I don’t think it’s much of a secret how I feel about country radio. Anyone who has followed Country Perspective and The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music in particular know my distaste and at times outright anger towards country radio. At times they can get it right, only to screw up again. But one thing I have come to accept compared to when I first started to track country airplay charts is that I don’t entirely represent their target audience. As much as I want to hear Jon Pardi, Maddie & Tae and Eric Church get played on country radio, the person down the street simply prefers Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt. We all have different tastes and country radio doesn’t always deliberately play the worst music being released. Some people choose to listen to this music and I respect this choice, even if don’t understand it or agree with it.
But I think something all country fans can agree on, especially in light of what has happened so far in 2016, is there’s a clear lack of direction at radio and several other problems accompanying it. There’s a lack of traditional country music still, even if there has been some notable accomplishments by traditional artists on the airwaves this year. Most female artists continue to be ignored and older artists are still shunted aside. Not to mention there seems to be this never-ending chart clog, as every label desperately tries to push their new act so they can become established. That’s a lot of issues and it got me thinking of how exactly I would go about fixing this issues. And by fixing that doesn’t mean removing every artist from the airwaves I don’t like, as much as I would love to ban Sam Hunt from country radio. So after doing some thinking, I came up with what I believe to be five sensible solutions that would go a long way in helping fix country radio and turning it into something that can appeal to both traditional and modern fans.
- Ban the On The Verge Program
iHeart’s On The Verge program looked like it could be a useful program at first for country radio. It seemed to promise to help up and coming, new artists at radio and give them a chance to make a successful career. Well after a couple of years of observing this program, I would call it an absolute failure. The only two acts to actually benefit from it and help them launch successful careers is Sam Hunt and Old Dominion. The rest of the artists chosen for the program haven’t really done much since being chosen. Even a quality artist like Cam has failed to produce a hit since “Burning House” was chosen for the program. Maren Morris is struggling right now at radio with “80s Mercedes” after “My Church” was chosen for On The Verge and she’s probably been one of the biggest breakouts recently in country music. It reminds me similarly of A Thousand Horses with “(This Ain’t No) Drunk Dial” stalling out after “Smoke” landed them a #1 hit. The latest On The Verge pick though has really exposed this sham of a program, Lauren Alaina’s “Road Less Traveled.” She isn’t a new artist by any stretch and has had plenty of time to establish a career. Alaina is undoubtedly a talented artist, but this is not the way you build her career up because I don’t see the followup to this netting her another hit and establishing her as a star.
The whole situation with On The Verge is very forced and inorganic. It represents a problem that has been plaguing country radio, which is why I would end it effective immediately. It’s not creating stars and it no longer serves a purpose. Why continue to run something that is ineffective and only strokes the egos of label executives? It’s just causing problems and getting the hopes of young artists and their fans. You can’t force radio and people to like a song, no matter how hard you push it down their throats. Speaking of which…
- A Song Can Only Be On The Airplay Charts for 25 Weeks at Max
This solution is 100% directed at labels pushing the likes of Chase Bryant and Canaan Smith down our throats when nobody cares about them and their music. Just look at the chart right now and you can find songs that have been on it for over 30 weeks. As glad as I was to see Jon Pardi hit #1 with “Head Over Boots,” I cringe when I see it took over 45 weeks to reach this achievement (ironically it took exactly 11 months). Chase Rice infamously pushed a song for over a year to reach the top ten. This kind of gerrymandering bullshit needs to end and that’s why I would cap the limit for charting at 25 weeks. This gives labels just over six months to push their single at radio. After 25 weeks it must leave the chart and go recurrent. I think this is a good balance between giving labels enough time to push songs, as well as account for slower growing songs. It’s more than enough time to determine the true peak of the song. If this type of rule were to ever be implemented I could just see labels crying this is unfair because they can’t push their newest project for 40 weeks. And to them I say this: Perhaps this demonstrates how you shouldn’t waste time and money on artists that simply don’t connect (looking at you Curb Records).
- The Top 30 on Both Mediabase & Billboard Airplay Charts Must Contain At Least 10 Songs with Female Artists
Now this solution and the next one are bound to be controversial, especially since I just said that you shouldn’t force music on the charts. But hear me out. Tomato Gate did absolutely nothing to improve the standing of women being played on country radio. A bunch of words and think-pieces have been churned out, yet no viable solution has been put on the table. Having the same three female artists in the top 30 is not enough progress. So in my opinion the only way you reverse the discrimination of country radio against women is to implement a rule like this one. Radio programmers aren’t going to willingly change their ways, so you have to force feed it down their throats so they will comply. Women deserve a fair chance and this is the only way I can think of them getting it. Notice I say it doesn’t have to be songs by solo female acts, but it simply must have a female artist on the song. The reason I word it like this is because major labels aren’t equipped at the moment to have ten female solo artists on the radio. They simply aren’t enough to be pushed, but by implementing this rule it would force them to sign more female talent and more importantly push them to radio when they’re guaranteed to have a chance. Now I realize not all of these pushed female acts would connect with audiences and if they don’t, they simply fall out of the top 30 in favor of a new one. Nothing would be forced.
