already drilled in maximizing profits, and minimizing the payout to their talent pool.

This system of not giving an equitable amount to the football industry’s most valuable asset—it’s players—is established in college. Public institutions, who are many times partially funded by tax dollars, profit in the millions, sometimes billions off of college football programs, while players receive no compensation aside from free tuition. It is expected of college football players and other athletes to play for free, despite the millions of dollars they bring in for the institutions.

And so it is slowly becoming for musicians.

Of course whomever plays the halftime show will receive tremendous exposure, but so will the NFL when non-football consumers tune in to see the halftime performance. So why is it imperative on the musicians to play the subordinate role and pay the NFL?

The underlying problem is that free music is quickly becoming seen as an inalienable right for all Americans, and all of the world’s consumers, if we haven’t reached that dangerous plateau already. And the even more dangerous step of expecting musicians to pay to have their music heard is becoming more of a reality every day—evidenced by this Super Bowl Halftime news.

As an example on the consumer side, on June 18th, T-Mobile announced that the company’s Simple Choice customers would now be able to stream unlimited music from Pandora, Rhapsody, iHeartRadio, iTunes Radio, Slacker, Spotify, and other services without it counting against their data service. “As a committed music freak, I’m personally outraged at the way the other guys are using the music you love to lure you into over-priced plans with sweet ‘promotional offers’ that quickly roll into higher prices or trigger those absurd overage charges,” said T-Mobile CEO and President John Legere. Music should be free of all that. Music should have no limits. So, beginning right now, you can stream all you want at T-Mobile from all of the top music services – data charges do not apply.”

But of course the problem is, music does have limits. At some point, somebody has to pay for it. Somehow, the capital spent to record, produce, and distribute music, and the artists, songwriters, and musicians who made the music, have to be compensated, and at a living wage. Music just can’t be free, but that is exactly what not just T-Mobile, but all wireless providers have in mind. And if the consumer won’t pay for it, then the artists eventually will.

The problem with offering free music is both financial, and psychological. Like the T-Mobile CEO said above, if after six months of free music a streaming service or wireless provider begins to charge you, then it is perceived in the mind of the consumer that an injustice has somehow been done. However the true injustice was actually getting the music free in the first place. In the mind of consumers, it is now intuitive to them that music should be free. And as illustrated by the comments of  T-Mobile’s CEO, consumers feel they shouldn’t even have to pay for the data that music streaming racks up. “Music should be free of all that,” John Legere says, saying that he’s “personally outraged” that companies expect for consumers to pay for music. “Music should have no limits.” In other words, every single other data source that exists for smartphones, you should be charged for, and consumers are perfectly fine and understanding of that. Surfing the web, watching videos, downloading pictures—this all makes sense to be charged for. But music? Music should be free, completely free, meaning no charge for the data, and no charge for the music, for all people, and forever. And if not, then it is the consumer who is getting screwed.

Granted, people who use T-Mobile’s current unlimited music streaming plans still may have to pay Spotify, Pandora, or whomever they have a subscription with (unless they’re on a free, ad-based plan), but all of that could change with bundling. Wireless providers are getting into the music streaming game so they can offer the service directly on smartphone devices without consumers ever spending a dime on streaming itself. Consumers pay a flat monthly charge that includes everything the smartphone is capable of bundled together, including music streaming, and they never even see an itemized charge for streaming music on their bill.

The promotional deal for wireless plans is the portal to making music streaming absolutely free in the near future. With rabid competition and more companies getting into the streaming business by the day, companies are offering enticements to consumers like never before. What is the enticements the companies are offering to the artists? Exposure to their subscribers who number in the millions. Opt out of being included on their networks because you’re not happy with the payouts, and nobody will have access to your music.

Could we see a reality in the future where artists actually pay to have consumers listen to their music, instead of getting paid? In many cases, including with the Super Bowl Halftime Show, this is already the case. The anemic earnings many artists accrue from streamers like Spotify in no way realistically recoups the costs for producing the music. And as physical music formats continue to fall in market share compared to streaming, paying to have your music heard will become an even bigger reality for a wider swath of artists.

Deepening the problem is the formula companies like Spotify use to figure their payouts. The reason payouts for some artists are so low is because the formula Spotify uses will only become financially lucrative for artists if the company has a massive subscriber base. So as more companies get into the streaming business and their numbers are splayed across a wide variety of services, it results in the parsing of the music dollar even more. Even when the profits from Pandora, Spotify, and others are combined together, it in no way creates a living wage for many artists, even for artists with wide, established consumer appeal.

But back to the Super Bowl Halftime Show, and how this could be a significant game changer. The Super Bowl quandary presents two even more dangerous scenarios for the monetization of music moving forward.

The first is that the Super Bowl Halftime deals with the live context, which for many musicians big and small, is the last bastion for being able to make money from their craft. For larger artists, including ones that may some day find themselves eligible to play The Super Bowl, touring is the only true way to make money off of their music. Albums are simply part of the overall merch pool to help pay overhead. As sales and prices for physical and downloaded music plummet, concert ticket prices have held steady, and are on the increase for some artists. Consumers are incorrigibly stingy when it comes to paying for recorded music, willfully circumventing copyright law, or choosing the free option for streaming service before even paying a meager $5 to $10 a month for unlimited music, but they will regularly take to the secondary market and shell out three to four times the face value of concert tickets to see their favorite artists live. If venues, entities like the NFL, content providers, or God forbid, consumers, feel like there is no commercial value in a live performance either, like they currently do for recorded music, or if they begin to think the “exposure” is enough, this could further eat into the overall revenue stream keeping the music industry, and many artists afloat.

