The hits just keep on coming for country music, and not the melodic kind. While stars and fans should be basking in the after-glow of “country music’s biggest night,” loyalists are more than likely drowning in their sorrows (it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, right?) Last week’s CMA Musical Festival on ABC clocked its worst ratings to date. In fact, the country mega-concert lost 37% of its viewers from last year alone.
It’s yet another indicator that country music’s downward spiral isn’t just a flash in the pan. Country music is in free fall, a far cry from just six short months ago when popular country music stood poised to take down pop as the most dominant genre. Now Bro-Country has been put out to pasture, Taylor Swift has gone purely pop and the ratings for country radio’s key demographic continues to slip and slide.
The longtime king of music radio formats has been dethroned. The latest Nielsen Music scans show that Pop Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) has consistently edged out country for most of 2015. But a second place finish for most popular radio format isn’t the biggest blow. Country music is being hit where it hurts most; sales, digital downloads and streaming.
The same Nielsen report declares rock the ruler of album sales and digital song downloads and R&B/hip-hop the king of music streams. Just to give you a little perspective, R&B/hip-hop makes up 29% of all music streaming, while country only lays claim to about 6% of streaming consumption. Clearly, country isn’t as hip to music technology.
So the question remains; can country be saved? Well, rejoice country fans because there are some glimmers of hope for country music… television and independent artists!
Country music has received its biggest boost of late by-way of another country show on ABC; the fictional one called “Nashville.” The primetime drama is being credited for giving country music some much needed CPR by creating highly-acclaimed songs that top iTunes charts and live “cast” performances broadcasting a new class of country music to a new audience. The songs are widely praised for their quality, taking country music back to its roots, instead of cashing in on flashy, commercial overtures. And you can thank the independent artists ABC execs sought out to create the soundtracks.
You might be surprised to learn that a tremendous amount of the background music on your favorite TV shows and movies is derived from songwriters’ demos and artists’ independent releases. There are more opportunities than ever before to place your songs in television and movies, especially if you don’t plan on performing them yourself. It’s a financial boost, but most importantly, it builds buzz.
But indie performers may also put country back on the map. While disgruntled old-school country fans are sulking over their country-to-pop crossovers, independent artists are sneaking in and mending their broken hearts. Most notably, Jason Isbell – whose latest release ‘Something More Than Free’ recently inched out Alan Jackson for the #1 spot on Billboard’s Country albums chart. While it may be too early to officially proclaim Isbell country music’s savior, industry insiders agree he’s definitely helping the cause.
Independent artists and new music technologies are more important than ever. If country music fans can open their minds and learn to embrace both, this sad country music saga will have a happy ending.
Author: Reina Carbetta