Your Take: Shuffle Board

Karlie Justus Marlowe | April 3rd, 2010

On April Fools Day, Brody posted a link to a recent survey of the Nashville record label landscape.

The article provides a rundown of country tastemakers:

According to this count, provided by label publicists, there are more than 175 country acts currently competing for airplay and sales. This total also includes those in the country subgenres of bluegrass and Americana.

In addition, there are 19 comedians whose recordings are overseen by country labels.

Because of the egos and privacy policies involved, it is difficult to determine if an act has been dropped by a label, has asked to sever its relationship or has declined to renew its contract. Therefore, this list simply notes the artist comings and goings within the past year.

Among the departures are Emerson Drive from Valory Music Co., Randy Owen from Broken Bow, Trace Adkins and Kenny Rogers from Capitol (Adkins has since signed to Show Dog-Universal) and the Bellamy Brothers, Hal Ketchum and Hank Williams Jr. from Curb. (Williams’ management office says he has not yet settled at another label.)

Also moving on are SHeDAISY, Jessica Andrews and Trent Tomlinson from Lyric Street, Rhonda Vincent from Rounder, Jennifer Hanson and Shooter Jennings from Show Dog-Universal, Jason Michael Carroll from Arista, Pat Green from BNA, Keith Anderson and Gretchen Wilson from Columbia Nashville (Wilson has since started her own label) and Shelby Lynne from Lost Highway.

The article also details each label’s artist roster and recent exits. Take a closer look here.

Looking at this survey, what artist departures and shufflings leave you most surprised? What do you think some of these artsts’ next moves will (or should) be?

Also, record companies often get a bad rap for using and abusing artists and sustaining the status quo of today’s radio climate. What country labels do you think are on the right path? What indie labels not part of this survey deserve more attention?

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  1. Razor X
    April 3, 2010 at 8:02 am

    The only recent label change that surprised me was Trace Adkins’ move from Capitol to Show Dog-Universal.

    I think there’s plenty of blame to be shared by the labels, radio, and the artists themselves for the current state of mainstream country music. The labels are in a tough position financially. I think their biggest offense is not releasing their artists’ albums. I can somewhat understand that with new acts that haven’t had a breakthrough single yet, but established artists deserve better treatment than that. Curb seems to be the worst offender in this regard.

  2. Josh
    April 3, 2010 at 8:52 am

    I second Razor X’s comment about the Curb appeal. :( Why would they do stink bombs at Tim McGraw’s unnecessary greatest hits package and Jo Dee Messina’s overly extended period of album release?? They really oughta lighten up over there…
    As for Jessica Andrews: I’ve missed her face since she’s really cute, but her moving to another label doesn’t prove anything. Nothing’s been out from her album in years. What’s up with her progress (anyone know)?

  3. Nicolas
    April 3, 2010 at 10:00 am

    I hadn’t heard that SHeDAISY parted ways with Lyric Street, but it doesn’t surprise me since its been 4 years now since the last album and they didn’t seem to be in any hurry to get A Story to Tell out =/

  4. Leeann Ward
    April 3, 2010 at 10:10 am

    I don’t know much about the innerworkings of record labels. I just speculate that Curb would be a label from which I’d stay far away. I have a lot of respect for Sugar Hill though. I tend to like most of their output, though I don’t pretend to know the inside scoop about their treatment of artists.

  5. numberonecountryfan
    April 3, 2010 at 10:40 am

    I think we can all agree that Curb Records is the tool of country music! ALL the artists who have left Curb will be better off, but who is going to sign them?

  6. Razor X
    April 3, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Does Curb sign their artists to 20 year contracts or something? So many artists have had problems with that label yet seem unable to leave unless the label dumps them.

  7. Matt Bjorke
    April 3, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Curb has the ‘toughest’ contracts in the business as far as opt out clauses and everything…

  8. numberonecountryfan
    April 3, 2010 at 11:22 am

    I see in my reference book that the Bellamy Brothers and Hank Williams, Jr. ALWAYS had an association with Curb Records (with Warner Bros. and Elektra for BOTH artists and MCA with the B.B.!). Of course, with the B.B., that ended when they started their own label during the 1990s.

