Browsing articles tagged with " Garth Brooks"
Sep
8

Garth Brooks Falls on Stage In Chicago

September 8, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  33 Comments

garth-brooks

“And the thunder rolls…”

We’ve all been wondering how rusty Garth Brooks would be after 13 years of retirement, and if he would try to emulate the young pups once he was back on the stage. Well Garth Brooks looked a little shaky when he took a spill over the weekend during one of his many comeback shows in Chicago, doing his best Luke Bryan rendition of losing his footing while bounding off a riser, going into a Garth Brooks chub roll that he tried to make look like a football drill or commando maneuver before stopping himself mere inches from falling off the ledge. Garth may have not gone over, but his black cowboy hat did. It was later recovered by a fan, who must have really had to contemplate the eBay value of the concert score before willingly submitting it back to the country superstar.

The fall happened on Friday, September 5th as the 52-year old plays a series of shows in Chicago stretching out all the way to September 14th as part of his “Garth Experience” World Tour. Of course Garth was too cool to acknowledge the fall, and instead brushed himself off and kept right on with the concert. Garth may have to get used to the new reality of playing concerts with 50,000 video cameras holstered to the belt of his fans. He’ll be fine, but we’ll have to see how well the aging Garth holds up as time goes on. Many of his Chicago dates include two shows a night—a tall order for a freshly unretired performer who’s AARP eligible.

Luke Bryan has seen his own series of stage falls in 2014.

Sep
4

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

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

ghost-tunes

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
4

ISIS Hears Garth’s “People Loving People,” Lays Down Arms

September 4, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  39 Comments

garth-brooks-isisRadical Muslim terrorist organization ISIS has been conducting a brutal and bloody holy war in the Middle East in recent months, complete with genocide and mass slaughter as it attempts to form a cross-border caliphate in Syria and the northern portions of Iraq. The organization’s campaign of terror has included the decapitation of two American journalists in recent weeks in an attempt to deter American airstrikes against their strongholds, and to instill global fear about ISIS’s brutality and reach.

But where airstrikes, drone attacks, and diplomatic resolutions in recent weeks failed to weaken the resolve to the radical ISIS Islamists, the release of Garth Brooks’ first single since his 13-year retirement called “People Loving People” has apparently landed the resoluteness of ISIS a fatal blow. Reports out of northern portions of Iraq and Syria currently under ISIS control are of desertions in the thousands by ISIS fighters after they heard Garth’s song touting the virtues of love and peace.

Apparently the supreme leader of the organization, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is a big Garth Brooks fan.

“Yeah, back in the 90′s it was more of a guilty pleasure at first, and then when he started flying out across stadiums like Peter Pan, and then the whole Chris Gaines thing—I mean seriously, what the hell was that?—I was like ‘Bye bye Garth,’” says al-Baghdadi. “Really, I’m an old-school country fan. Love me some Waylon.”

But like many older country fans, as modern country music has become more pop and even rap, al-Baghdadi’s feelings on Garth began to turn around. “Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan, are you kidding me? That crap’s unfit for human consumption. Compared to that garbage, Garth is as old-school country as it gets, and when I heard he was finally releasing a new single, I couldn’t wait to hear it.”

Apparently Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi put out a directive across the entire ISIS communications network to broadcast the song to the caliphate and all ISIS fighters as soon as it was released. By all accounts, it was a big hit with both the brass, and the rank and file of ISIS. “Let’s face it, it’s catchy as hell, and with a good message,” says al-Baghdadi. “Though damn, why did they have to bury his vocals so much in the mix? Trying to make out the words is like trying to subjugate a town of ethnic minorities with one arm tied behind your back.”

After hearing “People Loving People,” al-Baghdadi says he’s a changed person.

“You know, just like many of my ISIS fighters, the message of Jihad was drilled into by brain for 20 years in the most radical of Middle Eastern madrases, and was then solidified by spilling the blood of infidels for many years in battle. But I’ll be damned if Garth Brooks didn’t make me see things differently. ‘People Loving People’ is just so simple and eloquent, and really relevant to this day and age.”

According to The Pentagon and commanders of the Kurdish Peshmerga army in control of parts of their semi-autonomous region in Northern Iraq, pockets of ISIS resistance still exist. But instead of dropping bombs on the remaining ISIS positions, a plan is being put in place to continuously broadcast Garth’s “People Loving People” in those regions to weaken the remaining strongholds. “We’re still working out rights with Garth to be able to legally broadcast it in a public forum,” says Pentagon spokesperson Herold Frankenfurter. “He wants to make sure it doesn’t compete with his upcoming concert appearances, and Garth refuses to release the individual track to us digitally. He insists we have to wait for the entire album to be released.”

Sep
3

Song Review – Garth Brooks’ “People Loving People”

September 3, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  85 Comments

garth-brooks-people-loving-peopleSo here it is; Garth’s first single since 2007′s “More Than A Memory.” But more importantly, it is the first real single since he retired in 2001—representing a new album, and a new era for one of the biggest music stars the world has ever seen. And with this new song, the world is who Garth courts as his audience.

Initially Garth’s debut single after retirement was slated to be a song called “Tacoma.” RCA even took out full page ads in country radio trade periodicals and at one point scheduled a release date for the song as July 28th. Then for wherever reason, all of those plans got scrapped in just one example of how Garth’s triumphant return has been beset with stops and starts.

One of the reasons Garth may have decided a switcheroo was in order for his new single is because of the topical nature of the subject matter in “People Loving People.” With the globe, and many communities in the United States in such disarray—with beheadings, sectarian violence, civil war, and civil rights issues dominating headlines—the song is certainly current. And it sees Garth slide into the role many upper-echelon superstars have championed during times of turmoil over the years by attempting to show some leadership from the entertainment world when a leadership vacuum seems to exist from our elected leaders and in the world stage at large.

This isn’t the first time Garth Brooks has tried his hand at settling world tensions with his music. Garth once used his “We Shall Be Free” song in the wake of the Rodney King beating and other world events to upstage the entire Super Bowl. But in releasing “People Loving People,” Garth doesn’t do himself any favors with his many detractors, or the people who were hoping Garth’s return would also herald the return of country music that actually sounded something like country. It is unlikely that “People Loving People” fairly represents what folks can expect from Garth’s new album. If the song “Tacoma” was selected as the first single, as it almost was, it probably would have represented a much more country-sounding offering. But Garth decided piggy backing off of current events, and releasing a song that would have a greater impact on country radio and the world stage at large was a more ambitious and pragmatic move, and he’s probably right.

Garth’s altruistic desires with this song will resonate deeply with some, and come across as dubious to others who will accuse him of opportunistic mawkish grandstanding covered in sappy icing. Here is Garth once again demanding to be the center of attention. But taking a sincere look at the lyrics and message, and without lacing the assessment with any personal slants about Garth’s previous motives, “People Loving People” is not badly written, or wrong in its message or its ambition. This song is inspiring, and says something a lot of people should probably hear. At the same time, as an exercise in intellectualism, it is a little innocent and short-sighted. Of course all people should love each other, but that’s a little hard to hear when someone has just slaughtered your family, or beheaded one of your countrymen. As much as love is inherent in the human design, so is justice.

Beyond weighing this song against much heavier subjects usually not appropriate for the realm of music entertainment, “People Loving People” doesn’t really capture Garth in his ideal element. Nor did “We Shall Be Free.” The key of the song is higher than where Garth’s voice settles into its sweet spot—where he can dip into those low bass notes, and quickly drawl back into the higher register to squeeze the emotion out of a lyric. Think of “The Dance,” or really any of Garth’s bigger hits. The lead guitar answering Garth during the chorus’s “Wow oh oh” portion feels a little dated. Garth is a passionate performer, and though in the mind’s eye you can see him singing the hell out of this song live, that emotion and energy is not really endowed on this recording. Sometimes you can’t even really understand the words, and this is on a song that is built upon them.

Though I don’t question the sincerity of Garth’s approach with this song, many will. But releasing “People Loving People” right now is quite savvy, and with production that leans heavily towards pop rock, it will be a good way for Garth to warm up to the new environment in country radio that is very much focused on the non-country here-and-now.

“People Loving People” will do moderately well on radio, while consumers hungry for new Garth music will make it rocket up Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. That is, if it is released digitally. Detractors will seize upon the opportunities the song affords them, while many others across genre lines and international borders will find a message that they are thirsting for. Ultimately, “People Loving People” presents a mixed bag, and leaves the notions of exactly what we might get out of Garth 2.0 fairly ambiguous.

In the end, “People Loving People” is very, very Garth.

1 Gun Up for an ambitious song with a good message.

1 Gun Down for fairly unimaginative and non-country production, a lackluster vocal performance, and potential commercial opportunism off of current events.

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Aug
30

George Strait, Willie Nelson & Garth Brooks Make Poll of Favorite Artists

August 30, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  30 Comments

garth-brooks-george-strait-willie-nelson

Harris Interactive has just released a new poll that queried the American public about their favorite music artists, musicians, and bands, and some noteworthy country music names made the list. When pollsters asked for unprompted responses to the question, “Who is your favorite singer/musician or band?”—George Strait was the 5th highest answer, and the highest amongst country music stars. Garth Brooks also made the top 10, coming in tied for 7th with The Eagles, Celine Dion, and Neil Diamond.

Willie Nelson also made the top of two of the lists broken down by demographics, even though he did not make the top 10 overall. Willie was the favorite artist of “Mature Adults” (69 or older), and was tied with The Beatles for the favorite musical artist amongst Republicans (despite Willie’s left-leaning politics). The Beatles came in #1 overall in the poll, right in front of Elvis at #2.

What is even more interesting for country music fans is who is not on the list, and who slipped off the list since the same poll was conducted the last time in 2010. Four years ago, Tim McGraw was #5, Rascal Flatts was #8, and Alan Jackson was #9. None of these country artists made the top 10 again. In 2010 George Strait was #7 in the poll.

With all three of the country entries into this year’s poll being more classically-oriented artists, and none of them being current stars (where is Taylor Swift in this poll?), it speaks to the continued appeal of older country artists and classic country music we’ve seen in similar studies by Edison Research, and in the move to split the country format to give more radio representation to older artists.

The younger artists that made the top 10 of the poll were Beyoncé at #3, and Bruno Mars at #6 who was potentially boosted by his recent Super Bowl appearance.

The Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between July 16th and July 21st, 2014 among 2,306 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

TABLE 1

FAVORITE SINGER/MUSICIAN/BAND

“Who is your favorite singer/musician or band?”

Unprompted responses

Base: All adults

2010

2014

Beatles

=3

1

Elvis Presley

=3

2

Beyoncé

*

3

Led Zepplin

*

4

George Strait

7

5

Bruno Mars

*

6

Neil Diamond

*

=7

Eagles

*

=7

Celine Dion

1

=7

Garth Brooks

*

=7

DROPPED OFF OF LIST IN 2014

U2 (was No. 2), Tim McGraw (was No. 5), Lady Gaga (was No. 6), Rascal Flatts (was No. 8) and Alan Jackson and Frank Sinatra (both ties for No. 9)

TABLE 2

TOP MUSICIAN AMONG DIFFERENT GROUPS

AMONG:

2014

Men

Beatles

Women

Beyoncé

Millennials (18-37)

Beyoncé

Gen X (38-49)

Metallica

Baby Boomers (50-68)

Beatles

Matures (69+)

Willie Nelson

Republicans

Beatles/Willie Nelson

Democrats

Beatles/Bruno Mars

Independents

Beatles

East

Beatles

Midwest

Bruno Mars

South

Beatles

West

Beatles

Parent of child under 18

Bruno Mars

Not parent of child under 18

Beatles

 

 ***See Complete Harris Poll***

Aug
28

A Breakdown of the NASH Icon Playlist (AKA Merle’s Back on Radio)

August 28, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Podcasting/Radio  //  40 Comments

nash-icon-jpg“What will NASH Icon be, and will it make a significant improvement to country radio?”

This has been the question on the mind of many country music fans ever since the joint venture between Cumulus Media and the Big Machine Label Group known as NASH Icon was announced. Now that there are actually radio stations broadcasting the new NASH Icon format, we can listen in and hear just exactly what NASH Icon is. Though the rollout is still in its infant stages and there’s sure to be changes and tweaking happen before it’s ready to go coast to coast, the insight of a detailed playlist gives us a good starting point of what we might expect, what may need to be changed, and what should stay the same.

