We were rolling down the road in our small bus in Kigali, Rwanda when we came to a stop in traffic. Next to us was a local man who was listening to music in his car. It was rather loud and the windows were down. What did I hear? Alan Jackson.
Shortly after that in Italy I was told that Keith Urban is becoming very popular and country music is being received more readily because of the “new sound” that is appealing to them.
That got me thinking.
With brands expanding and the world shrinking, many products are making their way all around the global economy. Whatever can cross borders (including into our own) or break boundaries will experience growth. Those that cannot make a connection with other parts of the world will not experience the same growth and will be relegated as a niche or regional product.
The world of music and entertainment may also be held to this economy. Beyond the U.S. there is potential growth for a number of musical genres besides Top 40. Some, like Country, are distinctly American by birth and audience. With numbers shrinking over the past 10 years within the U.S., how can we grow a format that has not only a battle within our own borders, but strike out and be relevant to other cultures and countries? How do we effectively grow our share in the states and market to the rest of the world, while maintaining our musical integrity?
There are many ideas I’m certain, but one answer is our format must diversify. Diversify meaning welcoming talent of various colors and cultures without surrendering the validity of the genre. Country music has dabbled with it in the past by welcoming a solitary hispanic and black artist into the format. Satisfied, we patted ourselves on the back with one hand and then ushered them out the back door with the other. The musical atmosphere is currently seeing promising signs, but more must be accomplished for us to be respected and successful as a format in the years to come.
Country music is focused heavily on relatable and meaningful lyrics depicting everyday life. It’s about family, freedom, love, relationships, and faith – the fundamental core of our format. These are not just white rural American interests, but are things important to a majority of society. Even the country lifestyle group is more expansive than we make it. Certain acts have strong appeal beyond our self imposed borders and we should take advantage of that. I don’t think we fully are. I also don’t think we are inviting other cultures and ethnicities into our own backyard to participate in the future legacy of this format.
There is much opportunity.