The Hodgepodge: Country Radio’s 15 Minutes of Fame Strategy

This week’s opening will be short. I just started a new job this week so I haven’t had a ton of time to thoroughly think through this topic, but it’s something I want to dive into and would love to see readers’ thoughts on this.

Mainstream country labels seems to aim more and more for just one hit single. For all the radio hype Chris Lane got for “Fix,” his album sales tell a different story. Girl Problems hasn’t sold well out of the gate, debuting at #8 on Billboard last week and falling off the charts this week. Outselling Lane last week was Texas Country star Cody Johnson, who still remains on the charts this week. And Cody Jinks, who debuted at #4 this week with I’m Not the Devil sold more than Girl Problems did.

It’s not really breaking news that independent country stars have strong album sales, as we saw last year with Aaron Watson, Jason Isbell, Blackberry Smoke, and Turnpike Troubadours all reaching number one on the album charts. A main reason for this could be the fact that independent fan bases seem more willing to purchase an album to support their favorite artist. But being able to sell an album well, especially at the heels of a hit radio song, could signify the longevity for an artist. Yes, Cody Johnson and Cody Jinks have established careers and released multiple albums prior to Gotta Be Me and I’m Not the Devil, but strong album sales only cement their place with their fans and in the music industry.

However, with Chris Lane selling poorly after “Fix” hit number one just screams one-hit wonder. So many times, we see artists, particularly trend-chasing B/C-level artists, only perform well at radio with a song or two. Most albums seem to get delayed, or they simply just sell like crap. How do Chris Lane or Big Loud Records expect to see any follow-up success? Not that I want to hear another full-fledged pop song from Lane, but why wasn’t Girl Problems given the same type of promotion as “Fix”? I just don’t understand why they chose to play the short game for 15 minutes of fame. Chris Lane isn’t the first, and he won’t be the last. This is just one of many, many problems with mainstream country radio.

Country radio is in the pits, and these hot, one-hit wonder type songs is a short-sighted attempt to gain listeners and revenue. Labels and radio execs aren’t thinking of the long game to improve and crawl out of its self-dug hole. I don’t claim to be a programming expert, but this type of strategy screams short-term thinking. It’s treading on water without looking for a boat to help stay afloat. And as long as radio continues this thought process, we’ll be continually treated to trendy singles followed by poor albums. Artists and labels who think solely about the one single and not the album are not building a sustainable music career.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • Jack Ingram‘s Midnight Motel will be released tomorrow.
  • Whiskey Myers’ newest album, Mud will be released September 9.
  • Also coming out on the 9th is St. Paul & The Broken Bones‘ Sea of Noise.
  • Amanda Shires will release her new album My Piece of Land on September 16.
  • Erik Dylan‘s Heart of a Flatland Boy will be released on October 21.
  • Mack McKenzie is releasing his sophomore album A Million Miles on October 22.

Throwback Thursday Song

Merle Haggard’s “My Favorite Memory” This single from Haggard was released on this day in 1981, and would go on to become Merle’s 25th number one single.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Frank Ocean Blonde In an act of defiance against the major labels and streaming, Frank Ocean left his label and self-released his highly anticipated sophomore album exclusively through Apple. With labels/streaming services/artists all at odds, this kind of move is big and could lead to more artists acting in the same fashion.

Tweet of the Week

It’s been a big week for Erik Dylan, who performed at this Guy Clark tribute with the likes of Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, and others. Dylan’s upcoming album was also made available for pre-order.

iTunes Review for Florida Georgia Line

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 10.29.54 PM

This was left under Florida Georgia Line’s Dig Your Roots, which is due out tomorrow. I’ve only heard “H.O.L.Y.” and “God, Your Mama, and Me,” but I haven’t been crazy about either song. This review says it all!

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28 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: Country Radio’s 15 Minutes of Fame Strategy

  1. The charts really don’t mean anything anymore. It’s all politics to get as many songs as possible to hit #1. There’s nothing like the Beatles holding the spot for 20-some weeks anymore. It’s generally one and done to cycle more songs through.

