On Tim McGraw & Reba McEntire Switching Labels

When it comes to saving country music in the mainstream, Tim McGraw and Reba McEntire both have played important roles recently. During Tim McGraw’s time at Big Machine Records between 2012 and 2017, he showed a somewhat unexpected but welcomed turn to his roots, releasing songs and records that helped counterbalance the Bro-Country era, and most importantly, he was commercially and critically successful in doing so.

Reba McEntire is a country legend by anyone’s assessment, but spent much of the latter half of her career chasing trends in between taping sitcom episodes. Yet Reba’s last record Stronger Than The Truth was a strong testament to her talent and the power of country music, becoming one of the best mainstream country records released in recent memory.

Now both have new label homes as part of a rearrangement that could have important implications in the future. Tim McGraw left Big Machine for Sony Nashville in 2017 to release a duo album with wife Faith Hill, and released a couple of mild singles through Sony ahead of a new album supposedly due this summer called Here On Earth. But now he’s left the Sony and returned to Big Machine. Reba, who was on Big Machine when she released Stronger Than The Truth, has returned to Universal Music Group Nashville where she spent much of her early career.

With Tim McGraw, you could see this coming. When he left Sony Nashville in the middle of February, it was easy to see why it wasn’t a right fit. McGraw had reverted back to the trend-chasing mess of his mid career and it wasn’t a good look, and he was finding no real traction or support for his radio singles, unlike what he saw with Big Machine. Tim McGraw saw four #1’s hits, and nine Top 5 singles while on Big Machine, including “Humble and Kind,” which resulted in a win for the CMA Song of the Year, and a Grammy for Best Country Song.

Meanwhile the best McGraw could muster on Sony Nashville was #17 with his recent single “Thought About You,” and he was paired with fellow Sony artist Shy Carter on a terrible country rap collaboration called “Way Down.” With lyrics that allude to oral sex, it might be the worst song released in the country music in 2020.

But McGraw moving from Sony to Big Machine puts him in somewhat of a weird position at the moment. As part of a recent concert ticket bundle, fans were promised a copy of the new album Here On Earth during Tim’s upcoming summer tour. Right now we’re not exactly sure how Here On Earth will take shape seeing how he’s switched labels, let alone if Coronaviorus cancellations could become a factor. Either way, Big Machine feels like where Tim McGraw belongs, and hopefully his return is a positive development.

For Reba McEntire, the considerations are somewhat different. Signing to Big Machine as part of their now defunct NASH Icon endeavor, she’s an older artist not likely to receive radio play, but looking to age gracefully with her music. Stronger Than The Truth received very high critical praise, but only sold some 57,000 equivalent copies at last count. Hopefully moving labels doesn’t mean Reba is moving away from her plan to return to her roots, but we’ll have to see.

Artists move labels all the time, but these moves feels especially significant. It will be interesting to see what happens from here. Tim McGraw is supposed to release a new single momentarily, and that could be a good bellwether of things to come.