Gary Allan Leaving UMG Nashville Can Only Be a Good Thing
After a quarter century, and a very messy last eight years or so, Gary Allan has just made it official: he’s leaving his long time label home of Universal Music Group Nashville. And though we won’t know for a while just where he’ll land or how everything will shake out—or if it was Gary’s decision or UMG Nashville’s to part ways—it feels like it can only be a positive development due to what has transpired in Gary Allan’s career recently.
On Friday, July 29th, Gary Allan released a statement saying, “For the last 25 years plus, UMG Nashville has been my record label home. I’m very thankful to the staff members at [UMGN imprints] Decca, MCA and EMI for the belief and support they have had in me, but it is now time for a new adventure. I am excited for what the future holds and look forward to sharing more news soon.”
Gary Allan started at the label when the old Decca imprint was still around, and eventually ended up on MCA Nashville where he spent the bulk of his time. He quickly became an important artist in country music as someone signed to a major label, but still able to keep his integrity and release quality songs, while also finding positive reception from a wide swath of fans, as well as country radio. Gary Allan accrued four #1’s, eleven total Top 10’s, and nineteen Top 25 hits during his tenure. But it all began to unravel after a 2013 interview with Larry King, when King asked Gary Allan 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.”
Of course what Gary Allan said was 100% correct. 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.
Gary’s single “It Ain’t The Whiskey” released around the time of the comments to Larry King stalled at #40. Then Gary Allan commenced a period where he tried to reinvent himself into a sort of Sam Hunt/Thomas Rhett character to rekindle his relationship with radio, releasing the pretty terrible single “Hangover Tonight” which stalled at #49 in 2015.
This was chased by “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 and UMG Nashville seemed to be doing everything they could to fall back into radio’s good graces by releasing radio-friendly material, and still failing.
Amid this turmoil, Gary Allan moved from the MCA Nashville imprint—which had become one of the most restrictive at UMG Nashville at the time—to EMI Nashville in hopes of a rebirth. He scrapped at least one entire album, and started working with radio-friendly producers and songwriters such as Shane McAnally and busbee (RIP). It didn’t help. Gary Allan’s 2021 album Ruthless is mostly full of what come across as radio-courting songs that radio ultimately didn’t play, and his core fans were lukewarm on.
A frustrated Gary Allan then doubled down on his criticism for radio, along with Nashville’s major labels, saying in a December 2021 interview, “They’re not going to service [songs to] radio. 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.”
Really, it is a classic country music story: aging artist gets put out to pasture by radio, begins chasing trends to try and regain attention, label gets frustrated and starts diverting resources from them, and soon they get forgotten in the mainstream.
But Gary Allan is an important artist to country music, with a quality catalog of hit songs and a strong fan base that still comes to see him live. You regularly see Gary Allan performing or headlining festivals that straddle the line between mainstream and independent, and classic and contemporary.
Whether the creative direction of Gary Allan for the last eight years was his own, UMG Nashville’s, or a combination of both, a change of scenery can only help. Let’s face it, Gary Allan is never going to regain his prominence on country radio or rekindle his mainstream stardom. So instead of trying, he should settle in as a late career artist rekindling his hits, and join the resurgent wave of country artists young and old returning the soul and twang to country music, and doing so outside of the Music Row system.
Gary Allan had his moment on radio. Now it’s time to transition to becoming a burgeoning country legend, which doesn’t mean giving up writing and releasing new material, it just means giving up the rat race. There’s more dignity and fulfillment in that. Gary Allan needs to be Gary Allan. He’s too independent-minded and cantankerous for anything else. Hopefully parting ways with UMG Nashville will be his opportunity.
August 1, 2022 @ 8:28 am
I fully agree with your last paragraph about a transition back into the ‘real’ Gary Allan with a real country music album of well-written songs with that classic 90s country sound, and even some very traditional country stylings. Hoping for a fine rebound. Cheers & Twangs!
August 1, 2022 @ 9:28 am
As a die hard Gary Allan fan and apologist this feels like great news. His last few records I didn’t think they were terrible or anything but felt like he couldn’t let go of radio and as a result the songs always felt like they were being held back. I wouldn’t expect anything super country or anything from him at this point but I really think as long as makes music he wants that he will be embraced by the independent scene. He always felt like one of the shining lights on country radio anyway. Looking forward to seeing what he comes up with
August 1, 2022 @ 10:00 am
No matter what, I am a loyal Gary Allan fan. Been supporting him for decades. Good luck to him. I hope this doesn’t affect the Baton Rouge concert n September. I need a “GA” fix!!!
