“I Say, Include Women.” An opinion piece by Lindi Ortega

lindi-ortega

Editor’s Note: Lindi Ortega is a Canadian-born, Nashville-based singer and songwriter. She won Roots Artist of the Year at the 2014 Canadian Country Music Awards, and was nominated for Female Artist of the Year as well. Her Dave Cobb-produced 2013 album Tin Star won high praise amongst critics, and she is set to release her latest record Faded Gloryville on August 7th.

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I have thought long and hard about the salad/tomato analogy espoused by radio consultant Keith Hill to describe
men versus women in country music radio. It may seem surprising, but I do not think referring to women as “tomatoes” was the most damaging part of his analysis. Even though he very well could have been stating the raw truths with regards to statistics, I feel his most damaging statement was:

“If you want ratings in country radio, take women out.”

This very well may be true. It can also go along with statements like this:

“Sex sells. If you want to attract attention and sell music as a woman in the industry, then be sexy.”

This may also very well be a factual statement. But does that mean that every woman should follow this
advice?

What if a women doesn’t want to sell sex? Should she do it because it will make her more money? Because it has become standard industry practice? Because she will be seen as a better business woman?

I think what first needs to be resolved here is the idea that there is “woman music,” and “man music,” and they are two separate entities. What happened to music just being music, enjoyed by all?

When Playboy tweeted to singer/songwriter Neko Case that she was breaking the mold of what women in the industry should be, Ms Case fired back with “Am I? IM NOT A FUCKING “WOMAN IN MUSIC”, IM A FUCKING MUSICIAN IN MUSIC!”

There is a strange irony in a pornographic magazine commenting on women breaking the mold of what
women should be. And by the same token, that irony exists in a man, Keith Hill, advising that women should be “taken out” of country radio in accordance with his statistical analysis.

You see, the thing about statistics is that they can change. Statistics are rarely set in stone. You just have to look
at politics to see how popular opinion can shift and sway. To make such an iron-clad statement and assert that
country radio should “take women out” reminds me of a statement that was perpetuated not too long ago
in our history that said “women should not vote.” Or other statements like, “Women should not be in prominent business positions,” or “women cannot play sports.”

Women have had to fight to be treated as equals in society. We have had to fight for equal pay. We have had to fight against sexism, harassment, misogyny. And as if we don’t have enough battles, now we have to fight to get equal play on the radio. The entertainment industry has got to be one of the most difficult industries for women, because we are faced with so many double standards. We decide to have children and suddenly we are asked about how we can handle having a child and a career. Or the public is more concerned with who designed our dress rather than what inspired our craft.

But circling back to “take women out,” just think of those words: “TAKE WOMEN OUT.” I can’t begin to describe to you how my blood boils at those words. Erase us, delete us . . . make it so we don’t exist. TAKE WOMEN OUT.

It is no secret that today’s country music radio has its fair share of detractors. You would be hard pressed to find someone who says they think it is a format that is really progressive, perpetuating quality songwriting, and talent. If this is what you are looking for, try NPR, or most local and satellite radio would cover you for quality control. There is indeed great music being made in this day and age by men and women alike, but it’s not allowed to be called country, it is shunned by mainstream country radio stations and relegated to the world of Americana, but that’s a whole other can of worms altogether.

As for Country Music Radio, it has become the “bro country” domain. It is a world full of frat boys, partying and drinking, and making sure their women wear tight jeans and are referred to as “girl.” Radio has the power to influence its listeners. So I would say, in that respect, country music radio has done its job. Women have been so devalued in song that listeners do not even want to hear them make songs. When a female song does make it through the cracks, its one that seems to only perpetuate the idea of women as props, reiterating that we are “girls” and exist to wear pretty skirts.

Gone are the days of Loretta Lynn singing “One’s On The Way.” Gone are the days of adult issues like divorce, resonating with mature audiences. Gone are the days of originality, not only in style but in songwriting. In that classic era you could tell the difference between Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. Artists were easily discernible and legends arose because of their unique qualities that made them not only country music legends, but revered and respected all over the world.

Remember when Blake Shelton went on about how only old farts and jackasses listen to classic country and he said that we need to evolve? What does it mean to evolve in the new country era?

“Country music has to evolve in order to survive. Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music. And I don’t care how many of these old farts around Nashville going, ‘My God, that ain’t country!’ Well that’s because you don’t buy records anymore, jackass. The kids do, and they don’t want to buy the music you were buying.”

After Ray Price, one of Shelton’s idols, was offended by Blake’s words, he released this statement:

“I hate that I upset him. The truth is my statement was and still is about how we as the new generation of country artists have to keep re-inventing country music to keep it popular.”

It appears for new country music, “evolve” means “TAKE WOMEN OUT.” Seems more like regressing if you ask me.

Country Music Radio was once a great thing. It had its golden era where it inspired and resonated and produced many classic artists and songs by both men and women. Look how things have changed. The entire music industry fell on hard times and has since desperately tried to stay afloat. The only way they know how to stay on top is to make lots of money. A shift in its core audience went from more mature folks, to the younger generation, because that’s where the money is, and as Blake Shelton said, “the kids” buy the music.

Now the industry is stuck and afraid. Country Radio found a formula that made them money and they are scared to veer from it. Nobody wants to take that risk. Nobody wants to give “kids” the benefit of the doubt and assume they can comprehend something musically cerebral. With this shift in country music, women became ousted from the game—a game where they once reigned supreme. Recent examples include, Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Shania Twain. And even more recently, holding a corner of the industry for themselves are Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert. But it seems like the door has been shut behind these women and new country radio has locked it up and swallowed the key. How has it come to this? Somewhere between the desperate attempts of the music industry to revive itself and its radio consultants whispering in the ears of country music programmers we believe that we must exile women to survive.

Some people have said to me “I don’t get why people are so mad at Keith Hill. I didn’t read his article as an attack on women, I read it as more just stating realities of the business.”

I don’t think Mr. Hill really meant to blatantly attack women either. Sure, he was stating statistical analysis and realities. But, whether he meant to or not, he made a statement that perpetuates sexism. “TAKE WOMEN OUT.”

Imagine if all the country music radio programmers decided that they would do just that. They read the statistics, they want to get ratings, so they decide to take Mr. Hill’s advice.

Well, that is what is actually happening, and in my opinion, it’s an injustice.

There comes a time when ethics must outweigh capitalistic interests.

It’s a dangerous and slippery slope to advise that WOMEN, be taken out of country radio. Not because they are bad songwriters, not because they are terrible singers, not because they don’t measure up to men. Simply because they are women. We should not stand for such a negative and damaging message. We must speak against this type of dialogue if we are to truly evolve as an industry.

I have nothing to gain here, as I am not an artist that would be played on commercial country radio anyhow. But this matters to me because I care about the fate of women in music and it would be a shame for them to become extinct because some radio consultant scared programmers with statistics.

I say”¦.

INCLUDE WOMEN, and I do not just mean young 19-year old girls pandering to the bro country formula, but women who write great songs and make great music. I would bet my last dollar that if country radio included them more in their programming the statistics that led us to this dismal place would change significantly.