  9. Razor X
    April 3, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Wynonna Judd has been a Curb artist since 1983.

  10. Mike Wimmer
    April 3, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    I’m really disappointed Trent Tomlinson never took off, it isnt a shocker considering how he was marketed and his neo-traditional sound coming at the same time as the Swift/Flatts boom, but he had some damn find songs. Hopefully he lands elsewhere and shows his potential.

    Also interesting will be to see what Pat Green does, if he just gives up on the Nashville crud and goes back to Texas and tries to get his rep back or if he jumps back into the Nashville waters and records boring pop-Country again.

  11. numberonecountryfan
    April 3, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Razor X is correct. However, I just saw that article (for the second time) and it says Wynonna is STILL on the label. She has been with Curb since 1983 (as the Judds between 1983-1991-with RCA). Then she was with MCA between 1991-1996, Universal and Mercury for one CD deals, and finally with Asylum (all this time maintaining her ties with Curb Records).

  12. waynoe
    April 3, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Marty Stuart will release a new album on Sugarhill. My respect for this label just went up, and it was good already.

    Why do artists stay with these neanderthals? They are usually owed money. Gretchen Wilson recently commented on that and she feels that her prior record label owes her money that she is entitled to. Sorry but I momentarily forgot who her prior label was.

  13. stormy
    April 3, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    I don’t know if we should count Shelby Lynne because she is one of those artists who makes an album and then pitches that album to the labels that seem best suited for it, isn’t she.

  14. Jon
    April 3, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Sugar Hill. Two words. Just sayin’.

  15. Razor X
    April 3, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    Razor X is correct. However, I just saw that article (for the second time) and it says Wynonna is STILL on the label. She has been with Curb since 1983 (as the Judds between 1983-1991-with RCA). Then she was with MCA between 1991-1996, Universal and Mercury for one CD deals, and finally with Asylum (all this time maintaining her ties with Curb Records).

    I was just commenting that she’s been with Curb for a long time. I didn’t mean to imply that she’d left. Sorry for the confusion.

  16. Janelle
    April 3, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    When I first read this, I was surprised that there are only 175 artists making up country music…just seemed like there should be a lot more. Then I thought about it again — 175 artists…yet how many do we actually get to hear on radio? Why aren’t all these artists being promoted by their labels? Seems like there is a group of about two dozen that are overplayed by mainstream country radio…thats just sad, there is obviously so much more out there thats being ignored.

  17. luckyoldsun
    April 3, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    I wonder why certain artists, who were having No. 1 hits not all that long ago, can’t seem to get an album issued on any label at all. Clint Black, Travis Tritt and Joe Diffie come immediately to mind. I know Black had his own label for a while, and Tritt was signed to some label run by a guy who was indicted, but still…

  18. Phil
    April 4, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Janelle: Simply put…The Consolidation Of The Music Industry into 4 major companies that own all the major labels in the 90’s. Those companies being Sony, Universal, Warner (WMG), and EMI (Capitol), along with The Telecommunications Act Of 1996 which monopolized radio into a select few companies (and in turn shortened playlists) are major reasons mainstream radio only plays a select number of these artists. And why there is so little variety on the radio today.

    In the end, my conclusion is the Music Industry would rather promote fewer Artists with all the money, and have those few artists make all the money for them, than promote a large number of artists and have them make just as much money, but cost more in promotional dollars. The Industry is basically throwing all of its eggs into a few baskets, rather than dividing those baskets up evenly. So, we the listener get stuck with fewer choices on the radio because of it, and new artists have a harder time getting their music heard on the radio, as radio is unwilling to take chances on newer artists, and instead want to only play what is familiar by only playing its “Superstars” in fear of driving the listener away. Nice strategy, because I quit listening to mainstream radio because of it thank you very much back in the 90’s. I tried listening again these past couple of years, but then realized why I quit listening in the first place. Plus, Country Radio’s Target Demographic is now going after a very select audience (and their focus is females under age 25 especially, and women between the ages of 35 and 54)…and that is the only demographic they care about.