READ: Cumulus Media: “It’s Time For Country To Fragment”

Saving Country Music took a 3 1/2 hour segment of the playlist of NASH Icon 98.9 station in Atlanta and broke it down in between artists, eras, songs, and decades. Though the formula and ratios are very likely to change once the NASH Icon record label gets up and running and new music from older artists begins to be featured, this is an analysis of what NASH Icon listener is hearing right now. The breakdown also includes all the “legend” or “classic” artists played on the station between 8:00 AM and 11:59 PM on August 27th, located at the very bottom to the analysis.

Biggest Takeaways

Legendary & Classic Artists Back on Mainstream Radio: Regardless of anything else, including the ratio of plays compared to new artists, legends like Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam, Alabama, and the The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band are back on the radio once again, and so are many classic country artists like Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, and Mark Chesnutt. For traditional and classic country fans, this is a strong victory, and one that has been a long time coming.

•NEW Singles and NEW Artists Are Featured More Than Anything Else, BUT: Without question, as a percentage, new singles and new artists make up the lion’s share of NASH Icon at the moment. However, the principal idea behind NASH Icon is to feature new music from older artists, especially from artists like Garth Brooks who is about to release an album, and from artist who will sign to the NASH Icon record label. Since none of these things are up-and-running just yet, they may be replacing those slots with new singles from new artists. According to Cumulus Media COO John Dickey, eventually new music will make up only 25% of the format. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Bro-Country is Currently Featured On NASH Icon: On August 25th, Cumulus Media COO John Dickey said, You won’t hear a lot of what we affectionately term in the business today as ‘Bro-Country.” But according to this analysis, this is a completely incorrect statement. Bro-Country artists like Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Chase Rice, and Cole Swindell all showed up in the playlist. Whether they will disappear once the new singles from old artists are released, we’ll have to see. At the moment though, the argument could be made that Bro-Country makes up the biggest pie piece of the NASH Icon playlist. Remember though, it’s still early.

•Not Just The Big Names: Some have been concerned we’d only see the usual suspects of artists featured, but NASH Icon has been playing lesser names that had big hits like Tracy Byrd, Doug Stone, and Ricochet. The NASH Icon playlist shows decent diversity when it comes to the older artists.

•Not Just 1989 or Newer: Early on, NASH Icon was sold as being only songs from 1989 or after. In the 3 1/2 hours Saving Country Music listened in, there were two songs from 1980, and eight songs from before 1989. Though this isn’t a huge amount, the playlist did show they would reach well past 25 year pole to play Merle Haggard’s song from 1980, “I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink.”

•Lee Ann Womack’s New Single and an Independent Label Artist Played: Maybe the most important insight, Lee Ann Womack’s “The Way I’m Livin’” was featured during the 3 1/2 hour block. This would be the very first example of a mature artist (no offense meant Lee Ann!) who would never be played on mainstream Top 40 country having a featured single from a new album played in the rotation. Lee Ann’s single is so new, the album has not even been released yet. This hypothetically is the whole point behind NASH Icon, is to give artists like Lee Ann the radio play they deserve.

What else is interesting about this play is Lee Ann is not signed to the NASH Icon label, meaning they are willing to feature a non NASH Icon artists that still fits the NASH Icon mold. Also, Lee Ann Womack is not on a major label; she’s on Sugar Hill Records. What this opens the door to is the possibility that other independent label artists could be featured on the format. Of course it helps that Lee Ann is already an established name in mainstream country, but this may be the window to see someone like Sturgill Simpson, or Old Crow Medicine Show show up in the playlist in the future.

Only Singles Were Featured, No Album Cuts.

•Only One Song Played Twice in the 3 ½ Hours. It Was Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt.”

Suggestions for the NASH Icon Playlist

•Mitigate the Bro-Country, and Now: We know that Cumulus already sees Bro-Country on the format as being a problem, because COO John Dickey said so. Whether the underlings that are programming NASH Icon didn’t get the memo, or they’re simply saving the slots for the new singles from old artists soon to come, Bro-Country is on the format, and in a big way, and it is ruining the experience for potential listeners. NASH Icon is creating a big buzz in the country music community, but if listeners tune in and hear Florida Georgia Line twice an hour, they’re probably going to leave and never come back, and potentially they may tell their country music buddies about the negative experience. Take the Bro-Country off, and add more older stuff, or other newer stuff that’s not Bro-Country, like more Dierks Bentley (sans “Drunk On A Plane”) and Kacey Musgraves, for example. The Bro-Country on NASH Icon right now could kill it forever with certain listeners if it is not removed quickly.

•Balance Out The Playlist With A Few More Older Songs, and 1 or 2 Independent Artists: Let’s face it, many classic and traditional country fans are bound to not like NASH Icon even if they play one new song. NASH Icon is still not going to be for the die-hard traditionalists. Pragmatism is what is needed to make NASH Icon work. If a few more 80′s and early 90′s songs were featured, it might help to balance out the ratios and create a healthy country music environment for all country music fans from all generations to enjoy together. Also, if NASH Icon featured even one or two new current independent artists in a given content block, they would broaden the reach and appeal of NASH Icon even more, and make it a place where even more labels could promote singles and offer greater support to the format.

•Add More Legends With New Music: Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton all have new albums out that charted at the very top of the country charts, and released singles that are very worthy of radio play. These albums were also released through major labels. This would be an excellent source of content to add new songs from older artists, and broaden the appeal of the format. Johnny Cash’s American Recordings-era material could also be a great source for NASH Icon, and one that could add younger, and cross-genre appeal.


THE PLAYLIST BREAKDOWN

NOTE:

• ‘X’ denotes an additional play or plays for an artist or song. So if there’s two ‘X”s beside an artist’s name, that means they were played three times.

•Artists were broken down into four categories. When an artist could hypothetically fit into multiple categories, the date of their first charting single is included for added detail. PLEASE don’t bog down or obsess over the eras. It is the best that could be done.

•’New’ artists are artists currently being played, or recently being played on mainstream country radio. “New’ songs are songs currently on mainstream country radio.

• This is just from a 3 1/2 hour span; not NASH Icon’s complete playlist. There is a complete list of other “legends” and”classic” artists that were played during the entirety of the broadcast day at the very bottom (not including the artists features in the 3 1/2 hour analysis).

***Artists Featured on NASH Icon***

 

Legendary Artists (Before 1989)

  • Dwight Yoakam X
  • Merle Haggard
  • Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
  • Alabama XX
  • George Strait X
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Reba McEntire
  • Diamond Rio
  • Buck Owens (via a Dwight song)

Classic Artists (Around Class of 1989)

  • Alan Jackson X
  • Aaron Tippin
  • Vince Gill
  • Mark Chesnutt
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter
  • Travis Tritt
  • Garth Brooks X
  • Tracy Byrd
  • Tim McGraw (1990) X
  • Doug Stone (1990)

Contemporary Artists (After Class of 1989)

  • Rodney Atkins (1997)
  • Ricochet (1995)
  • Blackhawk (1992)
  • Deana Carter (1994)
  • Lee Ann Womack (1997)
  • Toby Keith (1993)

Newer Artists (Still Mainstream Relevant)

  • Kenny Chesney XX
  • Florida Georgia Line XX
  • Luke Bryan XX
  • Jake Owen
  • Kip Moore
  • Miranda Lambert X
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Cole Swindell
  • Brett Eldredge
  • Chase Rice
  • Joe Nichols
  • Sara Evans X
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton X
  • Trace Adkins
  • Big & Rich
  • Josh Gracin
  • Lee Brice
  • Billy Currington

 


***Songs Featured on NASH Icon***

80′s Songs

  • Dwight Yoakam “Honky Tonk Man”
  • Nitty Gritty Dirt Band “Fishin’ In The Dark”
  • Ronnie Milsap “Stranger In My House”
  • Alabama “40-Hour Week”
  • Alabama “Mountain Music”
  • Dwight Yoakam & Buck Owens “Streets of Bakersfield”
  • Alabama “Tennessee River” (1980)
  • Merle Haggard “I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink” (1980)

90′s Songs

  • Alan Jackson “Little Bitty”
  • Reba McEntire & Vice Gill “The Heart Won’t Lie”
  • Reba McEntire “The Greatest Man I Never Knew”
  • Mark Chesnutt “It’s A Little Too Late”
  • Doug Stone “A Jukebox With A Country Song”
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter “Down At The Twist & Shout”
  • Travis Tritt “Help Me Hold On”
  • Garth Brooks “The Thunder Rolls”
  • Garth Brooks “Rodeo”
  • Ricochet “Daddy’s Money”
  • George Strait “Blue Clear Sky”
  • Tracy Byrd “Watermelon Crawl”
  • Deana Carter “Strawberry Wine”
  • Kenny Chesney “How Forever Feels”
  • Blackhawk “Every Once In A While”
  • Diamond Rio “Unbelievable”

2000′s Songs

  • Aaron Tippin “Kiss This”
  • Rodney Atkins “If You’re Going Through Hell”
  • Sara Evans “Suds In The Bucket”
  • Toby Keith “My List”
  • Alan Jackson “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”
  • Brad Paisley “Little Moments”
  • Tim McGraw “Real Good Man”
  • Josh Gracin “Nothin’ To Lose”
  • George Strait “Give It Away”
  • Trace Adkins “You’re Gonna Miss This”
  • Sara Evans “A Little Bit Stronger”

New Songs

  • Kenny Chesney “Come Over”
  • Florida Georgia Line “Dirt” X
  • Florida Georgia Line “Get Your Shine On”
  • Jake Owen “Beachin’”
  • Miranda Lambert “Mama’s Broken Heart”
  • Tim McGraw “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s”
  • Joe Nichols “Yeah”
  • Blake Shelton “My Eyes”
  • Blake Shelton “Doin’ What She Likes”
  • Kenny Chesney “American Kids”
  • Cole Swindell “Chillin’ It”
  • Kip Moore “Somethin’ ‘Bout A Truck”
  • Luke Bryan “Play It Again”
  • Luke Bryan “Crash My Party”
  • Luke Bryan “That’s My Kind Of Night”
  • Lady Antebellum “Bartender”
  • Lee Brice “Hard To Love”
  • Miranda Lambert “Automatic”
  • Chase Rice “Ready, Set, Roll”
  • Big & Rich “Look At You”
  • Brett Eldredge “Beat Of The Music”
  • Billy Currington “We Are Tonight”
  • Lee Ann Womack “The Way I’m Livin’” (new song from older artist)

 


 Other “Legend” or “Classic” Artists That Received Radio Play On 8/27 Between 8 AM – 11:59 PM

  • Don Williams
  • Willie Nelson
  • Hank Williams Jr.
  • Randy Travis
  • Charlie Daniels
  • Dolly Parton
  • Keith Whitley
  • Gene Watson
  • Mel McDaniel
  • Pam Tillis
  • Eddie Rabbit
  • The Judds
  • Johnny Lee
  • Clint Black
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Lorrie Morgan
  • Faith Hill
  • Jo Dee Messina
  • Joe Diffie
  • Collin Raye
Aug
26

Cumulus Media: “It’s Time For Country To Fragment”

August 26, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Podcasting/Radio  //  50 Comments

nash-icon-jpgEver since the partnership between radio owner Cumulus Media and the Big Machine Label Group called NASH Icon was proposed, the big question has been if it will it result in the country music radio format splitting in two. Country music is one of the last genres to resist splintering, but as Top 40 country continues to abandon older economically-viable artists, it has become a necessity to give older artists a home somewhere on the radio dial.

john.dickeyAfter a conference call on Monday (8-25) with Cumulus Media’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer John Dickey (brother of President and CEO Lew Dickey), all speculation about whether a country split will happen can be put to bed, at least if Cumulus has anything to say about it. Country Music is splitting, and will eventually constitute two completely different formats. And though you may still hear Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line on the new format upon occasion, you will also hear Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Randy Travis, George Strait, and many other artists that were relevant in the 80′s and 90′s that mainstream country has abandoned.

“It is time for country to fragment,” John Dickey said plainly on the conference call, while offering more detailed insight than ever into exactly what NASH Icon will look like when it’s rolled out. Cumulus launched 15 initial NASH Icon stations recently, but says it won’t be until 2015 before everything is completely up an running.

READ: A Breakdown of the NASH Icon Playlist

The Rationale

Why does country music need to fragment into two formats? John Dickey explains.

“Country today is the largest format in terms of appeal and market share, certainly the last of its size that hasn’t fragmented. To me it wasn’t a question of will the format fragment, but when. And that time has come. The whole idea around NASH Icon is to create a parallel universe in country. Not a flanking format, but another platform for artists that were extremely prolific in the mid to late ‘80s, ‘90s and early to mid 2000s to regain some of that relevancy again. Unlike other attempts to fragment this format … this is really based on solid metrics, the depth, appeal, and attraction of these artists, the low burn of their music (meaning people still enjoy it), and the fact that they’re not present in country on the radio.”

