A new year brings forth the desire to reflect upon the past year. What went well, what went poorly, what can we learn, and how can we improve. That’s sort of the universal mindset for most of us in early January, and that’s the mindset I’m going to use for this first Hodgepodge of 2016. Last year had quite a bit of buzz worthy events in country music from Keith Hill’s comments regarding females on radio to Chris Stapleton’s rise and triumph at the CMAs. But instead of looking back at the year that was 2015, I want to approach this as how can we build on what happened in 2015 to make 2016 a great year for country and Americana music.
These aren’t predictions or theories of what I think may happen. These are merely my hopes for what I’d like to see happen. This is how I’d like to see country music (primarily mainstream country music) move forward in 2016. I realize some of these hopes may be outlandish and not as realistic as others given the culture of country music right now. The overall goal of this first Hodgepodge is to get a discussion moving about country music in 2016.
More Traditional Country Music on Radio
The success of Chris Stapleton as 2015 came to a close should not be taken lightly. Stapleton’s Traveller was released to critical acclaim, and his three CMAs in November proved traditional sounding country music still had popular appeal. Kacey Musgraves continued her commitment to traditional country music with Pageant Material. While her sophomore album didn’t quite have the same success as Stapleton this year, Musgraves still has some popular appeal maintaining a steady headlining tour in support of the new album. And, of course, Sturgill Simpson has signed on with a major label and may release an album this year.
Traditional newcomers like Mo Pitney, Jake Worthington, and William Michael Morgan have released singles and EPs that have impressed critics. Jana Kramer found success with her single “I Got The Boy”, a ballad that calls back to the sounds of 90s country. And The Dixie Chicks, one of the top acts in country in the past 15 years, has announced a reunion tour which could result in new music. I hope more and more artists with a traditional leaning style come out of the woodwork, including full length albums from several of the aforementioned artists. The demand for more traditional country music is high, and the supply appears to be growing. I’d like to see more traditional country music on the radio, especially if Stapleton’s “Nobody to Blame” charts well.
A Radio Split
The mere fact that Billboard has recently added a new country chart solely dedicated to radio play (the Hot Country Songs chart takes streaming and digital sales into account) tells me that radio is still an important media source even in this digital age today. If traditional country music does gain more popularity while singers like Sam Hunt, Luke Bryan, and Kelsea Ballerini continue to spew pop garbage onto country radio, I think the argument for radio split could be reignited. Putting traditional singers on their own format with newcomers and legends alike will allow fans to listen to that music on radio without having to wait for “Break Up in a Small Town” and “Home Alone Tonight” to play first.
Bigger Spotlight on Americana and Indie Country
Dave Cobb winning a CMA award for Chris Stapleton’s Traveller was huge. Cobb has produced many critically acclaimed albums for artists like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell. Those two artists have gained more popularity in their own independent music world. And as Saving Country Music suggested, Miranda Lambert dating indie rocker Anderson East could lead to more eyes on the indie music side of things. 2015 saw many non-mainstream artists have number one albums and earn new fans. Even Kacey Musgraves pushed her new music to Americana radio. Americana radio could grow this year, giving these true artists a much deserved audience increase.
In the wake of Keith Hill’s tomato comments, we saw Kelsea Ballerini get a number one single. Newcomer Cam peaked at number 2 with “Burning House” on the Airplay Charts, and Carrie Underwood had a few singles find some great, if still underwhelming, chart success. Mickey Guyton’s “Better Than You Left Me” received more radio adds upon its release than any other artist ever. More awareness was brought to the disparity between male and female artists in regards to radio play, and I hope 2016 continues the trend of bringing more females onto country radio. There’s a talented pool of women who are ignored.
Mainstream Country Music Defining Itself/Gatekeepers
The term “country music” is rather arbitrary these days. You have club songs like “Beautiful Drug” and R&B inspired pop songs like “Break Up in a Small Town” sitting in the top 30 of the Country Airplay chart, alongside truer country songs like “Nobody to Blame.” It doesn’t matter what the song sounds like, if it’s labeled country, it’ll be played on country radio. It’s this type of saturation of musical forms which should drive a split. But if the radio split does not happen, country music is in desperate need of a gatekeeper to tell Sam Hunt to take his shitty pop music out of Nashville and onto top-40 pop radio.
Fair Payouts from Streaming
This is more concerned with the music business as a whole, but something that’s important in this day and age. Apple Music, Amazon, Pandora, Spotify and others are growing the availability of online music streaming. We’ve seen several complaints about the low artist payouts that come from Spotify play counts. If music continues to trend toward online streaming options and away from standard radio, then these companies need to find a better way to compensate the artists whose music is played on these services. Or music listeners just need to suck it up and pay $12 for an album if they want to listen to the music uninterrupted.
Upcoming/Recent Music Releases
Josh covered the upcoming album releases earlier this week, but here are few known coming single releases:
- Trace Adkins’ “Jesus and Jones” goes for radio adds on January 19.
- Old Dominion’s newest single for radio is “Snapback”
- Cole Swindell’s newest single is called “You Should Be Here.”
- Drake White has a new single out called “Livin’ The Dream.” Zack’s first post for Country Perspective will be a review for the song published tomorrow.
Throwback Thursday Song
“Yesterday’s Wine” by George Jones & Merle Haggard. “Yesterday’s Wine” was written by and originally recorded by Willie Nelson in 1971, but I’ll admit that I like Jones & Haggard’s cover better. The song is great, and Blackberry Smoke even has a cover which they recorded with George Jones and Jamey Johnson.
Non-Country Suggestion of the Week
Twenty One Pilots – Blurryface. I listened to a lot of Alternative Rock music over my Christmas vacation and heard “Stressed Out” quite a bit. I hadn’t listened to Twenty One Pilots at all before then, but I was intrigued and liked their album Blurryface. The album was released early last year, but it’s a good one to revisit.
Tweet of the Week
I’ll start 2016 with positivity. I’m positive that Sam Hunt sucks ass.
— Reginald Spears (@ReginaldSpears) January 2, 2016
Hard to argue with that.
Two iTunes Reviews That I Don’t Understand
The top review was left under Chris Stapleton’s Traveller. I don’t understand how you can listen to Chris Stapleton sing and think his voice is the worst thing ever.
The second review was for Old Dominion’s Meat and Candy. The worst album of 2015 deserves some more hating on. I don’t understand how you could possibly compare Old Dominion to Alabama.
Both reviews are just absurd.
Note from the author: I’m happy to take the reigns of The Hodgepodge back from Josh after a short hiatus last year. The end of 2015 was insanely busy for me at work and at home (all good things!). But things have calmed down for now and I’m glad to have more time to write again.
I omitted the “This Day in Country Music History” for this week. Was this a category you enjoyed to read when I wrote The Hodgepodge last year? If so, I’ll gladly bring it back. If not, I’ll come up with something else to add to the feature. Thanks!