Country Music Continues to Tighten Its Belt

The closing this week of the fan magazine Music City News is another notch in the economic belt-tightening country music has experienced of late. It coincides with the decline in country record sales in 1999 reported recently by SoundScan.

As of this month, Music Row magazine, a Nashville-based music trade journal, cuts back its annual number of issues from 23 to 14. CloseUp, the publication for members of the Country Music Association, has just switched from monthly to every-other-month circulation. (It is not, however, advertising supported.)

Last May, Modern Screen Country shut down, and in October Country Weekly cut its frequency to every other week.

The Grand Ole Opry, another country music barometer, is shaving expenses by reducing the size of its house band and temporarily relocating from the cavernous Grand Ole Opry House to the smaller Ryman Auditorium.

Kyle Young, director of the Country Music Foundation, which operates the Country Music Hall of Fame, says attendance was about the same in 1999 as it was the year before. “To our chagrin and sometimes to our delight,” he adds, “we don’t see much of a correlation between country music’s popularity and ticket sales.” He says there was not a significant drop in attendance after the “Urban Cowboy” boom of the early ’80s fizzled, nor was there a big increase when Garth Brooks took country music into the sales stratosphere in the early ’90s.

Whether the record companies have significantly less money to spend on advertising and promotion, or whether they are simply spending it elsewhere, such as for online services, is not clear.