    It’s funny, because if you watch most of the videos on youtube now by the artists the Country Industry is promoting and are getting radio play, and click on the tab that gives the statistics for those who watch those videos…it is that exact same demographic that I just mentioned.

    Personally, I think it’s ridiculous what the Country Music Industry is doing. They are ignoring a huge demographic of listeners…their core listeners. Their business model is not set up for the strategy they are trying to employ by bringing in these new fans who are not loyal to Country Music. And unfortunately for Country Music, they refuse to change their business model to keep up with the times. Instead, they are going full steam ahead with a strategy that is bound to destroy them…looking for more Taylor Swift’s for each label. How stupid is that? Isn’t one enough? Or should I say, too many? Especially given the fact that female artists are already having a hard enough time garnering radio play, and new female artists will only be seen as competition to the fans of the likes of Carrie and Taylor unless they offer something those two do not. But I’ve already been complaining about it for over a year…and the more I complain, the worse it gets, and the more I hear Taylor Swift (and those artists that are getting all the radio play like you mentioned)on the radio…which is why I turned it off. Especially since I can’t relate to any of it anyway.

    As far as answering the question that Karlie put forth about which Country Labels are headed in the right direction…honestly, I don’t know. They all seem to be going down the same path of self destruction. I guess that’s what happens when you put accountants and lawyers in charge, and take people out who actually care about the artists and the music they create. I’ll bet most of these Companies that own these labels don’t even know what artists they have on their labels. But I am hoping things turn around in the future…for the Industry’s sake, and for mine. Shall I continue? I’m sure I could come up with some food references. :)

  19. J.R. Journey
    April 4, 2010 at 10:03 am

    I’m like Leeann in that I don’t know much about the inner workings at labels. But I will comment on Curb … they seem to be the only label around that almost always ‘shares’ their artists with another major label. Is there a reason Curb partners with other major labels to release albums on certain artists? It’s not even the same major label usually. They’re just all over the place: partnering with Asylum to release LeAnn Rimes, MCA and Mercury for Wynonna, Warner and Elektra for Hank Williams Jr. and so on.

    Is there a simple to understand reason for this? No other labels hardly ever take on partners, and certainly not so many of them.

  20. Michelle
    April 4, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Happy Easter to the 9513 and all of its visitors! I hope each of you find the prize egg!

  21. Troy
    April 4, 2010 at 11:30 am

    @Phil To dispute your claim that its because of the 4 major labels and that superstar only get played one artist you used in your claims contradicts its self.

    Taylor Swift came up not being on any of the 4 major label groups. She also wasn’t a superstar when airplay got Tim Mcgraw up #6 and teardrops on my guitar to #2

    As for your youtube search the number 2 song right now Highway 20 ride top two groups male 45-55 next one male 34-44. I would imagine that you would see younger people be the top stat on youtube videos because that is probably the age with the biggest mode.

    Looking at the top 10 on country songs right now more songs are more geared to men 30-50 then girls 18-30. CU and LA are the only ones i see than fit 18-30 girls maybe Keith Urban songs buts that it

  22. Rick
    April 4, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    I’ve always contended that the people who run Top 40 Mainstream Airhead Country Radio are at least 75% responsible for the current pathetic state of big label commercial country music, and its probably a higher percentage. The radio folks have complete autonomy over what they spin what with payola being illegal and all. It doesn’t matter how excellent a new artist’s music might be if the radio people have no interest, and in most cases they don’t and especially where female artists are concerned. It almost seems that the quality of the music itself no longer seems to me a prime criteria anyway as popularity and pop culture appeal rule the day. The music is merely a “product” to be marketed to the target demographic to boost ad revenues.