- The Top 30 on Both Mediabase & Billboard Airplay Charts Must Contain At Least 2 Songs by Artists 45+ Years Old
While women have been the victims of sexism and misogyny at country radio, the other big problem country radio has always had is ageism. As soon as an artist gets older, they casted aside and ignored by country radio. This is bullshit. Alan Jackson, Reba and George Strait are all still making music and want to be played on country radio. There’s plenty of people who still want to hear them on country radio. I say they should still be getting played and this rule would force radio to continue to consider these senior acts. Why should Chris Lane be getting played over George Strait when Strait can outsell and outperform him in his sleep?
- The Implementation of a Quality Assurance Panel
This last one is pretty self-explanatory, but might also be the most important. I would establish a Quality Assurance Panel for country radio. It would consist of ten people whose job would be to vote on whether or not a single should qualify for country radio. In other words, is the single country enough for country radio? This would eliminate pop carpetbagging and outsiders hijacking the format. It would also still allow for pop country songs, which many people enjoy and wouldn’t be taken off the airwaves. A strict checklist would have to be met for the song to get passed by the panel (instrumentation, lyrics, etc.). So while I’m not banning Sam Hunt off the airwaves, a quality panel would force him to either start making country leaning songs or get the hell out and go to pop radio. Kelsea Ballerini would be forced to incorporate more country elements into her music too if she wants to stay on country radio.
For the fun of it, I decided to apply my hypothetical solutions to the current chart. Here’s what the top 30 would look like after removing all songs that would fail to be on the current chart and applying my rules:
- Dierks Bentley & Elle King – “Different For Girls”
- Cole Swindell – “Middle of a Memory”
- Jason Aldean – “A Little More Summertime”
- Zac Brown Band – “Castaway”
- Miranda Lambert – “Vice”
- Tim McGraw – “How I’ll Always Be”
- Old Dominion – “Song For Another Time”
- Florida Georgia Line (feat. Tim McGraw) – “May We All”
- Brett Eldredge – “Wanna Be That Song”
- Chris Stapleton – “Parachute”
- Jerrod Niemann & Lee Brice – “A Little More Love”
- Chris Young (feat. Vince Gill) – “Sober Saturday Night”
- Carrie Underwood – “Dirty Laundry”
- Chris Janson – “Holdin’ Her”
- Josh Turner – “Hometown Girl”
- Michael Ray – “Think A Little Less”
- Trent Harmon – “There’s A Girl”
- Craig Campbell – “Outskirts of Heaven”
- Eric Church (feat. Rhiannon Giddens) – “Kill a Word”
- Eli Young Band – “Saltwater Gospel”
- Runaway June – “Lipstick”
- Mickey Guyton – “Why Baby Why” (“Heartbreak Song” is not country)
- Easton Corbin – “Are You With Me”
- Darius Rucker – “If I Told You”
- RaeLynn – “Love Triangle”
- Ashley Monroe – “Dixie”
- Toby Keith – “A Few More Cowboys”
- George Strait – “Goin’ Goin’ Gone”
- Maddie & Tae – “Sierra”
- Margo Price – “Hurtin’ On The Bottle”
Let me know in the comments what you think. These are all hypothetical solutions and are closer to fantasy than reality. If you have any ideas you would like to add I would be glad to hear them.
Upcoming/Recent Country & Americana Releases
- Tomorrow the following albums will be released:
- Dwight Yoakam – Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…
- Reckless Kelly – Sunset Motel
- Next week the legendary John Prine will release his duets album For Better, or Worse
- William Michael Morgan will release his debut album Vinyl next week too
- Wayne Hancock will be releasing a new album titled Slingin’ Rhythm on October 28
In Memory of Windmills Country
Country writer Grady Smith brought to us the unfortunate news this past week that beloved country writer, chart analyst and all-around wonderful person Windmills Country (real name Devarati Ghosh) has passed away. Her loss will be greatly felt throughout the country music insider community, as her kindness and insight was second to none. I know she influenced several of my best posts on this blog and inspired me to take on many challenging topics. While I never met her in real life, her advice and presence will be forever felt. May she rest in peace.
Non-Country Suggestion of the Week
Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Born on the Bayou” – I’ve been digging into CCR’s catalog lately and they’re probably one of the most unsung acts of the 60s and 70s in my book. The way they blend soul, R&B and that swampy rock sound is infectious and memorable. You really can’t go wrong with any of their music.
Tweet of the Week
Yep! Also ties into last week’s Hodgepodge.
A Spot-On Review of the New Jason Aldean Album
I’m still unable to listen to the new Aldean album, but I don’t have any plans to do so when I can anyway. According to people I trust on country music opinions, they all echo this above review: every song sounds the same. Based on what I’ve heard on the previews and Aldean’s track record, I’m not surprised. After all you don’t want to get too “songwriter-y.” Aldean is such a meat head.