Almost a year after country radio consultant Keith Hill called women the “tomatoes” in the lettuce-dominated (meaning male-dominated) salad that is country radio, several Nashville execs say the tide is slowly turning for female country artists.
Four Nashville executives discussed the issue at the “Song Suffragettes Summit.” The Song Suffragettes is a two-year-old weekly live show dedicated to featuring strong female artists in the country music community.
“I see a wave of smart, interesting, different female artists coming through our offices,” VP of A&R for Warner Music Nashville Cris Lacy said at the event. “For a while, a year or two ago, I felt like everybody was copying someone else. Now I’m seeing a lot of distinctive voices, distinctive perspectives and musicality. That’s encouraging to me.”
But it’s a slow process, and agent Kylen Sharpe of Creative Artists Agency stressed that just because we’ve seen successes from up-and-coming artists like Maren Morris and Cam doesn’t mean we can stop talking about it. She told listeners at the Summit, “It’s important that we keep talking about it, because that’s why it’s getting better.”
Lacy included, “It’s a little better on radio, for sure, but I don’t see anybody -saying, ‘We’re good.’ There’s not a requisite amount [of female successes] where everybody will just shut up. It’s [still] disproportionate what our genre looks like when you compare it to other formats. I’m encouraged. It’s growing, but it does have quite a way to go.”
One of the big gripes of the radio era from the past six or so years is that it all sounds the same. Males, in particular, seemed to be releasing a steady stream of “lowest common denominator” music.
THE TIDE IS SLOWLY TURNING, BUT THERE’S A LOT OF WORK TO BE DONE.
At the 50th Academy of Country Music “Party for a Cause” in Arlington, a party host was playing a game where the first listener to identify a song on the radio got free swag. Not surprisingly, many audience members stood there with a dumb look on their face well through every first verse, unable to decipher the majority of tunes from one another.
When female artists like Cam and Morris come along, audiences take notice. While it’s unfortunate that female artists are already at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting attention of Nashville’s movers and shakers (and are almost nonexistent in the Texas scene), that prejudice has strengthened the resolve of female artists to be interesting and different.
Sweet Talk Publicity president Jensen Sussman exemplified that point perfectly when she said, “A lot of what I’ve seen is people trying to chase what’s on the radio, and I discourage that. You need to be your own trailblazer and create your own lane.” Others who copy radio success, she said, are “a turn off.”
It’s a positive step forward for country music, considering the general quality that has come from female artists in the wake of the bro-country era. But the lack of female artists in the scene is not strictly a Nashville problem. In fact, it’s even worse in the red dirt and Texas scenes. The tide is slowly turning, but there’s a lot of work to be done.