In spite of the continuing drop in the number of country albums sold, there has been no corresponding decline in the number of people who want to become country stars. Nor have record labels cut back significantly on the size of their rosters.
CMT.com has just concluded its annual survey of who's currently signed to the top record labels and who's recently departed them. According to this count, provided by label publicists, there are more than 175 country acts currently competing for airplay and sales. This total also includes those in the country subgenres of bluegrass and Americana.
In addition, there are 19 comedians whose recordings are overseen by country labels.
Because of the egos and privacy policies involved, it is difficult to determine if an act has been dropped by a label, has asked to sever its relationship or has declined to renew its contract. Therefore, this list simply notes the artist comings and goings within the past year.
Among the departures are Emerson Drive from Valory Music Co., Randy Owen from Broken Bow, Trace Adkins and Kenny Rogers from Capitol (Adkins has since signed to Show Dog-Universal) and the Bellamy Brothers, Hal Ketchum and Hank Williams Jr. from Curb. (Williams' management office says he has not yet settled at another label.)
Also moving on are SHeDAISY, Jessica Andrews and Trent Tomlinson from Lyric Street, Rhonda Vincent from Rounder, Jennifer Hanson and Shooter Jennings from Show Dog-Universal, Jason Michael Carroll from Arista, Pat Green from BNA, Keith Anderson and Gretchen Wilson from Columbia Nashville (Wilson has since started her own label) and Shelby Lynne from Lost Highway.
Artists who continue to rack up impressive sales figures tend to remain loyal to their record labels, although once they've completed the terms of a contract, some are occasionally lured away by more attractive offers. Because the marketplace is so crowded and the standards so shifting, however, some acts will very likely be dropped or serve out their contracts without ever releasing an album. Some will enjoy a modicum of radio exposure, release an album or two but never really catch on with fans. Still others will fall victim to label politics before going on to try again at other labels.
Although the Internet is increasingly important in breaking an artist, radio remains the do-or-die showcase. But playlists are small and promotion is outrageously expensive. So it's a long road between breaking into the Billboard charts and journeying to the top. For example, it took 24 weeks for Josh Turner's current single, "Why Don't We Just Dance," to reach No. 1.
On a happier note, some of the artists listed below have flourished for years on the label they first signed to, including George Strait (who has spent 30 years on the MCA roster), Alan Jackson (who's been with Arista more than 21 years), Tim McGraw (who's inhabited the Curb roster for 18 years) and Alison Krauss (who's spent 25 years with Rounder).
Whatever their past glories or long-term prospects may be, here are the artists currently attached to country music's most active record labels. Those denoted as having exited a label reflect activities since March 2009.
Brett Eldredge, Jesse Lee, the Invite, the Zac Brown Band (Home Grown/Atlantic Records).
BIG MACHINE/VALORY/REPUBLIC NASHVILLE
Big Machine: Taylor Swift, Trisha Yearwood, Steel Magnolia, Jack Ingram, Jaron & the Long Road to Love, Melissa Peterman, Eden's Edge. Exiting: Kate & Kacey, Adam Gregory.
Valory Music Co.: Reba McEntire, Jewel, Jimmy Wayne, Justin Moore. Exiting: Emerson Drive.
Republic Nashville Records: The Band Perry, Fast Ryde, Sunny Sweeney.
BLACK RIVER MUSIC GROUP
Jeff Bates, Sarah Darling.
BROKEN BOW/STONEY CREEK
Broken Bow: Jason Aldean, James Wesley, Blake Wise, Krista Marie. Exiting: Randy Owen.
Stoney Creek: Ash Bowers, Thompson Square, Crossin Dixon, Megan Mullins.
CAPITOL/EMI RECORDS NASHVILLE
Capitol Nashville: Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Walker Hayes, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Jennette McCurdy, Darius Rucker, Keith Urban, Emily West. Exiting: Trace Adkins, Kenny Rogers. Comedian Roster: Rodney Carrington, Mark Gross, Roy D. Mercer, Tim Wilson.
EMI Records Nashville: Troy Olsen.
Rodney Atkins, Bomshel, Lee Brice, Star De Azlan, Tyler Dean, Ashley Gearing, Steve Holy, Martin Ramey, Tim McGraw, Jo Dee Messina, Heidi Newfield, LeAnn Rimes, Rio Grand, Clay Walker, Hank Williams III, Wynonna. Exiting: Bellamy Brothers, Hal Ketchum, Ray Stevens, Hank Williams Jr.
