Article

For God’s Sake, Can We Stop Talking About “Women” Country Singers?

Thank you, for all of this. And amen.

Thanks I never heard of TomatoGate or whatever the heck this is about. I was yelled at by an angry woman at one of my gigs last year that I didn't book enough women. I try and had several on board that night including one I invited to join us in Nashville and she did. (Come to think of it, I think Gillian was standing a few feet away from this incident when it occurred.) Some of the greatest country music artists have of course been women. If you want to go somewhere with representation, perhaps blacks might be a better cause. (Very excited about Kacey's new album, don't have it yet.)

I don't get the point of this commentary. Are you saying that there's no merit to the claim that country radio and commercial TV's allegience to "bro country" hasn't squeezed out female artists? That programmers aren't intentionally discriminating against female artists -- even though the programmer who started the controversy said they were? Or  are you contending this nasty problem would be solved if people simply stopped bemoaning it? You write about "Country music, where women have proven again and again that they’ve conquered the genre....." Which makes the current bias against female artists both infuriating and bad for the genre.
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Oh, and this: "The other day, someone asked me what the big deal about Brandi Carlile was, and I didn’t have much of an answer other than, 'She’s writing good songs, and she’s a country singer, so people are astounded.'" Brandi Carlile has been around more than a decade, isn't really a country singer and reached her commercial peak years.  Did your friend perhaps mean Brandy Clark? She's gotten a lot of press lately for some high visibility duets she's done with male country singers. Maybe if Brandy Clark could get played on the radio, people would remember her name.

Thanks everybody! I'm looking forward to Kacey's album too.

My point is that “problems” like this are distractions from more serious issues, and that the longer we focus on the problems faced by privileged white women, the more we leave those with no voice out of the feminist conversation (the word conversation is overused, but I guess I have to throw it in here). In other words, airplay for women country artists on commercial radio is not really a problem that should take up journalistic or discursive time or space; there are many other avenues for broadcast and promotion that have proven to be more effective than radio (YouTube and CMT are obvious ones), and there are many other serious problems that we need to be talking about. Of course I think these women should get more airtime and that this is a problem! I just want everyone to be talking about other things that actually require urgent action.

And I do mean Brandi Carlile. I don’t really think of her as country either, but she seems to be in the rootsy/alt-country category that Kathleen Edwards and Neko Case occupy, even though they’ve moved into pop too. I didn’t mean Brandy Clark, but I do like her and would like to see more of her somewhere. I don’t listen to commercial country radio, so hopefully she’s accessible somewhere else… :)

Problems like women not getting played on country radio are a distraction? Excuse me, but this is a site where people come to read about music. While the other issues you mention are obviously important, it doesn’t mean that music should fall by the wayside on a music site. Also, don’t use words like “journalistic” when it’s fairly apparent that you don’t have a degree in journalism (which is something you should have if you want to pass yourself off as a journalist).

I am otherwise dumbfounded by the cluelessness of the original article, which is filled with misinformation, baseless opinions, and no apparent research on the topic the piece is supposed to be about. The recent flap regarding women and country radio stems from radio consultant Ken Hill’s declaration during a recent Country Aircheck interview that country radio programmers should limit play of female artists. More specifically, Hill said “If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out. 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.”

It’s true that this topic is not as important as the date-rape culture of North American universities or a Canadian government that refuses to launch inquiries into the thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women, as stated by the article’s author. But those topics have nothing to do with music (this is a music site, is it not?). Nor are those issues the domain of country radio. If you’re a music fan or a country radio listener, the lack of a female point of view on the airwaves should be a concern. What especially annoys me about this article is how the writer doesn’t support her opinion with any facts. While everyone is entitled to an opinion, it is an editorial writer’s responsibility to present theirs in a way that is not baseless. Since the writer obviously has no facts to back her position, I thought I might share a few.

For starters, I disagree with the writer’s assertion that women have “conquered” the country music genre. While there have been plenty of female-sung country hits over the years, a large number of those songs have been written by men. Of the 195 people inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, 180 are men while just 15 are women. Of the 15 women, two (Hall founder Maggie Cavender and songwriting advocate Sue Brewer) never wrote songs, while another (Dottie Rambo) wrote songs in the gospel field, not country. Of the remaining 12, five (Felice Bryant, Kye Fleming, Elsie McWilliams, Marijohn Wilkins, and Matraca Berg) were inducted due to songs they co-wrote with men. That leaves seven other women, including three (Jenny Lee Carson, Cindy Walker, and 2014 inductee Gretchen Peters) who did write their most noteworthy country songs by themselves (Peters has also maintained a recording career outside commercial country radio). The other four are songwriting country artists Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

In the entire history of country music, only four women have been credited with writing multiple number-one hits for themselves: Parton with seven, Lynn with four, and Rosanne Cash and K.T. Oslin with two apiece. Wynette participated in the writing of just four of her 20 number-one singles, composing just one, “Stand By Your Man,” on her own. Also, the Country Music Association’s Song of the Year has been awarded to songs written exclusively by women just five times in the organization’s 49-year history. Conquered country music? In terms of the country music industry at large, women are still on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, fewer and fewer female artists are being heard on country radio. Even worse, many of the songs being played by male artists portray women in a light that can be deemed sexist. What we now have in country radio is a new lowpoint for the country genre.

Even in times when there was a strong female presence in country radio, they were cast in subordinate roles. After my college radio days ended in the mid-80s, I wanted to try my hand at being a professional disc jockey. I landed a summer replacement job at a country station in the Northeast, where I would fill in at the station while the regular DJs did live remotes at various country fairs.  The cardinal rule of the station was not to play female vocalists back-to-back. When I asked why, I was told that “research” indicated that our listeners didn’t like it. This was standard practice in country radio for years and years, and was probably even worse in other music formats such as rock. In addition to being worse in 2015, we now have a consultant telling country program directors to cut out female artists. That should be a major problem to anyone that wants to hear a woman’s perspective over the commercial airwaves.

I also want to agree with On the Left’s comments regarding Brandi Carlile. As a fan of Carlile’s, I have never associated her with country music. While there is a country influence in some of her writing, she has mainly been connected to rock and folk (her current album, The Firewatcher’s Daughter, recently reached the top spot on the Billboard charts in both of those genres).

A final concern about the article is No Depression’s editor responding to the piece with ”Thank you, for all of this. And amen.” Whatever happened to an editor asking a writer to dig a little deeper before publishing a story? If you folks want to be taken seriously as music journalists, try doing a little research before spouting your opinions. Not only will your stories read better, but you might gain a whole new perspective on what you’re trying to write about.

I responded as I did because I agree with most of Gillian's points and because she was the first person to bring up this discussion on this site. What she wrote opened a door for some intelligent debate, for which I'm grateful. Believe you me, when I make assignments, I ask folks to dig as deep as possible. But this was not an assignment. Though we do employ weekly columnists and commission a couple of long feature stories a month, this was neither of those things. Due to the size of staff we can afford and how many hours there are in a day, I can't possibly assign every piece that appears on this site, nor can I edit it and demand revisions, so most of it is still crowd-sourced. Gillian was free to dig as deep or opine as much as she wanted, since she wrote this on her own whim. I agree with most of her opinions (and several of yours) and I'm entitled to my own.

I don't think Gillian's arguing that the absence of women's voices on the radio isn't a problem. I think she's arguing that we should all take a step back and look at the larger, more overarching problems. We're arguing about branches on the tree and ignoring the roots. You can't talk about the disparities women face in a particular genre of music -- at least not responsibly -- without getting into the disparities women face in general. Is the absence of women's voices on the radio really the real problem? Really? Come on now. You're closer to the real issue with arguing that the men who are getting airplay are singing about women as objects. Then again, hip-hop has been talking about that one for generations. That's not the real issue either. People make music about the things that are on their minds and in their hearts. How do we change what's on people's minds and in their hearts? I'm interested in that question, and I think it's a question that can be discussed through discourse about music. I think Dolly Parton might even agree with me on that.

And, to add to the debate about whether Brandi Carlile is a country artist, I would personally argue no. But Columbia Records categorized her first few releases as country.

Thanks, Jim. I’ll say a few things in response.

First of all, I’m not a music journalist, and this is not an article. It’s a blog post. No Depression does not pay me. If they did, then I would spend more time writing in a much different manner, and perhaps as you suggest, include evidence from reliable sources. I do that for other outlets that pay me or give me some parallel form of professional compensation. But because that’s not the case, I am – I think – allowed to post a short blog based in opinion as a way to start a discussion among the music fans who visit this site. Kim may correct me if I’m wrong about any of that.

I’m sorry you think I’m clueless about the original issue; I’m not, and I assume (perhaps wrongly) that ND readers are either aware of it themselves, or smart enough to dig around and find out what’s been going on. I know what happened, and I think the whole thing has been made to be far more important than it is in that we’re giving radio programmers too much power in determining music’s meaning or popularity. A dude like Keith (not Ken) Hill should be ignored and not given as much press time as he’s gotten. That’s where we fail: why does he get so much attention in this whole scenario?

While I appreciate the research that you have done, and made available in these comments, I take issue with the fact that you’re measuring women’s success by their ability to write their own, or others’, hit songs – a rather narrow way of viewing relevance based in reifying the songwriter as sole, authentic truth-teller that leaves out many other paths for musical and emotional expression. Anyway, can we cite such statistics for any other popular music genre? I find it hard to believe that this many women hold spots in halls of fame, or other forms of recognition, for rock, rap, R&B, soul, folk, or any similar style. If that’s the case, then isn’t country music rather progressive? Not perfect, but moving forward?

Finally, my concern is not that music sites are giving space to this topic, but that news sites are. And that is a form of distraction from more pressing issues.

 

 

Um...let me rise up like a gentleman (I hope) in Gillian's defense.

I've been a journalist for quite some time (probably best not to say how long) and don't have a degree in the field. Maybe I shouid retract my clips, since they were apparently written under false pretenses? It would take awhile, but...

I think the whole debate between "journalism'' versus blog posts is a false choice, much  like  the overdone debate about the role of women in country music, which I take it was the point of Gillian's - well written and entertaining, as usual  - piece. If something is interesting, entertaining and informative, and has a point of view, it's journalism (or writing, if you prefer).  If you don't like it, I guess from your point of view it isn't. But just say that, okay, rather than get into a category error. As she points out, that's just a bore.

You do make some good observations about the historical place of women in country, Jim. Maybe you should write your own piece.

I think Jim just wrote his own piece. Can you not read?

Not sure it qualified, according to his own criteria. His post ddn't have footnotes or  go through an arduous editing and fact-checking process. Did he defend the blog post to a PHD committee in advanced journalistic techniques (or, as we used to call it, reporting). I think he said something about "cluelessness'' which sounded a little excessive, but hey, that's show business.

Thanks for the suggestion, though - I'll be sure to check in with my optometrist to see if my visual intake is up to snuff.  Interesting that the apparent criticism of Gillian for not being militant enough is coming from male writers....No good deed goes unpunished.

I think you should hurry and make that appointment with your optometrist.  I was not aware of making any criticisms of Gillian.

Yeah, I'll be sure and do that. But for the record, I was referring to Jim's piece ( or post) not your amen.

This is what he wrote: "Also, don’t use words like “journalistic” when it’s fairly apparent that you don’t have a degree in journalism (which is something you should have if you want to pass yourself off as a journalist).

I am otherwise dumbfounded by the cluelessness of the original article, which is filled with misinformation, baseless opinions, and no apparent research on the topic the piece is supposed to be about.''

His subsequent comment was more thoughtful, in my opinion (assuming it matters) so there's that, too, I guess.  The nature of online commentary...it's a beautiful thing. See you in the funny papers.

 

The problem with online commentary is that there's so much of it. As i now understand it, some ND writers are paid while others are not. That really shouldn't matter, as you should do the most thorough job you can whether you make a dime or you don't. This website is using the old print magazine's name while trying to build its own reputation. But there are times when it seems like there are just too many articles on here, and that everybody is writing about their friend's or relative's band just to see their own byline. Shouldn't someone in charge be determining what fits and what doesn't? After all, the site is now moving forward with a print edition. Doesn't that require quality control? I'm not talking about the quality of the writing, but rather the quality of the music. Thanks to the bigness of the Internet, every mediocre Americana (aka Genericana) band in the world is accumulating an large file of positive "press" while much of the stuff that's actually good is falling by the wayside. The old print edition was sometimes guilty of that as well. In one issue, I remember there being something like 79 album reviews written by 56 different writers. It seemed as if everyone was writing about their favorite band. How is a reader supposed to trust a publication's perspective when something like that happens?

The other day somone sent me a bandcamp link to an Americana band. The group had quite a lenghty bio that stated they were influenced by Gram Parsons and Bob Dylan in the very first sentence. In my writing days, any artist that said Gram Parsons was an influence automatically started off with two strikes.  If they also described their music as "Americana," I probably wouldn't even listen (artists who describe themselves as Americana tend to suck). So I listened to the bandcamp  band and they sounded like Tom Petty. Not a bad thing, except none of the songs were good enough to be on even a lesser Tom Petty album. There was also an online review on the page that likened them to Doug Sahm, even though they didn't swing in the least. I then went to the band's website and found a ton of positive reviews from various blog sites. Meanwhile, I'm still pretty sure their music is no big deal. But that doesn't matter because they have a ton of great press encouraging them to keep on going.

So what's the problem with that? The problem is that we wind up getting crap like Dawes that is hailed as the next big thing by people with no ears. A couple weeks ago my wife asked me to play the new Dawes album on NPR's First Listen. Since people have been trying to get me into them for a while. I was already aware that they sucked. But my wife was interested since David Rawlings had produced their new record. So I put it on, and about midway through the second song she said "Put something else on." My wife is a nurse, but has a far better ear than the so-called jounalists who are telling people Dawes is good. Due to that listening experience, we'll both be knocking Gillian Welch down a few notches due to Rawlings' involvement with Dawes. This is what happens. Mediocrity is allowed to climb the ladder due to positive press while better stuff is never given a chance.

One more story: Over the weekend an acquaintance sent me a YouTube video of a New Zealand artist he thinks is edgy. The guy's name is Willy Moon, and the song was a cover of the Ruby Toombs composition "I'm Shakin'" that was cut by Little Willie John in 1960 and revived by the Blasters in 1981. Those are the two good versions of the song that I've heard. Willy Moon's version is one of the worst things I've ever heard: he can't sing, he apparently can't play the guitar he was holding, and he has no soul. It was even worse than the version by faux roots artist Jack White (and if you think White is good then you might need to listen to a few more records). Yet here's Willy Moon with a record deal and press that suggests he's good.. No wonder people are losing interest in music.  They're being spoonfed a load of crap by people who are so supposed to know better.

And therein lies what should be your mission. Emphasize what you feel is the good stuff, and get rid of the garbage. The decisions you make will determine whether your publication/website succeeds or fails. It will establish whether you have any credibility.

Here's that Willy Moon track. Try to think of something worse than this because I just can't.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOczqCHs42s

 

 

I appreciate your feedback and will point out that I do in fact separate the good stuff from the not-so-good stuff. Currently I do this by "featuring" things and by paying some people to create content that I then edit, have them revise, edit again, then our copyeditor gets on it and fact-checks it, then it gets designed, and so on and so forth. If you come to our homepage, you will see things that have been featured. If you come every other Friday-Tuesday you will see a cover story that's been paid for. Most of what people write for this site will never be featured on the homepage or in our newsletter or promoted through our social channels. So we are doing exactly the thing that you suggest we do. What we are not doing, nor do I suspect we will ever do, is to disallow everything other than the very best stuff, at least not on this website. It's the 21st century, man, and this is the internet. We believe in welcoming the voice of the people. You will see in a few weeks that the way things are featured, how long they're featured, how much easier it is to find the featured stuff and follow the best writers, will all be improved. That's part of the next upgrade of the site and it's coming soon.

The print magazine, meanwhile, allows us to have an avenue that is only assigned/edited/fact-checked stuff. There will be no fluff, nothing written for free, nothing that hasn't been through the filters. So if all you care about is that kind of criticism, then the print mag is for you. You can still pre-order a copy via our Kickstarter through July 3. 

One thing on which I actually agree with you: one of my great pet peeves of the internet is the fact that so few reviewers seem to be willing to actually write criticism -- what works, what doesn't work, what could have been done differently, what the artist/band was going for and whether or not they were successful at it. So much of it has become "I dig this." And while there has always been an element of "I dig this" even in serious criticism, the near-absence of it in internet reviews is, I think, unfortunate, to put it lightly. One thing I'm working on is hiring reviewers so that we can ensure reviews that go there. There are some people in the community that go there, but they're not on staff, so I can't control how frequently they contribute. So far.

And finally, there are a lot of smart people who know music well, who really do love Dawes. I think they're good -- they're not my favorite band, but they very much don't suck. I haven't heard the new record yet, so I'll reserve judgment on that. Maybe they're not recording artists, though; not every good band is. Just because you think it's crap doesn't mean it is. One real measure of music (from a musician's perspective) is if it connects with anyone. And if some people connect with it, good for them.

Actually Kim, the complete title of the tune is "21st Century Schizoid Man". Sorry. I guess you inspired some sort  of prog-rock flashback. But on a more serious note, I confess, I do write the "I dig this" articles and generally try and feature regional acts that most NoDepression readers might not be familiar with in the hope that "some people (will) connect with it".  What I love about ND are the (relatively) unknowns: reading and writing about them.  I spin and ignore most of the promo discs I receive. I only review the ones I wear out. 

Thanks for being here. All y'all.

 

And, you know, I've learned from you about music that I like, that I may not have heard elsewhere. So the "I dig this" reviews serve a purpose. Maybe I should just log off now :)

I appreciate your comments from earlier today, Jim, and will dig into them further when I have the time and available space in my thoughts. I don’t right now, because of the situation that begets the poor quality you complain about: today, for instance, I switched between grading papers, a board meeting for a festival I’m organizing, writing a conference paper, copyediting a journal, answering comments here, and sending out files for another journal I edit. I’m not paid for most of these activities but I have to keep doing them. Perhaps in your view that leads to a decrease in the quality of my output. As I’ve said on this site before, I write not only for my own practice and development as a writer, but also to stimulate discussion on topics that may be of interest to ND’s readership. I’m aware of the tone and style I need to adopt to accomplish those goals.

And what I realized, in reading your last set of comments on the quality of No Depression’s articles is this: you’re operating in an older, much more linear form of the music industry, wherein artists produce music, it gets filtered through the label and promotion system, gets played on radio, and gets reviewed by paid music critics. That’s no longer the case: artists now are their own managers, publicists, and booking agents and the whole system operates in a circular, reciprocal fashion. Musicians write to me, asking for album reviews, in the hopes that somehow they will get attention that used to be garnered by record label publicists.

Honestly, I have stopped accepting album reviews unless I a) know the person produces quality (by my definition) music, and b) I can write a good review. What’s the point in writing a bad review? I can’t bring myself to do it, especially for an independent artist who is already struggling enough to get any kind of press in the internet age. But I also view album reviews as a soul-deadening exercise wherein I regurgitate tired cliches to describe what I’m hearing, and since they don’t do much to further my own skill development, I don’t like to do them.

The other thing is that you’re missing the point of roots music in the 21st century: its first priority is not producing the best-quality, most technically proficient, most innovative music, its priority is community. I’d argue that, maybe aside from the singing voice, the primary factor that sets roots apart from other genres is its emphasis on connection and support amongst its practitioners, whether they are musicians, producers, critics, or listeners. The model of ND as it is right now fosters just that. That’s why, when in the rest of my professional life I’m held to strict standards, fact-checking, and peer-review, I can come here and pose a question to the readership without having to back up every thought with a reference list as long as my staircase; I can set off a potentially lively discussion with people who have all kinds of different perspectives on the subject, and have a little fun while doing it.

And indeed this has been fun, but I’m afraid I have to sign off for the night.

Gillian:

"But I also view album reviews as a soul-deadening exercise wherein I regurgitate tired cliches to describe what I’m hearing, and since they don’t do much to further my own skill development, I don’t like to do them." 

Ha! I thought this was a little peice of heaven, too. 

I would encourage you to do negative reviews tho- A because it takes a lot of thought to same something negative in a way that works, and B because sometimes it's just a release really unload on someone who deserves it. We live in a society that's very 'positive this, positive that... don't be a downer, everything is great,' but I think we all know somewhere in our hearts this is the farthest thing from the truth and to swallow the everything is ok pill to basically give up the passion of your life. 

If you went negative, I for one would read the peice. 

Ok. I accept the challenge. Give me a bit of time and I'll produce.

An aside - have you read How to Build a Girl? Most amazing book I've read in years, for nailing what's wrong with the industry, and more specifically, music criticism. And it's really funny.

 

To-may-to, To-maw-to.

Thanks, Paul and Kim; your comments mean a lot to me.

For further, and timely, reading here's this:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/06/10/country-music...

That link isn't working.

I think it's ok now.

Hey Gillian. As they say here in Ireland.  This is great Craic. 

Kim (and Gillian too),

I agree that more important issues need to be addressed. Unfortunately, change can be a long, drawn-out process in our country (and in Gillian’s country as well). It took 100 years for America to advance from the end of slavery to the Civil Rights Act. It also took quite a long time for women to gain the right to vote. And though we’ve made a lot of progress regarding same-sex marriage, there’s still work to be done in that area as well. Yet while things don’t happen overnight, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to speed things up. We need to keep on pushing, as Curtis Mayfield would have said.

That being said, it seems to me as if you’re underestimating the power of music and radio. As a folk music fan, I don’t think you’re really doing that. It just seems that way because of your previous comments. When Aretha Franklin had a hit with Otis Redding’s “Respect” in 1967, it was considered a boon to the cause of feminism in the US. Similarly, James Brown’s “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” tyhe following year brought a sense of empowerment to many African Americans. You can say the same about women in regard to K.T. Oslin’s “80s Ladies” and some of Loretta Lynn’s more topical songs. People related to those records, which helped them take crucial steps in their lives. It changed their attitudes about important things.

A few days ago, I had an online conversation with some Clash fans. We were talking about how that band changed our lives. We weren’t talking about favorite albums or songs, or how The Clash changed the way we approached listening to music. We were talking about how they changed our lives. When I saw The Clash in New York City in September 1979, I was a lonely kid in the midst of my dropout year from college (I did go back). I was hopelessly searching and trying to figure out my place in the world. The Clash provided me with some answers by changing the way I thought and giving me a sense of belonging. Although I never became a “punk,” seeing them in person helped me look at other people and myself in a different way. I still had a lot to learn, but I was able to get there because my eyes were now open. And though I haven’t listened to their music in quite a while, what The Clash brought to my life is still inside me. In fact, I can safely say that I wouldn’t be who I am now had I not seen that show 36 years ago. Music can be that powerful. It can give people hope and a sense of self when they need those things the most.

One final thought. I teach in a school district in the South where the poverty rate is high. Since these people don’t have a lot of money, they don’t accumulate recorded music the way you and I do. But they listen to the radio, and a vast number of them are country music fans. It would be nice if the female listeners among them could hear songs with perspectives they can relate to. It would also be nice if male listeners were exposed to such viewpoints. Change does not happen unless there is first a dialogue. I feel music, and country radio, can play a role in making that happen. That’s especially true here in the South, where there are so many country music fans. I don’t listen to country radio myself. But for those who do, a better mix of songs and perspectives might be helpful. A steady diet of Florida Georgia Line is only going to get them so far. It might even make some of them feel they're on the outside with no place to turn.

 

So what you're arguing isn't that "any women on country radio will address the issue." What you're arguing seems to be more of "a greater diversity of ideas and perspectives on country radio will address the issue." Which is pretty much what Gillian and I were both arguing. 

Finally, while your history lesson about songs on the radio is legit, it's referencing the power of the radio 30 years ago and longer. It shouldn't be news that radio doesn't have the reach or power that it once did. I stand by Gillian's argument on that. While it may make a difference to people you know through your school -- an important point, no doubt -- what can help them evolve on social issues is not necessarily exposure to more women, but exposure to art that powerfully communicates a diversity of opinions. Women are a part of that, sure, but we should be careful to say women who don't fit the necessarily heteronormative masculine-defined ideal for what a woman is supposed to be. That also means black voices, gay voices, trans voices, progressive voices, young and old voices, immigrant voices, etc. But country music isn't speaking with all those voices. Why is that? Certainly people with those voices live in the country and listen to country music (although maybe not always on the radio). Why is that not the question being raised? 

Jim...Willy Moon is for someone, what the Clash was for you...

 

Actually I've enjoyed all the discussion...and for the record, I heard Florida-Georgia Line once and I'm pretty sure I went backwards...

Interesting, as always, journalist or not. I've seen Jess Klein, BettySoo, Lynn Blakey and  Amanda Anne Platt (with the Honeycutters) within the last two months.  They aren't country singers, but they're women, and they're damn good. So for Dog's sake can we stop talking about women "country" singers? And men "country" singers for that matter?

I do not understand the point of this article, either.  I also didn’t understand the uproar over what Keith Hill said.  He wasn’t talking about the worth of female artists.  He may have Loretta Lynn, Aretha Franklin, Joan Jett and Mary Gauthier as the backbone of his personal collection for all we know.  He was specifically talking about generating ratings for Country Stations, something he evidently has some expertise in doing.    If he were talking about the state of Top 40 and AC Radio, where Taylor Swift, Colbie Caillat, Pink and Beyonce reign supreme, he may be saying the exact opposite.  Let’s not try to draw that comment into the larger societal issues that he was clearly not addressing.  Mr. Hill would recomment all Alvin and the Chipmunks if they made his clients successful.             

Gillian writes – “Pop culture is so clearly anchored on our over-valorized concept of diversity and individual taste these days that attempting to generalize, as the music industry machine so desperately tries to do by giving us 10 song variants disguised as “Top 40”, is pointless. Nobody wants to say they are strictly a new country adherent; we all want a little spice thrown into our bland rotation so as to appear slightly exotic or cultured. Perhaps a Gillian Welch tune. Or maybe a bit of Tom Waits thrown in. How about that awesome new Kanye West song, “Otis”?”

People want diversity?   Please show me a category where “diversity” wins.  We are all “individualized” on one of three or four social media sites.   Every catagory eventually comes down to a few dominant players with a long list of also rans.  “Freedom from Choice is what we want", according to Devo.  We all have a few distinguishing characteristics, but as the age of big data has shown us, we can be boiled down to very easily into a few different camps.    

When you’re programming to the 90% of public that listens to radio, the simple fact is the fewer songs you play, the better your ratings are.  Most SUCCESSFUL radio stations (like WLTW in NYC which reaches 5 million people a week) play around 350 songs.  In fact, the highest ratings of the year for any radio station are when they play the fewest songs.  WBEB in Philadelphia reaches nearly 20% of the radio market when they play 175 Christmas songs.   Sure, there are thousands of Christmas songs, but the VAST majority wants to hear Burl Ives do “Holly Jolly Christmas”, not Hayes Carll do “Grateful for Christmas”.    Play the unfamiliar song and you get tune out.  It’s the songs that you PLAY that could hurt you, not the songs you DON’T PLAY.   A country station – or ANY station – segueing Tom Waits with Toby Keith gets a listener who is on to the next station.  The ten listeners who want to hear both create that variety through presets, or Spotify; they don’t expect the same radio station to give it to them.         

