Bennet Silverman asks:
Does it seem like the Country is the best way to make money in the music industry these days? Artists like Taylor Swift sell out in under one minute.
In the golden days of Hollywood "western" music was such a large part of the popular music culture that it was systemically fused to "country" music to form the "Country & Western" genre. In the 60s, as the popularity of singing cowboys on film waned, western music no longer had a distribution mechanism and the appellation was abandoned. Country music assumed its original one word description. Only the tragically un-hip used the old C&W moniker. It was a sure sign that the speaker was not "country" if they used the antiquated terminology previously espoused.
All music genres exist simultaneously and Country Music remains one of the stalwart forms. The Internet allows fans to focus on and explore any extant body of music from classical to classic rock. Although no particular form is attracting ubiquitous attention at this time, the blues, jazz, bluegrass, gospel, rock, electronica, world music, latin and hip hop genres all maintain large international followings. Country music is always a contender for mass popularity.
Supremacy in the market place is always "star" driven. The focus of public attention is drawn toward artists who demonstrate extraordinary talent within their chosen musical style. Country music is a very evolved musical style. It has very specific ingredients that connote the signature sound that makes it appeal to the core fan base. These include instrumental arrangements and vocal styling that bring the "twang" to the country music sound. The basic characteristics are long established and best demonstrated by virtuoso players and seasoned vocalists.
Country music achieved its classic form over 100 years ago as America's "folk" music. There has not been an original lick in the style in decades. Clearly defined, requisite components enable fans to analyze performances an adjudicate quality based on long established criteria. This familiarity gives consumers the ability to choose which artists maintain the standard and which do not. Artists who adhere to the traditional standards inspire the loyalty of fans and peers alike.
A country music fan is generally less fickle than the followers of other genres. It is far more difficult to gain their respect, but once accomplished the affection is more likely to endure. The security blanket provided by a stable fan base affords artists a more solid platform upon which to build a career. A country fan is less likely to "rip" a song from the Internet. His bonds with favored artists are powerful connections and fans are less likely to tarnish them by stealing
the music. This personal relationship keeps country music in contention for most popular genre.
The difficulties that are devouring the postmodern record business have several sources. Most are digital in nature. Low cost production, digital piracy, iPod ubiquity and the waning influence of broadcast radio as a research mechanism, are all contributing factors in the paradigm shift. A strong personal appearance system keeps country music fans close to their heroes. The "same page" quality control agreement between fans and their stars will keep the genre healthy for years to come.
Success and popularity rise and fall on the fortunes of the artists and their songs. When a great star rises their talents and charisma accelerate commercial viability. Sound business practice provides insurance that careers can be sustained. Country will always be a viable form that could break an artist into universal stardom at any time. The game becomes one of turning a great song into a quality recording and provoking sales through strong live performances. This is the way it has always been done and the decline of record companies will never change that dynamic. The show must go on and artists must be paid for their work. Country music pays.