Two weeks ago I wrote about how streaming is affecting music as it continues to grow and garner more validity in the music industry. As I wrote that piece, I came up with another idea of expanding on the idea of viral and digital music stars getting signed to major labels, like Kane Brown and Maren Morris. Similar to how reality shows like American Idol and The Voice were a go-to spot for musical discovery, I theorize that with the turn of digital music consumption, digital success and “going viral” could be the next way for labels to find new artists.
So instead of just writing about my ideas, I’ve recruited both Josh and Zack to join me in a discussion of this theory. Starting from the theory of scouting the digital world for new stars and building from there, we discuss how that could change radio, how success could be measured, and how sustainable this may be. So please read on to view our discussion and continue in the comments below!
Derek: Good afternoon, fellas! To kick off this roundtable, I pose this first question. I think that viral video stars could be the future pool for labels to discover new singers to sign. Do you agree?
Josh: I definitely agree with this, as I think country music is slowly realizing that they need to embrace the digital world more. They have to know they can’t keep relying on radio when other genres don’t even care about the format. Kane Brown and Maren Morris are two new acts that didn’t need radio to get noticed.
Zack: I believe that’s the case. No matter how manufactured it may or may not have been, there’s an unfortunate reality that someone like Kane Brown is now a major label star. Of course, as Josh said, perhaps we can get someone good out of it like Maren Morris. It remains to be seen how long of a shelf life these artists have, but I do believe that this could be the future.
Derek: Yes, more & more we could see digital popularity translate into a major label signing. What do you think that could hold for the future of radio and its importance and/or necessity? Already, we’ve seen a radio powerhouse like iHeartRadio facing [high debt] and a negative cashflow, despite having dozens of stations nationwide. If Spotify/Youtube/Apple Radio popularity = success, I think we may very well see some sort of change with the traditional radio.
Josh: I think it will be part of what renders radio to eventually be a useless format. It’s sticking around for now. But with streaming on the rise, country music and all genres have to embrace it. It’s clearly the most popular way to consume music amongst fans, so labels and artists need to go where the fans are at. It will take time for this to have a full effect though.
Zack: I’ve always thought it was interesting that we live in an age where you can browse the Internet and discover and listen to artists on your own time through your own platforms, and yet radio is still the most popular way to discover music. I think eventually steaming and digital popularity will eventually overtake radio, but I’m not fully certain. Country radio hasn’t exactly always been one step ahead with these types of things.
Josh: Well one reason country music has stuck with radio is because it has always been the least dependent on technology. It’s a rural based genre, so it’s make sense to stick to radio for all these years. But now with every other genre embracing technology, they’re forced to do the same soon.
Derek: True, country has always been a step behind other genres in terms of music discovery. I think maybe the label execs on music row have been trying to hold onto some sort control on how their artists’ success is perceived. We’ve seen labels devote tons of time and money manipulating charts to manufacture a #1 or leaving a song on the chart for nearly a year before finally giving up on the song (Chase Rice, Chase Bryant). I wonder if streaming popularity could prevent that sort of control of the successful narrative. And, I agree, Josh. It’s funny how country will hold onto THAT tradition, but not a musical tradition.
Josh: I don’t see why it would. As Trigger pointed out at Saving Country Music, Kane Brown manipulated his streaming numbers via some well positioned connections. No different from country labels doing the same thing at country radio. And yes that is funny. They’re not good at picking the proper traditions to keep.
Zack: That’s why it makes me happy to see a label like EMI just pull a song like Eric Church’s “Mr. Misunderstood” in favor of his new single, “Record Year.” It was obviously not going to do much more. There’s other artists like Chase Bryant as you said before that are still hanging around on the chart when their song should have died months ago (and at a lower peak position).
Josh: Well that demonstrates how much of a real star Eric Church is. He doesn’t need country radio. It really needs him though. Church sells tons of records and sells out venues. A top 15 peak does not hurt him at all. Whereas Chase Bryant is entirely dependent on radio because he’s irrelevant otherwise. Really Bryant is still irrelevant. I’ve never met a Chase Bryant fan.
Derek: That’s a good point on Kane Brown. His team definitely led a sketchy campaign to show his “popular appeal” to a major label. So, if radio does eventually fall into obscurity, what will be the advantage of getting on a big label? It seems to be that big label = radio exposure. Especially with streaming services having low payouts, what do you guys think the future looks like in this regard?
The only big advantage I see to that popularity is concert attendance. Eric Church, as you said
Josh, doesn’t need radio, and he can sell out almost any venue he’d choose to play in. Obviously streaming popularity could translate to higher attendance, but that’s not a guarantee.
Zack: True, and that’s the sad part. Young artists nowadays have to not only rely on the radio for support, but also have to often compromise their sound to get there. If the lead single fails, then forget it. I’m not saying that Chase Bryant is a good example of this, but think of someone like the Brothers Osborne, a band who has stated their disdain for the sameness of the genre multiple times. Their debut album, “Pawn Shop” however had songs in the same vein as the ones they criticized. Why? Because they need radio.
Josh: Well as independent and Americana artists have proven over the last couple years, you don’t need major labels to have success and therefore don’t need country radio either. Jason Isbell is perfectly happy on his own label doing his own thing. And he had the #1 album in country, Americana, folk and rock last year. Sturgill Simpson would have stayed independent for his entire career if Atlantic didn’t give him exactly what he wanted. They gave him what he wanted because they needed him a lot more. These independent artists make themselves. They do the hard work that the label doesn’t have to do and that is make them a star.
So I believe in the future major labels will not matter. And this scares the crap out of Music Row.
Derek: That’s a good point. Sturgill and Isbell are perfect examples of independent artists making their own success and will be more sustained as time progresses. People appreciate a trailblazer and a leader, and not a copy cat.
Zack: Excellent point Josh. Heck, even mainstream outlets like The Boot and Taste Of Country are covering independent acts nowadays. With Texas and Americana acts gaining and more exposure (including some of them outselling major label acts), I don’t believe that major labels will matter in the future.
One has to remember that Kane Brown’s rise only continues to grow because people think it’s cool to like him. Maren Morris at least impressed people with her sound
Derek: People do think it’s cool to like Kane Brown, and that’s because of narrative painted by those outlets. Major publications will continue to publish PR fluff to create buzz. But if you don’t have a radio station playing a song 15 times a day, will people still think they have to like said song because radio plays it?
Josh: Well I don’t think Kane Brown is going to breakthrough at radio and the reactions I’ve seen online about his music from non-fans hasn’t been that positive. It’s going to a take a lot of PR spin I think. But then again all his label has to do is wave the On The Verge wand and he’ll be rising in no time.
Derek: What will On The Verge’s influence be if radio dissolves? Truly, if people only stream, how will success be judged? Sure, reports to Billboard and a streaming chart may exist, but will a chart like that influence plays on an Apple Radio station, or Spotify radio? For instance, if I choose to play Country Spotify Radio, am I likely to hear more songs than others based on these potential streaming charts?
Josh: If radio dissolves, On The Verge will still give artists a nice boost in sales I think. It clearly has influence amongst fans. If people only stream, I think sales will be a bigger determining factor of success. Specifically album sales will judge success. If you can sell albums in today’s environment, it’s a pretty big deal. Just look at Adele. Potential streaming charts could influence what songs you hear. But it wouldn’t matter because the listener ultimately has the power to choose what they want to hear. That’s one of the biggest pros of streaming. No more middle men like radio programmers.
Derek: I agree, streaming has allowed independent artists to have more exposure because it’s an open medium for listeners to choose from. I think you’re right that album sales will be the big indicator of success.
Zack touched on this earlier, but if viral discovery is the next avenue for getting signed, how sustainable will that be for a musical career?
Zack: I think it depends on the artists honestly. As I’ve noted before, Kane Brown only rose because of who he is, whereas Maren Morris rose because her sound resonated with fans. Kane Brown will probably have his 15 minutes sure, but overall I feel that if the music is what’s truly driving the viral popularity, then artists might be able to mold an actual career. It’ll be interesting to see.
Josh: It depends on the talent of the artist. Maren Morris has the talent to back up her huge viral success. Kane Brown does not. If you want to see a good comparison model for this, go look how winners and high finishers of American Idol and The Voice have fared after the show. Carrie Underwood went on to be a huge star. Fantasia and Reuben Studdard have faded into obscurity. The smoke and mirrors that is artificial pushes and PR fluff will let you be big for a short period of time. Talent will let you have a long and memorable career.
Derek: I’m in full agreement with you both.
Carrie Underwood is a star for a reason, and that same level of talent will dictate the longevity of the career for future potential stars.
Derek: Any final thoughts?
Zack: 2016 is definitely an exciting time for country music and with everything transpiring, I’m definitely excited to see what the future holds for the industry.
Josh: The future of country and Americana is quite bright. Talent will finally be the ultimate determining factor of success. In other words, what it should have always been in the first place. Really it’s always been like this, but now everyone is seeing it. And that bodes well for the quality of future music.
Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases
- Austin Lucas‘ Between The Moon and the Midwest is due out tomorrow.
- Lake Street Drive‘s Side Pony will also be released tomorrow.
- A new album from the Waco Brothers called Going Down in History will be released on the 26th.
- Loretta Lynn‘s new album, Full Circle, will be out March 4.
- Billy Currington‘s new single will be “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To.”
- Caleb Caudile‘s Carolina Ghost will be released on February 26th.
Throwback Thursday Song
“Fancy” by Reba McEntire: I heard this song on the radio the other day, and it’s been stuck in my head ever since, which isn’t a bad thing! Reba recorded this and released it as a single in 1991. The song is a cover of Bobbie Gentry, who wrote and recorded the song originally in 1969. The striking difference between the two is that Reba and producer Tony Brown took a darker approach to the song’s production, fitting in with the Southern Gothic lyrics.
Non-Country Suggestion of the Week
VINYL: Music From The HBO Original Series – Vol. 1: This first edition of HBO’s Vinyl soundtrack is an excellent collection of music. A great mix of classic rock songs, old covers, and new songs like Sturgill Simpson’s “Sugar Daddy.” Vinyl’s soundtrack is a great callback sound to 60s and 70s rock n’ roll!
Tweets of the Week: Grammy Edition
Instead of having one tweet followed by a random review, I’m going to post several of my favorite tweets from the Grammys.
Chris Stapleton winning Best Country Album against Sam Hunt is poetic justice after years of Bro Country killing an amazing genre! #Grammys
— JenniOLush (@JenniOLush) February 16, 2016
This has to be Luke Bryan’s main karaoke jam. It just has to be. #grammys
— Caitlin Rose (@TheCaitlinRose) February 16, 2016
On Luke Bryan singing Lionel Richie’s “Penny Lover.”
— Heather Froglear (@KFRGHeather) February 16, 2016
Sam Hunt does not belong in the same sentence, conversation, paragraph, room, or genre as Chris Stapleton.
— Matt (@mpt_3) February 16, 2016
— Jojo (@NYMirandaJunkE) February 16, 2016
And Some Tweets From Sad Sam Hunt Fans.
I wish Kanye would stand up and say Sam Hunt had the best album bc who tf is Chris Stapleton GTFO
— Amanda Abate (@amanda_abate) February 16, 2016
No, don’t drag Kanye into this.
how does Chris Stapleton who is never on the radio win all these awards over artists like Sam Hunt??? Rigged.
— lexi (@Leexxi_Stewart) February 16, 2016
Who is this “Chris Stapleton” character, and why does he keep winning awards over sam hunt?!?!
— KB (@kaaayyyylaaa) February 16, 2016
So in a year that Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Sam Hunt and Kip Moore release albums Chris Stapleton wins best country album
— Ryan (@ryanpage_66) February 16, 2016
Because Chris Stapleton also didn’t release an album in 2015… Also, Montevallo was released in 2014.