    As far as album sales, most people who like Chris Lane probably just listen to stuff on the radio. They’ll buy what they hear on the radio as singles and ignore album tracks. On the rare occasion I buy a mainstream song, I’ll do this, but more because the rest of the album is usually crap.

    On the other hand I pre-ordered Cody Jinks as soon as it was announced. I am perfectly happy with that decision in hindsight.

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  2. I have no clue why radio doesn’t pay attention to song or album sales. Guys who sell terribly with their albums like Chris, Frankie Ballard, Dustin Lynch and many others all have many #1’s (except for Chris) but sell terribly with their albums. Tucker Beathard is on the cusp of the top 10 despite his song selling absolutely terribly. Meanwhile acts like Stapleton barely scrape the top forty while acts like Cody Jinks and Aaron Watson can’t score a hit either.

    I know I haven’t really said anything that hasn’t already been said but that’s because it’s just such a confusing predicament. There’s no good reason I can find for why they don’t pay attention to album or song sales.

    Fun fact: Cody actually released “I’m Not The Devil” to country radio. It won’t do anything but it’s still cool.

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    • I’m in central Texas this week, and the stations out here have a lot more variety than I’m used to when I travel most places. The last couple of days, I’ve been listening a lot to KNBT “Americana” out of New Braunfels, and they’ve played Chris Stapleton (album cuts, not just the singles), Cody Jinks, Margo Price, Aubrie Sellers, Black Lillies,Dale Watson, Steeldrivers, Sam Bush, and on and on. During a commercial break, I flipped channels and another station was playing Sturgill. It’s a very refreshing departure from the “country top 40” formats I’m used to hearing back home.

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  3. I’d like to think that the final sales figures will be akin to the nail in the coffin for “Girl Problems” and Chris Lane having expanded chart presence on country/”country” radio.

    Then again, look at Kelsea Ballerini. Her debut album only sold approximately 13,500 copies in its opening week, yet that hasn’t stopped the small independent label Black River Entertainment from pumping countless resources and time into her brand. They are absolutely adamant about developing her as the flagship entertainer of their label much like Jason Aldean and Broken Bow Records.

    And, since its release on May 19, 2015………………”The First Time” has sold about 167,000 copies total. You heard that right! After 65 weeks of release, it has sold an average of 208 albums a week. That’s a pathetic return rate for an album this young!

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    • Kelsea Ballerini has 2 gold singles and 1 platinum single. So it’s not exactly like she’s struggling as her fanbase is widely growing as she just announced her first headlining tour.

      Also “Peter Pan” is her first single too reach the Top 2 on the Mongrel Chart. I see nothing but potential that she’ll be a future superstar, slowly but surely.

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      • Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line have fanbases that grew as well. That doesn’t make them good, and it certainly doesn’t make them country.

        Truth be told, Kelsea Ballerini would be a decent singer in the pop world, and “Peter Pan” is actually a decent song, but again, as a pop song, not as a country song.

        The real issue is that the fanbase you’re referring to her growing is a fanbase that has been promoted to rather than achieved through good old fashioned hard work, the way fan bases of artists like Cody Johnson, Jack Ingram, Cody Jinks, and other artists. Jack Ingram fans waited literally SEVEN YEARS (almost to the day) for new music from him. The promoted artists put out two singles before the album even drops, and most of their fanbase never even think much about the album cuts (except to use one or two to try to prove that “they are actually country”).

        .

        Okay, that’s my little rant for the evening.

        On a happier note, I want to comment on how fantastic the new Jack Ingram album is. It is absolutely superb.

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        • I’m looking forward to checking the new Jack Ingram album out. With a two week break in album releases, this should give Derek and me enough time to work our way through all of the releases of the past couple weeks before we get to an absolute stacked fall release schedule.

