Usually it’s only once or twice a year that music media is faced with the dilemma of how to adequately and respectfully cover the passing of a high profile music celebrity. In 2016, it has been more like once or twice a month. In fact the frequency of seismic music deaths has been a story unto itself.
“Country Weekly” started in 1994 as a country music lifestyle magazine that ran interviews with stars and covered news from around the genre. In 2014, Cumulus purchased 50% of the magazine in a partnership with it’s owners American Media and eventually relaunched as “NASH Country Weekly.” And in typical corporate takeover fashion, Cumulus is now gutting the publication.
This is not another article about Chris Stapleton. This is an article about mainstream American country music radio. Yes, Chris Stapleton won big, again. But Chris Stapleton’s impact still remains paltry on mainstream country radio. The question is, will country radio listen? Or will country radio be left with anybody listening to it?
The two largest radio station owners in the United States—iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel) and Cumulus Media—both have billions in debt, are both looking to restructure that debt to avoid bankruptcy or default, and are both dealing with dwindling profitability. Even when the companies are able to post strong quarterly earnings, the interest on the debt they owe makes it impossible to see a way forward.
The changes to Instagram could adversely affect the music world significantly more than it will the rest of social media culture. Why? Because despite Instagram being an image-based format with no direct tie to music, music fans favor and use the social network in much greater numbers compared to the general population, and use it specifically to help support the music they love.
No, I’m not going soft, and I’m certainly not endorsing CMT or any of its programs or online properties. I can list dozens of other better alternatives to CMT for your country music and lifestyle needs, and the Viacom-owned entity would probably come near the bottom of the list of recommend media sources. If boiled down to one word, the way to describe CMT would be “filth.”
When Saving Country Music started nearly nine years ago, the media rarely talked about country legends. They were relics forgotten in time that weren’t worth wasting website space on because few people cared, and the ones who did weren’t online. Now that your mother and grandmother all have Facebook pages and smartphones, country legends and their regular health ailments are the stuff of clickbait dreams for viral farms.
“It is difficult for me to write this, partly because it seems like everything I write these days ends up as some tragic news story about my wife and her â€˜last days’ and the â€˜shocking’ new development that has just been shared,” Rory said in his post. “I want to apologize for any sensational headlines that this or any post has created. That has not been my intention.”
How people listen to music is clearly changing, but much of the country music industry isn’t following suit. In a town that employs scores of people just to push songs to radio, Nashville doesn’t know how to behave any differently than they did 60 years ago. Entire companies are based around trying to sell songs to country radio. The difference now is radio is no longer the only game in town.
Now Bobby Bones, over a year after its initial release, has gone crazy over “Whiskey On My Breath,” and spent Tuesday (1-26) chronicling its rise to #2 on the iTunes charts as he commanded his many listeners to purchase it. Remember, it was a similar effort that propelled Chris Janson’s song “Buy Me a Boat” to the top of the iTunes charts, and eventually landed him a major label deal with Columbia Nashville.
2015 has been back loaded with big events and even bigger releases that have caused renewed interest in the charts used to measure the popularity and impact of music. The problem is, in this here-and-now world, the model for how music is measured is still based around walking to a newsstand on Monday, and picking up the latest Billboard, or waiting for Tuesday when the album charts are updated online.
You may not be able to find a more insular, inbred, and ass backwards institution in the entirety of the North American economy than country radio. Run by good ol’ boys in the pockets of big labels, and mid level corporate bureaucratic bean counters who bark orders from on high to hundreds of stations, the idea of country radio either serving the communities they broadcast to or artists died decades ago.
Losing music blogs and websites for more economically-viable or technologically savvy replacements is one thing. Replacing them with nothing, and having the music industry itself fill in the void through bias, paid content could result in much bigger issues than no good place to read about your favorite bands.
That was the big question coming off of Stapleton’s big CMA wins: would radio respond? And now that we have the new numbers from Mediabase, the answer is “Yes.” There’s still a long way to go before Chris Stapleton’s success translates fully to the radio format, but he’s off to a running start.
Granger’s incredibly generic and pandering new single “Backroad Song” has just been sent to mainstream country radio proper. And with a big Nashville label behind it now, the single has become the 2nd most added song to country radio stations in the last two consecutive weeks, and is about to get yet another power boost of infinite proportions.
Lew Dickey, the embattled and polarizing CEO of Cumulus is out, and his replacement has been named as Mary G. Berner, a seasoned media business operator who joined the Cumulus board in May. Lew Dickey founded Cumulus Media in 1997, and has served as the company’s CEO for 16 years. Dickey will stay on at the company, but in a downgraded role as a Vice Chairman.
Cumulus Media’s NASH concept wants to become the one stop shop for corporate country consumers, and the country industry is more than willing to play ball as long as the company spreads its capital around to launch grandiose ventures and continues to play its artists on the radio. But there’s a problem. A big one.
Artists, labels, and PR firms being able to speak directly to consumers more than ever through the vehicle of social media arguably doesn’t make music media obsolete, it makes it more necessary than ever to help listeners navigate through a crowded marketplace, and make sure they’re not being misled by an industry trying to deal with their own revenue and contraction issue in the digital age.
Announced last week, the owned-by-the-public British institution the BBC is putting together their own streaming music format, called the “New Music Discovery Service.” It will include over 50,000 tracks that have been broadcast on the BBC in recent months, customized playlists to help listeners navigate the crush of new music and discover something they may enjoy.
Didn’t put forth the effort to watch “CMA Fest: Country’s Night to Rock” Tuesday night (8-4), with performances from Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Brett Eldridge, and hosted by Little Big Town? Well apparently you’re not alone. But a ratings decline for the ABC broadcast is not all country should be worried about.
Country Radio Consultant: “If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out.” (aka SaladGate)
In an interview posted with Keith Hill on Tuesday (5-26) in Country Aircheck, the industry consultant not only advised country radio not to play female artists, and certainly not to play them back to back, but had the audacity to compare them to the “tomatoes” of the country music salad. “If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out,” Keith Hill said point blank in the interview.
Today, the FCC has fined Bobby Bones’ parent company iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel) $1 million for the inappropriate and unauthorized use of the EAS tones. The company has admitted its culpability and has also agreed to institute a three-year compliance and reporting plan and eliminate EAS tones from its production libraries.
The fight for country radio to actually represent the people it is supposed to serve is an eternal one, and nothing illustrates this more than a recently-unearthed interview with George Jones taped backstage at the Grand Ole Opry dating back to February 21st, 1998. Think about it: This was 17 years ago, but every point George Jones makes is a poignant one, and one that is still patently relevant today.
Cumulus Media’s VP Admits Country Can’t Be Delineated from Pop — Wants to Bring Taylor Swift Back to Country
“You don’t know these artists. You’re just listening to just a few hooks of their songs,” John Dickey says. “You tell me what they are. Florida Georgia Line â€“ country, rock or pop? We can do Brantley Gilbert, Eric Church or Sam Hunt. You’re telling me Sam Hunt’s song is country? Today Country is successful because it’s co-oping other audiences into the format.