This is a site for Music Lovers.  Posters discuss the merits of Hayes, Chuck Prophet and Elizabeth Cook, artists 99.9% of the American Public have never heard of, so no one here is qualified to critique Keith Hill’s assertion about an industry he has spent a lifetime in.   If you are here, it means that you are shopping in the local boutique, not Wal-Mart and probably aren’t a good gauge on what the majority of the American public wants to listen to.   I know I’m not.   My Spotify shuffle the other day went from Dean Martin “Memories are made of this” into Faith No More “We Care A lot” into the Kathleen Edwards “Back to Me”.    That “station” only has to satisfy an audience of one, not a very profitable niche for a radio station to live on.    

i think we can always find a way to debate something - is it important enough as an issue to debate about - that might be the question - personally i don't think there is even an issue here - look at the importance of emmy lou, lucinda, et.al. - or we could debate the question as to why  there is so little music by black performers mentioned in this magazine - if it is americana music from america/roots music why is gospel given so little press - there is also zydeco, creole, blues and so on - is gillian's article just splitting hairs or is it something that needs debate ?

that does not mean it is valueless just is it worth time to attempt to split hairs that don't need splitting  - i remember my 20s and so many women sitting around trimming the split ends off their hair! 

Personally  I think Gillian is sitting somewhere in Canada laughing her head off.  Anybody who "discovered" Mariel Buckley is ok with me.  Long may the ladies ROCK, Gillian.  Now go find me some more unheard of Canadians.

I guess we could, but then we wouldn't have this: http://nodepression.com/album-review/dala-who-do-you-think-you-are-everyone-someone. Damn these girls are good! (Can I say that? I guess I just did.) Lonely Girl especially slayed me, and the theme perhaps has something to do with this column, though I'd have no idea.

Dala?  Are people only finding them. Have followed them from the start. And yes they are damned good.  Now go and look up Mariel Buckley. She is on Bandcamp. Another Canadian. 

Yes sir Will, they are damned good...I first heard them in 2012...one of my favorite artists, Marc Jordan, did a record called "Crucifix in Dreamland", and Dala sang on a couple of tracks...I bought a couple of their things...very good indeed...

I have come to trust Gillian's recommendations unreservedly.  She writes about who she likes, and I like what she likes.  See also Emily Triggs, http://nodepression.com/album-review/emily-triggs-when-guinevere-went-under.

Just thought I'd make an appearance here since its such a lively thread and I feel left out.

In all honesty Gillian, I read the original post three times and had a tough time following or understanding the point or context. When I read Kim's 'amen' I went back for another try. Same result. Only when Jim posted the first of his comments did I finally sort of get the gist. 

If we can take the whole 'is this journalism or not' argument out of the equation, I think your thought or point is that the media (whatever that is these days) doesn't spend enough time on serious issues but dwells on salacious sound bytes that stir things up. Is that right? Ok...how can anyone disagree with that? But where I think the wheels fell off the wagon here was when you veered toward statements that may have made more sense in your head than they did in print. Pot shots at all radio programmers (I've known lots who have a tremendous music vocabulary) and the 'conquered the genre' line diminished your thread....at least for me. 

And anyway, how did Loretta Lynn get dragged into this? 

 

-30-

Hmm.

This is Gillian's bio, which she's been too modest to remind people of here.

Gillian Turnbull is the author of the forthcoming book Roots Music in Calgary, Alberta, co-editor of the forthcoming anthology Grassland Sounds: Popular and Folk Musics of the Canadian Prairies, and editor of Canadian Folk Music magazine. She programs the Calgary roots music venue, Wine-Ohs, teaches music at Ryerson University, and has hosted radio shows in Edmonton and Toronto. 

It would seem to qualify her to offer an opinion or two on the site.

.Ok, I'm done (famous last words, I know). See you all around sometime.

 

 

@Paul: Thanks for sharing Gillian's bio but what does that have to do with the conversation? She's entitled to her own opinion whether she's a professor or pipe fitter. She and I have been exchanging ideas and comments for years and she's one of my favorite contributors at ND, and she knows that. But to challenge an opinion, or in this case the verbiage and methodology, isn't an assault but an exchange. I appreciate your fondness for her and need to defend, but she can and does speak quite articulately on her own behalf. I've challenged her observations before...the Folk Alliance money thing comes to mind. Part of this new media paradigm are discussion threads such as this. If it gets a little heated, it's just a byproduct of the passion and needn't be taken as a personal attack. 

One thing I find particularly interesting about this comment thread, bracketing whether people think this is a shitty article or a decent one (at least I'm polarizing), is that it's all men making these assessments. No woman, aside from Kim, has jumped into the discussion. 

Is it that men are still more prominent on this site? Feel they have the freedom and/or opportunity to assess the quality of this work and whatever transpires afterward? Is it that in the broader music world men still decide what's right, wrong, valuable, invaluable? And teach us young women how to be and what's okay to say?

Though I'm always reluctant to use this word, I think given the content of my original article, we may have some irony here.

It does seem like there's more guys than gals here, doesn't it? You guys, and by that I mean people, have any demographics Kim? I know there's more gals than blacks.

As for Jim, I agree with many of his points about editorial (having been an editor most of my life) but, hey, editors are gone brother, which is why I'm here with all those self-proclaimed "editors" and commentators. However, I discounted everything you said when I read, "In my writing days, any artist that said Gram Parsons was an influence automatically started off with two strikes." Not only does that seem an ignorant over-generalization (yes too many do claim Gram when there's no sign of his influence), but, well, apparently you haven't given up "writing."

I just found Gillian's piece a bit confusing, but I blame myself rather than her. I am getting older (but probably still younger than many regular writers here). I expected a whole lot more flack for my Gram wrote Wild Horses short piece (which has over 1,600 views so far!), but then I'm lucky enough to have no one take me seriously. I actually try for that.  I hope Gillian likes the bands I chose for this year's Toronto show (do you know Mississippi Bends? two great females in that band, and they're with us), and joins us again (if I can ever get the venue to give me a date). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-30-

 

Though I decided to bow out of this thread after Kim suggested that "country radio" needs to do a better job of reaching out to African Americans, gays, and transgenders (WTF?), I'd like to say one more thing.

The founders and former writers of the original No Depression worked damn hard at building a respected brand. The magazine stood for something, and, while I didn't like some of the music it covered, I never missed an issue throughout the entire print run. That music, for the most part, had a grittiness and soulfulness about it that much of the music covered by this blogsite does not. The editor has stated that she's a "hater of guitar solos," and apparently doesn't have much of a fondness for rock 'n' roll or other forms of music with dirt benaeth the fingernails. It's exclusionary, and a reason why some folks are starting to refer to this as a "Genericana" blogsiite. No soul.

I have chatted with some of the former writers for the defunct print edition (not Blackstock or Alden, though I have seen some of thier comments). Out of respect for those people and the brand they built, you should seriously consider changing the name of this blogsite and your forthcoming print product. While I understand that you want to capitalize on the work they once did, it doesn't seem ethical as your new product has nothing to do with their former product. You need to establish your own identity away from theirs. It is offensive for you to be marketing yourselves by telling people that No Depression is back when it is a completely different product with a whole other mission.

Also, a suggestion for the editor: Get drunk, lock yourself in a room alone, and listen to nothing but 'Exile on Main Street,' 'London Calling,' Little Richard's Greatest Hits, Los Lobos, and B.B. King's absolutely essential Original Greatest Hits for three whole days. That experience just might send you on your way toward gaining some musical credibility.

Good luck to you folks in the future. You're going to need plenty of it.

I'm not going to speak for "the editor" but your rant reminds me of someone complaining about the food at a free buffet.

Eat what you like Jim and skip the rest.  Most of it tastes pretty good to me.

PS-I believe Grant and Peter sold "NoDepression" to Kyla who passed it on to the new crew. Nothing was stolen, nobody was disrespected.  If I sell you my car you can paint it any color you like. 

Visitors are about 70% male.

My experience here is that yes...there are more men than women who leave comments. And I think anyone of any gender has the freedom and/or opportunity to assess quality...I've certainly been taken to task and challenegd over the years for things I've written, as has Kim and pretty much any of us who've contributed on an ongoing basis. You're not alone with that. 

As far as the rest of that paragraph...wow. While Jim McGuinness seems to have ventured out of the galaxy with his comments, you continue to confound and confuse me with your own. I'm stepping out of this whole wacky thread. 

It's the same deal as when the boys in class do all the talking, Ed - not that difficult to grasp or "wacky.'' It's ironic because the original piece was about the role of women in country music.

Yeah, her resume doesn't speak to the quality of any individual piece (nor was I trying to speak for her, which she can do well on her own), I just posted it because her credentials were initially called into question.

And actually, in my experience, ND contributors can get pretty...er...tetchy when their opinions or style are called into question, so this is not a one-off.

The real question: What would Linda Chorney say?

Ok, over and out. See you down the road.

 

 

 

 

Fried clam strips, anyone?

#Like

I saw Linda Chorney with a seafood menu in her hand
Walkin' through the streets of NoDep in the rain
She was lookin' for the place called Ho Johnson
Gonna get a big dish of fried clam strips.....

Thanks for the detour  Paul and Kim.

Apologies to WZ.

And when I'm in doubt I go back to the wisdom of Tonio K (please note the pronoun....)

"you make it way too hard 
you take it way too seriously" 
she said, "it could be right 
could be the end's in sight 
you just live 
and with a little bit of luck 
you'll be one day older tomorrow" 

 

Yes! Finally.

I do agree that this article could have used some editing. But I've now read some of the "tomato" backstory, and there may be something to talk about here (not sure if Gillian is saying there is or there isn't). I find this particularly interesting in relation to an incident I mentioned earlier that frankly has been bothering me since last year's GPI North in Toronto. I do my best to book female artists; in fact, I work harder looking for solid local female talent than I do for male talent. Why? Frankly I get tired of hearing male voices all night long. (I may get in trouble if I admit that I happen to, well, like females.) That night I had a female singer from Montreal open with a full slot. Various women were in other bands, including a female drummer who offered to share her kit for the entire night. Nevertheless, toward the end of the evening, when everyone was feeling pretty great, a woman who was sitting in with one of the bands lit into me for not booking more women. She did not wish to hear my side of the story (I didn't realize I needed one). Coincidentally, Gillian, the author here, was literally a few feet away I believe. I don't know if she heard this exchange, and it's irrelevant anyway. But it got me to thinking. I have limited means of checking out talent in various regions, and I am finding it difficult to book female leads (I book mostly bands). I do not know what the reason is. Booked a woman from TO a few years ago against my better judgment, and was not happy with the performance. She does pretty well up there in the genre, and I don't know if it's because she's female or just that I have different tastes or standards. Another who knocked me out up there is not returning my calls (some I've booked, such as Lydia Loveless, who came from rural Ohio to Boston to play my show, have gotten too big for me). Tomatogate, it appears, has something to do with programmer saying they do better when they don't play women, because, I believe his logic is, the bro country male listeners prefer to hear, well, bro country (again, that slightly homosexually tinged suggestion). That seems to be the backstory I didn't know. All I know from personal experience, damn the torpedoes, is I can't find enough solid female performers that will have me. This year I have Bobby Dove (yes, female) from Montreal again (whom I invited last year and she accepted playing my Nashville gig a few weeks later). I've booked a band I just found with a great female lead singer and a female bassist (see previous video). I DO NOT want that lady who screamed at me for all to hear in the middle of the dance floor when eveyone was having so much fun back again, and I wish her luck getting gigs. In any gender's world.... And I have no idea if this story has anything to do with the article but because it's been on my mind and as the author was present when this happened, well, I thought I'd offer it as tangential at least to this here tomatogate thing. Are more players I book male? Of course. Why of course? Good question. I don't have a good answer, but I still plead not guilty.

