"If you want to make ratings in country radio, take the females out. The reason mainstream country radio generates more quarter hours from female to male listeners at the rate of 70 to 75 percent, and women like male artists. The expectation is we're principally a male format with a smaller female component. I've got about 40 music databases in front of me, and the percentage of females in the one with the most is 19 percent. Trust me, I play great female records, and we've got some right now; they're just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females." (Read the full article taken from The Tennessean here)
Now, setting aside the fruit and vegetable analogy, if we examine these and other comments in the article, it reveals what I and I'm sure many others can see is a real problem with the state of country radio. If we look back over the years, we can see that this problem has existed for what could be considered generations, if we really look back on it. Focusing on the recent past, the problem I can see is this ridiculous notion of consultants steering the ship. The consultants at radio are in essence telling the listener what they would like to hear, when the reality is it should be the listener directing what gets played and what doesn't. That is to say, it shouldn't be so much about the name of the singer that automatically gets the record played on radio, it should be about the quality of the song and whether or not people like it. Male or female shouldn't play any part of determining whether or not the song gets played. If the song is good enough and the people respond, it's on the air. In my view, it was this attitude that took legendary artists like George Jones, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton and more currently Alan Jackson off the air over the years. Those artists and others like them were releasing high quality material, only to summarily dismissed at radio.
The comments from Keith Hill this week have drawn comparisons to other comments a few months ago from former Sony Music executive Gary Overton where he said he often reminds his staff "if you're not on country radio, you don't exist." Overton's comments drew the requisite firestorm on twitter and other media outlets, but I don't see the parallel between the two. In looking at the big picture, Gary Overton is in a different field than Hill. While I don't agree with the comments stated by Overton, I can see where he was coming from in making those comments. His job is to sell records at a major record label, where profit and the bottom line are key. It seems more of a statement to motivate his staff to get out and sell the single to radio, sell the record, create a buzz for the artists, and so on. It's an inaccurate statement to be sure, as the advent of Facebook, YouTube and the internet in general has made it possible for independent artists to not only survive, but thrive in the music business. As a veteran of the music business, I found Overton's comments were the sign of a more outdated way of thinking than a total insult to artists like Jason Isbell and Charlie Robison, both of whom took great offence to Overton's comments.
As of this writing, the story has not gone away and you can keep following on The Tennessean, Nashville's daily newspaper. Since the comments were first reveals, Hill has clarified his comments in an interview with the Tennessean. Unfortunately, the backlash has included death threats, which is nonsense. His colleagues have spoken against his philosophy, with Country Music Television president Brian Phillips stating that the industry should stop creating these arbitrary and imaginary rules that hinder the business in the long run.
To close off this piece, I think it's best to let one of the pioneer's of this business say all that needs to be said. Take from it what you will. Enjoy everyone!