Hodgepodge of Country Stuff: iTunes Should Keep the Free Single of the Week

ITunes_12_logo

So what exactly is this? That’s what you thought when you read the title above. Well I’m going to explain this to you. This is a new weekly feature that will be on the site and as you can see it’s called Hodgepodge of Country Stuff. If you’re a sports fan that visits major sites like ESPN, Sports Illustrated and FOX Sports, you’ll see some of their writers do weekly columns where they’ll discuss something and then have a variety of interesting tidbits that will follow it (think Bill Simmons and Peter King). This is just like those, except about country music of course. Got it? Good. 

One of the most under-the-radar stories in music so far in 2015 has been iTunes quietly killing off its Free Single of the Week. Not only is it being killed off here in the United State, but in all countries. It’s probably being underreported because Apple did it without making a big announcement and has only been noticed by fans who checked this feature out on a weekly basis. Also many tech outlets are afraid to say anything bad about Apple because they don’t want to be banned from their events (I learned this when I was dabbling in tech journalism). Well I’m a music journalist now and I don’t use iTunes to purchase and listen to my music anymore, so I have no problem saying cross words about the Cupertino tech giant.

I was pretty disappointed when I found out about this because over the years of using iTunes I’ve found several new artists to listen to through the Free Single of the Week. In fact I think it was this feature that made me set up an iTunes account. Going back to 2008, one of the free singles of the week was Jamey Johnson’s “In Color.” This was before he was a household name and won any Grammys. I guarantee he gained several new fans by offering this free single. In 2009, I found out about Eli Young Band and David Nail through their free singles of the week. In 2010, Easton Corbin’s “A Little More Country Than That” is what introduced me to his music.

As I’ve stated numerous times on the side, rock music is my second favorite genre and a free Bob Seger EP in 2011 is what introduced me to his music and made me explore his catalog. I mentioned in my review of Greg Bates’ “Sand” this week the first time I heard his music was when I heard “I Did It For The Girl,” which was an iTunes Free Single of the Week in 2012. In 2013, two of my favorite non-country songs of the year, John Newman’s “Love Me Again” and Bastille’s “Pompeii”, were free singles of the week and these two songs went on to have huge success. It really helped put these artists on the map. Go take a look at the list of all of the free singles that have been offered by iTunes over the years and I guarantee you’ll see artists and songs you like.

The point of this free single of the week was to introduce fans to artists they’re not familiar with and bring new music into their library. Many times I would go on to explore and buy more music from the artist. Judging from the comments I’ve seen on message boards and social media, many others did the same. This Free Single of the Week acted as a “gateway drug” to get fans to check out artists and their catalogs. It gave a platform to lesser known and independent artists to grow their fan base. Many artists and labels understood this, which is why so many different artists participated in this program (some of them multiple times).

So why did iTunes do away with this feature? Personally I think it’s the answer to most questions: money. It’s no secret that music sales are progressively getting worse and this is forcing everyone in the industry to take notice. The Free Single of the Week was financially beneficial to artists, but it wasn’t financially beneficial enough for iTunes. So iTunes selfishly got rid of this feature. Instead they’ll push their streaming service down your throat because that’s better for their bottom line. As a result fans and artists will pay the price. What was a great feature that benefitted fans and artists is now gone because the suits aren’t making the money they want to make.

With that being said, Google Play still offers weekly free music. They once had a free single of the week feature, but now it has been replaced with a free album of the week (they also feature a sampler of free music from all genres every month). Just like the iTunes Free Single of the Week, this has introduced me to new music. I’ve bought more music as a result of these free offerings. And iTunes wonders why I took my business to Google Play. Their competitor understands if you want to keep your customers, you have to keep them happy. While I don’t condone giving away a bunch of free music or having artists pay fans to listen to their music, giving away a little free music is something that can benefit everyone. I hope iTunes will learn the error of their ways, for the good of the fans and artists.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Ryan Bingham just released his new album, Fear and Saturday Night. I haven’t got a chance to listen to it yet, but I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about it. Despite what Bingham says, his music is country to my ears and many other people. Derek’s review of it will be coming soon.
  • Cody Jinks came out with a new album called Adobe Sessions last week. I can’t believe I overlooked this one. One of my goals this year is to review more Texas country music. I’ve listened to some of Jinks’ album and I definitely don’t hate it. I’ll be reviewing this one really soon.
  • Jamey Johnson just released “Alabama Pines” as a single and is now available on iTunes and Google Play. He released it as a free gift through his site on January 1 (it’s no longer free). I thought it was a great comeback song for the Alabama artist. It’s currently in the top 70 of the iTunes country charts, so not a bad return for Johnson.
  • Keith Urban just released “Raise ‘Em Up” as a new single from his album Fuse. He’s joined on the song by Eric Church. The song is also nominated for the 2015 Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. We hope to review this song soon.