    Big Nashville labels stay in business by selling large quantities of music and Top 40 country radio airplay drives that marketplace almost entirely. The labels must put out music radio will play, so Top 40 country radio is the tail that wags the major Nashville label dog and has dragged both down into a pit of mediocrity.

    I’m to the point that the whole Airhead Country music business could collapse and I wouldn’t miss it. The industry is resourceful though and I expect them to survive and prosper by continuing to evolve into a pop-rock genre with only token gestures to real country music. If real country music and the fans of that genre are marketplace casualties, the mainstream country mavens couldn’t care less as long as they make enough money to survive.

  23. Phil
    April 4, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    @Troy…you make some good points. But I was trying to look at the whole thing from an objective standpoint, rather than a case by case basis.

    If we want to look at each Artist individually, I’m sure there will be discrepencies. Such as the fact that Taylor’s biggest fans seem to be females between the ages of 13 and 25, and also males between the ages of 45 and 54, while Carrie’s biggest fans are all females between all those age groups (basically the same fanbase that power votes on Idol). Miranda and Carrie seem to share a lot of the same fans, or at least that same age and gender. Both were also on reality TV shows.

    As far as the male Country singers go, many of them had established fanbases long before the Carrie and Taylor phase hit because they have been around for a long time. For example Darius Rucker’s fans seem to be females under 18, but also both males and females between the ages of 45 and 54. The seasoned male Country artists all had a fanbase before Carrie and Taylor as well.

    It was funny reading an article about Brad Paisley. He was saying how when he went on tour with Taylor Swift there wasn’t a female bathroom that wasn’t full. When he went on tour this past year without her, there was nobody in the women’s restrooms (of course he was laughing when he said it). Probably because most of those female fans he was talking about were at the Keith Urban concerts, since that is who Taylor toured with this past year.

    Now, as far as Taylor goes and her rise to success…you will have to look at all the factors that led to that success. And not just the fact that she was not on one of the major labels. That includes her individual role, her families role, the media, publicity, the marketing strategy, and the Industry as a whole. I mean, I had never heard of her until she won New Female Artist Of The Year Award and had some waterfall get dumped on her. That in itself was one heck of a marketing and publicity triumph.

    Now as far as my contention about the consolidation of the Music Industry and Radio goes, people can judge for themselves what it has done to music and the artists being promoted today, and how it has affected the business cycle and decisions the Industry makes because of it. My contention is that it has hurt new artists especially because the Industy is more interested today in quarterly profits and their analysts on wallstreet than the actual Artists, the music, and most of all, the listeners.

    Which in turn, has made it difficult for a variety of Artists to be heard on the radio because they all follow the same playlists being handed down from one or two large corporations (such as Clear Channel or Infinity). And of course, those playlists are only going to include the most popular artists being played over and over again. Yes, radio has always done this, but because there were so many radio stations owned by many different corporations, the playlists and artists varied much more from market to market.

    I can give an example in Pop Music…between 1970 and 1979 there were 248 #1 Hits. Between 2000 and 2009 there were 119 #1 Hits.

    Anyway, here are a couple of articles about how consolidation has affected the Industry as a whole. One of which I already posted before. And while neither article is new, it shows what took place and why we are where we are today. Whether that’s a good thing or bad thing, I’ll let each individual decide for him or herself. I know that I noticed a change right away back when it happened.

    The 1996 Telecommunications Act and it’s affects on Radio

    The Consolidation of the Music Industry…be sure to read the full interviews

  24. Troy
    April 4, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    “I can give an example in Pop Music…between 1970 and 1979 there were 248 #1 Hits. Between 2000 and 2009 there were 119 #1 Hits.”

  25. Troy
    April 4, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    “I can give an example in Pop Music…between 1970 and 1979 there were 248 #1 Hits. Between 2000 and 2009 there were 119 #1 Hits.”

    This could also be like how the uk system is right now kinda of. Before itunes when physical singles were still the main way to buy music the first single would get the highest sales because radio play would start then physical single comes up and peak high then fall instead of system that happens with itunes where its gradually goes up till it reach its peak. Therefore allowing more number 1 singles.

