Kellie Pickler’s Parting w/ Sony Could Spell Doom for Trad. Country Albums

June 28, 2012 - By Trigger  //  News  //  12 Comments

“See,” says Sony Records Nashville. “This is why we can’t have good records.”

If you want validation of just how good and traditional Kellie Pickler’s latest album 100 Proof is, check the album’s abysmal sales numbers. Though the 3rd album from the 6th place-finishing 2005 American Idol contestant will probably sell more copies than most traditional country artists will sell in their lifetimes, it was possibly not enough for her label Sony Records Nashville and it was announced today, on Kellie’s 26th birthday, that her and Sony have parted ways.

This spells doom for any hope of a late bloom from 100 Proof, which was released in January. With Pickler’s parting, it is unlikely Sony will put any more promotion behind it, or release any new singles. And though it was a long shot to begin with, without solid label backing, 100 Proof will probably not find any love from the year’s round of award shows. Despite being a critic’s favorite, including here where we asked if it was the best mainstream album in years, 100 Proof quickly dropped off the charts after debuting at #2 in country. The album’s best single “Tough” stalled at #30.

Kellie Pickler knew she was taking a gamble when she made a record drawing inspiration from Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. “It’s a big risk for a record company to take a leap like they did with me,” she told The Boot. Pickler was of the opinion, “…there’s room for all of it, there’s room for the pop country, and the classic country, and the traditional sound.”

Apparently she was wrong.

Despite how some traditional country fans may feel about Pickler and 100 Proof, the album was a big opportunity to restore some balance between pop and traditional country in the mainstream format. Now its failure (at least in the mind of Sony Nashville) could mean an even tougher, if not impossible environment for mainstream country stars to release traditional albums. Sony took a gamble, and lost. So how likely do we think Sony or its other Music Row bunk mates will take the same gamble again?

Meanwhile Kellie Pickler has a big decision to make. Does she become the first American Idol alum to mutiny from the pop world and continue her traditional approach, or does she revitalize her career with a pop resurgence on a different label? Or maybe she has already made that decision, seeing how the Sony split was sold as being a mutual decision. Kellie’s name still is a very well-recognized, franchise-caliber commodity.

Clearly the inspiration from 100 Proof came from somewhere. Clearly Kellie felt caged in the pop country world. And all hope might not be lost for 100 Proof. An album of this caliber could become a forgotten classic, performing a slow burn over years until it finally reaches the sales potential both Pickler and Sony were hoping for.

But at this moment, it is hard to say anything other than that it just got much harder to release a traditional country album in the mainstream country music world, and that Kellie deserves a badge of courage for putting her career on the line to try.

12 Comments to “Kellie Pickler’s Parting w/ Sony Could Spell Doom for Trad. Country Albums”

  • If I had to choose between Carrie and Kellie, I’m pickin Pickler. She has always been easy on the eyes, and ears.


  • As a first-time commenter on SCM, I am not sure how my two cents concerning this travesty will go over; but I have researched the matter of label security in relation to contemporary Christian music–that other big-name genre of Nashville–and I can say with fair certainty that this amounts to a bloodless purge carried out by Sony Nashville.

    You see, artist purges are usually carried out under the most untimely of circumstances. In this case, the purge occurred on Pickler’s 26th birthday. These are similar to political purges under authoritarian regimes in that those can occur at any time. Likewise, just as political purges can be carried out on account of the slightest offence, artist purges can be carried out if an artist falls one unit below a given cutoff set by the label–or even if the artist is selling relatively well, as Pickler was in comparison to traditional country singers.

    Similar purges have occurred in Nashville in the Christian music industry. Ever since those labels sold their souls to Big Music, the once-independent labels such as Word, Sparrow and Essential have had little if any say in which acts they can keep. These decisions are nowadays typically made for them by the conglomerates pulling the strings of those puppet labels, just as under Nazi Germany all the states of that country from Baden to Westphalia became empty administrative units; and I believe that in country, labels such as Sony Nashville, Capitol Nashville and Curb have become puppets of Sony BMG, EMI and Warner Music Group respectively.

    What this means is that, even though the labels obviously aren’t allowed to use force, they can still unjustly purge artists if they don’t sell at some lofty level, resist the release of singles or–in the case of Pickler–experiment with new (or old-new) musical directions. As for Pickler herself, I wish her the best in her future endeavours; she does seem to strike a balance between the two warring camps of country and could have been a mediator if she had been allowed to stay on the label.


  • Aw, that sucks. But I really like Kellie and 100 Proof and I hope she continues to keep the traditional sound. She has fans that enjoy it and appreciate it even if Music Row doesn’t.


  • Could just be that not many traditional country fans thought to even take a listen to a Kellie Pickler album…I had no idea myself.

    It could just a be a marketing nightmare to promote someone with your reputation to that market.