LYRIC STREET RECORDS
Rascal Flatts, Bucky Covington, Sarah Buxton, Love and Theft, Tyler Dickerson, Kevin Fowler, the Parks. Exiting: SHeDAISY, Jessica Andrews, Trent Tomlinson.
Alison Krauss & Union Station, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Steve Martin, Willie Nelson, Joe Diffie, Dailey & Vincent, the Grascals, Alecia Nugent, Blue Highway, Bobby Osborne, Claire Lynch, Dan Tyminski, Danny Paisley & the Southern Grass, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Earl Scruggs, James Hand, J.D. Crowe, NewFound Road, Sierra Hull, the SteelDrivers, Tony Trischka, Dry Branch Fire Squad, James King, Tony Rice, Summertown Road. Exiting: Rhonda Vincent.
SHOW DOG-UNIVERSAL MUSIC
Toby Keith, Trace Adkins, Eli Young Band, Mica Roberts, Ashley Ray, Baylie Brown, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Carter's Chord, Joe Nichols, Jonathan Singleton & the Grove, Phil Vassar, Randy Houser, Trailer Choir. Exiting: Mac McAnally, the Clark Brothers, Katrina Elam, Andy Gibson, Jennifer Hanson, Shooter Jennings, Angela Wolff, Kevin Costner & Modern West.
SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT NASHVILLE
Arista Nashville: Adam Brand, Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, Jypsi, Jerrod Niemann, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood (label affiliation is 19 Recordings/Arista Nashville). Exiting: Jason Michael Carroll.
BNA: Kenny Chesney, Chris Janson, Craig Morgan, Kellie Pickler (label affiliation is 19 Recordings/BNA Records), the Lost Trailers. Exiting: Pat Green.
Columbia Nashville: Miranda Lambert, Montgomery Gentry, Josh Thompson. Exiting: Keith Anderson, Caitlin & Will, Gretchen Wilson.
RCA Nashville: Sara Evans, Danny Gokey (label affiliation is 19 Recordings/RCA Nashville), Martina McBride, Jake Owen, Chuck Wicks, Chris Young. Exiting: Crystal Shawanda.
Darryl Worley, Houston County, LoCash Cowboys.
SUGAR HILL RECORDS
Joey & Rory, the Infamous Stringdusters, the Red Stick Ramblers, Marty Stuart, Sarah Jarosz, Sarah Borges, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Sam Bush Band, Black Prairie, Donna the Buffalo. Exiting: The Duhks, the Greencards, the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Maura O'Connell, Bryan Sutton, the Seldom Scene, Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson.
UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP
Mercury Records: Laura Bell Bundy, Coldwater Jane, Easton Corbin, Billy Currington, Julianne Hough, Jamey Johnson, Randy Montana, Randy Rogers Band, Julie Roberts, Sugarland, Shania Twain, Holly Williams.
MCA Nashville Records: Gary Allan, Vince Gill, Mallary Hope, Josh Kelley, David Nail, Charlie Pate, Ashton Shepherd, George Strait, Josh Turner, Lee Ann Womack.
Lost Highway Records: Ryan Adams, Ryan Bingham, Hayes Carll, the late Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello, Mary Gauthier, Robert Earl Keen, Black Joe Lewis, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams. Exiting: Donavon Frankenreiter, Golden Smog, Jayhawks, Shelby Lynne.
WARNER BROS. NASHVILLE
Frankie Ballard, Big Kenny, Big & Rich, Michelle Branch, the Dirt Drifters, Whitney Duncan, Gloriana, Faith Hill, Jessica Harp, the JaneDear Girls, Jason Jones, James Otto, John Rich, Blake Shelton, Randy Travis. Comedian Roster: Ari Barker, Frank Caliendo, John Caparulo, Henry Cho, Reno Collier, Dan Cummins, Bill Engvall, Christian Finnegan, Anjelah Johnson, Jeff Foxworthy, Lisa Lampanelli, Larry the Cable Guy, Patton Oswalt, Jon Reep, Katt Williams. Exiting: Gladys Harris, Kathleen Madigan, Scott Dunn.