When will they learn that the paradigm has shifted, and understand that even though radio play is certainly good if you can get it, it in no way either ensures your success, or is necessary to be successful?
Though certainly not as acrid as former Nashville CEO Gary Overton’s comments earlier this year about how “If you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist,” which touched off a daisy-chaining piss storm across country music with Florida Georgia Line and Charlie Robison trading barbs among other brushups, Ronnie Dunn, formerly of Brooks & Dunn, shows that old modes of thinking die hard when it comes to mainstream country.
Speaking to Taste of Country about his recent signing with Big Machine’s NASH Icon record label, which was set up to create radio support for artists left behind by mainstream country’s current obsession with youth, the once CMA Entertainer of the Year recipient said, “If you’re gonna be heard, you have to get on the radio. The internet alone is not gonna do it.”
Unlike Gary Overton, Ronnie Dunn clarified that there is another route, but didn’t portray it in a particularly flattering way. “Unless you’re cool being a minstrel, hitchhiking from gig to gig,” Dunn added. “That’s fine too, nothing wrong with that.”
This perspective seems to be completely impervious to the fact that the independent segment of music is the fastest-growing portion of the industry, and that there are scores of artists in many genres who not only can support themselves making music for a living without radio play, but also succeed sometimes in greater measure than the artists that do. Some of these non-radio artists are even getting downright rich, and are selling more albums, and sometimes drawing more fans to concerts than counterparts in the mainstream radio play business.
Just this week, Saving Country Music highlighted nine artists and bands, all who receive little or no radio play, who each sold more records upon release than Toby Keith who is one of the most-played artists on country radio in the last two decades. And eight of those nine records hit #1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart.
Many of these artists regularly play to sold out theaters, and even some to small arenas.And if you put package shows together with three or so of these acts like the mainstream regularly does, there would be no doubt that a tour could pack a mid-sized arena in many locales.
It’s not the artists that are irrelevant for not having radio play, it’s radio that is becoming irrelevant for not keeping up with the times, and failing to fairly represent a plurality of country music fans and their listening habits. Sure, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean’s numbers put many of the top independent country artists to shame, but many of the top independent artists put many of the 2nd and 3rd tier industry stars to shame. The times have changed.
But where Gary Overton inadvertently insulted artists who don’t receive radio play, Ronnie Dunn seems to inadvertently call into question the relevancy of independent fans. Do their ears not count just because they don’t listen to the radio?
The reason Gary Overton, and now Ronnie Dunn make these type of statements is because in their world, it takes the acquisition of millions of dollars to justify the effort of making music. Meanwhile all across the United States, there are independent artists that are making strong livings, paying for health insurance, taking out mortgages, raising families, and stowing away nest eggs while making the music they want without compromise. And no money or radio play in the world could ever get them to change from doing it their way, and being themselves.