Label Review – The Major Country Labels of Nashville

I’ve reviewed all kinds of artists from all across the world of country music and Americana. From all corners of the United States, to Canada, Europe, Australia and everywhere in-between I’ve listened and reviewed music here on Country Perspective. But today we’re going to do something a little different. Today I’m going to review the major country labels of Nashville. This is an idea I’ve had for a while and quite frankly is overdue. While it’s easy to bash the likes of Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt, we have to also remember they have a label behind the scenes pulling a lot of strings and really causing a lot of the problems in the genre today. They deserve a lot of blame for why there’s so much bad music because at the end of the day they don’t care about quality. All they care about is money and they will do anything to get you the consumer to fork over your hard-earned dollars. This includes pushing artists who have no business in the genre and are only here for a quick cash grab. So let’s take a look at the major country labels and grade them for their rosters they put out.

Sony Music Nashville

Good

  • Dolly Parton
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Brad Paisley
  • Cam
  • Miranda Lambert

In-Between

  • Maren Morris
  • Chris Young

Bad

  • Dee Jay Silver
  • Old Dominion
  • Lanco
  • Jake Owen
  • Chase Rice
  • Kane Brown
  • Tyler Farr
  • Kenny Chesney

Unknown/Irrelevant

  • Kix Brooks
  • Luke Combs
  • Seth Ennis

Analysis: Well looking at the good, it’s pretty much the ladies club with Paisley as a plus one. In fact all of the women except one on the roster fall under good, which is no surprise. You have a legend in Dolly, two stalwarts in Lambert and Underwood and promising young talent in Cam. Paisley appears to be on the right track again with his music. Young and Morris land on the in-between space because Young has turned into the country Daughtry (h/t to reader Nadia) and Morris is only country sometimes. The bad has some absolute doozies. Old Dominion are the poster boys for douche bands everywhere, Kane Brown thinks he can be the country Bieber, Lanco sounds like a bus stop and Chase Rice was a semi-finalist in our worst country artist tournament earlier this year. The bad ultimately outweighs the good, so I can’t give Sony Music Nashville a positive grade. But the good artists are good enough to save it from a failing grade. Grade: C-

Big Machine Records

Good

  • Tim McGraw
  • Jennifer Nettles
  • Maddie & Tae
  • Drake White
  • Reba McEntire

In-Between

  • Zac Brown Band
  • A Thousand Horses
  • Ronnie Dunn
  • Martina McBride

Bad

  • Danielle Bradbery
  • The Cadillac Three
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Eli Young Band
  • Brantley Gilbert
  • Justin Moore
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Cassadee Pope
  • Brett Young
  • Tucker Beathard
  • Aaron Lewis
  • Steven Tyler
  • Hank Williams Jr.

Unknown

  • Breaking Southwest
  • Trent Harmon
  • Lauren Jenkins
  • Midland
  • The Church Sisters
  • Tara Thompson
  • Ryan Follese
  • Kalie Shorr

Analysis: Big Machine is a large roster mostly full of crap. Of the handful of good artists they have, they’re pretty good and a mix of different styles. McGraw has become one of the leading proprietors of great music on the radio, Reba is a living legend, Nettles is one of the most underrated vocalists of the genre, Maddie & Tae have unlimited potential and Drake White impressed me with his debut album. Zac Brown Band will be back in good graces once they follow through on their promise for the next album. Dunn has left a sour taste in my mouth with the music he’s set to release, including an Ariana Grande cover (why?!). The bad is pretty self-explanatory with some of the worst pop chasers in the genre here to represent. I know people will disagree with Lewis and Hank Jr. under bad, but I will firmly stand by it. Lewis is a panderer and Hank Jr. put out a horrible album earlier this year (he isn’t trying anymore). There’s just so much terrible on this roster that is completely overtakes the good. Grade: D

Warner Music Nashville

Good

  • Ashley Monroe
  • Aubrie Sellers
  • Charlie Worsham
  • William Michael Morgan

In-Between

  • Frankie Ballard
  • Chris Janson

Bad

  • Blake Shelton
  • Big Smo
  • Brett Eldredge
  • Cole Swindell
  • Dan + Shay
  • High Valley
  • Hunter Hayes
  • Jana Kramer
  • Michael Ray
  • RaeLynn

Unknown

  • The Last Bandoleros
  • Ryan Kinder
  • The Railers

Analysis: Only having four good artists is pretty pathetic. But they are pretty good of the four. Monroe and Sellers are two of the best on a major label, Morgan is a traditionalist that has a lot of people excited and Charlie Worsham is an artist more people need to know (listen to his debut album). I would like to put Janson in the good, but I don’t know if he won’t fall back into the bad songs trap. Ballard is the type of artist that never wows you, but has decent enough music. The bad on Warner’s roster is pretty horrific, led by racist tweeter and the King of Petty Shit Mountain himself Blake Shelton. By the way if you say anything bad about Warner’s golden boy you won’t get the promised early copy of William Michael Morgan’s new album from them because Warner is run by assholes. Trust me I know. The rest of the bad artists aren’t even worth getting that angry about because they’re boringly bad and barely worth discussing. This is definitely a label in need of more substance for sure. Grade: D-