Throwback Thursday Song

 

Alan Jackson’s “Pop a Top.” I heard this song come on the radio the other day and it was so refreshing to hear an Alan Jackson song. Most people will remember this song as the one he was playing at the 1999 CMA Awards when he stopped halfway through the performance to play George Jones’ “Choices” as a protest of the CMA not allowing Jones a full performance. Jackson then of course walked right off stage and out of the building. It was a true badass moment from Jackson. Too bad we don’t have those kind of moments at country music awards show anymore. I hope Jackson’s new album this year blows everyone away.

My Non-Country Thought of the Week

While the last two weeks I’ve had negative thoughts in this section of the Hodgepodge, this week I come bearing positive thoughts. Originally I was only going to have one non-country album suggestion, but then I heard another great album that I have to also suggest. The first non-country album I suggest checking out is James Wolpert’s The Entire City. (If you follow me on Twitter you’ve already saw this suggestion, so this is for those not on Twitter) It’s a fantastic rock album that fuses Americana, folk, pop and even a little bit of country. There is one song on the album that features some lengthy fiddle play.

 

The other non-country album I suggest checking out is Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth. This is hip-hop at it’s best and just like Wolpert’s album does a great job fusing influences from other genres. I heard some jazz, pop, electronic, classical and even country. Yes country influences on a hip-hop album! On Fiasco’s “Dots & Lines” there is prominent play at the beginning and end of the song from, get this, a BANJO. They don’t even have these in most mainstream country songs nowadays and there’s one on a damn hip-hop album. Lupe Fiasco’s Tetsuo & Youth is more country than Florida Georgia Line’s Anything Goes, Chase Rice’s Ignite the Night and Sam Hunt’s Montevallo combined. So ironically this week’s non-country suggestions are more country than some of the country albums I’ve recently reviewed. I don’t understand anything anymore.

Tweet of the Week

My thoughts exactly. For those unaware, Thomas Rhett covered Bruno Mars’ hit “When I Was Your Man.” I didn’t even bother listening to it because I have no respect for Rhett. I guarantee Bruno Mars has no idea who Rhett is and never will. Once bro country officially becomes uncool (which is happening) Rhett will disappear and fall off the radar.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Dumb Sam Hunt Comment 1 Dumb Sam Hunt Comment 2

These reviews are from Sam Hunt’s Montevallo album. I actually couldn’t choose just one this week. You have no idea who how many potential comments I could have put here for this album. These two were the best though. The first one goes with the traditional hater comment. The second one goes in a different direction. According to the second review, only the Queen of England has the authority to move artists or genres around. So Queen Elizabeth II, your majesty, if you’re reading this could you please move Sam Hunt out of country music forever? It would be greatly appreciated.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments! 

Review – Greg Bates Returns With New Single “Sand”

Back when mainstream country music was the only realm of country music I knew about, I always kept an eye out for under-the-radar artists. The kind of artists who put out good music on major labels, but didn’t get a lot of radio play. One of these artists that caught my eye was Greg Bates. It was his debut single “Did It For The Girl” that specifically caught my attention. It was actually iTunes Free Single of the Week (which might actually be killed off by iTunes starting this year) and thought hey I’ll give it a listen for free. While the song was a little campy, I liked Bates’ voice and the traditional sound of the song. It ended up reaching #5 on the U.S. Country Airplay chart in 2012. The follow-up single, “Fill in the Blank,” which I thought was an even better song only reached #45 on the Country Airplay chart.

Bates then drifted off the mainstream radar and quietly parted ways with the Republic Nashville label (an imprint of Big Machine Records) at the end of 2013. To me it sounded like another artist getting ate up and spit back out by the Nashville machine because he didn’t conform to their standards. Maybe that was true. I’m not sure. He is now an independent artist on his own and just released his new single, “Sand.” In fact him and his producer Frank Rogers funded this completely out of their own pockets, which I admit is quite an admirable endeavor.