Forget the 25-Year, “Classic” Country Window

When NASH Icon was first announced, the Cliff Notes version of what it would feel like was centered around country music’s “Class of ’89″ with artists like Garth Brooks, Clint Black, and Alan Jackson. However NASH Icon’s range will be much wider, going deeper into the 80′s than 1989, and ranging all the way up to present-day hits.

“The format is going to be about 25% current-driven, and that’s going to increase as some of these artists … get into the studio and start to put out new music,” says Dickey

In other words, older artists who were relevant in the 80′s and 90′s, but who put out new music today, will have a home on NASH Icon for brand new singles.

“The balance is going to be made up from calls from the 80′s, 90′s, and 2000′s, predominantly anchored in the 90′s and 2000′s, with a little bit of ’80′s. But this format is really all about the face cards—the big artists from that 20-25 year period of time, mixed in with artists from today that make sense and have a sound that fits and is compatible.”

Dickey also addresses so-called “Bro-Country,” saying, “You won’t hear a lot of what we affectionately term in the business today as ‘Bro-Country.” This is a format that I can expect to be competitive 25-34, but like Hot AC, is really going to find a sweet spot 30-50.”

However if you look at the playlist of one of the recently-launched NASH Icon stations, you can find plays for songs like Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night,” or “Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here.” Those plays may disappear over time as the format tweaks itself, but at the moment, there is a discrepancy between John Dickey’s words, and the NASH Icon playlists. Those “current” songs may also be replaced by new songs from older artists, once those songs are released to the new format.

The Impact

John Dickey and Cumulus do not see NASH Icon as second-rate country music programing. They see it living side-by-side with Top 40, competing aggressively, if not challenging country music as a whole to step up its game.

“[It is] already resonating big time and is only going to snowball and pick up more steam,” Dickey says. “As we continue to build out this platform, people will see this format is capable at playing at the biggest levels alongside where mainstream country is. This can stand side-by-side with mainstream country, and not Cannibalize it, but grow the total shares in the markets. What it’s going to do … is shape the creative community in Nashville, or motivate them a little bit more on some music that they probably haven’t been able to find the right home for. And I’m talking about specifically the writing community.

The content glut of worthy songs that are not finding artists to cut them has been a side story to the Top 40, “Bro-Country” dominance of the format currently. We’ve heard people ranging from T Bone Burnett to Garth Brooks say that the amount and quality of songs waiting to be heard is astounding. There just hasn’t been an outlet for substantive material in country music for some time.

What Else To Expect

“There will be a morning show out of our NASH campus that will be purposed for NASH Icon,” John Dickey says. “It will be different than what we’re doing with NASH and ‘America’s Morning Show’ with Blair Garner. It’s going to [have] more of a living room setting and be more music intensive, but more interview-driven. Artists will come in and sit alongside the host of the show … I expect that to be online by the end of the year. With respect to any other day parts, there is nothing planned at this point that we would syndicate.”

“Westwood One is going to be offering NASH Icon as a format to affiliates starting almost immediately. We’re going to build on Stork platform, on what we call our localized format; completely customizable for any market. The Stork technology allows for somebody to take any day part or piece of the format that we offer and customize that around any live day parts that happen to be running … That technology allows for a very customized sound and custom feel to the format.”

This is where Cumulus and NASH differ from their biggest national competitor, Clear Channel. Clear Channel does not allow local formats to customize in many cases, breeding national homogenization to local formats. However many times local NASH affiliates still decide to go with national programming because the cost is cheaper than hiring local talent.

John Dickey also says that he expects Big Machine Records to begin announcing NASH Icon artists for the record label “sooner rather than later, probably within the next 30 to 60 days.”

What This All Means

As we can already see from the discrepancy between what John Dickey is saying about “Bro-Country” and what is showing up on playlists, it is going to take some time for NASH Icon to get its feet under itself and smooth out all the wrinkles. Regardless of who is being played from the current crop of mainstream country stars, you can also see from both the current NASH Icon playlists, and John Dickey’s words that older artist will once again be found on the radio airwaves, and not just on small, “classic” country stations. This new format also doesn’t threaten to Cannibalize those existing independent classic country stations unless they’re directly converted to a NASH Icon affiliate by Cumulus, because those listeners are not going to want to listen to Luke Bryan mixed in with their Randy Travis and Willie Nelson. But the format will potentially introduce those older artists to an entirely new audience, and challenge Top 40 country to deliver a little more variety and substance, or force listeners to switch channels.

One of the big questions that still remains is if Clear Channel—the #1 radio station owner in the country—will launch its own answer to NASH Icon.

READ: The Best & Worst Case Scenarios For The New Classic Country Format

Aug
14

Maddie & Tae Respond to Florida Georgia Line’s Criticism

August 14, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  67 Comments

florida-georgia-lineIn an August 7th article in The Chicago Tribune, Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line was characterized as being “unhappy” about Maddie & Tae’s debut single “Girl In A Country Song”. The song has been described by many as being “anti ‘Bro-Country’” with the way it puts the shoe on the other foot for country music’s young women and how they are characterized and objectified in many modern-day country songs.

In the Chicago Tribune interview, writer Allison Stewart portrayed questions to Brian Kelley about Maddie & Tae as “…the only ones Kelley, in a recent phoner, doesn’t sound happy to answer.”

When the reporter first asks about “Girl In A Country Song”, Kelley plays dumb. “I’m not really familiar with that,” he says about the song.

But when nudged a little further by Allison Stewart, who says to Kelley “They sing it from the point of view of the girl in the cut-off jeans, who never gets to talk? You’ve never heard that song?”

Brian Kelley answers, “All I’m gonna say about that is, I don’t know one girl who doesn’t want to be a girl in a country song. That’s all I’m gonna say to you. That’s it.”

Florida Georgia Line and Maddie & Tae are both on Big Machine Records.

maddie-and-taeNow, on-air personality Broadway of Country 92.5′s Electric Barnyard Show has interviewed Maddie & Tae, and asked them directly about Brian Kelley’s comments.

Broadway asks, “Are you girls feminists?”

The duo responds, “I would not say that. You know, the whole thing is just us wanting to come at this from a different perspective and making sure that the girl in these songs these guys are singing about gets a voice ’cause you very rarely ever hear from her.”

Then Broadway reads the Brian Kelley quotes from the Chicago Tribune article, and Maddie & Tae (who utter “uh-oh” at one point when hearing the news) respond,

“We love them and their music, but you see, he’s a dude. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be a woman, or to be the girl in these songs. We never intended to upset anybody. That was definitely not our intention, and we can’t really speak for anyone else. We just know that is definitely not something that we would want to do.”

- – - – - – - – - – -

The problem is, “Girl In A Country Song” has put these two, very young 18-year-old girls in a very unenviable position. People who identify themselves as anti “Bro-Country” or anti pop country are going to want something from this song and this duo that they simply can’t deliver. These girls weren’t even born when Garth Brooks was hitting his commercial stride. They were 5-years-old when Garth retired. Even if they were raised with classic country being a part of their musical experience (which they claim they were), they’re still not going to have the perspective to be able to battle the entire country music industry when they are just starting out. Of course they’re going to say they like Florida Georgia Line and other Bro-Country artists. They don’t have the skins on the wall to say otherwise. Saying they hate Florida Georgia Line would be self-destruction. They have never even really been out on tour yet, or played any big shows. And if they had loaded up “Girl In A Country Song” with twang and steel guitars like some would have it, we wouldn’t even be talking about it right now because nobody would be paying attention to it beyond some pissed of classic country fans.

Of course the song isn’t great. But it’s effective, and that’s what it has over virtually every other modern country protest song. It isn’t on Maddie & Tae to battle Bro-Country, and it is unfair to them to foist that responsibility upon their 18-year-old shoulders. It is their job to simply express themselves as artists, and that’s what they did with “Girl In A Country Song”. And if the industry decided to co-opt the song for their own marketing purposes to re-integrate anti Bro-Country hatred, I can’t see how to blame Maddie & Tae for that either. People like Hank Williams Jr., Garth Brooks, and Alan Jackson are the ones who need to be swiping the young pups on the nose, because they’re the ones who are in a position to do so. I can only imagine the nightmares these girls must be having, worrying that the entire country music world is going to turn on them when they’re still very much trying to figure out who they are as artists and people.

The dilemma for Maddie & Tae has been made one measure worse from Big Machine’s marketing strategy that has seen them court both sides of the cultural divide. The duo was featured prominently on NPR right after the song’s release, and then the video for the song was debuted first to NPR’s intellectual, upper-crust crowd. The girls were portrayed as pseudo-feminists, fighting objectifying gender roles. And at the same time, they were being pushed to mainstream country as having “good fun” with Bro-Country—which they really love.

And meanwhile a third contingent of critics have popped up to say this song has not risen quickly enough and is not even worth all this hubbub, as if a completely brand new female act is expected to land a #1 right out of the chute when it has been nearly half a decade since any country music female not named Carrie, Taylor, or Miranda has done so. The song slipped from #16 to #25 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart this week as singles featured on ABC’s “CMA Music Fest” special all saw boosts in sales, while “Girl In A Country Song” gained one spot to #30 on the Airplay chart.

Who knows what the fate of Maddie & Tae and “Girl In A Country” song will be. But it continues to be the most talked-about song in country music, and this in itself has elevated the dialogue about if the current direction of country music is a healthy one, both ethically and economically. And that cannot be a bad thing, no matter what perspective you bring to the table about the song.

Jul
30

Caitlyn Smith, Garth Brooks, & The Song “Tacoma”

July 30, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  29 Comments

caitlyn-smithI first met Caitlyn Smith and saw her perform on the 4th of July, 2011. The occasion was the confluence of Willie Nelson’s annual 4th of July Picnic, and the now defunct (seemingly) Country Throwdown Tour put on by the same promoters of the long-running Warped concerts. It all collided at Billy Bob’s Texas in Ft. Worth, and I was there covering the event, and specifically had my eyes set on up-and-comer Austin Lucas, who like Caitlyn Smith, was playing on an acoustic stage where promising songwriters took turns playing their songs in a “Nashville Round” setting. The idea was a great way to feature up-and-coming talent right beside the bigger names on the tour like Lee Brice, Jamey Johnson, and Brantley Gilbert.

Caitlyn Smith was stunning. She had a song called “Hank Drank” that knocked me flat on my ass. At the time I wrote about the young songwriter, “The other highlight from the one Nashville Round session I caught was Caitlyn Smith. She would be my #2 surprise of the day. Caitlyn had the best voice of the whole event, and well-penned songs to compliment that voice, as well as dynamic and energetic guitar playing. Beautiful girl, and certainly one to watch.”

Later as I made my way onto one of the fleet of Country Throwdown buses to conduct an interview with Austin Lucas, it was then that during brief conversations with Caitlyn and other promising Nashville songwriters that I solidified my opinions about the burgeoning trend of country “checklist” songs, or “laundry list” songs as I had been dubbing them before. Checklist songwriting is very much the foundation of what is called “Bro-Country” today, but even in 2011, the ugly trend was prevailing in country music and was the talk of songwriting circles and Saving Country Music; it just took 3 years for the rest of country media to catch on.

But back to Caitlyn Smith. Or more specifically, on to Garth Brooks, who during his July 10th press conference making his comeback official, had glowing compliments for the Nashville songwriters he was discovering when selecting new songs for his upcoming project. When asked how much songwriting Garth was doing himself, his response was, “I’m getting my ass kicked by the level of songwriting right now … Most of the stuff we’ve been cutting has been outside songs.”

The sentiments from Garth are similar to ones we’ve been hearing from other industry experts like T Bone Burnett, who while acting as the music director for the ABC TV show Nashville tried to do his best to alleviate some of the glut in amazing songs going unheard because of the current focus on Bro-Country that’s dominating mainstream country music right now. The competition for songwriters in Nashville has never been more fierce, but since so few artists want to cut songs of true substance, there is an amazing stock of high-caliber song material just sitting on the shelf.  At his July 10th press conference, Garth also said, “The first single that’s gonna come out … might be one of the greatest statements ever.”

caitlyn-smith-001Now enter Caitlyn Smith. In 2011 when I was first exposed to her, she had already landed a co-write on a Jason Aldean album cut for “It Ain’t Easy”. Speaking of ABC’s Nashville, a Caitlyn co-write “Don’t Put Dirt On My Grave Just Yet” was featured prominently on the TV Show, and has become one of the most popular songs of the series. She also co-wrote the new Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers duet, “You Can’t Make Old Friends.” Caitlyn’s name had already been rumored in connection with the new Garth project, even before the press conference early in July. Now the word on the street from multiple sources is that Garth’s debut single—arguably one of the most-anticipated singles in country music in years—is the Caitlin Smith song “Tacoma”, co-written with Bob DiPiero.