Broken Bow Records

Good

  • Craig Campbell
  • Kristian Bush

In-Between

  • Thompson Square
  • Trace Adkins

Bad

  • Jason Aldean
  • Dustin Lynch
  • Jordan Rager
  • Adam Craig
  • Lindsay Ell
  • Randy Houser
  • Parmalee
  • Chase Bryant
  • Joe Nichols
  • Granger Smith

Unknown 

  • Kristy Lee Cook
  • Jackie Lee
  • James Wesley
  • Brooke Eden
  • Runaway June (their first single is pretty good, but I want to hear more before putting them in good)
  • Walker McGuire

Analysis: Geez we’re getting worse with each label. Only two good artists on this label in Campbell, a traditionalist, and Bush, a singer-songwriter type who put out a solid debut album. Thompson Square and Adkins are pretty inoffensive and basically irrelevant. The bad artists don’t seem so bad until you really think about it. A majority of the bad artists need radio gerrymandering to even get airplay, which gives you a pretty good idea of how bad they are. At the same time they aren’t the absolute worst, so they have something going for them. Aldean is their only major artist and while his music has been inoffensive as of late, you can’t forget his past singles either. Grade: D-

Universal Music Group Nashville 

Good

  • Jon Pardi
  • Eric Church
  • Brothers Osborne
  • Alan Jackson
  • Vince Gill
  • Kip Moore
  • David Nail
  • George Strait
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Chris Stapleton
  • Josh Turner

In-Between

  • Dierks Bentley (before his latest album he was easily in the good)
  • Mickey Guyton (her latest single makes me question her)
  • Charles Kelley
  • Little Big Town
  • Darius Rucker
  • Gary Allan
  • Eric Paslay
  • Hillary Scott
  • Lauren Alaina
  • Billy Currington
  • Shania Twain

Bad

  • Luke Bryan
  • Keith Urban
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Haley Georgia
  • Clare Dunn
  • Sam Hunt
  • The Band Perry
  • Easton Corbin
  • Canaan Smith

Analysis: Here’s the perfect example of a label that plays it safe, while also hedging their bets. There’s a lot of great artists on this label, probably the best group of good artists out of all the labels reviewed here. But there’s about an equal group of bad artists and in-between artists. UMG Nashville could easily get over the hump if a few of the in-between artists put out better music, but could easily tank if they go the opposite. The great (Church, Musgraves, Stapleton, etc.) ultimately cancels the horrible (Bryan, Urban, Hunt, etc.) out. Grade: C+

Curb Records

Good

  • Mo Pitney
  • Wynonna & The Big Noise

In-Between

  • Lee Brice
  • Ruthie Collins (despite her EDM version of a Hank song, she’s quite talented)
  • Rodney Atkins
  • Love & Theft

Bad

  • Jerrod Niemann
  • Dylan Scott

Analysis: First off Curb’s artists section on its website is an absolute joke. So if I missed any of their artists, please let me know. Mo Pitney is a hands down the best artist on this label and it’s unfortunate how much they’ve mishandled him up to this point. Wynonna is a great veteran artist to have on any label. The in-between artists are an interesting bunch. When Brice tries he can be good, but he’s put out his fair share of crap. Collins is another one they’re mishandling. Atkins has been MIA for a while. The bad is pretty easy to breakdown: Niemann’s career peaked with his EDM-influenced country and will never reach those heights again. He’s a has-been, while Scott is a never-was and a never-will be. Why this guy is pushed so hard by Curb I will never understand. Scott couldn’t even properly cash-in on the bro country trend because he failed to garner a hit in the bro era. Remember when Curb had Tim McGraw? Grade: D+

 

So that’s my thoughts on the major country labels and their rosters. Let me know what you think of each of the labels and if I missed any artist please let me know.

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21 thoughts on “Label Review – The Major Country Labels of Nashville

  1. So is Faith Hill officially no longer with Warner? With the announcement of the Soul2Soul tour, I would expect new music. Do you think she’s moving to Big Machine with Tim?

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    • According to Warner’s website, no. She isn’t listed on the official artists page. Yeah I could definitely see her moving to Big Machine.

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  2. I would argue Lindsay Ell in the in between category, while her music isn’t country, she knows how to make a great hook and overall catchiness. Same with Cassadee Pope as a whole as her music is rather inoffensive. Same with Jana Kramer (really a lot of the major label females are making nuetral music, that is decent pop country).

    Also for Runaway June although their is no studio audio for it, check out a song of theirs cause “Blue Roses” it is so amazing!

    Finally I am shocked Raelynn is in the bad I know her voice isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but “Love Triangle” is a song I figured would potentially raise her in the middle tier.

    But I love this idea for a review. Really well thought out

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    • Haha he’s actually serious, even if I don’t take him serious. He puts out hick hop music and had a failed show on A&E a couple years back.

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      • Maybe I’m just showing my age but “Smo” is too close to “Schmo”. That’s why I had a hard time believing someone would take that name on purpose.

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  3. Love & Theft are signed to Curb Records too.