The song begins with a pop/adult contemporary beat and Bates’ voice being put through a machine to give it an “echo effect.” Yep that damn technique has reared its ugly head once again. And then you get these lyrics on top of it:

“We couldn’t wait to get down on that beach

We had a football and some fake IDs/A place to crash a hundred feet from the sand

A Maaco cooler and a radio/A Natty Light and a pack of smokes/Yeah we were on a roll”

The beach? Check. Reference a sport? Check. Name an alcohol brand? Check. We got ourselves a checklist, party, pop country song. But there’s more! It’s a nostalgic song that reflects on the memories of hanging out with a girl on the beach. It’s a party love song. How original! Bates sings that time passed that summer like “grains through an hour-glass.” Groan. I thought Florida Georgia Line only chose laughably terrible cliché lyrics in the chorus of their songs. Although it’s not quite as bad as Florida Georgia Line’s “Angel.”

This song is bland and has been done so many times in the last five years that I can’t take it seriously. What is the threshold country music has to reach for vanilla, pop country songs before they stop making them? Then again mainstream country fans keep buying it, so they’re going to keep cranking them out. The labels love this type of song too because it’s commercial and sponsor friendly. I will say when Bates’ voice isn’t put through the machine, it sounds good. The lyrics are bad, but not the worst in the world. That’s about all the nice things I can say about this song.

I’m sure “Sand” will do quite well on the charts and radio if it’s given a chance, especially during the warmer months coming up. It’s a summer song in the same vein as Luke Bryan’s “Roller Coaster” and Jake Owen’s “Beachin’.” There’s no word yet on when Bates is releasing an album. I hope it’s much better than this song, but I’m not hopeful. I’m afraid he’s going to do exactly what Joe Nichols’ did this past year and make music that appeals to the popular sound. It would be a shame because Bates is a talented artist capable of much more. I recommend avoiding “Sand.”

Grade: 4.5/10

To hear Greg Bates’ “Sand,” click here

[Correction & Update: Originally I stated in my review that Greg Bates was still signed with Big Machine Records. This was a careless mistake on my part and I apologize for it. I always strive to be accurate in my posts and unfortunately I slipped up. Therefore it was inaccurate saying Bates sold out to Nashville when he’s in fact an independent artist. I still stand by my review though and find the song to be a disappointment.]

Hodgepodge of Country Stuff: Can NASH Icon Be a Success?

Reba McEntire HOF

So what exactly is this? That’s what you thought when you read the title above. Well I’m going to explain this to you. This is a new weekly feature that will be on the site and as you can see it’s called Hodgepodge of Country Stuff. If you’re a sports fan that visits major sites like ESPN, Sports Illustrated and FOX Sports, you’ll see some of their writers do weekly columns where they’ll discuss something and then have a variety of interesting tidbits that will follow it (think Bill Simmons and Peter King). This is just like those, except about country music of course. Got it? Good. 

One of the big developments in country music in 2014 was Scott Borchetta and Cumulus Media announcing the NASH Icon project. For those unaware of NASH Icon, there are two main facets to focus on with this project: it’s creating a label for older artists who have been popular at some point in country music in the last 25-30 years and several radio stations across the country are being launched playing more traditional country music that was heard in the 80s and 90s. It’s an endeavor that has captured disenfranchised traditional country fans everywhere who are quite frankly sick and tired of the garbage on the radio being advertised as “country music.”

So far the label has signed Reba, Martina McBride and Ronnie Dunn (he was finally officially announced this past week). It’s a solid group of artists to launch the label. Reba was one of the biggest female artists in country music in the last two decades and McBride was quite popular in the late 90s and early 2000s. Dunn has been one of the most vocal older country artists in recent years to speak out on how country radio has pushed out older artists like himself off the radio dial. The biggest NASH Icon radio affiliate in Nashville beat Bobby Bones’ show in the ratings late last year.

Despite some good choices and good news, I’m skeptical if this project will be a success. First of all they’re really putting a lot of eggs in the Reba comeback basket. The first single from that comeback album, “Going Out Like That,” is a mediocre mess. It doesn’t sound country hardly at all and is probably more suited for pop radio. I thought this project was trying to bring back the traditional country sound? Sure the most hardcore Reba fans love this song, but most traditional fans are pretty displeased to hear such a pop country song. It’s also a risk to be placing such a big bet on Reba because female country artists haven’t exactly thrived on radio or in the charts the last several years (unless of course your name is Miranda, Carrie or Taylor). I understand why they chose her as the “face” of NASH Icon because they aren’t going to sign a bigger name than her (no chance at Garth, Strait, Jackson or a Brooks & Dunn reunion).

Second, I quite frankly expected more from NASH Icon by now. There are rumors out there Hank Williams Jr. is going to sign with them after he wore an Icon hat on the American Country Countdown Awards back in December. Many fans are clamoring for Clint Black and Vince Gill to be picked up by the label, but there hasn’t even been rumors on this front. I expected more radio stations adopting this format at this point too. Maybe I’ve been expecting too much from this project, but Borchetta and Cumulus really hyped this up when they announced it. And with Borchetta leading the way you should always expect something big to happen.