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    • I just realized the calculator error. Meant to say 2,080! -__-

      Still a number of great suckitude, though.

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  4. As for the new Florida Georgia Line album, I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction for them…………………….but it still leaves much left to be desired due to the fact there’s no singular song as potent as “Dirt”, nor as lyrically ambiguous as “Confession”, intact.

    Rather, you have to settle with an album where most tracks come across as reasonably thoughtful and comparatively toned-down to their first two albums, but there aren’t exactly many moments that captivate you. I’d say the closest they come to doing so is with “While He’s Still Around” (an ode to Brian Kelley’s father). But, as a whole, while it is kind of refreshing to hear the duo sing about commitment on respectable tracks like “Grow Old” and “God, Your Mama & Me” and acknowledge pride in where they come from elsewhere that isn’t nearly as obnoxious as before………………..I’m still left wanting more since we already know they recorded “Dirt” and “Confession”.

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  5. Big Loud is (more or less) busy pushing Morgan Wallen (“The Way I Talk”).
    How long can a (smaller) label like Black River rely on the success of one artist like Kelsea Ballerini? Right now she needs country radio. KB might try the Taylor Swift road later. But she is still not a household name & not selling like Taylor Swift. Country radio on the other side…there are enough girls with decent voices on small labels.
    Chris Falsetto…Lane is not Sam Hunt & Big Loud is not MCA Nashville. He (Lane) will be gone with the next trend Nashville will push. Country radio (iHeart & Cumulus) will not change the current formula. Labels like Big Loud will come & go. Style over substance (radio, labels & artists).

    New artist/album: James Dupre – Stoned To Death – 10 songs – Purfectt Pitch – released (06/17)
    James Dupre was on “The Voice”. The album was produced by Jordan Lehning & James Dupre wrote songs with Jessi Alexander. The album is a very solid debut. Not groundbreaking but full of good songs & the voice of JD is unique. Two singles so far: “Someday Today” & “Stoned To Death”. My highlights: the singles, “Whatever That Was”, “Sad Song” & “Lonesome Alone”. 8/10.

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  6. I suspect that in a lot of cases these labels know that the performers aren’t career artists so why commit the resources to an album when you can go all in with some trendy single and then move on to the next thing. This really is a new thing for country music as there really haven’t been many of what have been traditionally called ‘one hit wonders’ which have been and continue to be a feature of pop music. The fact that country music allowed for such long careers has always been a selling point for me but that is changing now.

    Obviously there have been acts that chart only one song but not many that have had big hits let alone #1’s that have virtually no follow up success. One that comes to mind from the last couple of decades is ‘I Loved Her First’ by the band Heartland which hit the top in 2006 and was followed by two songs that peaked in the high fifties and then oblivion.

    Sure there are others but not many.

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  7. I think what Lane and “Fix” going #1 really represents is the downside of the genre becoming more popular. As Scotty said above, one-hit wonders have traditionally been associated with pop but we’re now seeing it with country. Country has become a popular genre and embraced the pop sound, so it’s no wonder we’re starting to see country take on the characteristics of top 40 singles. But the thing is Lane’s accomplishment of reaching #1 is so hollow and really means nothing. When you have dreadful sales like him it’s factual, hard proof. Artists like Cody Johnson and Cody Jinks are building real, sustainable careers before our eyes. They may not be on country radio ever or be featured on the CMA awards, but ten years from now they’ll still be making music and selling albums. I highly doubt Chris Lane is remembered, along with several others from this era. Sam Hunt will be looked back at like the Backstreet Boys are now. Made a lot of money, was huge for a short period, but largely irrelevant when looking at the full scope of the history of the genre. Ditto Florida Georgia Line and Old Dominion. We’re already seeing Chase Rice, Parmalee and Jerrod Niemann are largely forgotten. Tyler Farr isn’t too far behind. Dustin Lynch is willing to do anything to avoid the same fate, even though he’s destined for the recycling bin. Then you have an act like Lady Antebellum, who I think would be best off broken up because their days of being in the spotlight are finished. Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott are best off going at it solo and forging their own paths. The Band Perry’s “comeback” was dead before it even started.

