I hear people grumble all the time [guilty as charged] about mainstream radio – who can blame us when you hear music from only 20-25 artists for the most part, good songs played to over and over till you turn the station when you hear it come on. The icing on the cake so to speak, is we have radio executives coming out opining with comments like Gary Overton’s [don’t even get me started on that one right now, that deserves special attention] “if you’re not on the radio you don’t exist” or how about things like Keith Hill ““The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females.” Before I really start I’ve gotta say – hmm... you want us to look at radio like a salad. Okay, Mr. Hill, I say let’s do that! I want a salad bar, a ginormous one with different leafy greens, fresh veggies, lots of side toppings i.e. bacon bits, hard boiled eggs, raisins, craisins, croutons, and nuts! Oh yes, what is a good salad without dressing and since my tastes differs on any given day, I’d like a variety of them please. It doesn’t get much better than topping it with some cheese, salt and pepper. Don’t forget the other “unconventional salads” for when I don’t want the same ole same ole and prefer to have some pasta salads, potato salads etc. And what’s a salad bar without a variety of fresh fruit. That my friend, is the beauty of a salad, we can cater it to fit our taste, our mood. Sometimes we crave all tomatoes with just a drizzle of balsamic. Sometimes we want a bunch of lettuce. For sure though, we don’t care for a rinky-dink one size fits all salad like you might get when you are a patient in the hospital, or live in a nursing home. Bland! A few pieces of lettuce, a piece of tomato, and if you’re lucky a cucumber and shredded carrot. Dry or just a drizzle of vinegar & oil. Thank you but NO!!
Let’s put that status quo portion of the argument (Keith and Gary said a pretty jerky thing) aside for now and focus on the reality of the situation and the solution. Being a “classic rock” convert, I appreciate the “new country” music, but also enjoy and have deep respect for traditional country music, its roots are the soul of country music even today. So much of “new-county” has a traditional base, it’s just expanding its reach. It never ceases to amaze me the repetition you hear on the radio and in the songs they play. I’m certain that there is a way to format a station to appease more people than you see now. A way to format a station where there is room for it all, old, new and in between.
Okay rant over
Here’s my take – for what it’s worth Yes I used to moan, protest and blame the radio stations, then one day I woke up and realized there is a plethora of music at my fingertips called the intraweb. On this thing called the intraweb music of any genre, any sub-genre abounds, you just have to look for it. We complain that radio makes it all about the $, but all parties involved are a “business” of sorts. So of course they want to make money, you do when you go to work right?! The labels want to make money, the artists, singers and songwriters and band members, want to make money, and so it goes down the food chain, the truth is, getting on the radio is a way they get their music to a wider audience which is where the money comes in. The reality of the situation is that mainstream radio is going to carry on playing what the labels and the “music programmers” tell them to play. Money does talk. What can you do, you can search elsewhere for your listening pleasure. You can support, and I mean really support the artists you like that don’t get the attention you feel they should. A common argument you hear frequently is about how sucky the music is that radio plays anymore, no more traditional country. However, you must look at someone like, Easton Corbin, he’s tunes tend to have a more traditional sound to them. How many of you have purchased his music, how many of you have gone to see him in concert? There is example after example of things like this. I hear people emphatically make statements like “why won’t the radio play people like Doug Stone? I know people would love to hear him instead of Blake Shelton or Luke Bryant.” Well you’re probably right to a degree, though when the “suits” go look at the numbers and see what they do, it’s hard to explain to them how they’re wrong. Example one Doug Stone has 218 followers on twitter, Collin Raye has 14.8 thousand. Blake Shelton has 12.3 Million. Fair enough, lets look at somebody who isn’t a TV show judge, but still gets radio play on mainstream radio. On the lower end, Tyler Farr has 210+thousand than for instance, take Jason Aldean who has 2.44 million, of course his music is going to be played. Even Garth Brooks only has 184 thousand. Yes of course twitter is free so who cares you ask yourself, but that is one of the big tools looked at, social media is important in the music world. When was the last time you purchased music of your favorite “traditional” artist? How often do you like and comment on a video. Do you regularly, ever, download, rate and review a song digitally. Or better yet, when was the last time you bought an actual CD? Catch one of their shows, even if it requires a #roadtrip. Many of the old school country music fans won’t give a new artist a chance, even when they have an authentic country sound. They shut the door a long time ago. Grab a listen to someone like Aaron Watson, Doug Briney, Lee Gibson, or one of the many others out there. Their music definitely has a more traditional sound to it, but where is the support. It’s things like this that drive an artist like Cort Carpenter who’s first original tunes had a very “classic” country feel to them to put more “flair” or “new-country” sounds on his more recent tunes. At the same time, it is these musicians’ very loyal and dedicated fans that keep allowing them to do what they do for a living. Over time, sometimes the fans are able to make that push and get them radio play like they deserve. Many artists say they don’t care, it is what it is, in fact, they are probably right, but at the same time the reason they play music is to have it heard so ….. to make a living … so radio play would be nice. Not to mention you watch guys like Steve Holy, JT Hodges, Austin Webb, Love and Theft work in the trenches. You see the Texas country bands hit the road for the majority of the week, they come home for a day or two and head right back out, week after week, year after year amassing fans across the country. You see the young ladies like Kristy Lee Cook, Kristen Kelly, Holly Williams and Morgan Frazier struggle to have their name mentioned. As you follow them and see their dedication, their hard work, you feel what it means to them. You want it for them, it becomes personal. Well these artists that we all complain about getting all the play time have a strong fan base too. A vocal, in many different ways, fan base. They deserve to have their music heard too, it might not be your style so to speak, but it's someone’s. Don’t hate on the artist or their fans that are being played. That is not the solution to the problem. In some cases it exacerbates it. Time to make your voice heard, not by complaining, express the positive, speak through your actions. When your station does play something new, something you like and you want to hear give them a thanks. Many are quick to complain but few to praise. Buy music that you like, go see the artists when they come to a venue in your area, or plan a #roadtrip. Request frequently, daily, the songs you want to hear, new or old. I cannot say that enough. Request, request, request Program Directors pay attention to that, don’t give up. ”. It sometimes takes many months for a new song to gear up enough traction for mainstream radio to play it. If you’re lucky and have a program director like mine at the 92.5 the Wolf, he slips some rogue artists or songs on his playlist, and he brings us live performances, small acoustic ones, in the studio to hear the “underdogs.” Get online and vote for the songs in the various contests, tweet and Facebook or Instagram about them. Encourage your station to play what you want them to play, whatever it may be. By golly, I know this is a stretch but also expand your openness to new music, explore and you just might find some new favorites. There are a lot of artists putting out great music everyday it’s up to us to unearth what we like, what’s suited to our taste. Enthusiastically support what you like. Realistically we can probably never change “mainstream” radio; they are going to continue to play what they want to play, what makes them money to play, what “Nashville” is pushing out. However we can surely expand our own listening libraries and means of listening to music. Venture outside the known because there is a huge world of great music that deserves to be heard. It is for your benefit. In a perfect world, we’d be able to call up the radio and request any song you want and have it played, but until that time comes back, find your own music, expand your listening box. Remove the label you’ve swathed yourself musically in, open it up for a few more tunes, artists. Stream music from some of the indie stations, or get satellite radio. If you look you’ll see there is a variety of both of those for you to listen to. Surf the web, play on YouTube and pick a video to a song you like it will bring up other videos. Go grab some music digitally to add to your current library. Have fun, take charge of your music after all, who’s really responsible for the music you listen to? You or the radio?
Nickie Techmanski - @Acologal