The other problem I see with NASH Icon is they need to expand further back into the past, while also looking towards the future. Why limit yourself to such a small window of the late 80s to the late 90s? Why not get Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton involved with this venture? There’s plenty of fans out there who still want to listen to their music and they don’t plan on stopping making music anytime soon. At the same time I think they should sign artists like Jamey Johnson, who many fans are thrilled to have back, and big independent artists like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell. Other than the elitist, hipster independent country fans and the crotchety, old traditionalists who hate new artists, everyone would be thrilled to have a radio station in their area that played this mix of artists.

There’s clearly money to be made on the table, while at the same time satisfying the large group of country fans who want traditional sounding music back on the radio. What I’m afraid of is they will only accomplish the former, while failing with the latter. I have no doubt NASH Icon will find some way to make this profitable or exhaust all options to make this happen. I’m highly skeptical the fans will be happy with NASH Icon. I’m hoping everyone wins this deal in the end, but Nashville gives me little reason to think it will happen. All we can do is wait and see.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Kip Moore just released a new single from I’m assuming a new album coming soon titled “I’m To Blame.” He also of course was just announced as an opening act for Dierks Bentley’s Sounds of Summer tour. You’ll see Derek’s review of this new single really soon.
  • RaeLynn came out with her Me EP this week. I didn’t know it was coming out and Derek was the one who alerted me of it. I was quite distraught to learn she was releasing new noise music to torture my ears. Her 2014 single “God Made Girls” was a finalist for Country Perspective’s Worst Song of 2014. Here’s the scary thing though: it isn’t the worst song on the EP. I’m sorry if I just ruined your day. Derek also reviewed this one because I don’t think I could calm myself enough to do another RaeLynn review.
  • Greg Bates, who has fallen off the radar in recent years, came out with a new single called “Sand.” For those who don’t remember Bates, he sang “Did It For The Girl” and “Fill in the Blank,” which had some radio success. I have it on my to review list, so you’ll see my thoughts on it soon.
  • Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers announced they’re releasing a collaborative album called Hold My Beer on April 26. For details on it, check out Trigger’s great article on it at Saving Country Music. Based on the first track released from the album, “Good Luck With That,” this could be one of the best country albums of the year.
  • Zac Brown Band’s “Homegrown,” which I gave high praise to in my review earlier this week is doing great on the iTunes charts. It’s the top song on the country chart and in the top ten on the all genres chart. It makes me happy to see a good country song do well on the charts.

Throwback Thursday Song

 

The Mavericks’ “Come Unto Me.” I’m going to be honest with you. I’m getting pretty excited to hear the new album Mono from The Mavericks coming out in February. I’ve been listening to their 2013 album In Time a lot lately and the best song from it of course is “Come Unto Me.” Not only do they sing it great in English, but their Spanish version is just as good. Really I not only recommend this song, but the entire album if you don’t have it. It’s a timeless listen that never gets old. Never stop singing Raul Malo!

My Non-Country Song/Thought of the Week

A non-country album I had been anticipating to listen to for a while is Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special. The lead single from it, “Uptown Funk,” with Bruno Mars has been one of my favorite non-country songs to listen to lately. I thought it would be a preview of a great funk album, something that hasn’t come out for a while. Instead it’s a giant pile of soft pop crap. It’s so soft and dull that I nearly fell asleep while trying to listen to it. Stevie Wonder’s talent is completely wasted on this album and his songs may in fact be the worst on the album. Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” is the only upbeat, funk song on this album worth listening to and the rest is forgettable pop music. What a shame!

Tweets of the Week

Yes that’s right multiple tweets from one of the best country music follows on Twitter, Jason Isbell. Believe me this won’t be the first time he makes Tweet of the Week. This is his reaction to Zac Brown Band covering his song “Dress Blues” at the pre-game festivities for the College Football National Championship Game on Monday. Knowledgable country fans everywhere lit up when they heard Brown singing one of Isbell’s best songs. Isbell thought it was a good performance, but some people were angry that Brown covered the song. Isbell has the perfect response and throws in some humor after that as always. I can’t believe people are getting angry because this is beneficial to everyone, especially if Brown covers this on his new album. It brings better music to the mainstream, while getting Isbell more exposure, fans and a nice check for being the songwriter of it. It’s a win-win people so just enjoy it!

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

RaeLynn Comment

This is an actual review on RaeLynn’s new EP. I’ll let you readers react to this one.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments!