Gary Allan Lashes Out At Country Radio. Again.

Gary Allan has some chanting his name and calling him a hero after he left some comments over on Rolling Stone about how country radio game is rigged and record labels may not even matter anymore. And though Gary does deserve credit for speaking out here, in 2021, this isn’t exactly anything new. This is stuff Bobby Bones is even saying. Also, there are reams upon reams worth of context in which these new comments from Gary Allan should be considered.

Rolling Stone prefaces the article by asserting, “Gary Allan released one of the best country albums of the year, but the lack of support has him questioning Nashville requisites: radio and record labels.”

First off, nobody believes that Gary Allan released “one of the best country albums of the year” except Gary Allan’s mom, and those in the Gary Allan Fan Club that have been current on their dues for the last 17 years. Not even Gary Allan believes this if you read his comments. He released an album that he hoped country radio would play, and it didn’t. His new album Ruthless is not terrible or anything, but even Rolling Stone placed in at #24 on their end-of-year list—not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Nonetheless, it’s Gary Allan’s comments that have people talking, not his record that according to the numbers, very few if anyone is even paying attention to at this point.

“They’re not going to service [songs to] radio,” Gary says of Nashville’s record labels. “They do not believe that it’s important. You’re going to start to see the A&R departments culling TikTok [for talent]. It’s embarrassing, but I think that’s where we’re headed“Artists [sic, maybe labels?] would rather have someone that will just do what they’re told. It’s going to be really hard for us to have another Guns N’ Roses or people with attitude who don’t like the labels and want to buck the system.”

There’s a lot going on in these comments. Nashville’s record labels are still servicing singles to country radio, they’re just not servicing Gary’s singles. That’s the problem, which underscores once again that when people get mad at radio for not playing a certain single, they’re placing the blame in the wrong place. It’s the labels who choose what singles to push, and how hard, not radio itself. And yes, with artists such as Priscilla Block appearing on radio charts, and songs like “Fancy Like” by Walker Hayes making radio playlists, TikTok is also helping to seed country radio at this point.

But if you feel like you’re experiencing déjà vu with Gary Allan lashing out at country music’s radio system, it’s because you’re more dialed into the doings of country music than the writers over at Rolling Stone. Yes, we have been at this exact spot with Gary Allan before.

In a 2013 interview with Larry King, Gary Allan was asked if he thought artists such as Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood were country.

“You know, I would say no,” Allan responded. “I would say they’re pop artists making a living in the country genre. I also feel like we lost our genre. I don’t feel like I make music for a genre anymore, and I did, you know, 15 years ago. But I think since the Clear Channel’s and the Cumulus’s and the big companies bought up all the chains, now it’s about a demographic. You know, so they’ve kind of sliced everything up, feeding it to the public in demographics.”

Gary Allan continued, “You used to be able to turn on the radio and you knew instantly it was the country station just by listening to it, and now you’ve got to leave it there for a second to figure it out.”

Larry King then asks, “Do you like it or don’t like it?”

You know I personally don’t like it because I loved the character of country music and I loved what it is and the lifestyle of it…”

Remember, these were Gary Allan’s comments back in 2013.

Of course, what Gary said back then was 100% correct, just like it is now. But in country music, you’re not supposed to say the quiet part out loud or you’ll be ostracized, and that’s what happened to Gary Allan subsequently. Where before Allan enjoyed strong support from the country radio format with four #1’s, eleven total Top 10’s, and nineteen Top 25 hits, all of a sudden Gary Allan couldn’t buy a spin on radio.

About a week after Gary Allan made his initial comments to Larry King, Allan issued a long-winded mea culpa (read in full under “update” here), saying that his comments were taken out-of-context.

“When talking about country radio, I went on to say ‘It’s very different. You used to be able to turn on the radio and you knew it instantly it was a country station just by listening to it. Now you’ve got to leave it there for a second to figure it out’ and not that it’s a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just different than it used to be.”

For the record, Gary Allan didn’t say it was a “bad thing,” but did say that he didn’t like it. Gary Allan and his label even took out an ad in radio trade magazines to reiterate that he was not criticizing country radio (even though he had).

They were in full damage control mode, because Gary Allan and his label knew how delicate, and how critical the relationship with country radio was to his career. But none of Gary Allan’s attempts at clarifications worked. Gary’s single “It Ain’t The Whiskey” released around the time of the comments on Larry King stalled at #40, and his career on country radio was basically over.

But instead of Gary Allan retooling his career to not care about or rely on radio, he wasn’t ready to give up on courting the format, and commenced a period where he tried to reinvent himself into a sort of Sam Hunt/Thomas Rhett character to return to country radio’s good graces, releasing the pretty terrible single “Hangover Tonight” which stalled at #49 in 2015.

This was chased by Gary Allan’s single “Do You Wish It Was Me?” that stalled at #57 in 2016, “Mess Me Up” in 2017 that stalled at #45, and “Waste of a Whiskey Drink” in 2020 that stopped at #60. Instead of facing the reality that radio was done with him, Gary Allan seemed to be doing everything he could to get back on the right side of radio by releasing on radio friendly single after another, and still failing.

Over the last eight years, Gary Allan scrapped at least one entire album, and started working with radio-friendly producers and songwriters such as Shane McAnally, Hardy, and busbee (RIP) who all have songwriting credits in the track list for his latest album Ruthless. Who barely shows up in the album’s songwriting credits is Gary Allan himself, who only carries on co-write on the 13 tracks, and on a song with three other writers.

Gary Allan says in the Rolling Stone interview about his new album. “I gave [the label] a record that I thought still had something to play on the radio. But, you know, maybe there are shinier objects, or I’m too old.” He also says about the single “Waste of a Whiskey Drink,” “It was right down the middle.”

But that was the exact problem with Gary Allan’s new album. He was pandering to radio even though he knew better, and even though there was every indication from a long string of failed singles that it would never work. We also know that Gary Allan knew the pitfalls of country radio, because he told us so back in 2013 … before he backtracked. Back then, the comments meant something more because Gary Allan was still relevant on radio. Now, he’s not.

This isn’t all to bag on Gary Allan. Gary Allan is an important artist in country music with a great catalog of songs, and he could continue to be an important artist well into the future. We should all be glad that he’s finally seen the light.

Gary Allan says in the recent interview, “I don’t think radio is coming back to me. Shit, I’m wondering if I even need a record label right now. Let’s just go make the records that we want to do. And we’re having hard talks about that over the next couple of weeks with my management. There’s so many other avenues, and I’ve never got to make a record without radio in the back of my head. To make a record without even considering them would be so much fun.”

Hopefully, Gary Allan follows through this time. But let this be a lesson, a warning, a cautionary tale to artists who’ve reached that time in their careers where radio has clearly given up on them, as well as the labels that represent them. Don’t go chasing that dragon. It’s unlikely to work, and you may lose many of your core fans in the process through eroding your credibility trying to keep up with radio trends. At age 54, most of the songs on Gary Allan’s new album Ruthless are about trying to pick up girls in bars.

Meanwhile, it’s clearer than ever that you don’t need country radio anymore for success. Just look at folks like Tyler Childers and Cody Jinks who have excelled without it, minting Gold and Platinum singles, and packing venues. The sooner that artists stop leaning on country radio as a crutch, as soon as the media stops expending so much effort complaining about it, and the sooner everyone embraces the new digital paradigm and the independent way of making and releasing music, the sooner artists will be put back in control of their own music.

Be yourself, or you might waste eight years of your career trying to please others, and still failing like Gary Allan did. This is the lesson we should all take away from this.

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