I was at the gym this morning getting a workout on the bicycle. I plugged in my headphones to listen to one of the five television channels available to those in the facility. My choices were a Wall Street news show, the Golf Channel, the Today Show, a country music video channel, and an investment program. What? No ESPN?! Unbelievable! I was too busy peddling to ask the staff to change one of the channels, plus I figured I needed to catch up on my music videos. The decision was made.
While on the stationary bike I saw five videos amongst promos and advertising. All currents and all on the charts at the moment (one may be considered a recurrent). As a fan of music and a radio listener I was incredibly disappointed. Besides each video bringing an element of over dramatization, the songs were below average radio fodder. Each single was from a major label, around mid-tempo, had unoriginal lyrics, overdone themes, and predictable melody. They also had a nice hooks in the chorus and that’s all that really matters because they probably are testing well for radio stations. The lowest common denominator typically wins and real music lovers lose because Nashville will continue to release the songs that they think will test well for radio stations across the board. And then the time will come when radio will say, “Why isn’t Nashville sending us anything extraordinary?” The industry cycle feeds itself.
What happened to edgy? What’s wrong with passion and polarizing? When did going with your gut become so passe’? Taking a chance…..what’s that? Seems like there is less and less of that going on every day for a number of reasons.
Don’t get me wrong, there is still amazing music being released from an array of strong artists by labels. We are also fortunate to have the star power of Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, George Strait, Keith Urban, Darius Rucker, and Kenny Chesney among others. Still, a substantial amount of singles are background music designed to do exactly what radio needs them to do. Be unstylish, non-offending wallpaper. Don’t turn that dial! TSL! PPM! Familiarity! It’s okay if they all sound the same.
Take the new single from Radney Foster for example. Think it’s too out of center? Maybe, but that is exactly where our format gets its energy and relevancy from. Or what about the songs and artists that are “too country”? The heck you say! Perhaps out of center the other direction, but they are the foundation and lifeblood of our format. So thanks to Lee Ann Womack and those like her.
It’s always frustrating to know that the majority of listeners will never hear ground-breaking, original, and beautiful music that is being written, performed, and recorded by immensely talented artists. Unless of course they go to one of the numerous online options that offer discovery and personal playlists. There are, thankfully, exceptions in the radio world who push the musical envelope and you stations know who you are.
I realize this is a battle that has been going on for a long time and will continue to be fought and discussed. Like the exercise bike I ride that doesn’t go anywhere. It does grow tiring to be sure and everyone has an entitled opinion, but at the end of this day I’ll take exceptional music over mass mediocrity any day.