Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed barrage of desperate advertising of country music. Every month, sometimes more than one a month, there is either an “Awards Show”, or some kind of “Special”. Country “stars” appear often on daytime and nighttime TV talk shows, being interviewed, then being allowed time to play at least one song. TV ads also include country “stars”. Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan are all over the place on TV. The reasons for this hammer job are beyond obvious. First, country music as a whole is not selling, hasn’t been for quite some time – since the mid 90s at least.
Let’s backtrack for a few. In 1980, the movie, “The Urban Cowboy” movie hit the screen, and millions of hipsters and posers bought up cowboy garb and filed into what was known at the time as “Country Bars”, or “Cowboy Bars”. Country music took a turn for the worst between 1980 and 1990. The music became “commercial”, being more “Pop” than country. More artists that I care to think about were told by their producers to move away from the traditional country sound over to the slick, grossly overproduced, “Wall of Sound”. The Nashville Machine took a lesson from other genres by hiring “Sessions Musicians”. They did do that to some degree before that, but when everything went “commercial”, they started with the tightly controlled studio scene, along with the also tightly controlled songwriter scene. So, now there were “Sessions Musicians”, and “Staff Writers”. Very seldom were artists and/or bands allowed to play their own songs, and, the bands were not allowed to use their players in the studio. By 1984, a small, exclusive handful of musicians were playing all the music for all the recordings – no matter – band, artist, or otherwise. Same went for studio “Producers” – the guys who call the shots in the studios – a tiny, exclusive handful. I remember going into a used book and music store sometime in the late 80s, to find endless reject bins full of CDs by current “Country” artists and bands. With most of the music being mindless, contrived white noise, I fully understood why things were as they were. About this time (mid 80s) the line dancing craze was starting, with the Nashville Machine catering to these narcissistic posers by putting out “music” that was recorded at a certain “BPM” (beats per minute) so that the line dancing crowd could do what they were doing. By the early 90s, bands were being phased out to be replaced by DJs – guys who must have spent HOURS practicing how to push “Start” and “Play”. The country bars, almost overnight, became “Dance Halls”, with the line dancer crowd monopolizing all the good seating, the dance floor, and any female who walked through the door. These self serving asses would order a bottle of water for a DOLLAR, and when they finished with it, do you think they would order another one, NO, they would go into the bathroom and fill it back up. The other part of the “Dance Hall” phenomenon included, first, bands who would mimic the latest songs from the “Country Top 40”, and have their lips so firmly lodged up the line dancers’ rear ends that any normal person in the place would lose their lunch. This quickly morphed into DJs having taken over the stages, the “Dance Halls” having invested in sound systems that had tens of thousands of watts of power, and stacks of speakers – catering, still, to the line dance crowd – the selfish posers who monopolized the establishments, while not supporting them. This right here is what had me baffled at the time, and baffled still – that all the club owners and management catered to the line dancers. By the mid 90s, add to the young posers in their Shepler clothes, we now had the ex disco dimwits – by this time, middle aged men and women – with the same self serving, snooty attitude as their younger counterparts. With all this, the youngsters who used to frequent country bars saw that they didn’t stand a chance of getting in a dance, or meeting a girl (or girl meeting guy), so they just quit going out to these places. These were folks who genuinely loved the music, supported the music, and supported the clubs – by actually buying stuff – CDs, concert tickets, T-Shirts, touring jackets, and whiskey when they were in the clubs – as opposed to the self congratulatory line dance crowd who rarely paid for anything – including their monopolizing of the dance halls. By 1998, the dance halls were quickly shutting down – and I mean shutting down all over the country. As you can see, there are no more country dance halls. You might find a small local bar that they might squeeze a 3 or 4 piece band into a tiny corner stage – mostly being way too loud for the 25 seater venue, and mostly not worth walking across the street to listen to.
Sometime around the mid 90s, I had the good fortune to catch a few “Documentaries”, where they were talking about the dismal “Unit” sales of country music – the bigwigs whining and sniveling about “Piracy”, blaming THAT for the horrible numbers. About that time, the number of signed country acts playing the 10,000 seater arenas went from hundreds down to tens. Since then, you have a small handful of country acts playing the big venues, while the rest play the 500 seaters – many times even those not selling out. Mostly who attends the country themed concerts are the teenagers. It disgusts me the ruthless trickery that is employed by the music industry – to get impressionable youngsters to buy their talentless, contrived B.S. With “Streaming Music” being the way of the world today, CD sales are even lower than before, with just a couple of the megastars selling enough for the pitiful record labels to recoup the dollars they put out for advertising.
So, we’ve gone from Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, and George Jones, to Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Trace Adkins, and Jason Aldean – how the hell is this even possible? You can’t tell me that real talent has simply disappeared from society. My guess is that any honestly talented artist will be ignored, and even squashed by the Nashville Machine. I’ve been to Nashville four times, first time in 1981, second time 1992, third time 2004, and last time 2013. In 81, there were country bars all over that town, and the town was crawling with people – tourists and locals alike – all looking for places to hear country music. The Urban Cowboy Craze had just begun, so the transition was going from conventional country bars to more showcase bars – where they would put on “Vocal Contests”. It was a huge scam, but there were still people in that town.
By 92, many of the bars were either gone, or had some other business – non music related in the space. The town was bordering on Ghost Town status – with that little one block area of Broadway between 4th and 5th being about the only place to find anything resembling a country bar. Printer’s Alley was no longer a place to hear music. The “Artists” and bands at the time were horrid – except for the one family bluegrass band that played a couple of the venues there. The “side men” (musicians who would play backup for the “artists”), made the rounds between the clubs in that tiny area – going from one venue to the next when shifts would change. All of these guys being middle aged, overweight men with scruffy beards, and jeans hanging halfway down their rear ends, and holey t-shirts. They would have learned the signature Nashville licks, which they would play on every song. The few fiddle players around town made noises that sounded, not kidding, like cats in heat. I did manage to hear a couple of half decent pedal steel players. The only time there were any crowds at all was on Friday and Saturday nights between about 9 and midnight.
By 2002, it wasn’t much different, the one block area being the majority of venues. Broadway was desolate, some of the businesses being boarded up.
My last trip there was in 2013, much the same, except that they extended the Broadway clubs down towards the river, and they added the Hard Rock Café. Still a ghost town, though.
So, with all the damage that the Nashville Machine has done, they’re desperate. The RIAA, along with all the upper management of Billboard, has been lobbying to reduce the royalties for the artists and writers. I also suspect, on writers, that they write under the “Work for hire” heading, so they don’t actually get royalties, they get a flat rate – leaving any profits to the Nashville brass. We must see all these new country “Awards Shows”, and specials. We’ll be seeing a lot of Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan, and whoever else they can shove down our throats via TV. The sad part is, as long as there are impressionable people – whether they be youngsters, or desperate adults, the Good Ol’ Boy Network of “Country Music” will always find a way to turn a profit at the expense of folks who fail to see the horrible, ruthless trickery that is designed to sell their talentless white noise.