    Sony Music Nashville:
    So far Cam is a one-hit wonder. Overrated (just my unpopular opinion) & not-so-good.
    Seth Ennis – “Woke Up In Nashville” was released 6 weeks ago. Meh.
    Luke Combs – “Hurricane” sounds like a hit.

    Big Machine:
    “…Nettles is one of the most underrated vocalists of the genre…”. No, no & no.
    Tara Thompson is underrated & on the wrong label. She deserves better.
    Drake White is in-between at best. Martina McBride is on my “good”-list.
    Too many labels under the BMLG tent & too many (bad) artists.

    Warner Music Nashville:
    Ryan Kinder & the Railers are still signed?
    Charlie Worsham is the one album guy. A long time ago…
    Aubrie Sellers can sing. But the album is a disappointment.
    Frankie Ballards career is going downhill.

    Broken Bow:
    The worst “major” label on Music Row.
    James Wesley? Also known as James Prosser (2 singles on Warner Nashville 1999). His last single was released 2013. Looks like the career of a Curb Records artist.
    Not one good artist. Craig Campbell is in-between. “Tomorrow Tonight” & a couple of other songs are pretty bad. Kristian Bush? Jennifer Nettles background singer? The album is solid.
    Trace Adkins is killing the rest of his career on Broken Bow.
    Runaway June might be a good act. Time will tell. (I still prefer Post Monroe).
    The other artists are forgettable.

    Universal Nashville:
    Jon Pardi, Kip Moore & Brothers Osborne are ok. But good? Time will tell.
    One more bad single & Gary Allan will be on the bad-list.
    David Nail is good. But his sales are weak. Like Frankie Ballard he needs a hit. A big hit. Or he will be gone.

    Curb Records:
    Oh my.
    Mo Pitney. That’s it.
    Wynonna Judd (with or without band) is a great artist. Like Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson & George Strait i refuse to put Wynonna Judd on a list with people like Sam Hunt or Luke Bryan.

    What about Reviver Music?
    LoCash! Michael Tyler! Or Blackjack Billy with the summer hit “”The Booze Cruise”?

    With a big push (thank you country radio…not) LoShi….LoCash have the #1 song next week with “I Know Somebody” (up 6 places).
    According to “Country Aircheck” the next LoCash single will be “Ring On Every Finger”. Co-written by Jesse Frasure & Thomas Rhett.

    Things are getting better. For sure. Maybe 2017.

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  4. You forgot Josh Turner. He’s signed to UMG Nashville. I would put him in the Good category because I believe he’s put out very good mainstream country singles the past decade, except for “Hometown Girl”, whose lyrics are somewhat bland and cliche for my tastes.

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  5. This is a really cool idea, and it also lets you see which labels have deeper rosters, and which are doing “right” by their artists.

    Sony, Big Machine, & Universal all have several big name artists, curbed doesn’t really have any big names yet, and Blake basically carries Warner (which might be why they get so defensive). Theoretically that’d mean someone like Luke could take a risk, while Warner really needs Blake to sell.

    The label that I dislike the most at the moment is Big Machine, I think they’ve been doing a real disservice to their young artists and are basically killing careers (thought they’ve been great for Tim). Case in point, “love triangle” by Raelynn is a good song, BM refused to let her release it as a single. Maddie & Tae are struggling now as well.

    On the flip side Warner just pushed WMM to a #1 with a traditional song, and Universal did the same for Pardi.

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  6. I think Brandy Clark is Warner Bros. Warner should get points taken away since they do such a bad job of promoting their 4/5 actual good artists. Sadly Warner is the place great female singer songwriters go to be ignored.

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    • She is on the Warner label, but the Warner LA branch. Same case with Sturgill Simpson. That’s why they get different treatment from the artists on the Warner Nashville branch.

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    • Brandy Clark is on Warner Bros, not Warner Nashville, both are part of Warner music group. Atlantic Records is also owned by Warner music group, and runs Elektra records, which includes most of Dave Cobb’s stuff (so Brett Cobb, Anderson East, Southern Family).

      I think Warner Nashville’s emphasis (& strength) is radio. They tried pretty hard to break Ashley Monroe last year. Basically the only label that seems to do a good job with women is Sony.

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  7. I was wondering why Old Dominion is slated to tour with Miranda Lambert. My guess was that they must belong to the same label, because I can hardly imagine that Miranda would select those idiots as her opening act. Sure enough, it seems that (per usual) it was the label using these major tours to promote their newer “talent.” At least she got Aubrie Sellers to joint the tour.

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  8. Since Reviver Music bought a #1 hit with the current LoTrash single…

    Other labels with (more or less) surprise #1 artists: Black River with Kelsea Ballerini (& a couple of other artists nobody cares about) & Big Loud Mountain with Chris “Falsetto” Lane.
    Small labels with big pockets (& connections with country radio).

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  9. Hey Josh,
    I’m a Belmont PR student and I need to pick your brain about an article you wrote last year on Taste of Country and The Boot just basically copying and pasting press releases. If you could, please email me! I’m writing a paper on the last 20 yrs of PR in country music and would like a few minutes of your time. Thanks!
    Tiffany

    Liked by 1 person

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