Rolling Stone To Launch Million-Dollar Country Music Website
Legacy music and culture magazine Rolling Stone is taking a cue from some of the pop, rock, and cultural personalities it has covered over the years and is “going country” in the second quarter of 2014 with a dedicated country music website looking to employ a full time staff of 10 to 15 people, and put out 8 to 12 articles a day. A country-themed print issue will coincide with the new website, but according to Rolling Stone brass, the endeavor is primarily an online venture for now.
“There’s a really big void in the digital coverage of country music as far as giving it the serious attention it deserves,” rollingstone.com director Gus Wenner tells adage.com. Rolling Stone plans to spend $1 million on the site in the first year, and hopes to attract 1 million unique online viewers monthly after 12 months.
“I went through a lot of the iterations and proposals and modeling for Rolling Stone Country, but the most important thing was a trip I took down to Nashville,” Wenner continues. “That is a culture that appreciates music…We’re really doubling down on country: in the office, the people, the logo and the art that’s going into the new site. You’re going to realize that this thing is for real. This isn’t something we envision putting up and pulling down if ad dollars dry up.”
Country music is seen as a lucrative market for advertisers, according to Rolling Stone publisher Chris McLoughlin. “There’s a huge opportunity for us to expand the Rolling Stone consumer base by extending into country music. Certain categories of advertisers love country music because it’s a very sponsor-friendly genre. The performers are all super likable, they tend to be good people who value their fans and treat their fans well.”
Rolling Stone has always covered country music from the outside looking in, but entering into the country genre head first will likely make them a heavy player in the country marketplace. Country music writer Chet Flippo who passed away earlier this year got his start as an editor for Rolling Stone, going on to write the introduction for albums like Wanted: The Outlaws, and Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger.
December 5, 2013 @ 7:11 pm
This has the potential to be good because they would most likely shine more light on the truly talented artists (both independent and major label) since there really is no need for yet another site talking about Taylor Swift’s latest boyfriend or Luke Bryan’s latest spring break concert they can focus on the many really talented artists that fly under the radar (except here of course).
The one fear I would have is if it just turns into another liberal soap box like Rolling Stone where we get stories about all the pet causes of the left through a country music lens. That I have no interest in at all.
December 5, 2013 @ 7:18 pm
I hope this will spark off a chain reaction of sorts among other publications to also give country music a fair shake. Up until this point, Rolling Stone and other major publications have only nodded to the genre out of obligation and their reviews of country albums are usually no more than three paragraphs in length.
It’s astonishing how the likes of Pitchfork, The AV Club and Sputnikmusic, for instance, seem to regard the country listening demographic as philistines. The primary reason they are dismissive toward the genre is because they narrow-mindedly assume they’re above the entire musical culture based solely on the PERCEPTIONS of what country music is all about (think Tom Petty).
To this day, there’s only one critic I can find on YouTube that genuinely covers country music. I believe it’s this lack of coverage and checking/balancing that is primarily to blame for the frightening erosion of the genre’s integrity over the past three years alone. Critics weren’t doing their jobs, and because of the lack of commentary surrounding the country listening tradition and audience, it has made it all the more easier for the likes of CMT, Cumulus/Clear Channel and corporate brands to usurp it.
I hope this is for real and the site will actually consist of journalistic meat and industrious diligence.
December 5, 2013 @ 7:40 pm
Good stuff as always Noah.
I will say I think there’s some great country music coverage oot there, but most of it is buried and scattered hither and yon in newspapers and magazine that you would never find unless you went looking for it. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal do some great pieces upon occasion, but like everyone else, it is never a focus, and caters to people on the outside looking in.
Chet Flippo was the last real rock of excellent country music coverage inside the country music beltway. Peter Cooper does some good stuff too. Jewly Hight, Juli Thanki do as well. Who knows what shape this will take, if they focus on churning out content to get their unique visitors, really try to deliver quality journalism and criticism, or some mixture of both to pander to both advertisers and intellectual music listeners.
