The Hodgepodge: What I’d Like to See From Country Music in 2016

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 Jake Worthington EPMichael 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.

137650_4657More Females on Radio

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

Hard to argue with that.

Two iTunes Reviews That I Don’t Understand

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 10.30.04 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 10.27.56 AM

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!

11 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: What I’d Like to See From Country Music in 2016

  1. Raymond January 7, 2016 / 11:18 am

    What I hope to see in 2016

    Radio having a balance of airplay types:
    I don’t mind if there is the Sam Hunt stuff as long as there is a good balance of Traditional, Pop-Country, like I don’t mind if there is a wide variety of sounds I just want each one to get a decent amount. Like I don’t want one style of country radio

    I do think we could be in for more females on radio Kelsea is a mainstay now unfortunately Lindsay Ell and Brooke Eden seemed poised to breakout. Maren Morris is already on the airplay chart. Along with Carrie Underwood, Maddie & Tae, Jana Kramer having a resurgence and Miranda Lambert probably coming back strong next year.

    I still don’t see a radio split happening because I think someone said there is way too much money at stake.

    The artists who I want to see breakout in 2016; Lindsay Ell, Maren Morris, Charlie Worsham, William Micheal Morgan Tara Thompson)

    Like

    • Derek Hudgin January 7, 2016 / 11:48 am

      I’ll disagree that I don’t like the variety of sounds, which is why I’d like to see a radio split, even if it is an unrealistic dream for radio. More balance would be a good step forward, but I hate turning on “country radio” and hearing Sam Hunt, “Beautiful Drug”, “Home Alone Tonight” and other R&B style songs. The genre pushing has gone too far.

      It would be great if Charlie Worsham released an album this year; his debut album is one of my favorite albums in the past couple years.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Raymond January 7, 2016 / 12:14 pm

        The genre pushing has gone too far but I think we might see acts like Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, Jason Aldean, might see a slow regression back to their old sound or a more country sound slowly with Chris Stapleton success even topping Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt. I think we could be in for some acts like Little Big Town going back to their sound on like Tornado. I think slowly but surely we will have some of the big wig acts sounding more country Miranda Lambert and LBT being prime examples with Blake Shelton being a possible followup.

        Like

  2. Zack Kephart January 7, 2016 / 11:38 am

    Of all the things I’m hoping for in mainstream country music, I hope that the traditional revolution can come into fruition. I know I’m not alone when I say this R&B trend is far worse than anything “Bro-Country” ever thrust upon us. I know they’re not exactly doing great on the charts right now, but having Chris accompanied by guys like Jon Pardi, Mo Pitney, and William Michael Morgan would be phenomenal.

    I’d also love to see some more spotlight on Americana. I mean hell, in 2013 and much of 2014, mainstream country was the only country I even knew about. it’s not that I didn’t like Americana, it’s just that I didn’t even knew it existed! I believe there’s many more people out there who are sick of what the mainstream is producing right now and with more people on this side of the fight, who knows what could happen? I mean heck, look at how much the genre has grown over the past however many years! Jason Isbell had a number one album last year, as well as Chris Stapleton. Plus, we saw an increase in album sales from other acts across the genre like Turnpike Troubadours, Blackberry Smoke, and Aaron Watson among others. it makes you ask yourself, is it just the music that’s getting better or are we attracting more people over to Americana? Hell, a lot of people deemed 2015 a down year for country music all over and yet we saw the most success for Americana than ever before! It gives me high hopes for the genre going forward.

    I’m not sure exactly what I think of Trace’s new song just yet. I might have to give it another listen. Looking forward to the Drake White review! 😉

    Can’t go wrong with anything by George Jones, what a great song!

    How did I miss that Reginald Spears tweet? Good God that is gold!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Derek Hudgin January 7, 2016 / 11:45 am

      Jon Pardi! I totally forgot to include in that section. I know I thought about him but then it slipped my mind. He’s another artist that deserves to be recognized for his commitment to delivering traditional leaning country music. Thanks for mentioning him here, Zack!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. southtexaspistolero January 7, 2016 / 2:01 pm

    I’m really interested to see what comes out of the Texas and Red Dirt scenes this year. I dunno, but I’m thinking the pickings are gonna be pretty slim — more so than last year, at any rate. Pretty much all my go-to people — Turnpike Troubadours, Boland, Aaron Watson, Stoney LaRue — released albums last year, but I know we have a new album from the Randy Rogers Band dropping next Friday, so there’s that.

    It’d certainly be nice to be able to turn on the radio and hear more stuff that sounds like actual country music, but we’ll see how that goes. I mean, I don’t know what the artists who were making all the pop-flavored music and the program directors at radio were saying in the run-up to the neo-traditionalist movement of the mid-1980s, but I’d like to at least think they weren’t so arrogant about their place in the genre’s evolution as these new people are. Pretty much the only defenses these people offer boil down to “music evolves,” “it’s good because so many people are buying it,” and “no one listens to just one genre of music anymore.” I keep thinking of what Texas singer-songwriter Deryl Dodd said back in the day:

    “It doesn’t have to be the actual old hits of the ‘70s or ‘60s, but a music that puts a new twist on the traditional sound, like Dwight Yoakam and Alan Jackson.”

    The problem is, though, that few if any of these new people know or care who Dwight Yoakam and Alan Jackson even are, let alone their place in the genre. Like I said at my own place: 16 years ago, mainstream country music was Alan Jackson covering Jim Ed Brown and Charley Pride and talking about how much he loved George Strait and Merle Haggard, where today, mainstream “country” “music” is Thomas Rhett ripping off Sam Cooke and War (on the same damn album, even!) and talking about how much he loves Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake.

    Now here’s where all this comes into the current discussion:

    If what I have read is correct, the neo-traditionalist movement came in the wake of declining popularity, including record sales and profits in general, after the Urban Cowboy movement. Is that where we are now? Because the decline in record sales isn’t just a country thing. It’s a music thing in general. And the music still brings a shitload of money into Nashville’s coffers, and they’ve all made it clear that that is the most important thing anymore. Sure, the folks popular in the independent scene are making themselves known, but to a large extent that’s just a relative thing — i.e., people are buying the albums from the underground just like they always have been, whereas mainstream music fans are not buying so much as they are streaming. Put another way, the independent scenes are increasingly popular, but the mainstream music is still more lucrative, and as long as that’s the case, we’re probably not going to see the change we want to see, at least not on country radio. Like I said, though, I guess we’ll see.

    Good call on “Yesterday’s Wine.” That was one of my favorite superstar duets from that era, and there were a LOT of good ones to choose from.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Justin Adams January 7, 2016 / 7:27 pm

    I would love to see a seperate chart for traditional country. Seperate mainstream pop country and bro country. I hope Nash Icon continues to grow

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lisandro Berry-Gaviria January 7, 2016 / 8:51 pm

    I liked the “Today In Country Music History” category. Not the most “useful” part of The Hodgepodge, obviously, but I thought it was a great addition to have a section with fun facts on country music’s past. I think you should keep it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Shelly Mullins January 7, 2016 / 9:13 pm

    I absolutely love this!! I love everything about it!!

    Like

  7. Will January 12, 2016 / 12:03 pm

    I meant to comment this sooner, but just a suggestion, maybe you could do the same thing you are doing with 10/10s with 0/10s. It was hard seeing six songs be tied for worst song on the chart.

    Like

    • Josh Schott January 12, 2016 / 12:18 pm

      Derek doesn’t do the Pulse, but I do and I’ve already changed this if you see last week’s chart. Only one best song and one worst song now.

      Like

Comments are closed.