August 1, 2022 @ 10:07 am
Been a big fan of Gary’s music since his first album. Let’s be realistic, his comments on Larry King probably didn’t hurt him that much. He always walked a tight rope with getting his stuff played at radio and radio was moving on from him anyway. Radio will put you out to pasture at some point regardless. Radio is not that important these days anyway. Streaming and social media is the way to connect now. Wasn’t a big fan of hangover tonight and it was a reach but mess me up was a great song. I think the new album is fantastic. For those who think it’s not classic Gary, I think they are comparing it more to his first three or four albums. It sounds pretty similar to Living Hard and Set You Free. His music has always been evolving. Neo-traditional to start, then smoke rings was more distinct and stylish, as was See If I Care, then after Tough All Over it became more rock n roll. Hopefully he will keep making music and make it his way. I am curious what his music would be without influence from a label. Guessing he is going the indepent route now.
August 2, 2022 @ 10:31 am
Wherever Gary Allan goes his true fans will follow! Can’t blame a guy for being true to who he really is, compared to the circus going on in Nasville! The first time I saw Gary live was in 1998 and was hooked! Gary is so different than mainstream country and I like that!! Keep on keeping on Gary we love you! ♥️♥️
August 1, 2022 @ 10:33 am
Gary is one of my favorite artists, and I’m so happy for this new opportunity for him!
August 1, 2022 @ 10:51 am
I don’t care what others think. I have been following Gary Allan ‘s music since the beginning his voice has this gravelly that nobody else does . He doesn’t charge people outrageously to hear him. He sings his songs like he is part of that song. He is amazing and I hope he doesn’t stop playing his songs. He’s never been stuck in a box like a lot of singers and follow the rules that’s why people don’t like his music
KEEP SINGING GARY ALLAN
August 1, 2022 @ 12:31 pm
I have loved Gary Allan music since he started. I have turned 100’s of people on to his sound. The awards should be handed to him which he deserves. They always have the same artist getting these Country Awards. Carries Underwood all she does is screams her songs. Gary’s music tells the story that wants you to play again and again. I will be with you always. Just don’t make us wait 8 years again for new music. Always wanting more music from this GREAT singer.
August 1, 2022 @ 12:50 pm
Gary Allen’s comments in the article are, indeed, 100% correct. As good a refelctive comment as I have heard.
Many of moden-day country singers are pop singers living in teh country music scene. And many lick their chops to go full-pop. The female artists are more noteworthy for using country as the springboard, but it is not exclusively them. Look at Kane Brown. On second thought, you might be better off not to look. He wreaks of unauthenticity.
August 1, 2022 @ 1:45 pm
Gary Allan is who he is and owes no one an apology for that. His Ruthless album is an awesome mix of songs/music, as well as his previous releases. I don’t think what plays on today’s radio stations sounds like country music either but who needs radio? Radio stations may soon be obsolete. Most are pre-recorded and repeat the same songs every 2 hours and avoid fan requests for music people want to hear! Seems to me the radio station ownerships took offense to Gary’s comments and are trying to punish him, but they are also punishing his fans as well. There is only 1 radio station in Nashville that you can hear the real country music on and they play Gary’s hits still daily as well. WSM-AM 650 Thank you! And just because you may not like his new music doesn’t mean that ALL of us out here don’t, but at least we have other ways of listening to it (besides so-called “country” radio stations). I look forward to anything Gary Allan releases in the future and hopefully we won’t have to wait 8 years for it this time!
August 1, 2022 @ 1:06 pm
Love Gary Allan, and his music.Have been a long time fan,and will remain.
August 1, 2022 @ 3:27 pm
As a die-hard loyal Gary Allan fan, I can’t wait to see what’s next for his music. The record label handcuffed him for years, made it difficult for him to release music. I say “stick your label” well.. you know the rest!
Don’t keep us waiting too long Gary!
We love your music and you!
August 1, 2022 @ 4:02 pm
I have been a die hard Gary Allan fan for years, I’ve had the blessings to get to see him many times in many different venues. I hope these live shows continue for many years.❤️
Country Charley Crockett's Butter
August 1, 2022 @ 4:21 pm
Is he only leaving because he still wants to be played at radio?
Because Alan Jackson & George Strait are still with UMG’s legacy label but they don’t have NEW single radio success anymore.
August 1, 2022 @ 9:38 pm
I really liked “It ain’t the whiskey.” I am surprised it barely charted. But then again, I am 52 years old and never listen to terrestrial radio so I am hardly the audience top 40 caters to.
Fat Freddy's Cat
August 2, 2022 @ 5:42 am
You’re going to start to see the A&R departments culling TikTok [for talent].
I’ve been hearing about this kind of thing from other sources, and not just for country music. I guess it’s a way to make a quick buck but I don’t see it leading to much quality music.
August 2, 2022 @ 7:23 am
Gary Allan is a great talent that came along about 15 years too late.
August 4, 2022 @ 7:33 pm
Gary Allen will not fold just as many many others have not and that’s what makes them and keeps them stronger. The true fans will always be behind the true artist… it’s so hard to find the real country music stations anymore…. Good Luck and keep on keeping up.
August 5, 2022 @ 6:32 pm
No doubt in my mind that I like Gary Allan and his music. Don’t send him away and please don’t leave Gary.