Though many of Caitlyn’s songwriting credits are held by more pop-oriented performers (she has the title track on the upcoming Lady Antebellum album, and Cassadee Pope’s platinum-selling “Wasting All These Tears”), in October of 2013, Caitlyn released a single called Dream Away and apparently has a whole album of material steeped in country tradition with banjo, fiddle, and mandolin featured heavy on the tracks. She is a professional, salaried songwriter, but like Ashley Monroe or Brandy Clark, Caityln Smith has all the skills to be a striking performer as well.

Caitlyn Smith is a native of Minnesota, and grew up in a small town aspiring to be a songwriter from a young age. She first started songwriting in the Christian music world, taking trips to Nashville to work with other writers before converting to secular country music. As she grew older, her trips to Nashville became more frequent until she finally moved there to pursue her dream full time.

Below is a demo version of Caitlyn Smith’s “Tacoma”. Garth’s version is very likely to sound much different, so don’t jump to too many conclusions about how “country” Garth’s final product might be. That is why it is called a demo.

But this is where Garth Brooks could shake up the country music industry beyond simply packing sold-out stadiums. There are reams of amazing songs out there going unheard, and Garth is one of the very few people with the star power to take these songs and make them hits. And this rising tide could raise all boats, taking an artist like Caitlyn Smith to the greater notoriety her talents deserve.

Caitlyn Smith is a one-in-a-million star just waiting for her big shot. Ravenesque, articulate, poetic, insightful, and delightfully troubled, her music can strike a toll on the soul like few others.

(NOTE: Folks, it looks like the SoundCloud demo of “Tacoma” has been taken down. If another example of the song is made available, it will be posted here.)

Jul
24

The Garth Brooks Comeback Beset with Stops & Starts

July 24, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  60 Comments

garth-brooks-001Garth Brooks is back, and there’s no denying it when you poke around country music and see his face and name everywhere. But his triumphant return has been one of the most curious cases of missed dates, canceled engagements, and other symptoms of mismanagement from a man whose modus operendi is one of being on top of everything with the precision of one of the most well-oiled marketing teams in music.

The first sign of trouble was with his five Ireland concerts scheduled for late July. This was supposed to be Garth’s big comeback moment that would send the world buzzing in anticipation of a world tour and new music. Millions of dollars were spent on a custom-made stage and multimedia presentation that were manufactured specifically for the Croke Park crowd and venue. It was then crated up on 19 semi-trailers and put on a freight ship to Ireland. But it was all for naught when the local council decided to only grant permits for three of the five Garth shows. Garth could have still moved forward with the three approved performances, but put his foot down, saying five or none. And none it was, as both Garth and the local promoters to a bath in red ink in the debacle that became a heated national debate throughout Ireland with bad blood still roiling over the matter.

In the midst of the Ireland fiasco, Garth Brooks let it be known through his website that there would be a big announcement on 7/7. Garth has a history with the number ’7′ and one of the themes of his comeback has been, “The 7′s are aligning.” However on 7/7 we didn’t get a big announcement. Instead we got the announcement of another announcement and press conference that would be held on July 10th. The July 10th press conference did go down as planned, and did establish some important benchmarks of the Garth comeback and answered some questions about what fans could expect, but it did not answer any specifics about when the Garth Brooks world tour would commence, or when we could expect new music from the entertainer specifically.

Even at the July 10th press conference, Garth went into it unsure himself if and when a new single would be released. There were somewhat awkward exchanges between Garth and label representatives in the crowd about what should be said, but it still seemed like we could expect a new Garth Brooks single soon.

Then later in the week of the July 10th press conference, rumors began to swirl that a new Garth Brooks single would be released in less than two weeks. This was confirmed when the country radio trade periodical Country Aircheck ran an ad in their July 14th issue from RCA Nashville telling fans to expect “New music coming next week.”

garth-brooks-new-music-1

But next week came, and there was no new Garth. Instead we got word of a delay, and when the next issue of Country Aircheck came out on Monday, July 21st, the ad now stated, “New music coming soon.”

garth-brooks-new-music-ad-2

Then reports came out that we could be expecting a new Garth Brooks single on Monday, 7/28. But apparently there’s a chance there has been yet another delay, and one that could take the release of the new Garth Brooks single all the way into September. Multiple radio programers, including Bree at KJ97, Scott Clements, and The Ant Man at 102.5 KNIX say to not expect new Garth until September. Saving Country Music placed a call to RCA Nashville to try to confirm when the single will be released and why there was a delay, but no comment was given. According to Windmills Country, the single delay has to do with wanting to set up Garth’s online digital store. The digital store with Garth’s music finally being made available digitally is another thing fans have been promised, but the dates have come and passed with no sign.

The above ads in Country Aircheck are not cheap, and the questions surrounding the new Garth single seem to hint to a deeper communication disconnect in the Garth Brooks camp.

In the end, Garth Brooks will probably be fine. He will sell out whatever stadium he books, and his new album will be a blockbuster. But he can’t take fans and the public for granted. He’s been gone as a full time musician for 13 years, and he’s re-entering mainstream country in a time where social networking and digital music rule the day, and everything he says and does will be set in stone and spread across the internet in mere moments. The world is not going to bend to the will of Garth Brooks, though as we saw in Ireland, Garth will try. Garth has got to prove his worth to an entire new generation, and there’s probably nobody more aware of this than Garth. But the beginning of his triumphant return has not been pretty, and has to be better if he wants to do make music at a level he’s “never seen before.”

Jul
23

Maddie & Tae Make a Summer Anthem Out of a Protest Song

July 23, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  54 Comments

maddie-and-taeJust sit back and appreciate where we’re at for a second ladies and gentlemen. Here it is the dead of summer 2014, and the song that has everyone talking in country music is not some frivolous, carefree party anthem. It’s not some beach-bumming or beer on the tailgate half-baked haven for country cliché. It’s the song from two young girls named Maddie & Tae that directly calls out the pervasive checklist trend of male-dominated country music, and does so in a very direct, earnest manner.

No, that’s not not the smell of suntan lotion and margarita quaffing through the air, it’s the burning dolor of protest and dissent. “Girl In A Country Song“— this is the song that has everyone buzzing. This is the song that virtually every DJ and every country music website and periodical is buzzing about. This song, these girls, and the scenario it thrusts upon country music is what people find fascinating, and has captured the country music zeitgeist at this moment in time more than any other topic or song, and during a season already chock full of blockbuster singles like Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt”, and compelling narratives like the return of Garth Brooks.

Displeasure reigns, and all those people who wonder why such effort is put forth to complain about country music songs that could just simply be ignored are now seeing the fruits of spirited discourse and articulate criticism. “Girl In A Country Song” is far from perfect. It may even be a stretch to call it good. But like all artistic expressions that rise above the sum of their parts, it captures a sentiment that is exceedingly relevant, and melds with the imagination of possibilities of what its success could mean.

READ: Women Going About Battling Bro-Country All Wrong

On Monday (7-21), Maddie & Tae made an appearance on NPR of all places, and explained the inspiration behind “Girl In A Country Song”.

“Looking good for the boys is not all we have to offer for them. We’re bringing a voice for the girls in country music, and that’s why we came at this topic with a different perspective … It’s just a trend that kind of became irresponsible in its view of women, so we wanted to come about it from our perspective … Because as women, we don’t want to be thought of as one-dimensional, and that’s kind of how these songs have been portraying women. So we hope that kind of changes the game just a little bit.”

As the NPR interviewer adeptly pointed out, Maddie & Tae also say that they like some of the Bro-Country songs and artists, and wondered if the girls were presenting a double standard.

“The thing is, we do feel like this trend has been very very consistent. And we want to give this girl that these guys love singing about a voice … We say it’s a tough gig because yes we wear bathing suits and we wear cutoffs, but we do it when we want to, not necessarily when the guy puts us in that place. It is a tough gig because you have to look a certain way to be looked at as a beautiful girl, and that’s one message that we want this song to put out there, that every woman should feel beautiful whether you’re in cutoffs, whether you don’t have tan legs.”

Something else interesting is that when writing the song, the girls put together a checklist of all the things they regularly heard in cliché country songs. “I think it had trucks, tailgates, cutoffs, tan lines and tan legs, dirt road, and the most important one, the girls. The smokin’ hot girl.”

“Checklist” was the precursor to the “Bro-Country” term, and has been a overly-consistent trend in country music since 2011. “Checklist” is how Maddie & Tae referenced the trend, not “Bro-Country.”

Over the last 35 years, country protest songs have become an indelible part of country music, and not since “Murder On Music Row” was championed by George Strait and Alan Jackson have we seen a protest song with such importance and success in the mainstream. “Girl In A Country Song” is far from traditional, whether this is to purposely mock the songs that it targets, or to pander to country’s current trends. And of course “Girl In A Country Song” is marketing, looking to re-monetize negative sentiment. But that comes from how the song was underwritten by Big Machine Records, not how it was composed by Maddie & Tae, who by all accounts wrote it with sincerity.

READ: The Re-Integration of “Bro-Country” Hatred by Music Row

Do the two songs that are set to dominate the summer of 2014—”Girl In A Country Song” by Maddie & Tae, and Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt”—signal a shifting of the winds in popular country music towards more substance? It still may be too early to make that determination. But it certainly is worth keeping an eye on, because anti-pop country music sentiment is at an all-time high, right beside the all-time high for country music’s popularity. Sports radio and sports websites are lampooning country regularly. It is the brunt of many pop culture jokes. What Maddie & Tae have done is given a voice to that angst, and they have done so using the same tradition Waylon Jennings started in 1975, which is taking the disappointment one has about the direction of country music, and writing a song about it.

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Jul
22

The Best & Worst Case Scenarios For The New Classic Country Format

July 22, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Podcasting/Radio  //  36 Comments

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One of the big stories involving the back end of country music in 2014 has been the potential formation of a brand new radio format to give a home to the older artists quickly being shuffled off of mainstream radio in the movement towards youth. The announcement of the joint venture between Big Machine Label Group and radio owner Cumulus Media called NASH Icons is what started the buzz, and then mere weeks later a regionally-owned radio station in Kentucky changed it’s name to GARTH-FM, and all of a sudden the split of the country music radio format looked to be imminent. Since then the idea has been put in sort of a limbo state as NASH Icons isn’t even set to launch until 2015, but it still looks like a format split and the formation of a “classic” country radio network is still very much a real possibility.

The big question that remains is how the new format for older country music could take shape. NASH Icons and other early players have already pegged a 25-year window as the foundation for the format, featuring many of the artists that launched their careers in country music in 1989, including Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt, and Clint Black. Artists like Shania Twain and Faith Hill have also been mentioned, and so has the inclusion of new music from these artists, making the new format not just about old songs.

Depending on how it breaks, a big new batch of classic country stations on the radio could be a Godsend for classic country fans, or it could be a nightmare. Since the idea still remains in its formative stages, this is the time that classic country fans have to opportunity to voice their opinion of what they would like to see from the new format. Whether these fans will be listened to by the industry or not is another matter. In the end NASH Icons and any other station that decides to switch to the new format will be doing so not from some philosophical desire to see older country back on the radio, but as a business decision.

Assuming that 25-year window is the one constant, let’s look at the two scenarios of how the classic country format split could transpire.

NOTE: Some have said that “classic” is not the best word to describe what the new format would be. But in lieu of a better succinct describer, we will use “classic” in this case.


BEST CASE SCENARIO

 

  • It would focus on the 25-year “classic” window, but wouldn’t shy away from dipping a little deeper into country music’s past, especially for artists who were still relevant 25 years ago, and are still relevant today. For example, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Willie Nelson all released albums this year that had record charting performances and were very well-received by the public. These albums were released by major labels, who would see the benefit to promoting singles through a new country format for older artists if there was one.

 

  • It includes playlists that are wide and diverse, and don’t just focus on the narrow window of usual suspects who had their biggest success in the 90′s. It doesn’t just play the artists that were great from the classic era, but the songs that were great from the era from some of the lesser-known artists.

 

  • Unlike the classic rock format, it keeps playlists spicy. Understand that even with older artists, there are still trends and artists can get hot, or go cold depending on current events and other factors. If an older artist is going on a big tour or is releasing a new album, there may be renewed interest in that artist that demands more rotation time. Maybe a movie or documentary about an artist is released, or maybe they make an acting appearance that may raise their public interest. Play off of those trends to keep the format engaging. It listens to what listeners want.