December 5, 2013 @ 9:41 pm
I agree with Noah Eaton. I think it’s unfortunate that quality country isn’t given the same serious attention that other genres receive. Indie rock-leaning websites have definitley broadened their scope in the last few years to cover more hip hop, pop, electronica and r&b, but NOT country. I think Pitchfork and the AV Club figure they know know want their urban demographic wants, and just play to it. I think Taylor Swift’s pop songs are much more likely to be covered there than most other stuff. Anyway, regarding this new RS site: I don’t see any reason not to be optimistic about it. I have been pleased with CMT Edge so far.
One more note: Ken Tucker of NPR’s Fresh Air does a good job of covering country stuff. Off the top of my head, he has done thoughtful reviews of Brandy Clark, Jason Isbell, Vince Gill, Robbie Fulks, and Alan Jackson in the last six months or so. He had high praise for “12 Stories.”
People might poke fun at dry old NPR but that is good coverage.
December 5, 2013 @ 10:16 pm
Though most of the Internet sites named above reek of hipster smugness, the AV Club actually had a neat series of essays a couple of years’ back when Nathan Rabin wrote the “Nashville or Bust” series, where he immersed himself in country music for a year, an idiom he’d previously had near to zero exposure with. The results were actually pretty cool. As I recall, he wrote some good essays on Townes, Robbie Fulks, Johnny Cash, Louvin Bros., Merle, etc., and a really nice piece arguing why Garth Brooks’ mediocrity made him the ideal superstar of the early to mid-’90s. I’d recommend looking into that series, if you have the time.
December 6, 2013 @ 1:10 am
“Indie rock-leaning websites have definitley broadened their scope in the last few years to cover more hip hop, pop, electronica and r&b, but NOT country.”
That’s because the indie rock audience demographic fundamentally overlaps with the hip-hop/electronic/R&B demographic: both are disproportionately young urbanites. The country music demographic, especially the that of traditional country, is completely culturally alien to them.
December 6, 2013 @ 3:46 am
The critics of those sites you mentioned actually like Country, but they are more focused on Indie Rock, and basically the urban music. Matter of taste, most likely. Also it’s also has a lot to do with how Country is being viewed by people and its current reps (Luke Bryan, FGL, Aldean). I find it to be ironic, for sites that are fighting ‘against the mainstream culture and pure music nerds”, they fell short in Country department. Sure they cover some alt. Country acts every now and then, but only the popular ones like Ryan Adams (up until ‘Ashes & Fire’) or Son Volt for example. The ones who have established themselves and seen as a ‘cool’ badge to like. Though, this kind of point of view is not unlike how some Country folks view Pop or any other genres. 😉
Speaking of Pitchfork, I think you’d find this interesting: http://no-trivia.tumblr.com/post/64660558089/wondering-what-happens-behind-the-scenes-at-p4k-i-knew // He was writing for Pitchfork before he moved to SPIN.
And on this RS Country website, I’m not as optimistic as a lot of folks. I see this just as another sign of mono-genre like Trig. Plus, Gus Wenner’s son is the one who run its online publications, he’s already trying to turn RS to Buzzfeed.
December 7, 2013 @ 8:03 am
Well, AS that solitary country music critic on YouTube, I’d like to think this video at some point reached RollingStone’s ears: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIFomfwGrJw , but I highly doubt that.
If anything, I think it might have more to do with the sudden boom in popularity that bro-country has had among young people, and RollingStone have always been shameless in hunting for page hits.
December 5, 2013 @ 7:23 pm
We’ll have to see what happens here. If their goal is to make a lot of money from advertisers, which of course it is, then they probably won’t cover music I much care about. I did read an article about this and this statement is pretty telling:
“As country music has soared, Rolling Stone’s print edition has struggled on some fronts.”
The only hope we have is if Gus Wenner leans the magazine toward his music interests, which apparently include Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash.
December 5, 2013 @ 7:42 pm
I think this move really speaks to the super-genre/mono-genre theory. Everybody is getting into the country music game, fearing if they don’t they will be left behind. That goes for Clear Channel and Cumulus, artists that are “going country” in record numbers, and now Rolling Stone. I think this speaks to country music becoming the default American genre.
