NASHVILLE SKYLINE: How to Fix Country Music

Can We Energize the Music Without Neutering It?

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

Yeah, times are hard for everyone right now in the music business. Some things obviously need to be done immediately. Here is a modest manifesto of suggestions that could perhaps invigorate the music scene.

To: Country Music Songwriters

1. Next time you finish writing a song, ask yourself — truthfully — would I record and release this myself and be proud of it? If the answer is not a proud “yes,” then you should reconsider what you have just written. Are the lyrics just another laundry list of things that are supposedly country/Southern/small town? Are the lyrics manufactured to piggyback on a similar song that’s now a hit? Are the lyrics a naked attempt to be commercial? Or do they say something and speak to a person? Are the lyrics a song or a product? Is this song, in effect, your child that you would be proud to show to the world?

2. Or do you just want to crank out commercial ditties to make some “now” money?

3. I know I’m being idealistic, but I don’t understand how anyone with any self-pride and sense of worth can consciously and purposely do mediocre work. Maybe you don’t know that it’s mediocre, perish the thought. God help us, though, if that’s the case. I know country radio is a beast that needs to be frequently fed. Theoretically, there could be 51 new No. 1 country songs every year (Billboard takes a week off at year-end), so No. 1 songs are not really such a big deal. And many of them are perishable junk. And the odds of even five of those in one year being really good are very slim … but, still … one can hope.

4. Do you really want to churn out dross? And then smugly accept awards for writing crap?

To: Country Artists

1. Read the above memo to songwriters. Would you record that song if the songwriter wasn’t proud enough of it to be publicly identified with it? Are you proud of cutting a bad song that radio turns into a hit?

2. Do you want to still have a musical career 10 years from now? Twenty years from now? What are you doing in your career right now that you consciously know (but won’t admit) is sabotaging that hope? And are you just doing those things because your management or label insists that if you just make these compromises now, you’ll grab some fast success and quick money?

3. How much do your concert tickets cost? Do you know? Do you know the breakdown of where that money goes? Are you perhaps complicit in a little scheme to scalp your own tickets for kickbacks, like some well-known artists have been caught doing? (You’ll surely burn in hell if you are.)

4. When is the last time you had serious little chats/listening sessions with some of your fans? Do you actually listen to them? Do you pay attention to what they say?

5. What does your fan club membership cost? Do you know? What do the fans get for that? Would you pay that amount if you were a fan?

To: Music Labels

1. Good luck.

To: Country Radio

1. Clear Channel needs to do a Chrysler just to clear the air.

2. Clear Channel has just instituted a new policy of even more institutionalized national programming on all of its country stations. Country Aircheck says this about that: “The bad news is, the music is almost identical on CC stations from coast to coast.” Junk.

3. Get local. Be real. Be actual local radio stations again instead of being outlet components of an advertising conglomerate. Do remotes. Take calls. Get human. Listen to what listeners want. Ever heard of regional hit songs?

4. I want to hear a real person talking to me in real time. Someone who can tell me that there’s a tornado alert or a sudden death or a birth or any major development in the music world.

5. I want to hear someone like Gerry House or Bill Mack or Eddie Stubbs or Keith Bilbrey, who knows the music and knows who the artists are, actually talking to me.

6. Explain to me (and to artists) why radio doesn’t pay performance fees to artists for their songs that you play.

To: Country Fans

1. E-mail or write your favorite artists and tell them what you like or don’t like about what they’re doing. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions and requests. Remember this: You pay their salaries, and that makes you the boss. If you turn off the money spigot, there go their private jets and private islands and Bentleys and mansions. Use your power. Don’t be an idiot in comments and blogs. One jackass can contaminate a large area. Don’t be afraid to call out the offenders.

2. Don’t worry so much. Be happy!