 

  • It doesn’t completely cannibalize the already-existing traditional country stations, especially in markets where they are successful—”traditional” meaning stations focused mostly on music before the 1989 window. In some very small markets, the older listening audience is still going to enjoy the country oldies more than more contemporary stars from the 90′s and 00′s. And in very large markets, there will always be enough listeners to support traditional country stations. Some traditional country stations are sure to switch over to the new format because it will be more commercially-lucrative for them. But it shouldn’t be expected that all of them should or have to.

 

  • It is almost implied that with NASH Icons, there will be some nationalized programming as part of the format. But just like with Cumulus’s current NASH network, the new format should let local programmers decide how much national programming to carry. It should encourage local shows to create personal relationships with listeners, making listeners feel like they’re listening to a live human selecting the songs just for them and their community. As Edison Research has discovered through multiple studies, people connect better with locally-generated content, and this is especially true with the older demographics a classic country format would appeal to.

 

  • The new format leaves open the possibility of allowing new artists that play an older style of country music to be included. Of course not every younger traditional country artist can be included, but when you have a band or artist who has proven their commercial viability and wide appeal like Old Crow Medicine Show or Strugill Simpson for example, throw their new single in the rotation. This will also keep the appeal of the classic format diversified, and allow for labels to help support the format with single releases. At the least, it leaves open the possibility of having weekend shows that feature new artists with a classic sound.

 

  • Since the Country Music Association (or CMA) is made up of elements of the country radio world, they add new awards to recognize the new format. Similar to how the Grammy Awards distinguish subgenres and “Classic” and “Contemporary” artists in separate awards, name a “Classic Country Album of the Year”, “Classic Country Song of the Year”, and “Classic Country Artist of the Year”. You could still keep the purity of some of the other awards, like the “Entertainer of the Year”. As we saw with George Strait, classic entertainers could still be considered for any individual artist distinction. But a few select awards to recognize great contributions from classic country artists that would otherwise go unrecognized would fill the same gap that is opening up in radio for classic country artists.

 


WORST CASE SCENARIO

  • The “classic” country format becomes nothing more than a way to consolidate and streamline most or all of the existing traditional or classic country radio stations by firing local talent and implementing syndicated programming 24/7, or close to it.
  • It focuses on a narrow range of artists that had only the very top of commercial success in the early 90′s an not much more, avoiding artists whose heyday was before 1989 completely or whose fame was short-lived.
  • Playlists are rarely or never freshened like the current classic rock format to where the new format plays virtually the same songs for decades.
  • It mostly cannibalizes country music’s existing traditional country stations to the point where songs and artist from before 1989 can barely be found on the radio dial.
  • It ignores both the legends that are still putting out commercially-successful music, and the up-and-comers.
  • NASH Icons on the radio is nothing more than an infomercial for the label arm of the organization, with little to no outside support for other artists or meaningful representation of classic country music.
  • Classic country artists are still left with little to no representation at country music award shows.
Jul
15

The Waylon Jennings Quote About Garth Brooks – Real or Fake?

July 15, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Outlaw History  //  36 Comments

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“Garth Brooks did for country music what pantyhose did for finger fucking.”

This is the quote that has been attributed to Waylon Jennings that you are likely to see in much greater frequency now that Garth Brooks has come out of retirement. For some, it is the totality of their argument against Garth. Forget all his music, past and future, whatever merits his music might have beyond the flashy stage show, however much the test of time has validated his music or not. To tens of thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands of people, the totality of their Garth hatred, the alpha and omega of their anti-Garth argument, rests on this quote. And if you don’t believe me, just mention Garth’s name in the right (or wrong) company, it it will come flying out at you unsolicited.

The problem is there’s no verifiable records of Waylon ever saying it. And if he did ever say it, that he is the originator of the quote. But just like the urban myth that Kentucky Fried Chicken had to legally change their name to KFC because the birds they use are so genetically altered they can’t be classified as chickens, if you parrot something enough, people take it as fact.

If I had a hunch, not based on fact or research whatsoever, I would say that at some point Waylon Jennings probably did utter those words about Garth, and they probably made it out to the greater world through his son Shooter Jennings. But I’ve also heard from some who say that Poodie Locke—Willie Nelson’s long-time stage manager and one prone to such humor—was the first to say it. Maybe Waylon picked it up there. But I can’t verify that Poodie Locke said it either. There are records of the “_____ did for ____ what pantyhose did for finger fucking” phrase being used for other purposes way before Garth Brooks had even released his first album, so is it really fair to attribute the analogy to anyone?

When you start to try and find the origination point of the quote, and any factual information on if Waylon truly said it or coined it, you start finding a tremendous amount of fiction. The simple fact is the quote is so juicy, and many people just want it to be real so badly, they’re willing to look the other way and proffer it up for human consumption regardless of the truth.

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Ethan Hawke

The first record of the quote being used goes back to of all places, Willie Nelson’s 70th Birthday Party in 2003, and from of all people, actor Ethan Hawke. In April of 2009, Ethan Hawke penned a feature on Kris Kristofferson for Rolling Stone. In the feature, Ethan Hawke recounts a story from 2003 where Kris Kristofferson and Toby Keith get into a verbal argument, and Kristofferson says the Waylon quote in response to Toby Keith’s demand, “None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.”

Here’s the complete interchange from Rolling Stone, as dictated by Ethan Hawke:

“Up from the basement came one of country music’s brightest stars (who shall remain nameless). At that moment in time, the Star had a monster radio hit about bombing America’s enemies back into the Stone Age.

“Happy birthday,” the Star said to Willie, breezing by us. As he passed Kristofferson in one long, confident stride, out of the corner of his mouth came “None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.”

“What the fuck did you just say to me?” Kris growled, stepping forward.

“You heard me,” the Star said, walking away in the darkness.

“Don’t turn your back to me, boy,” Kristofferson shouted, not giving a shit that basically the entire music industry seemed to be flanking him.

“You ever worn your country’s uniform?” Kris asked rhetorically.

“What?”

“Don’t ‘What?’ me, boy! You heard the question. You just don’t like the answer.” He paused just long enough to get a full chest of air. “I asked, ‘Have you ever served your country?’ The answer is, no, you have not. Have you ever killed another man? Huh? Have you ever taken another man’s life and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not. So shut the fuck up!” I could feel his body pulsing with anger next to me. “You don’t know what the hell you are talking about!”

“Whatever,” the young Star muttered.

Kristofferson took a deep inhale and leaned against the wall, still vibrating with adrenaline. He looked over at Willie as if to say, “Don’t say a word.” Then his eyes found me. “You know what Waylon Jennings said about guys like him?” he whispered.

I shook my head.

They’re doin’ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin’.”

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Yes, as a traditional country fan, maybe you’re pumping your fists. “Hell yeah, you tell ‘em Kris!” The problem is, Ethna Hawke’s story is, and was, complete bullshit, including the Waylon Jennings quote. And this was verified later by both Kris Kristofferson, and Toby Keith.

In the aftermath of the Ethan Hawke story, Kris Kristofferson told The Tennessean: ”I have to say, I have no memory of talking so tough to anyone at Willie’s birthday party — least of all to Toby Keith, (if that’s who the nameless star is), for whom I have nothing but admiration and respect.”

As for Toby Keith, he was a little more heated about the situation, as can be seen in this clip from the 2009 ACM Awards that happened right after the story was published.

But the damage had already been done. The Waylon quote was so juicy, and the clarifications about the story so buried compared to the reach of the original Rolling Stone article, the quote became a matter of public record. In fact some people want the Waylon Jennings quote about Garth Brooks to be true so bad, as well as the fictitious Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson interchange, that they say the clarifications by Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson are just saving face, and if fact both the quote, and Ethan Hawke’s story are still true.

Of course beyond Kris and Keith’s clarifications, Ethan Hawke and the story’s defenders also have to figure out how to resolve the fact that Toby Keith, flag waver or not, is and was a registered Democrat. So for Keith to say “None of that lefty shit,” seems very unrealistic. Also the quote from Kris from the story, “Have you ever killed another man?” seems to allude that he has. But this gives into the common misconception that Kris Kristofferson saw combat as a helicopter pilot in the Army when in fact he was stationed in Germany during The Vietnam War, and never exchanged live fire.

Though Ethan Hawke’s fictitious story had the Waylon Jennings quote about Garth Brooks going down in 2003, it wasn’t until 2005 when we find the first documented source of the quote in print—at least that can be found on the internet. It comes from an East Bay Express feature on Shooter Jennings, but interestingly, Shooter isn’t giving the quote, it is used to preface the Shooter interview and is recounted by the author of the story. This was 3 1/2 years before the quote would wind up in Rolling Stone and become a matter of public record. Again, it’s very likely that Shooter probably did hear his father use the quote, but was Waylon the originator?

This also opens up the second problem with this supposed Waylon Jennings quote, which is that it is no longer relevant in the forum of public discourse. For example, in the 2005 feature, Shooter says he thinks country music became more about show through Garth. But later in 2013 in an interview with the Charleston City Paper, Shooter says,

“Garth Brooks is as country as shit. Back then it was like, what the fuck is going on. This guy is terrible. This isn’t country music.” Jennings says. “I would take that any day now. That means the bar has been lowered so far that we’re like, please. I would listen to only Garth Brooks all day if that’s what I could get.”

As Saving Country Music once spelled out in detail, time has been kind to the music of Garth Brooks, and this change of heart by Waylon’s son has played out in the hearts of many country fans over time. In fact when Shooter first spoke on Garth in 2005, Garth had already been retired for half a decade. Garth hasn’t even been around for 13 years to hate on. But some, including many who have the Waylon quote top-of-mind and at-the-ready any time Garth’s name is uttered, use it as a crutch to continue their war on Garth Brooks.

Another die-hard Garth Brooks hater turned apologist has been singer-songwriter Todd Snider. Todd had a beef with one of Garth’s songwriters after a dispute over the song “Beer Run”. Todd also interfaced with Garth’s alt. rock character Chris Gaines at one point, and told defaming stories as part of his stage schtick for years. But in Todd’s new book released in 2014 called I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like, Snider reconciles his Garth hatred, and says from his personal interactions with the entertainer, he was more kind to him than most in the music business.

I loved Garth Brooks. I was, and am, a very big fan. I think Garth Brooks fucked up country music for a while, through no fault of his own: he made music so good and so successful that tons of people came along after him trying to imitate what he did. Garth fucked up country music like Kurt Cobain fucked up rock.

Because of Garth’s massive success, there’s a bit of a push and pull in Nashville about him. When you sell more records than anyone has ever sold, you tend to make more people jealous than have ever been jealous of a singer.

It’s a crock that I think prevails in this country: we bully the people who entertain us. We get on the computer and bully them. We buy magazines with pictures of them where they look fat or drunk or imperfect. And we suppose that those people’s success excuses our meanness.

Read The Full Story

Another interesting thing about the Waylon quote about Garth, and something that leads to speculation if it’s true or not, is that the exact same quote has been attributed to different people. It has been attributed to Willie Nelson and David Allan Coe for example, and to Kris Kristofferson directly because of the Rolling Stone piece.  In 2012, the alt-country band Deer Tick took to Facebook and attributed the quote to Merle Haggard, illustrating the urban myth nature of the Waylon/Garth quote.

Interestingly, in January of 2012, Merle Haggard was read the supposed Waylon Jennings quote by 11th Hour, and Merle’s response was,

Well. I think, Waylon got dumber with age. I don’t know. I love Waylon, but he was awful critical of different things. He just got grouchy. I love listening to Waylon and Willie and Johnny. They still set my ears to burning … I think what Waylon meant by that statement was that somebody ought to be able to walk out on a stage with a guitar and put on a good show that people can enjoy. We don’t really need explosions to enjoy a concert do we?

Whether the quote is completely true and coined by Waylon Jennings himself, was borrowed by him from someone else, or the entire thing is a total fabrication of urban myth, the simple fact is that the Waylon quote about Garth is no longer a statement that in any way does the complex perspective that one needs to understand Garth Brooks any bit of justice. Garth started his career a quarter century ago, and hasn’t released a new album in over 13 years. And Waylon Jennings has been dead for a decade.

Here’s some quotes that can be verified that they actually came from Waylon Jennings because they can be found in his autobiography. They’re nearly 20 years old, but relevant as ever to the conversation.

Of course, the next generation better not believe everything they hear. At this point, I’ve been accused of all manner of carousing. Mostly, it’s something that I might have done, or would have done, or couldn’t even imagine doing. Pretty soon it’s etched into stone. If I led the life that people think I did, I’d be a hundred and fifty years old and weigh about forty pounds …

The thing is, we’re in this together, the old, the new, the one-hit wonders and the lifetime achievers, the writers and the session pickers and the guy who sells the T-shirts. The folks that come to the shows, and the ones that stay at home and watch it on TNN. Those who remember Hank Williams, and those who came on board about the time of Mark Chestnut, who named his baby boy after me …

My friends. This town is big enough for the all of us.

Waylon Jennings

Jul
14

Big Machine Is Big Loser in Garth Brooks Comeback

July 14, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  60 Comments

garth-brooks-hall-of-fameAs I’m sure you heard last week, Garth Brooks is making his triumphant comeback and will be releasing new music and embarking on a world tour soon. His new music will be released through a partnership that will see Sony Music Entertainment as his official record label, and RCA Nashville handling the retail and radio promotion side of things. This partnership will preside over the best selling artist in the history of country music, and the 3rd best in the history of American music overall, and one that is guaranteed to sell out stadiums and dominate album sales despite his 13 year absence from the business.

During Garth’s press conference on Thursday, July 10th announcing the new partnership, Garth didn’t say that his decision to go with Sony was based around anything about the company’s capacity to serve him better than any other label. It was simply because Sony Music CEO Doug Morris personally took the time to reach out and meet with Garth on a number of occasions, showing that he really wanted to superstar on the label. Garth almost seemed to allude in his remarks that he was there for the taking of anyone who showed enough interest, and Sony Music was the only one who did so to any significant degree, or at least that is how it would appear. Garth was signed with Capitol Records Nashville for his initial run before his retirement.

So we now know who the big winner was for the Garth sweepstakes. But who was the biggest loser? Though it wouldn’t be fair to characterize every country label who could have signed the country icon as a loser, that is certainly what you could call Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records in the situation. Why? Because they had the biggest stake in the Garth sweepstakes, arguably a much bigger stake than either Sony Music Entertainment or RCA Nashville did, because of Big Machine’s joint venture with the radio world’s Cumulus Media called NASH Icons.

The idea behind NASH Icons is to take the class of country stars that launched their careers 25 years ago, and give them a new home. Garth Brooks isn’t just the spearhead of that Class of ’89, he is the centerpiece of it, and his sales match all the other artists of that era combined. If it wasn’t for Garth, a venture like NASH Icons couldn’t exist, and now they’ve lost the opportunity to sign the era’s biggest fish to the new imprint.

In late May, Cumulus Media CEO Lew Dickey said that Scott Borchetta and Big Machine were aggressively looking to sign artists from the NASH Icons’ 25-year “classic” era, and named Garth specifically as one of their hopeful signees. Lew Dickey said to expect an announcement “in the next 30 days.” It has now been over six weeks, and the only NASH Icons announcement that has been made was for the imprint’s General Manager Jim Weatherson. Garth had worked with Big Machine in the past, though briefly.

Meanwhile questions linger of which artists from the 25-year targeted era are even available to sign to the NASH Icons label. The three other names floated by Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey as potential NASH Icons signess were Alan Jackson, Shania Twain, and Faith Hill. Alan Jackson appears to still be signed with EMI Nashville, hypothetically making him untouchable by NASH Icons. Jackson also just announced a big 25 Year anniversary tour, with no mention of NASH Icons being in the picture. Shania Twain has been telling media outlets that she is working on a new album, but it appears she is still signed with Mercury Nashville. Shania would be the other big fish to land, right below Garth. Faith Hill likely still owes Warner Nashville an album as well, and though Dwight Yoakam wasn’t rumored as a NASH Icons artist, he certainly comes from that era, an it was announced on Monday he had re-signed with Warner Brothers. Though contracts can always be bought out and other deals can transpire, it appears that the vast majority of the NASH Icons era artists are currently locked up.

Big Machine, Cumulus Media, and NASH Icons are no doubt taking the long-term approach to this endeavor, and even though they may not sign any big fish right out of the chute, they may be taking the “If you build it, they will come” attitude. The venture isn’t set to officially launch until 2015, and the label is just one part of the partnership, with a “classic” radio format as the other.

READ: Are Cumulus Media’s NASH Plans Serious, or Just Sizzle?

Missing out on Garth in no way spells doom for NASH Icons, but signing Garth would have undoubtedly established the venture as a major force in the country music landscape, and may have stimulated the flocking of artists to the imprint, and the format split of country into two radio formats that is expected to transpire by some when NASH Icons launches. One of the very first radio stations to adopt the new format started off by stunting as GARTH-FM, playing only Garth songs, emphasizing the sway the star will have on any new “classic” radio format.

NASH Icons could still turn out to be very successful, but as it stands at the moment, they have no dance partners, at least when it comes to artists.

Anyone heard from Clint Black recently?

Jul
10

Garth Brooks: “Our Job Is To Fly The Flag of Country Music”

July 10, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  49 Comments

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“There’s two terms that’s going around right now. One’s called Bro-Country. You familiar with these? Are you familiar with hick-hop? Um, I don’t think my stuff’s either one of those.” –Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks held a much-anticipated press conference on Thursday (7-10) to announce an upcoming world tour, new music on the way, and that for the first time his music will be released digitally. Though no specifics were given in regards to world tour dates, or a name or release date for the new album, Garth did allude that we may see the first new single in the next month or two, and that he could release his new album in conjunction with the Black Friday shopping holiday in November.

It was announced at the press conference that Garth Brooks had signed to Sony Music Entertainment as a record label, and that RCA Nashville would be handling the retail side of the new Garth partnership. Garth has famously refused to succumb to the digital download era, which is now quickly giving way to the digital streaming era, but he announced today he is planning to make his music available digitally, but only through garthbrooks.com, at least to start. “That will begin within the next two to three weeks,” Garth said. “When [digital] is used right, it can do wonders for the artists. And even better, it can do wonders for the songwriters. When you do it right, we’ll all succeed.”

On the digital subject, Garth later talked about the potential of a package deal and discounts for people wanting to buy his music digitally. “What’s coming right now, I’m going to tell you people are going to mistake for giving it away, but I’m not. There’s going to be a window coming for this digital era, for anyone who’s waited for Garth Brooks to go digital to get it all at a stupid price … the people who have waited should be rewarded.”

garth-brooks-press-conference-2Garth Brooks fielded many questions and covered many subjects in the 40-minute presentation, including the issue of his five comeback concerts in Ireland which still remain in limbo. Garth gave a lengthy speech about how he felt blindsided by the decision to cancel two of the concerts, but that he was still hoping to find a resolution. Two reporters from Ireland were on site to ask Garth questions directly about the issue. But as Garth said, the matter was a dark cloud over what was supposed to be a happy day officially announcing the end of his retirement.

“Scared? Yeah. Old? Yes,” Garth said as he opened his portion of the press conference before delving into more specific matters. “So new music is coming, we can’t tell you when because truthfully we don’t know.”

We may not know when, but Garth did delve deep into the nuts and bolts of what people can expect.

“It’s a double album, because we have a lot to say … Allen Reynolds has retired,” Garth said of the producer of all of his previous albums. “Mark Miller, the guy that has been the engineer on all eight studio records has stepped up to producer.” As for who will play on the album, “Same players,” Garth says. “The world has changed, we know that. But all we can be is ourselves.”

As for the songs, Garth says though he’s trying to write, he relying mostly on the material of others.

“I’m getting my ass kicked by the level of songwriting right now … Most of the stuff we’ve been cutting has been outside songs … I do want to say thank you to the Nashville songwriting community, as well as LA and New York. They have been priceless. They have kind of taken this on as their own mission, this album. And I just hope for all of them that I don’t let them down. Because they have spent 24 hours a day for the last three months making sure I got to hear everything possible that they had to offer.”

Garth talked about some specific songs as well.

“The first single that’s gonna come out … might be one of the greatest statements ever. This album also holds a song on it that, I shouldn’t say this, I shouldn’t say this, dangit, that might very well have not taken the place of “The Dance” for me, as my favorite Garth Brooks song ever. I didn’t write it. Pisses me off I didn’t write it. But what a beautiful song.”

As for the style of what people can expect, Garth let it be known he wouldn’t be chasing any trends.

“There’s two terms that’s going around right now. One’s called Bro-Country. You familiar with these? Are you familiar with hick-hop? Um, I don’t think my stuff’s either one of those,” Garth said as clapping emerged in the press conference gallery. “For me it’s Garth music. If you remember, I was the guy that wasn’t the country guy in the 90′s. So it kind of feels weird to be the guy now that’s going, ‘Wow, that’s old country there,’ you know. So it’s kind of odd.”

“Our job is to whether you agree with bro-country, hick-hop, whatever, our job is to fly the flag for country music,” Garth continued. “I want these people walking out of these arenas going, ‘Best show I’ve ever seen. That thumped harder than any rap show I’ve been to. It was louder, it was more chaotic, it was just stupid.’ That’s what I want to hear. All the good things, right? So that’s what our job is. Our job is to fly the flag of country music, and people walking out and going, ‘I’ll put that show up against any other genre of music.’ It’s always been that way, and always will for us.”

As for keeping up with the current trends, and living up to past greats, Garth said,

“I’m ready to compete with them. Because competition between us only make the product better, which makes the consumer more happy. And under that flag of country music. It all keeps going in circles.”

Jul
9

Garth Brooks Headed to Sony? (A Press Conference Primer)

July 9, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  20 Comments

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UPDATE: Last ditch effort to save Garth’s Ireland shows is underway. Read more in update at bottom.

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The country music world is titillated with anticipation at what Garth Brooks might be announcing at his upcoming press conference on Thursday, July 10th, scheduled to stream live on his website at noon eastern. But the cat may already be out of the bag. Yesterday Garth put to bed any speculation about if his five stadium shows in Ireland would be happening or not by canceling all five shows, and so the two remaining orders of business are the announcement of a world tour (which he’s already said there will be), and if there is new music on the way.

Over the last few days there has been industry chatter that Garth may be announcing a deal with Sony Nashville, and as it happens, the label and music publisher has announced their own press conference and luncheon tomorrow … at the same exact time as Garth’s. Coincidence? Not likely, though nothing has yet to be confirmed, and the extent and specifics of any deal are still left up for speculation.

Upon Garth’s retirement, the singer became a free agent after resolving his contract with Capitol Records, and the rights to all of his songs reverted back to him. This makes Garth an ideal candidate to set up shop wherever he wants, and as the best-selling artist in the history of country music, it’s only natural he would have his pick of suitors.

Though Sony may be Garth’s eventual destination, Cumulus Media CEO Lew Dickey floated Garth’s name out there in late May as a potential signee to Big Machine’s new NASH Icons label meant to give support to older artists just like Garth. Dickey said he expected announcements on roster additions “in the next 30 days,” but so far none have materialized.

READ: What Todd Snider Really Thinks About Garth Brooks

Very likely the specifics of a world tour will at least be part of the Garth Brooks announcement, but he already announced there will in fact be a world tour on Good Morning America in early December of 2013. “You know what, since it’s you and since we’ve had a history forever, let’s announce it. We’re going on a world tour in 2014,” Garth told Robin Roberts. “I can’t believe I just did that but you are a doll.”

Whatever Garth announces it undoubtedly will have reverberations throughout the country music world. And as mainstream country radio continues to abandon artists from Garth’s era, his actions could have sweeping effects on how older country artists currently being shoved aside will be handled.

Update on the Garth Brooks Ireland Shows

***UPDATE (7-9-14 4:00 PM CDT): According to new reports, the Garth Brooks Ireland shows may not be called off after all. In a letter to Peter Aiken, the local promoter of the Ireland Shows, Garth Brooks says,

I was informed yesterday that the shows are cancelled and the refunds will begin on Monday. I cannot being to tell you how badly my heart is breaking right now. I hope you understand that to play for 400,000 would be a dream, but to tell 160,000 of those people they are not welcome would be a nightmare. To do what the city manager suggests (play three shows and not all five) means I agree that’s how people should be treated and I just can’t agree with that.

Our guys are still en route and if there is any chance that the five planned concerts can be salvaged, and nobody is being let down then we can proceed as planned until the refunds begin. If you tell me, “Garth, thanks but it’s over.” I will cease my efforts and bring our people and gear back to the States. If you think that for any reason that the “powers that be” in Ireland can fix this, then I will faithfully go to the last second.

Please let me know how to proceed.

