Earlier this week, Country Airplay published comments from radio consultant Keith Hill that quickly caused a public uproar.
“If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out,” Hill said in the publication. “Trust me, I play great female records and we’ve got some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females.”
His comments drew a firestorm of responses from fans, artists and industry figureheads who had a wide array of things to say on the editorial debacle, nicknamed “Saladgate.” Unfortunately, as someone who has frequently interacted with those in all facets of the music industry, this kind of thought process isn’t very shocking.
Music is indeed a business, especially the mainstream radio sector, which exists as a complicated cobweb of marketing, relationships and money-making strategies that do not put the importance of fairness, art or credibility at the forefront.
Hill himself is not the problem, but the messenger of a deeply rooted issue that is the industry’s worst-kept secret.
Gender is seen as one of many quantitative factors in an equation that is meant to create a stream of profit. This in turn makes an already incredibly difficult industry for females to break into that much harder to win over. As someone with many female friends in all aspects of the industry, from musicians to programmers and beyond, every single one of us has encountered gender bias.
While the country music community is very welcoming and supportive of females overall, the business side of the industry is where things get complicated.
Country radio and country music, unfortunately, are not one in the same. A large part of radio is indeed choosing what songs to play to earn the most listeners and in turn, the most profit. Music programmers are the ones who sift through releases and decide when and where to play songs, but those choices are normally decided by many different factors. Personal choice is usually the lowest ranking factor on that list.
Country artists, both male and female, quickly learn how insanely difficult it is to get a solid airplay push from mainstream radio. This is one of the big reasons why so many independent/alternative stations and outlets have gained success in recent years.
Program directors from smaller stations have the ability to champion artists without worrying about pleasing the head honchos. Support from these stations have helped female artists like Kacey Musgraves and Brandy Clark break through a seemingly impossible set of roadblocks to get airplay.
It can be disheartening for fans to discover that gender imbalance in country radio is the standard, but it doesn’t have to continue. Hill’s comments have given everyone an opportunity to reassess what we as a community want country music to be known for. One thing is for certain – women deserve to be described as artistic equals, not tomatoes.