The straight-talking monthly column on all things country, Americana, roots and acoustic…
It was a just over year ago that I was invited to write a monthly column for Music Republic Magazine. The debut column ran in February 2017. Initially, I was somewhat doubtful…
What could I contribute that would be of interest to readers of a multi-genre music magazine? A year later, I’ve covered many thorny subjects close to my heart, and along the way I’ve inadvertently ruffled a few feathers.
But, but I haven’t really noticed any significant changes in the way that country and roots music is perceived or accepted by music fans, media and the business as a whole. I’ve covered the pros and cons of Countrypolitan and the dumbing down of country music to appeal to a wider pop audience.
This search for wider commercial success led directly to the Americana music genre, but some twenty years later the independence from the mainstream has been turned on its head, as more and more Americana performers blatantly chase the very commercial aspirations that they initially battled against.
A little too close to the truth for comfort…
My somewhat controversial comments about this were ignored by both the Nashville-based AMA (Americana Music Association) and the AMA-UK (although they did at least acknowledge my view, but decided against sharing it with their membership).
Methinks maybe I got a little too close to the truth for comfort, as both organisations seek out mass acceptance rather than staying true to their initial intentions. Unsurprisingly, that column last March, was the one that drew the largest number of comments and responses, with virtually all in agreement with my views.
I also took to task the CMA (Country Music Association), for inducting so few new members annually into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Association was formed in 1958 to protect country music from the onslaught of rock’n’roll.
It led almost immediately to such rock’n’rollers as Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Brenda Lee and others, to no longer being listed on the American country charts as the CMA attempted to ‘protect the interests of their own.’
It may come as something of a surprise to many, that all three of those acts have since been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Even more surprising is that internationally-renowned country acts such as Slim Whitman, George Hamilton IV and Tanya Tucker have not.
All too often, it’s not the quality of the music, or even the artistic integrity of the performer that counts, but how much money the music business can make from them. That’s not just applicable to music, but in all walks of life.
It has led to a vast disparity between those at the top of the pile, and those down at the bottom who may be just as talented or artistic, but are deemed to be worth only a tiny fraction in monetary terms.
I raised the issue of the increasingly high fees (and subsequently inflated ticket prices) demanded by the major superstars. That time I was shot down in flames as loyal fans openly admitted that they were quite happy to pay well in-excess of one hundred pounds to see their favourite act, and completely missed the point of the trickle-down effect that I had made.
Maybe someone is listening after all…
I also raised the issue of high salaries paid to BBC staff, and as I’m writing this, I see that the BBC’s Director General Tony Hall, is going to give the BBC salary policy a complete overhaul. Maybe, someone has been listening after all…
Other issues I have raised over the past twelve months, include one of my favourite subjects: … the songwriter. All too often overlooked, and with the onslaught of streaming and downloads, increasingly suffering from lower royalty payments.
Following two years of campaigning, on January 26th 2018, the American CRB (Copyright Royalty Board) set an increase in the Mechanical Royalty rate payable to songwriters; from 10.5% to 15.1% for the period 2018-2022. This is the biggest increase in CRB history and will have a huge and long-lasting impact for songwriters around the world.
My piece on Garth Brooks in January this year, and the way his many detractors have painted a false picture of his talent and achievements, also brought in a huge number of responses, with many not realising just how sizeable his impact has been over the past three decades.
In many ways, over here in the UK, we remain out-of-touch with America when it comes to something like country music. As a genre, it is second only to rock music in America and as such, commands a multi-billion dollar industry.
…the fate of the big stars…
The biggest country stars of today are truly superstars, earning huge fortunes and in quite a different league to the stars of yesteryear such as Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins or Glen Campbell, when it comes to their earning potential.
Just like in the old days, country radio still controls the fate of the big stars, though it’s just possible, that may well, change. The biggest-selling male country singer for both 2016 and 2017 in America was Chris Stapleton.
Amazingly, he has never enjoyed a number one hit on the American country airplay chart. In fact, he’s only had one top 10 hit with Nobody To Blame in 2015.
The leading female country singer is Miranda Lambert. Like Chris Stapleton (pictured above), her music has been ignored by America’s country radio. Lambert’s most recent top 10 country hit was, Something Bad, a duet with Carrie Underwood in 2014.
Lambert and Stapleton are 2017 CMA Female and Male Vocalists of the year respectively. Stapleton was also the big winner at the 2018 Grammy Awards, walking off with Best Country Album (From A Room: Volume 1), Best Country Solo Performance (Either Way) and Best Country Song (Broken Halos – co-written with Mike Henderson).
Wind of change
This wind change might well be short-lived, but the strange thing is that Miranda Lambert and Chris Stapleton are claimed by both the AMA and the CMA, further evidence that both organisations are keen to grasp at that which is successful.
There is so much good music that I’m enjoying as 2018 unfolds, much of it is by those acts that are under the radar. I passionately believe that there needs to be a more level playing field in the music business. Organisations like the CMA and AMA, can – and should – do more to help create that level playing field.
There should be more help offered to those acts at the bottom of the pile, both newcomers and those that have been struggling for years to gain a bigger platform for their music.
Though I remain a small voice in the wilderness, I will continue to raise issues that I feel passionate about. It might not make much of a difference in the scheme of things, but if it makes just one person sit up and take notice, then I will feel more than justified.
By Alan Cackett
Miranda Lambert & Carrie Underwood photo credit: CMA
Tanya Tucker photo credit: Alan Messer
Chris Stapleton photo credit: Andy Barron