Jim McGuinness:

 "So what's the problem with that? The problem is that we wind up getting crap like Dawes that is hailed as the next big thing by people with no ears."

--- Did we just become best freinds?  Ha! Thanks for that, liked your posts.

My only issue with the article is that Gillian didn't explain what TomatoGate was before writing a reaction to it. I had to read through the replies to find out. Other than that I'd say the writer did her job effectively based, if not based on the number of replies generated alone. 

I also don't think we should hold the musicians accountable. As a form of popular music top 40 country radio personalities aren't responsible for writing, recording, or performing good music-- they're responsible for writing, recording, and performing popular music. I blame a complicit demographic. People are getting what they want. The public doesn't want to think about anything larger, they want entertainment. Let the obscure critics waste away their lives posting worthless opinions on websites. 

To look at big radio country as a whole you see this common narrative. Men seduce women. Women liberate themselves from men. Add guitars, red dirt roads, trucks, beaches, cut off jeans, lips service to Hank Williams or George Straight and that's pretty much the extent of the songwriting. For music use the basic CGD chord progression but pay an engineer to add drums tracks, hire a session somebody for fiddle, creat a big, corporate, stadium chorus and you're done. Serve for six months, release next single. 

And the radio personalities have this down to a T. It's not art, it's science, and it's very effective in it's design. You cannot expect a renaissance, revolution, or rebirth in a genre supported by a complicit demographic. If women aren't being listened to, it's not from lack of effort on their part. It's even more a shame that women artists seem limited too in what they can sing about on the radio. If it ain't sex, romance, or love it's not sung by a woman on the country channels. I didn't hear Lucinda William's 'East Side of Town,' anywhere outside XFM, but Carrie Underwood's 'Before He Cheats,' is still getting semi-regular rotation out here in Oklahoma. 

What can you do? 

I guess you can blame the victim. ;)

Will:

 

Ha!  This has been the best discussion on ND in ages.

#Like

Touche Will...most likely that's exactly what will happen...or maybe it already has...

...I've missed the last two days of this debate because I locked myself in a room, got drunk, and listened to nothing but Exile On Main Street, London Calling, Little Richard's Greatest Hits, Los Lobos and BB King's "absolutely essential" Original Greatest Hits in the search for "credibility"... 

And then I realized that Jim's post said I was supposed to do that for "3 days"...damn...now I still have zero credibility, but I did get a headache...

 

 

LOLOL, well you managed longer than I did (although I think I hit three days when I was younger; I had so much more cred then, I'm younger than that now).
 

Well, I get "cred" for stamina anyway...thanks Will!...it has been a lively discussion, I'll say that...I also need to remember to excuse all of my current "senior" behavior with the punch line of "My Back Pages"...

I'm still looking forward to the print mag, and I'm fine with calling it No Depression...I try not to let much get to me these days...I read the print edition pretty much from the beginning too, and my wife reminds me that stiil have all the issues that I didn't give to friends to read (that never got returned)...I loved the way Blackstock and Alden (and others) wrote about music, but I guess I didn't log in to Kickstarter thinking it would be exactly the same...time passes, things change...

I laughed at your recollection of trying to book as many women as you can, and then having one of them take off on you for not doing anywhere near enough...I have a friend who books lots of shows, and it is a juggling act for sure, I've heard the stories...no good deed goes unpunished I guess...

 

 

 

 

No need to excuse your "senior" behavior Jim; that's why you're senior. These punks need to show some respect.

Amen to that Will...

 

There goes your freedom of choice, there goes your last human voice...

As we celebrate mediocrity, all the boys upstairs want to see...

Is how much you'll pay for what you used to get for free...

 

Apropos to this, and many other a discussion...well done Will!

Evidence of the deterioration of music criticism that's been lamented here:

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/rush-finally-make-rolling-stones-...

Women are sorely underrepresented in prog rock.  This is upsetting!  

This discussion surely jumped the clams before Rush was somehow interjected into a conversation that was, more or less, sort of, maybe kind of, somewhere off in the direction of women in country music.  Now if Gillian finds a Billy Joel angle to all of this, it'd bring the conversation full circle back to....where, again?

Clams Jack, Fried Clams.

Evidence admitted Gillian...call your first witness...

How 'bout this? Rolling Stones Invented Southern Rock. Blame it on the headline writer, otherwise not a bad piece.

http://www.avclub.com/article/stones-sticky-fingers-invented-southern-rock-220293

Yep, bad headline, but a decent article...

A bad headline indeed.  Got a chuckle out of Mick saying that Gram Parsons was one of the few people who taught him to sing country.  Thinking he was in the remedial class for that, not AP.  Donovan, on the other hand, now there's a country singer.

I've been away for a while.  What a treat to find Gillian still stirring things up!

 

 

Ron! And Jack! And Patrick! Talk about treats. I've missed you all. 

And I spent last night watching Geddy in concert! Probably no surprise.