The second problem with the Super Bowl Halftime issue is it is starting at the very top levels of music talent, not vice versa as it was though the pay-to-play paradigm would first take hold. By insisting that exposure is payment enough to the very top of industry talent, it could set a trickle-down precedent that could affect the entire industry. Pay-to-play is nothing new in music for smaller artists, though it is still rare. Big music gatherings such as South By Southwest which transpires in Austin, TX every March ask for payments from artists to be considered to play an official showcase, and even if you’re not chosen, the money is non-refundable. Then if the artist does play, they are not compensated for the performance, with the idea the potential exposure to journalists and industry representatives is payment enough. Other entities practice similar tactics to entice free, or paying talent to their events.

And since so few people are paying for recorded music, the money the performer must pay for their equipment, musicians, overhead, travel, etc., and to the NFL, it may not be a worthy investment if the halftime performance simply simulates consumers to go to Spotify or Pandora to stream the artist’s songs at meager penny payouts per play.

Simple exposure is not an equitable form of payment, and asserting so puts music on a slippery slope. That is one of the reasons why performers and guests on late night talk shows get paid scale. Of course the exposure the artist gets is an important boost for them, but the exchange of money (roughly $540.00 for an American talk show) ensures that artists are not being taken advantage of.

The Super Bowl performance issue is mostly symbolic. What is very real is the perception by the American public that all music should be free, and the growing perception by many institutions who believe exposure is payment enough. It is also one of the reasons consumers are seeing diminished returns from the music industry. With less revenue, the industry does not have the wiggle room to take risks and experiment, and to develop upcoming talent. Instead they make the safe bet, switch out producers and DJ’s for true artists, and favor computerized music over costly side musicians.

Music is no different than any other sector of the economy. You get out of it what you give to it. The underlying problem is not Spotify, Pandora, or even the Super Bowl Halftime Show. It is the perception that music is a commodity not worth paying for, and the cost of that perception shows in the quality of the music consumers are served with today.

Aug
25

The True Life “Deadman’s Blues” of Matt Woods

August 25, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  5 Comments

matt-woodsPhoto by Michelle Crosby

In October of 2013, Knoxville, TN-based Matt Woods wowed the independent country world when he released the song and video for “Deadman’s Blues.” The realness of the entire thing is what made it stick so fervently with fans on its way to being named Saving Country Music’s Song of the Year. Since then Woods has released the song on the equally-impressive album With Love From Brushy Mountain, while “Deadman’s Blues” continues to win Matt new loyalists.

At the end of the “Deadman’s Blues” video (spoiler alert), it shows Matt passed out, and being resuscitated unsuccessfully by paramedics. The downward spiral the video portrays very much mirrors the real life stories of many musicians, and almost mirrored that of Matt Woods.

Sorry to say, I will not be able to play at The Mill tonight in Charleston. Apparently, blood pressure isn’t like pinball. High scores are frowned upon,” is what Matt told fans on social networks on July 30th. It seems the cardiac issues alluded to in “Deadman’s Blues” were actually quite real.

“My optometrist actually discovered the problem,” Matt explains to Saving Country Music. “I had gone into see him because I had been noticing some changes in my vision. I had believed some of what I had been noticing may have been due to eye fatigue, which can be brought on by excessive driving and spending a lot of time in low lighting environments. Since those are basically the only two things I do, seemed likely that was what was up with my eyes. When the doc started checking things out, he decided to check my BP and there it was. The high blood pressure was causing the changes by putting so much stress on the vessels in my eyes. Other than my vision I was feeling fine. Normal! Anyway, that sent me to the ER…”

Though Matt felt fine, his blood pressure was at dangerous levels, and if what was happening with his eyes had happened in his brain, it could have caused a stroke according to doctors. Matt had been living with high blood pressure for so long, his body had adapted, but the threat to his health was still very real. “I have often realized that I want to make as much music as I can while I am here. I have had a few moments in my life that have reiterated that point. Mortality plays a fairly heavy roll in mush of the music I write. You can hear it right out front in my song ‘Liberty Bell,’” which is also from Matt’s album With Love From Brushy Mountain.

But unlike the characters in “Deadman’s Blues” and “Liberty Bell,” Matt Woods pulled through.

“Right now I am so happy I didn’t put off having my eyes checked out,” Matt says. “Everything is on track now, I am glad to say. When they released me from the hospital, they gave me prescriptions for a few BP meds that seem to be doing their job and keeping me from redlining. I try to be mindful of my diet, which can be hard on the road, but it certainly helps. It doesn’t take too many months of eating shitty fast food to know that stuff is bad for you (Even though you can bet your ass I’ll stop at Whataburger while I am in Texas!). I am doing my best to slow down the caffeine intake some, too. In hindsight, maybe kicking back all of those 5 Hour Energy shots weren’t really helping the situation. So far so good. I’m back on the road a feeling like my usual self. Except now I’m not in danger of dropping dead at any minute.”

Check Matt Woods Tour Dates

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Old Soul Radio Show
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