    All of these acts didn’t think long term before it was too late. In order to be remembered you have to actively work at it and continue to put out the best music possible. Eric Church is one of the best examples. Read his recent interviews on touring, singles and Mr. Misunderstood. He’s someone who truly gets what it takes to make a real, memorable career. It’s because from the very beginning he looked at the big picture down the road years from now (he held a music video for ten years!) instead of just focusing on what to do today to please the suits and pencil pushers at the label. The big picture artists will have biopics and books made about them 30 years from now, while your flavor of the month types will be playing at your local bar for $10 per ticket. But I wouldn’t even go see LoCash for free…

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    • Yep, whatever you think of ‘I’m Too Sexy’ by Right Said Fred or ‘Macarena’ or that Gotye song from a few years ago they were all unquestionably hits and very popular in sales/radio and the fact that the performers never had another hit can’t change that.

      Maybe this wouldn’t be a big deal if it felt like these were actual hits like those mentioned above. But it all feels so phony.

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      • Right Said Fred…well…the guys had a couple of more hits in Germany & Austria like “You’re My Mate”.

        Career advice for the next “country” one hit wonder (male version):
        – sign with an unknown/new label & be the first artist
        – gym
        – befriend Old Dominion, Shane McAnally, Ashley Gorley, Ross Copperman, Chris DeStefano…
        – falsetto
        – grow a beard
        – shave your chest hair
        – gym
        – hair dresser
        – fancy shirts
        – accessories
        – gym
        – open your shirt
        – talk about god, willie & waylon
        – gym
        – photo shooting
        – stylish video
        …songwriting?…studio?…music?…singing?…well…after the gym & hair dresser…maybe…

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  8. http://countrymusicinthenews.blogspot.com/2016/08/no-fix-please-make-chris-lane-disappear.html – this explains part of it, it’s pure incest. I think people are sick and tired of being force fed what to listen to. Yes Scotty J. – it is phony has hell and stinks like a fresh turd.

    Streaming services with your own option what to listen to are the future – radio is dead and may only survive as a news / weather / traffic outlet if that or in special formats catering to different interest groups, like Texas Red Dirt music. Even though I even see a decline in quality there too – where a different formula is milked and force fed to the baby (listener).

    As a former DJ I personally think that all that demographics and impact stuff is bullshit. In the old days we exactly knew what would become a hit, what kept our listeners tuned to the station. A lot was variety too – not 80 spins of the same song in one week. Do the math – the song is roughly played every two to three hours. We not only played hits and recurrents but also classics – going way back into the archives.

    I think the few radio programmers that are left do not understand that the listening public is actually mature enough and can’t be force fed – look on how Jon Pardi’s decent single “Head Over Boots” had the streams, had the sales but barely made it to number one. Radio used to be the outlet to tell people what’s new – it isn’t anymore. YouTube, Pandora, Spotify and people communicating with each other on Social Media will dictate in the long run, he will make a substantial career in the music business and who will not.

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  9. I don’t know if my comments from last week inspired this… 😀

    …but at any rate, there’s not really anything to argue with here. I know album sales might not be as big of a thing as they once were, but the fact is that the artists selling albums instead of having their music streamed are the winners at the end if the day, because as we all know, buying the music instead of just streaming it puts more money in the artists’ pocket. A LOT more. Just the same, though, I would kill to see how many records the likes of Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Aaron Watson would sell if they got played.

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  10. I saw Chris Lane open for Dustin Lynch (I actually thinks he has some good songs) and it was the furthest thing from country I’ve seen. A bunch of tight pants wearing guys with hipster shows. His guitarist had leopard print shoes on and a v neck down past his chest. the whole thing was just douchey

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