Monday, June 13, 2016

Country: Jumping the Shark and Growing the Beard?

We may look back on last week as a time when country “jumped the shark.” 

There was Pitbull (@Pitbull), Cheap Trick, Fifth Harmony and Pharrell (you could make a case for Pharrell given his collaboration with Little Big Town) on a country awards show

Then there were releases to country radio that had some programmers feeling the pop envelope had been pushed too far.

A the same time a “growing the beard” trend may also have started, rooted in conversations about the expectations of country P1s and P2s, what constitutes a balanced country playlist, and a “music line” which one crosses at their own risk.

The phrase “jump the shark” of course marks a point in time when something takes a noticeable downturn (see its origins here).

Meanwhile “growing the beard” (origins here) marks a moment of turn-around.

But before we go back down the rabbit hole of last week, perhaps we should first ask, “So what?”

The 18-49 numbers from last week’s CMT Awards Show came in with a 0.97 rating and 3.3 million viewers; and that was the combined audience on three different networks. 

This pales in comparison to both the most recent CMA Awards Show (3.8 rating,13.58 million viewers) and ACM Awards Show (2.3 rating,11.18 million viewers). 

Even May’s American Country Countdown Awards show on Fox had more eyeballs (1.0 rating, 3.8 million viewers).

But again, so what?  If a TV show disappoints the audience, that's on the television network, not on radio.

Similarly, if an artist wants to release something that we, as programmers and music curators believe in our heart of hearts is too far outside the parameters as our listeners have defined them and as we understand them, then so what? We don’t play it.

On this subject – music - listeners have given us solid guidance. 

In A&O&B's "Roadmap 2016" – our national online perceptual study of 9000-plus country radio format users - 18-54 format listeners told us that "current music from today's stars" is their preferred music cluster. 

But they've also told us to be careful with the mix - especially with music that is on the fringe.

For me, it's perfectly fine if an awards show or an artist wants to push or push past the boundaries. It's art, and art needs to be true to itself. I can choose to embrace it or not.

However there are boundaries on winning radio stations. While they may be unique across stations, they exist to help stations meet the desires and expectations of their audience.

Last week provided us multiple opportunities to thoroughly dissect, bisect, scrutinize and analyze all things country and non-country.

As we start this week, let's embrace the art and the boundaries and we'll all be helping to “grow the beard.”

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