I was having a conversation with a friend the other day. He listens to Country Music Radio about a third of the time, and listens to CHR and Talk Radio the other times. I think he sneaks in Howard [Stern] on Sirius during his alone time too but our conversation was about Country Music and how a real “fan” has come to appreciate the new music on the radio.
I asked him who his favorite artists were and the usual suspects were all near the top of the list. He loves Garth Brooks and still raves about seeing his show in Las Vegas over a year ago. He likes Jake Owen and Carrie Underwood.
By then I figured that I had a focus group of one and I could find out some habits from a male P2 as long as I continued to pay for the beer. I thought I should hurry along before all of the answers were Hank, Jr. or Jamey Johnson.
Remember that this is a fan who listens to about 4 hours of the format every week. He appreciates the music and likes the “Newer Country Music,” as he called it. So who are your favorite new acts? I asked.
Tim McGraw, Montgomery Gentry and Reba were mentioned after a little thought. I decided to ask him about some individual songs and see if he could ID even newer artists associated with the music.
How about, “Need You Now”? He told me that this was one of his favorite songs from the last 6 months (?) but he wasn’t sure who the singers were. He knew it was a male and female duo. (Sorry Dave).
He knew that Toby Keith sings “Made in America” and that Billy Currington sings “People Are Crazy”.
He loves “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do” but could not tell me who sang it with a gun to his head. He thought it might be Jason Aldean.
We are very lucky in the format right now as there are a ton of new and newish acts that sound like they could be around for a long time.
The earlier referenced Brantley Gilbert is near the top of the list. Thompson Square, and now Kip Moore make up the level of acts that have gotten significant radio play but are still finding a base of fans that can support an appearance on their own.
We have a strong tier of acts like Luke Bryan, Eric Church and Jake Owen who are now multiple No. 1 acts and can play bigger venues by themselves. Of course we have the stadium acts like Kenny, Carrie and Jason.
Just being able to identify these performers by only their first names is an indication that they have made it and are the big stars. Those of us inside the format can easily refer to Luke, Eric and Jake and know who we are talking about but my friend might be challenged to come up with their surnames and certainly he would have trouble matching a name with a face.
I admit that a focus group of one and particularly a male in his 40s is going to be a tough putt when discussing Country Music Radio but in order to grow the format we need to make these P2s comfortable and include them in our growth curve.
If you accept the above three tiers then in order to grow the format we need to work the fourth tier.
A couple of weeks back I watched Sonia Leigh absolutely capture the crowd at the CMA Music Fest Bud Light Stage. I had not seen her and her tight band perform before and I was impressed not only by her performance but by the passion of the smallish group of fans who did know her music.
That stage was hopping all day with The Trailer Choir working their butts off (pun intended in Big Vinny’s case) for the fans there and Jaida Dreyer, who is totally comfortable on stage and has a unique vocal styling that helps her stand out.
I know Vinny was on TV and the band was in the Toby Keith movie so they might have an advantage over some of the new acts but if we are going to move Luke, et al into tier one and then Brantley into tier two so we can make room for Sonia, Jaida, Maggie Rose, Andy Gibson, Jon Pardi, Thomas Rhett and on and on into the next group, radio has to step up and work it.
Because this is what radio does best. Nothing beats radio for introducing new artists to fans but not everyone has Shazam on their smart phones so it is incumbent on radio to talk about the new acts just like we talk about the Superstars.
The old slogan is true: If you play it, say it.
Many AC stations use song tags but this is not going to work on a current format like Country. WUBL in Atlanta used to tag the new songs. I like this but we need to know about what makes Dustin Lynch different from Greg Bates. Why is Edens Edge, beyond great harmonies, worth my 10 to 30 bucks for a CD or concert ticket?
I have talked about this many times and the recent CMA research convinces me that we are on the cusp of another format explosion. CHR Music is GREAT right now. The format has some killer music today but that music changes about every 6 months so who knows what acts will be noteworthy by Christmas on CHR.
Country is not like that. We are going to be playing Josh Thompson, Hunter Hayes and Gloriana for years. Let’s get to know them better. Ultimately we will see them on TV, which is the best way hook the face with the music, but radio is the best way to tell a story about the act.
As long as WYCD does not tell their listeners that Josh is a Green Bay Packer fan, he has a real chance to be star in Detroit.
We have so many great new acts to talk about, why keep the good news a secret?
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MusicRow.)
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About the AuthorCook is currently on the board of both the ACM and the CMA and serves as Director of Programming and Brand Management for West Virginia Radio Corp, based in Morgantown, WV. He is also President of McVay/Cook and Associates, a Cleveland-based media consulting company. He has served on the CRB Board for over 20 years.
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