December 5, 2013 @ 8:06 pm
“There”™s a huge opportunity for us to expand the Rolling Stone consumer base by extending into country music. Certain categories of advertisers love country music because it”™s a very sponsor-friendly genre. The performers are all super likable, they tend to be good people who value their fans and treat their fans well.”
This quote has me expecting the worst. If they’re just in it for the consumers, sponsors, and “super likable” superstars then it won’t be many steps above Allison Bonaguro
December 5, 2013 @ 9:15 pm
Hey Rolling Stone! Your first hire should be Trigger!
December 5, 2013 @ 11:11 pm
Honkytonk, dudes. People are starving for it. And it is being made but not played on radio by some wonderful young people not just the Hanks and Patsys, whom you should also play, as a matter of regular course. Austin is exploding with music which will die without some national support.
December 6, 2013 @ 4:36 am
Austin music will not die without national support. The music scene there is thoroughly self-sustaining, in that it has its own festivals, bars, record labels, and most importantly a small but extremely loyal fan base.
The Austin scene is probably the nation’s most classic example of the “mono-genre”.
December 6, 2013 @ 4:38 am
Sorry, I meant to say micro-genre, not mono-genre.
December 6, 2013 @ 7:50 am
One thing about it though is listening to everyone talk about the lack of real country when there is so much talent in that pocket, hell, Texas in general. If you like real country, with a more traditional style or dance oriented honky tonk sound, central Texas is the place to hit. There’s so many good artists, many who don’t even get covered by this site. If people want pop country to go away, they need to give attention where its due.
TX Music Jim
December 6, 2013 @ 10:22 am
Texas/Red Dirt/Austin music scene has endured for decades without national exposure. It will always remain in some form it is bigger than ever currently in some ways but with that growth comes quality issues on some fronts but at some level The regional scenes around Texas and Oklahoma will survive. There is not a more loyal fan base on the planet. RS new website be damned.We’ve never needed them and we stil don’t.
December 6, 2013 @ 2:44 am
I’m not current with what RS does for indie rock or if thier articles are sponsored(silently) by advertisers, I only hope not. I trust “Big Buisness about as much as I do government. If RS COUNTRY is a magazine that will delve into the music deeper than the TOP 100 and review some of the indie country acts I think it is a great idea and will put more money in the pockets of the artists that actually need the extra exposure.
December 6, 2013 @ 5:53 am
As one of them there outsiders looking in, I’m not holding my breath that Rolling Stone will produce much of value to a hipster reeking oldster like me (I owned a fixed gear bike! In 1980!). They’ve been critically bankrupt for oh, years and years now. I can’t honestly recall the last good music I found via RS– and I have a subscription. That’s unlike this site or the work of Robert Christagau, both of which (whom?) have a record of sending me off in some interesting directions now and again.
I can’t see RScountry covering anyone of interest. It’ll largely cover the mainstream artists– Luke Bryan or whoever that is right now. Eric Church, maybe. Sturgill Simpson if the blind squirrels running RS manage to find an acorn. The actual magazine rarely covers anyone I like in other genres, either. Where’s my King Tuff article, damnit?
As to the Pitchfork bit, I don’t go to Pitchfork looking for country music coverage, or come here looking to read about Speedy Ortiz. They serve their purpose, within limits, just like this site. I don’t find them as effective a shit filter as this site (Christagau is the best comparison for this site shit filter wise I can think of, and he actually has pretty good ears for country and always has), but on occasion, they do pretty well.
Now if RS really wanted to have a quality site (according to me, anyway. I doubt they’re listening) they’d throw some of those millions at Mr. Trig. Until then, I shall studiously ignore them in a fit of proto hipster irony.
December 6, 2013 @ 6:48 am
Not a fan of Rolling Stone, but if they stick to music and leave politics at the door, I’ll give it try. One thing for sure, it won’t be better than this site.
December 6, 2013 @ 7:49 am
Based upon the occasional country pieces that RS has done in the past, I am very optimistic. Here is their “Best Country Albums of 2012” article: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/best-country-albums-of-2012-20121207. It was much better than I thought it would be.
