Saturday, June 30, 2012

Does Asking, "Is That Country?" Matter?

I got in a discussion this week about Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” and was asked if I thought the song was “country” (my answer is at the bottom).

“What’s the definition of a country song?” is an interesting question.

Recently I watched the Garage Boys – a pretty good cover band by anyone’s definition – get a demo-diverse crowd into their music.  At one point they answered a request saying, “Here’s a country song for you” and played “Mama Tried.”

No argument. “Mama Tried” is a country song. But so is “Dirt Road Anthem.”

We might argue over a couple of songs or descriptions, but I broke out this week’s top 40 country songs as follows:

·         12 mainstream titles (Drunk on You)
·         12 twangers (6 ‘new twangers,’ 6 'traditional twangers')
·         8 rock leaning titles (You Don’t Know Her Like I Do)
·         8 pop-leaning titles ((Kissed You) Goodnight).

Given how demographically broad the cuming of the format is, it’s totally logical that we see multiple genres having appeal and getting airplay. And interestingly, these 40 songs were evenly distributed across the classifications that I drew up before hand (again, granted, my definitions and my interpretations).

Studying the format’s audience composition over the years I've seen, anecdotally and in the last two years in particular, a good number of markets where 18-24 and/or 25-34 are the leading cume cells for the format. In some markets head-to-head country competitors share a similar audience composition while in other markets each station has it's own relatively well-defined, younger or older cume profile.

With country’s cume and music each as wide as they are today, spending time making sure your station is reflecting listeners' tastes and, importantly, presenting them with a balanced music ‘diet’ to me seems more valuable and have more relevance to than debating, “Is this a country song?”

Play to the heart of your audience; if they say it’s a country song then it is.  Know the center point of your music and deliver on those expectations, but also know how far you can stretch.

So do I think “Blown Away” is a country song? Yes, including the fact that “country” is a core component of Carrie’s brand to the majority of our cume.

But again I think that’s the wrong question.  

A more actionable question is, “Is my music an appropriately balanced reflection of my audiences’ varied music passions?”


Jessica Gottesman said...

With 22 Million subscribers and 145 Thousand listeners on our Facebook wall....I just let them debate the "is this country?" question all night long. You are RIGHT, MOM!

Mike O'Malley said...

Thanks, Jessica -- bet that was a fun show! mom

Jesse James said...

"I remember when I first came to the country format in Milwaukee at WMIL in that time, Garth and a very new Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney, Shania... were getting those "this isn't country" comments. Funny how the cycle continues. I think you're right Mike, it's all individual perception. I'm just glad there are a lot of individuals that prefer the format :)"

Mike O'Malley said...

Thanks, Jesse. I also recall Ronnie Dunn telling the story of being a bit anxious about how 'Boot Scootin' Boogie' would be received.

Rob Kelley said...

Is the song "Blown Away" Country? It sure doesn't sound like it! But then again, the Aldean and Clarkson tune sounds like a 1987 pop power ballad. Man, I wish I had my hair from those days! In the case of "Blown Away", Carrie is one of Country's biggest acts. Regarding the song itself, think "Independance Day" with a tornado. If a record has two out of these three: song, artist and sound, its worth a look. If two of these factors have immense strength as "Blown Away" does with star power and lyric, give it some spins and see what happens.