  26. Janelle
    April 4, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    Phil, Troy & Rick — your posts are very informative and interesting to read! I don’t claim to know anything about this – how the labels work and how they work with the radio stations’ music directors, but I’m learning! Thanks for posting!

    However, I do fall in between these demographics “(and their focus is females under age 25 especially, and women between the ages of 35 and 54)…and that is the only demographic they care about.” and am just as unhappy as some of ya’ll are about whats being played on mainstream radio. I know what I like and what I don’t — I don’t need charts or radio or labels dictating what I should be listening to. I don’t care for Carrie or Taylor’s music…or a lot of Brad or Keith’s either. I don’t think every song on the radio should be one I love…but I sure wish there were more of them that I can stand listening to on these days! I work in an office and have Sirius radio on 8 hours a day…I normally listen to “The Highway” because they claim to play the newest music…I agree they do – but I don’t want to hear the same “new” song 20 times a day.

    Thanks again for sharing your information!

  27. Phil
    April 4, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    @ Troy…I also need to mention that in March of 1991 Nielsen Soundscan started tracking sales…so that could also be the main reason for this. There were 146 #1 hits in the 90’s…but starting in 1993, an average of only 10 songs per year went # 1.

    @Janelle, I probably should not have said that demographic is the only one they care about…I am 38 and have listened to mainstream Country radio for a couple of years up until recently (mostly for research purposes), and I usually ended up waiting for them to play an old Garth Brooks or Shania Twain or some other song from the 90’s. I just don’t relate to most of today’s music by today’s artists for the most part. And it did get tiresome that everytime I went on break I would hear the same song I just heard 3 hours before by the Zac Brown Band or Taylor Swift or Lady A, etc. So I am being very subjective. But Top 40 radio in every genre has always done this even before consolidation took place…played the same Top 20 artists and songs over and over again. But at least there seemed to be a lot more variety and selection and artists I liked in the past that appeased a wider audience because there was more competition from many different stations, because they were owned by different companies. Now where I live, we only have one Top 40 Pop Station and two Top 40 Country Stations. Or maybe I’m just getting old like my sister tells me. LOL

    Even when I listen to the oldies stations nowadays they play the same artists from the past over and over again with very little variety. I know that when XM and Sirius merged, the 70’s station only played one third of the songs, and even fewer artists than they played before the merger. I think it went from like 2400 songs to 800…so the listener gets fewer selections and less variety when consolidation takes place because it wipes away any competition…the exact opposite thing the Telecommunications Act was supposed to do in the first place.

    Anyway, just my opinions. There are probably other factors at play that I am not taking into account.

  28. Troy
    April 4, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    @Phil I actually was going to mention soundscan because i don’t believe some of sales numbers from before soundscan.

  29. Razor X
    April 5, 2010 at 9:02 am

    It’s not even the same major label usually. They’re just all over the place: partnering with Asylum to release LeAnn Rimes, MCA and Mercury for Wynonna, Warner and Elektra for Hank Williams Jr. and so on.

    They used to partner with another major label instead of distributing their albums on their own. I’m not sure why; I suppose they weren’t financially secure enough in the 80s and early 90s to do it by themselves. They had a deal with Warner Bros, and when that expired they struck a new deal with MCA and later with Capitol (I’m not sure if I’ve got those in the right sequence). The new deals only affected new signees going forward — so anyone who was signed to MCA/Curb didn’t get moved when Curb struck a deal with Capitol, but any new artists were signed to Capitol/Curb.

    The Judds were signed to RCA/Curb; I don’t recall ever seeing any other artists signed to RCA through Curb. Sawyer Brown and Marie Osmond were on Capitol/Curb and both later moved to Curb only. Hank Jr. was with Curb through Elektra and later Warner Bros., and he too eventually moved to Curb only.

    Of course, none of this explains why they continue to shelve their artists’ albums.

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