So there’s been talk here and there of there being another format split for country music, with Cumulus and Big Machine Records reportedly coming up with a “NASH Icons” brand for radio that showcases artists from the last 25 years. All this is amidst the ever-escalating complaints about country music and country radio alienating the older listeners to the point that, in the words of Edison Research president Larry Rosen, “We run the risk that we just are more and more pleasing to fewer and fewer people until all we are is ecstatically pleasing a tiny, unsustainable number of people.”
It makes for interesting speculation, for sure…but you know what this means, right? Go back to the bit about “the last 25 years.” 25 years ago it was 1989. So this would seem to imply that nothing before 1989 is going to be played.
And quite frankly, I for one have a huge problem with this. I know there are a lot of people who seem to be nostalgic for the 1990s-2000s era of country music, but I grew up in the 1990s. I remember the genre’s explosion in popularity. And I also remember how that old music was thrown off the radio to make room for that new music. And from what I remember, it was a decidedly mixed bag. Do we really want to throw Merle Haggard and George Jones off the radio to make room for Mark Wills and Bryan White?
Yeah, I know. “That’s not fair! They were outliers!” Maybe so, but even so, if you’ll remember, the complaints about country music getting more pop started ramping up again — wait for it! — in the mid-1990s, with the rise of people like Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, and the like gaining prominence. “Murder On Music Row” as a musical event came about a full 11 years after this period started!
What am I getting at? Well, other than questioning the possibility of the true classics of the genre getting booted off radio, here it is.
The problem isn’t just that not enough older country music is getting played. The problem is also that the “country music” that is getting played anymore has virtually no connection whatsoever to the country music of the past, and I would bet you that is alienating people at least as much as the fact that older music isn’t getting played as much anymore. That whole “ecstatically pleasing a tiny, unsustainable number of people” bit applies to this as well. What country music is doing right now is playing to the shallow, fickle pop fans who will be on to the next big thing when it comes along as opposed to the people loyal to the genre for however long they’ve been there. And this whole “playing music from the last 25 years” seems to me to be a really short-sighted approach to the issue. I can understand why they wouldn’t be playing that older music; frankly, even as much as a lot of it sucked, playing, for example, Alan Jackson’s “Gone Country” right before Florida-Georgia Line or Jason Aldean would be more than a bit jarring. But that’s just the way it is, and if the “country” “singers” of today actually did respect country music as a genre and made music reflecting that, it would fit in a lot better. It’s the same phenomenon that we saw back in the ’90s, albeit taken to a further extreme.
I understand it, sure. But make no mistake, I still think it’s a crappy situation and this isn’t going to fix it. We don’t just need more old music on the radio. We need better new music too.