Bigfoot is Real (but I have my doubts about you)
December 6, 2013 @ 8:10 am
Hmmmm… I would expect RS to do for country what they did for rock. Here’s a sip (just drink it in)…
“Lionel Richie, Tuskegee
This surprise smash paired the Eighties balladeer with country stars, taking on Richie’s hit-packed catalog: Blake Shelton, twangfully stomping through “You Are,” Little Big Town gracing “Deep River Woman” with down-home harmonies. At 63, Richie outsings everyone here ”“ including, amazingly, Willie Nelson.”
December 6, 2013 @ 9:48 am
Noah….will you interview for one of the positions? You would bring balance to the table, you’re a good writer.
TX Music Jim
December 6, 2013 @ 10:17 am
Rolling Stone used to be great a very long time ok. Time will tell but not expecting much.
if they go as politically to the left as they do in the tradtional RS publication they will quickly lose a huge portion of the demographic they are trying to reach that is for sure.
December 6, 2013 @ 10:48 am
I couldn’t agree more, Luke.
When I think of true country music, country rock and indie country, Nashville, Tn is the furthest thing from my mind.
Even thinking of the Nashville Music Row scene triggers both my gag and yawn reflexes.
I don’t care that some over the hill country pop star now wishes to champion authentic country music or that a MCA or Curb artist has released a country pop CD which actually has a good song on it.
Texas is the home of authentic country music – it’s not even a close call.
Artists like Gary P. Nunn have been getting it done the Texas way for decades and oldtimers like him, as well as the younger Austin artists, continue to do so as we speak.
December 6, 2013 @ 3:56 pm
I hear ya, but check out these articles:
“For years people have thought of Nashville as the home of corporate music, and that”™s still true. But that doesn”™t mean there isn”™t a rapidly-growing independent scene on Nashville”™s east side and in other spots around the city. The word from many of the folks on the inside looking out is that Nashville has long surpassed Austin as the epicenter for independent roots music, despite Music City still being the home of Music Row and many other trappings of the mainstream music business.”
“Forget Music Row or the circus downtown, Nashville… is the new vibrant epicenter for independent music, and the artists there pushing and supporting each other is fostering a creative environment that regardless for how long it lasts, will be looked back upon fondly in the future as a time and place that got it right, and set the bar for artistry and substance. Add on top of that already-established and influential artists like Jack White and Dan Auerbach, and Nashville is the place to be in 2013.”
I want to be very clear that I’m not trying to put down Texas music scenes in any way. I love both TX and Nashville and I think both are vital music centers right now. But I see the present conflict more as a nationwide battle between music cultures moreso than a battle between regions.
That’s my 2 cents.
December 7, 2013 @ 1:00 am
Thanks for the links…just make me want to double the vote for an RS COUNTRY/TRIGGERMAN REVIEW! WoooooHoo!
December 7, 2013 @ 1:35 am
Whoops, my comment was meant to be a reply to what CAH said about Nashville. Are you saying RS Country should hire Triggerman? If so, then right on.
December 7, 2013 @ 2:07 am
HELL YEAH I think that RS Country should hire Triggerman! I don’t think he is bias by geography. I appreciate a lot of Texas music and grew up on it as well as I appreciate what I gathered from your links that Tras…I mean Nashville is doing something to bring forth Indie or unsigned artist to the front. I have more faith in Texas doing something positive …but welcome a progressive move from Nashville. I appreciate the links, Thank You!
December 8, 2013 @ 12:32 pm
I agree that there is a cultural war going on in the country music arena.
I simply think that Nashville puts a name and a face on the faux country scene and that Austin does so on the authentic country music genre.
There are good and bad music, institutions and artists from both venues (e.g. Austin City Limits), but Austin’s music scene dwarfs Nashville’s from a qualitative standpoint.
I am certainly not impugning Trig’s site – it is pretty much my facebook.
And I would love to see him as a Rolling Stone reporter – the ghost of Chet Flippo.