All my gratitude, respect, and love to you and Ireland, g

The letter comes as news of the canceled shows has created nothing short of a crisis in Ireland. The Taoiseach, or Prime Minister of Ireland Enda Kenny has become personally involved in the matter, and has organized a meeting between Dublin’s Lord Mayor Christy Burke and the City Manager Owen Keegan, in an effort to bring about a positive outcome to the controversy.

A spokesperson for Enda Kenny said, “In light of the letter from Garth Brooks today – if there was an opportunity to facilitate a positive outcome, the government would certainly consider it.”

Ireland and the local Dublin area stand to lose millions if the shows are ultimately canceled, while 18 semi trucks with Garth’s stage gear sit on a ship still steaming toward Ireland through the Atlantic Ocean.

Refunds for the five shows are still being organized by Ticketmaster, and have yet to be handed out for the five consecutive shows at Croke Park starting July 25th.

Jul
8

Chris Gaines Named as Garth Brooks Replacement at Ireland Shows

July 8, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  23 Comments
chris-gaines

Chris Gaines

400,000 fans received the disappointing news today that Garth Brooks will not be performing at five sold-out shows scheduled at Dublin’s Croke Park from July 25th through the 29th. The shows were supposed to be the first big concerts for Garth after his 13-year retirement. The local city council refused to grant permits for all five shows consecutively, citing bylaws put in place by residents around the stadium who were concerned about the noise and traffic that would be generated on five straight nights. The council capped the amount of shows at three, and when Garth gave the ultimatum that it was all five shows or nothing, an impasse ensued.

A last ditch effort to salvage all five of the Garth Brooks shows was being shopped around between the local city council and the promoters of the shows on Monday. The idea on the table was to delay the final two shows to satisfy the stadium bylaws. But a defiant Garth Brooks finally decided to pull the plug on the entire idea if local authorities would not play ball.

Though Garth Brooks has made it clear he won’t be showing up to perform at any of the concerts, permits for the first three nights of the show have still been approved. Looking to salvage whatever they can from the debacle, the local promoters have announced they have found a replacement for Brooks, and it will be another entertainer coming out of retirement to perform for the Croke Park crowd. Dark-edged alternative rocker Chris Gaines has been named as the Garth Brooks replacement. It will be the first shows Gains has played in public since being the musical guest on Saturday Night Live in 1999.

Gaines, who released the double-platinum album In The Life of Chris Gaines and had a Top 5 single with “Lost In You” in 1999 says he understands many Garth fans will be disappointed the “Low Places” singer will not be making the trip to Ireland, but he will do everything he can to put on an electrifying show.

Concertgoers with tickets to the first three Croke Park shows are being given a choice to either receive a refund, or use their tickets for the Chris Gaines replacement shows.

“Chris Gaines? Are you kidding me?” one local ticket holder exclaimed after hearing the news. “I’d rather shit a blarney stone.”

Another ticket holder was confused on who Chris Gaines was. “Wasn’t he that gay American Olympic diver who cracked his head on the diving board that one time? Oh, that was Greg Louganis? Yeah screw this, I want my money back. It can’t happen fast enough.”

Rumored to be making guest appearances with Chris Gaines for the shows will be former Saturday Night Live cast member Chris Kattan reprising his famous SNL character “Mango.”

“We knew that no matter who we found as a replacement for Garth, fans were going to be disappointed,” local promoter Patty Frankenfurter said. “But we really feel like Chris Gaines is the closest thing to Garth aside from Garth himself.”

“Mango” could not be reached for comment.

Jul
7

UPDATE: Garth Brooks, & 18 Semi Trucks On a Ship in the Atlantic

July 7, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  15 Comments

garth-brooks-hall-of-fame

***UPDATE (7-14-14 4:45 PM CDT): It’s officially official. The Garth Brooks Ireland shows will not happen. In a statement released on Monday, Garth said “crushed is an understatement” to describe how he feels about the cancellations.

“All I see is my mother’s face and I hear her voice,” the statement said. “She always said things happen for a reason and for the right reason. As hard as I try, I cannot see the light on this one. So it is with a broken heart, I announce the ticket refunds for the event will go as posted by Ticketmaster.”

Also the opening city for Garth’s World Tour has been announced as Chicago. The date will be released on Tuesday (7-15).

***UPDATE (7-8-14 11:30 AM CDT): According to organizers, all five of Garth Brooks’ Ireland shows have been canceled. In a statement by local promoter Aiken Entertainment, they say, “It is with great regret that Aiken Promotions today announce that the five concert Garth Brooks Comeback Special Event at Croke Park has been cancelled. No concerts will take place. The ticket return process will be outlined tomorrow. Aiken Promotions have exhausted all avenues regarding the staging of this event. We are very disappointed for the 400,000 fans who purchased tickets for the Garth Brooks Comeback Special Event.”

***END UPDATE***

Garth Brooks is a man of purpose, and a man of plans. If he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it big. And the end of his retirement has been no exception.

Today, 7/7, was supposed to be the day that “the 7′s aligned” and Garth officially announced his upcoming world tour after a nearly 15-year retirement. But the 7′s did not align. Garth’s master plan originally hatched in 2013 and assembled around his favorite number of ’7′ was foiled, or for the least, delayed until Thursday, thanks to turmoil over upcoming concert dates by the country music entertainer in Ireland. As you can imagine, Garth is not happy.

As we speak, traversing the busy shipping lanes of the Atlantic Ocean between the United States and the United Kingdom, is a cargo ship carrying no less than 18 semi-trailers worth of gear belonging to the 3rd best-selling artist in the history of American popular music. Within those trailers are the vast stage works and accompanying multimedia accoutrements that have been painstakingly planned, designed, engineered, and choreographed by Garth Brooks himself and an army of experts and assistants who hope to assemble the most intricate and spectacular stage show ever experienced by man.

But those 18 semi-trailers may be sailing towards a false purpose, if they are still indeed sailing in the direction of Europe at all. The fate of that ship may be the only sign in the tea leaves that fans will get ahead of the recently-rescheduled press conference on whether the Garth Brooks extravaganza will make landfall in Europe at all, if news doesn’t come before then that a resolution to the impasse can’t be found.

The details of  why Garth’s stadium shows at Ireland’s Croke Park could all be canceled are achingly complex, and deal with local politics, cranky neighbors, and ensnaring legalese. Despite the overall will of the people of Ireland and even the local population seeming to be for the five concerts to move forward if only for the millions of dollars it would pump into the local economy, noise and traffic concerns are why the local city council stemmed Garth’s five night concert to three. And now Garth has laid down the ultimatum that it will be five concerts, or none, leaving the entire enterprise in jeopardy.

Meanwhile said cargo ship with the 18 semi trailers is stuck in logistical limbo. The ship left the United States on July 1st, headed for Dublin Port on the isle’s east coast, mere blocks from Croke Park, where it was planned to arrive on July 12th and crews would begin unloading the cargo and erecting the massive stage structure ahead of the concerts starting on July 25th. It was supposed to be the culmination of many months of planning, and millions of dollars in preparations. Now it might be a multi-million dollar wash.

We’re not just talking about an average series of concerts here. What those 18 semi trucks are carrying includes stage, lighting, sound, and other audio/visual equipment that is meant to create the perfect concert experience in Croke Park specifically. Garth played Croke in 1997 for three consecutive sellout shows, and the presentation was elaborate then, including two helicopters incorporated into the presentation. According to Garth, going back and watching footage of those shows and specifically the reaction of the crowd is what made him decide Dublin was the best place to restart his career.

Garth Brooks traveled to Ireland on January 20th to tour Croke Park and talk with local organizers about the idea for a series of shows. “Garth Brooks chatted through lots of ideas he had regarding staging and how the show should look,” the local promoters Aiken Entertainment explain. “He then went to the various levels of Croke Park and took photos of where the stage would be plotted.”

Croke Park

Croke Park

So envision Garth Brooks, a little bit chubbier these days with his greying goatee and cowboy hat, walking to various locations in the nosebleeds of Croke Park with a camera in hand, worrying about what exactly each patron at the concerts would see. “The team then generated several 3D images of how the show would look from each of the different locations,” Aiken Entertainment says.

Then Garth returned to the States, and members of Aiken Entertainment traveled from Ireland to Nashville to continue to hash out plans. “Further/final meetings were held in Croke Park with the crew and show designers, and in the following weeks show plans were finalized,” Aiken says. The cargo on those 18 semi trucks is not just a generic setup for the entire world tour. “You’ve got to remember that this show is specifically what he wanted to put in, specifically designed for Croke Park,” including a multimedia presentation as part of the concert that has been specifically programed for that audience, at that venue.

In December of 2013, Garth spoke specifically about how he wanted people to take the experience of his comeback, and how the sound and the presentation would be like nothing concert goers had ever experienced before. ““Our job is to make sure that these people that came in the 90′s come back and go, ‘Gah dang it, I didn’t know it could get any better,’  he told Electric Barnyard. “We’re on the blueprints right now. We’re going to build a stage and a lighting rig that will hopefully blow people away. And we’ve actually got a sound system that has never been used before that’s coming, a new technology. So everyone in the room can feel the thump. We’re going to bring it in, we’re going to be proud of it, and it’s going to be loud.”

Though we don’t know how much money Garth Brooks has sunk into the Croke Park presentation, estimates have the singer being out seven figures if cancellations occur. With all the preparations being custom made for a Croke Park presentation, it seems silly that Garth would scrap all five shows when three have already been approved. But this type of strong-arm approach is one Garth has used before.

In 1993 Garth Brooks was scheduled to sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in Pasadena, CA. Minutes before Garth was set to perform, he decided to pull a last-minute stunt that twisted the arm of the event’s organizers. Garth refused to sing unless NBC broadcasted a video for his song “We Shall Be Free” to the massive television audience. NBC had baulked at the idea previously because it depicted scenes deemed not suitable for the Super Bowl’s family audience, including drug use, gang fights, torture, the KKK, and other unsavory content. Eventually the NFL and NBC had no choice but to bow to Garth’s demands, pushing back the kickoff of the event to show Garth’s video.

Though Garth is demanding five shows or none, the original Croke Park plan was only for three. When the shows sold out so quickly, two more were added. Now there may be none.

This leaves the fate of the cargo ship with the 18 semi-trailers is up in the air. Though Saving Country Music made every attempt to determine which way the ship’s nose is pointed, either toward the US or the UK,  that seems to be a well-guarded secret at the moment, with Garth and the show’s organizers probably not wanting to show their hands, hoping for a reversal on the cancellations by the locals in Ireland.

Either way, this is not how Garth wanted to start this new phase in his already hall of fame career. And how Croke Park plays out might dictate the amount of momentum, or lack thereof, his comeback will have.

Jul
3

Garth Brooks Announcement Coming 7/7: “The Wait Is Over”

July 3, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  20 Comments

garth-brooks

***UPDATE (7-7-14): Apparently, the 7′s have not aligned. Garth Brooks has announced that there will not be an announcement today. It will be postponed until Thursday, 7/10 when it will be made on his website in a live press conference and interview at noon Eastern, 11 AM Central. The postponement might be because of the uncertainty around Garth’s five Ireland shows that are up in the air after only three of them were approved by local officials. Garth has said it is all five, or none. The standoff is currently in “crisis negotiations.”

***END UPDATE

Well, we still don’t know the “what” exactly, but now we now know the “when.”

Just in the last 24 hours, the announcement “The Wait Is Over … 7/7″ has appeared on Garth Brooks’ official website, hinting that the long-anticipated official end to his retirement, and potential announcements about a tour, and maybe even new music are eminent.

Garth retired in 2000 to spend more time with his children, but through the last fourteen years, he’s hinted that once his youngest daughter is done with high school (which she now is), his return was likely. Despite an extended residency at the Wynn Casino in Las Vegas, and releasing a box set last year right before Christmas that shot up the charts from big sales, Garth has mostly been sitting under the radar in recent memory. But in late October of 2013, the signs of Garth’s full-time return began to surface. “The sevens have aligned. It has begun… Thank you for believing… love, g.” was the first cryptic communique fans received. Garth’s fondness of “sevens” was first evidenced in 1997 when he named his seventh album Sevens.

In late November of 2013, Garth ratcheted up the rhetoric on his return when he told reporters, ““Me and Miss Yearwood are free to do whatever it is we want to do. And I’ve got to tell you: Anything I do with that woman, I’m fine with. Any place that I am with that woman is home to me. But if I have my wishes, it’s going to be filled with music, and it’s going to be filled with music at a level I’ve never seen before.