  • It’s hard to promote a traditional album in an environment where the main promotion vehicle is still terrestrial radio and it’s hard for a traditional album to succeed when mainstream terrestrial radio isn’t open to that kind of sound.


  • Kellie being dropped by Sony Nashville (or “parting ways with” them) is not the watershed moment. I have to ask where you’ve been when artists like Ashton Shepherd, Joe Nichols, and Bradley Gaskin have lost their record deals. 100 Proof is a nice album, but Kellie is merely the latest in a trend of traditional leaning artists losing their deals because major labels can’t find a way to get country radio stations to play neo-traditional country music.

    Ashton Shepherd made my favorite debut album to come out of mainstream country in a while a few years ago, and it even attracted the attention of New York and LA critics year end lists. Her sophomore album showed concessions to pop production trends, but you just can’t deny the authenticity of Ashton’s voice. She got her 1st top 20 hit, but then the next single struggled and now she’s without a deal, back focusing on her family. In fairness, she’s struggled to sell records despite the acclaim and what radio play she’s gotten. Still her fate shows there’s some serious disconnect in the mainstream system.

    Speaking of disconnects: Bradley Gaskin was the guy everybody was talking about at the Sony General Jackson cruise during Country Radio Seminar 2011. Mr. Bartender was a refreshing tear in your beer kind of ballad. These were radio people going gaga over this guy (who sounds a whole lot like Travis Tritt) and demanding his single instantly. Well Sony Nashville sent his single to radio, and it didn’t make the top 30. Now Gaskin has parted ways with the label.

    Joe Nichols is one of the few neo traditional acts who actually has a track record of radio hits, but he’s not a great seller of albums nor is he that consistent a hitmaker (for whatever that’s worth). He tweeted somewhat recently to thank Showdog Nashville for doing the right thing and releasing him from his contract.

    Let’s also keep in mind that Kellie Pickler was likely losing her record deal no matter which direction she went in. Despite the poppiness of her 1st 2 albums, especially her 2nd, radio was not that into her. She got her only top 10 hit because of a Taylor Swift collaboration, and the last single off her sophomore album barely made the top 30. There was also a gap of around 3 years between her 2nd and 3rd albums so she had virtually no momentum. The lead single of 100 Proof was a song called Tough and it straddles the line in terms of pop and country, and it’s also not a very good song. It’s hard to complain that it didn’t become a hit.

    The most damaging thing for Kellie’s career is that she started out playing the ditz. To be honest I think most people know her best for thinking Europe was a country and for being a fake. That’s a hard image to shake and so there was a disconnect when she finally turned into an artist of substance.

    Nonetheless, Kellie should be commended for making a strong country album and for finding and creating music that’s true to who she is. That is its own reward and I’m sure she’ll find a home among people who recognize the value of what she’s done.


    • No you’re right, Ashton Sheppard, Bradley Gaskin, and others have been bitten by this same bug, and it is the same travesty. I’m not sure “where I was” when those events happened, but I am here now, covering this one, and I’m not sure how not covering those events means I either can’t or shouldn’t cover this one. I think this event only strengthens the argument that these traditional artists and albums need more support, and traditional fans need to be more proactive in figure out how to do that.

      And this is not the first time I have covered this issue. Here’s one of many examples:



  • I don’t know what all the fuss is. Kellie Pickler has had ONE top ten hit, and that was on the back of Taylor Swift.

    Perhaps her album sales have nothing to do with the “type” of music she is singing and have more to do with the fact that she was a game show contestant with waning popularity. She came out six years ago and took advantage of her American Idol fanbase and gained some attention and record sales…but then…what?

    It’s not like she’s spent the past six years climbing the charts and suddenly no one is listening to her. I love country music—not POP country music–but Kellie Pickler has always seemed to me to be this adorable little country girl who is real sweet and real pretty but I only know two of her songs.

    I’m sure she has her own fanbase and she should just keep doing what she’s doing. I may buy her latest album just for fun.


  • unfortunately these days, a great selling album does not reflect the artist’s talents…it reflects how good the promotional team (and the money to be put behind it) is.


  • after listening (and loving) 100 proof, i have to say based upon the dismal sales, that she is the most underrated, underappreciated, underpromoted talent,and underplayed country artist around! don’t think picasso sold well while he was alive either,,,, time will show what a truly great artist she has turned out to be….if you have never seen her in concert, your missing a true musical wonder!


  • Lets face it Kellie Pickler is a modern day Tammy Wynette only with a lot more talent than Tammy. I think one day Kellie will be one of the giant legends of country music. She has it all she is a singer, dancer, song writer, comedian, humanitarian with the body of a goddess and lets face it to know her is to love her.


  • You must be a family member of Kellie Pickler to even compare her to Tammy Wynette. I personally like Kellie but she has a weak thin voice which is the biggest problem for me personally. Also, she is not even close to being in the same league vocally to a Carrie Underwood or Martina McBride. She is a niche artist which is fine but don’t ever expect her to reach any higher levels.


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