Scott Borchetta. The Country Music Antichrist. Disputably the biggest power broker in all of country music right now as his vast Big Machine Label Group continues to acquire subsidiaries and strike historic deals with other power players throughout the industry. Big Machine now comprises a small city of artists and support staff, and has a roster that boasts many of the biggest names in the business, both of in front of the mic and behind the desk.
But if you think Borchetta has attained his position by happenstance or predatory business practices, you’re not paying attention. Scott Borchetta has taken his place at the top of the country music hierarchy by making one savvy and forward-thinking move after another, by making historic deals with radio and entertainment entities, and by actually offering his artists a dollop of artistic freedom which has allowed him to slowly pilfer the rosters of his competition while giving him first pick of up-and-coming talent, and gaining first rights of refusal with many of the industry’s best songwriters. Scott Borchetta is generally running circles around his competition, and as he leads and everyone else follows, where Borchetta goes, so goes country music.
It has been the contention of Saving Country Music that so-called “Bro-Country” has been dead for months now and we’re just working through excess inventory at the moment, despite nearly every major journalistic publication using the buzzword as click bait left and right to draw in angry music fans, many who come to country music from the outside looking in, wondering what happened to the genre.
Virtually nothing comes off of Music Row in Nashville these days without 6 to 9 months of lead time behind it. The business is simply too bogged down with corporate bureaucracy to be any more fleet of foot. Last winter when “Bro-Country” was at it’s height and the backlash was beginning in earnest, NPR’s Neda Ulaby put together a piece called “How A Hip-Hop Remix Helped Make ‘Cruise’ The Year’s Biggest Country Hit” (hear below). “Cruise” by Big Machine artist Florida Georgia Line now owns the distinction of being the longest running #1 in country music history, thanks to the remix and the rise of “Bro-Country”. At the time, Scott Borchetta was as guilty as any culprit for the “Bro” phenomenon. Florida Georgia Line was the subgenre’s biggest act, and another Big Machine artist, Brantley Gilbert, could arguably be fingered as one of the godfathers of the movement.
But behind-the-scenes, Borchetta was spying all the earmarks of a hyper-trend, and saw that “Bro-Country” may be leaving his label vulnerable if they continued to bet their future on it. In Neda Ulaby’s NPR report, Borchetta said some things that stunned the country blogsphere at the time.
“Everybody in Nashville must be drinking 24-7. We’re a bunch of drunks down here,” Borchetta joked, but then turned serious. “There’s too much, to be honest with you. We can’t keep talking about Fireball and Coors Light and having the tailgate down, etc.”
Then Borchetta said, “So we’ll task our writers and artists to dig a little deeper.”
At the time the quotes came out, who could tell if they were sincere or lip service. Since it takes 6 to 9 months to get a song from page to stage, we would have to wait until …. oh, about right now to see if the sentiment embedded in the quotes actually bore out in action. And lo and behold, it appears that it has, at least to some extent.
It started with the young 18-year-old duo Maddie & Tae, and their track “Girl In A Country Song“. Though it has yet to be released to radio, it is already making a big buzz because of its ANTI “Bro-Country” message. In the song the two teens directly call out many of the “Bro-Country” era’s biggest hits, while lashing out about being objectified by the trend.
Though what kind of impact “Girl In A Country Song” will have remains to be seen, Scott Borchetta has personally said he believes the song is a blockbuster, and that it’s one of the primary reasons he signed the girls to the label. Borchetta and his A&R crew expect nothing less than “Girl In A Country Song” to be one of the biggest hits in all of 2014.
Then right on the heels of the Maddie & Tae news, Florida Georgia Line, the centerpiece of the “Bro-Country” movement, release a song called “Dirt” that has two perennial pop country naysayers in Saving Country Music and Farce The Music singing its praises. Some, if not many don’t see the song in the same light, but even in the fracas of subjectivity, it is hard to not find the consensus that the song is of great improvement from the duo.
“So we’ll task our writers and artists to dig a little deeper,” Borchetta said back in December. Apparently he did.
This is why Borchetta is leading, and everyone else is following. As many of country music’s major labels are still manufacturing “Bro-Country” and have it situated at various point in the pipeline, Big Machine has moved on, not just in anticipation of the backlash, but hoping to spurn it on and capitalize off of it.
Meanwhile Scott Borchetta’s partnership with Cumulus Media called NASH Icons looks to re-integrate aging talent back into the radio format.
Let’s not give Scott Borchetta too much credit though. His motivations may not just be wanting to serve the public with better music, but more based on economic concerns that the “Bro-Country” backlash will begin to make the style of music unsavory to fans en masse. It is savvy business to get them coming in the door, and going out. And that’s exactly what Big Machine is poised to do with a bevy of new singles that may become some of the biggest of 2014, and through Borchetta’s leadership, shift the focus from “Bro-Country” to music of a little deeper substance throughout the country format.
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The NPR segment from December 2013 also talks to Jody Rosen who coined the phrase “Bro-Country”.