From the best-selling country artist of all time, and the 3rd best-selling artist in all of music, these were weighty words, and by December, Garth was doubling down on just what kind of impact he wanted his return to have. Garth announced on the TV show The Talk that he was planning a world tour, and that “If I may say so, the whole goal in life is to make whatever you’ve done before look small.”

Garth later told Electric Barnyard, “Our job is to make sure that these people that came in the 90′s come back and go, ‘Gah dang it, I didn’t know it could get any better.’ …We’re on the blueprints right now. We’re going to build a stage and a lighting rig that will hopefully blow people away. And we’ve actually got a sound system that has never been used before that’s coming, a new technology. So everyone in the room can feel the thump. We’re going to bring it in, we’re going to be proud of it, and it’s going to be loud.”

READ: What Todd Snider Really Thinks About Garth Brooks

No doubt, Garth is about to embark on a world tour, and he already has five warmup shows booked at Ireland’s Croke Park in late July, though the shows have been causing local controversy because of bylaws not allowing shows to be played on consecutive nights.

But will any new music be part of his return?

Windmills Country reports that Garth Brooks has been working on new, original material, including a song from songwriter Brice Long according to Janine Appleton, two by Caitlyn Smith, and one by Marc Beeson and Allen Shamblin called “Send ‘Em On Down The Road”. Whether these make it on to any new release is yet to be determined, but the fact he is working with writers means new music will likely be part of his return.

Garth has also been mentioned in connection with Scott Borchetta’s new joint venture with Cumulus Media called NASH Icons. In late March, Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey specifically mentioned Garth’s name as a potentially signee to the new Big Machine imprint. Garth has also been the centerpiece in a potential format split in country radio that could see artists from the past 25 years receive their own “classic” format.

Whatever the specifics of what Garth announces on 7/7, make no mistake, Garth Brooks wants to shake up the country music world like never before. Whether it will be for the good or the bad, we’ll just have to see.

Jun
10

Are Cumulus Media’s NASH Plans Serious, or Just Sizzle?

June 10, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Podcasting/Radio  //  14 Comments

nashYou see the brown ‘N’ to the right there? If Cumulus Media and its CEO Lew Dickey have their way, in the coming years it will be one of the most recognized brands in North America, especially if you’re a country music fan. The plans that Lew Dickey has for that big brown ‘N’ are ambitious to say the least, and look to permeate just about every segment of the consumer culture of the United States.

Though the flagship for the NASH brand is the Cumulus stable of 70 country radio stations, with access to another 390 Cumulus-owned stations across the country and 1,500 more through the Westwood One radio network, Cumulus and Lew Dickey have made it known that they want to have the NASH brand travel much farther than radio. Cumulus has already secured a deal with long-running periodical Country Weekly to rebrand to NASH Magazine. They have also announced their plans for NASH-branded restaurants and food to solidify the big ‘N’ outside of music. They also reportedly want to make NASH-branded consumer products such as clothing, furniture, and even designer paint. NASH trim packages for trucks could be on the way, and all this goes together with NASH branded tours and musical events, TV specials and online streaming events.

And recently announced, NASH is partnering with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group to create a new home for older country artists from the last 25 years called NASH Icons, with the intent of taking talent forgotten by country music’s current Top 40 formula and giving them a new home on the radio, while also releasing new music from older artists through the NASH Icons record label. This talk has country music in a tizzy about how the partnership could enact a format split in country music.

Yes, there’s a whole lot of NASH going on.

Though there has certainly been a rise in interest in country music over the last few years as the genre has branched out to lure in fans of rock, pop, and hip-hop, the plans Cumulus Media have for NASH still come across as quite grandiose and involved, especially for a company that is saddled with tremendous debt, and is facing across-the-board double-digit ratings declines in many of its key markets, including with some of its key NASH stations. It’s flagship country station in New York is floundering, its high debt is eating into any positive revenue news, and it all makes one stand back and wonder, is all this NASH rhetoric real, or is it all smoke and mirrors? Is NASH simply “sizzle” to keep the Cumulus investors and partners believing in Lew Dickey’s vision, or is it the next big event in country music?

Let’s take a look.

The Debt and Revenue Issues

To say that Cumulus is leveraged heavy with debt doesn’t even begin to explain the half of it. The company currently owes roughly $2.23 billion to its debtors, and simply the interest on those loans sufficiently eats into the company’s profits on a quarterly basis. Cumulus is in a situation where even when revenues increase, debt interest still cuts deeply into profits. In December of 2013, Cumulus was able to refinance their debt in a move that will save them roughly $30 to $35 million in interest costs according to Moody’s, but the sheer size of the debt promises to weigh the company down and any of their plans for the near and long term.

As for revenue, for the first quarter of 2014, Cumulus reported a net loss of $9.27 million. This is worse than the $8.99 million loss from the first quarter of 2013, meaning Cumulus continues to lose money, and lose money at a growing rate. There is a small silver lining though. Revenue is actually up for the company. It increased $10.5 million to $292.0 million in the first quarter of 2014 from $281.5 million from Q1 of 2013. The reason for the discrepancy between revenue and net profit? The company’s debt and other expenses eat into any income. Leveraging even more debt and expenses through expenditures or acquisitions may turn the current financial formula even more unfavorably against Cumulus if more spending is necessary to see their plans for the NASH brand materialize.

The Ratings Issue

Simply put, the ratings for many Cumulus Media radio stations are awful. A recent move to replace conservative talk stalwarts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on Cumulus with the less-combative Michael Savage has seen a massive ratings dive for the company’s stalwart talk radio franchise. Ratings are down for many of the Cumulus NASH stations as well, including the flagship in New York City where NASH’s syndicated “America’s Morning Show” originates. The show is currently pulling a 1.9 share in New York, which is only good enough for 19th place in the city. In many markets, Clear Channel’s Bobby Bones Show is handedly beating its Cumulus counterpart. In Nashville for example, NASH’s affiliate WKDF-FM 103.3′s ratings are down 45% from a year before, partly due to the fact that Bobby Bones, who bases his show out of Nashville, and has taken over the market’s #1 spot.

Here is a breakdown of some other Cumulus stations, and their precipitous slide:

  • WABC/NY down 44%
  • KABC/LA down 52%
  • WLS/CHI down 57%
  • KGO/SF down 58%
  • KSFO/SF down 38%
  • WBAP/DAL down 32%
  • WLS-FM/CHI (Classic Hits) down 45.9%
  • KLOS-FM/LA (Classic Rock) down 24.6%
  • WGVX-FM/MN (Sports) down 80.8%
  • WKDF-FM/Nashville (Country) down 45.2%
  • WDVD-FM/Detroit (Hot Adult Contemporary) down 38.3%
  • KBEE-FM/SLC (Hot Adult Contemporary) down 50%

 

The Signing of Artists for NASH Icons

Who Scott Borchetta of Big Machine can sign to the recently-revealed NASH Icons label is going to be key to the success or failure to the venture, or its potential in instigating a format split for country music. On May 27th, in a moment that smacked of publicity sizzle, Lew Dickey announced that Scott Borchetta was aggressively looking to sign Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Shania Twain, and other big-name country stars to the NASH Icons label. “I would look for Scott to make an announcement in the next 30 days,” Lew said, but is Lew just name dropping, and does any label owner, even one with the power of Scott Borchetta, really have the ability to sign a whole stable of big stars in such a short period?

Just because a label wants to sign artists, doesn’t mean they can. Though the contract situations of any artist can be complicated, and buyouts and other such deals are always possible, as first pointed out by Windmills Country, Alan Jackson appears to still be signed with EMI Nashville, hypothetically making him untouchable by NASH Icons. Shania Twain is still signed with Mercury Nashville, and Faith Hill likely still owes Warner Nashville an album. So even if Scott wanted to sign three of these four artists tied to NASH Icons, it might take some serious money or maneuvering. Scott Borchetta has worked with Garth Brooks in the past, and country’s biggest ever superstar is poised for a big comeback at any moment now that his daughter has graduated high school. But it can’t be presumed Garth would work with Borchetta who may not want to sign up for Garth’s no iTunes cause, or a bevy of other major sticking points that could arise between the two big personalities.

For Lew Dickey to drop such prodigious names and expect big signings announced in the manner of a month seems presumptive at the least, and maybe misleading. We’ll see.

 The Lew Dickey Issue

lew-dickey

Lew Dickey

To say that Lew Dickey is unliked is an understatement when talking about certain sectors of the radio world and the media. Granted, many of Lew Dickey’s detractors can be found in the conservative media, and stem from Dickey’s handling of Rush Limbaugh and blaming Rush specifically for the precipitous backsliding of the company. Lew Dickey said Rush cost the company “millions” in the aftermath of a brushup between the talk show host and feminine activist Sandra Fluke in February of 2012.

But the Lew Dickey hatred goes deeper. Many radio personalities and insiders have a disagreeable view of Dickey for cutting local jobs to implement syndicated national programming, and generally gaming the radio system without regard for the future of the format.

There is a clear sentiment out there in portions of radio land that Lew Dickey is just puffing his chest out with NASH, and many of the promises for the name won’t be fulfilled, if only because the company won’t have the capital, financial flexibility, or managerial muscle to do it.

What is NASH, Really?

Even if Cumulus and Lew Dickey’s NASH dream becomes fully realized, there won’t be factories erected by Cumulus churning out pallets of NASH paint and leather couches with NASH’s big ‘N’ on the back. These products will likely be made through licensing deals Cumulus will strike with other companies to manufacture the actual products. While this scenario means it’s more likely the dream of an army of NASH products will find their way to a store shelf near you will actually happen, it also means the sale of those products won’t be as financially lucrative for Cumulus as they are for the actual manufacturers if they are successful. Lew Dickey’s bet is that the name recognition is what will pay off in the long run. Or, there may be very limited runs of these NASH products simply to help create a buzz. Or, it all just may be noise to create interest and support around the NASH endeavor and the Lew Dickey regime.

“Dickey is into branding — just like on cows. And he is stamping the ‘Nash’ emblem on everything country,” says nationally recognized radio and media insider Jerry Del Colliano, who published a critical piece on Cumulus, Lew Dickey, and the company’s NASH plans on May 19th called “Tough Shareholder Questions for Lew Dickey“. “He may start selling products, or it may be bullshit. With Dickey, you never know.”

According to Del Colliano, NASH Icons is simply an excuse to consolidate more country radio stations under syndicated programming. Though on the surface it may somewhat solve the issue of “classic” country artists getting pushed out of the country radio format prematurely, it will exacerbate the issue raised by radio research company Edison Research at the Country Radio Seminar in February, that the lack of local focus and syndication by Cumulus and Clear Channel in country radio is killing the format.

“Where Cumulus now has a successful country station, [Lew Dickey] is forcing the morning talent out and replacing them with a weak nationally syndicated morning show that is not local,” says Jerry Del Colliano. “Dickey should have no problem keeping big investors on board because they don’t understand the radio industry and probably don’t listen to any kind of country music. They hear the sound of money from a shrewd CEO who is selling sizzle, because if ratings or revenue is a yardstick, he is failing.”

“[Cumulus] throws nickels around like manhole covers — they aren’t going to spend ANY money on NASH,” continues Del Colliano. “It is one format for 100 plus stations some day. In other words, they pay for one station and fire everyone else. How is that investing in country?  It is hurting country by eliminating the local person center connection that is so unique to country music and artists. NASH is pop radio country style. NASH Icons will be traditional country but in a watered down cheap version. Icons is — to be blunt — just another format that will allow Cumulus to fire lots of local people and install a money saving 2nd national format. It could be Gregorian Chants for all the Dickeys care. This has little to do with country and lots to do with saving money by syndicating cheap national formats.”

As for why Scott Borchetta would deal with Lew Dickey and Cumulus, Jerry Del Colliano concludes, “Dickey is offering the promise of promotion that Borchetta likes, which is why he has similar deals with Clear Channel. Cumulus gets what it wants and Borchetta gets airplay. And what does Dickey want? Artists for on-air promotion, exclusives and free appearances in return.”

The next shoe to fall will be if, and who Scott Borchetta signs to NASH Icons in the next 2 1/2 week period laid out by Lew Dickey of when we could expect an announcement. In the meantime, what the true extent of what NASH, and NASH Icons will be, and if it could mean a new “classic” format for country radio will have to wait to be seen. For Cumulus, the venture may have no choice but to be wildly successful, because in the face of the implosion of their conservative talk business, and the move by many consumers to streaming alternatives to radio, NASH appears to be the centerpiece of the Cumulus plan to pull the company out of its current tailspin.

Jerry Del Colliano will be speaking at the “Talkers Conference in New York on June 20th.

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