Is the Tide Turning for Women at Country Radio?
There's no getting around the fact that women have been having a very hard time at country radio over the course of the past few years. But are we finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel?
Well ... maybe. There's both good and bad news for female artists in country music right now. The good news is, a few new females have made some dents in country radio's armor recently. The bad news is, there's still a long, long way to go.
A quick look at Billboard's Country Airplay chart for May 2 reveals just one female artist in the Top 10, and that's Grace Potter, for her guest appearance on Kenny Chesney's latest single, "Wild Child." Carrie Underwood sits at No. 13 with "Little Toy Guns," and Miranda Lambert clocks in at No. 18 with her latest, "Little Red Wagon." Newcomer Kelsea Ballerini is making big inroads with her debut single, "Love Me Like You Mean It," sitting at No. 16. The only other females in the Top 30 are in groups: Little Big Town's "Girl Crush" sits at No. 19, Gloriana occupy the No. 25 spot with "Trouble" and Maddie & Tae are at No. 30 with their sophomore single, "Fly."
The good news is, a few new females have made some dents in country radio's armor recently. The bad news is, there's still a long, long way to go.
Add to that the fact that the duo hit No. 1 with their debut single, "Girl in a Country Song," in December 2014, and Mickey Guyton's early impact with her debut single, "Better Than You Left Me," and it seems like maybe there's a little room opening up.
"Actually, I feel like it's an exciting time right now," Lindsay Anderton tells Taste of Country. She is one-third of the family trio Lucy Angel along with her mother, Kate, and sister, Emily. The unique group are the subject of the AXS TV show Discovering Lucy Angel, and are releasing their first single, "Crazy Too," to mainstream country radio.
"It's a great opportunity, because it means it could swing the other way," Anderton says. "I can see how it makes sense that men and women are drawn to artists differently, and if radio's target is women then I feel like we need to connect with other women, emotionally and in what they're going through, what they're experiencing. Like, 'Hey, I've been there, too. I know what you're feeling.' Me personally, as a listener, that's what I look for on radio, is that connection."
Joy Styles is also excited about what the future holds. Signed to 764 Records — a division of Red River Entertainment — she released an EP, Unbreakable, recently, and has been working her single, "Fast," at radio. She attributes the hard time women have been having at country radio partly to trends.
"I think part of it is the bro-country," Styles says. "It's still here, and I think it's on the tail end of it. So while it's here, it kinda has to play out. In any genre, in any period of time, people invest time, money and energy into what's hot, and they kind of veer away from what isn't out there right now. So if we don't have females doing a great job at radio, then what is our incentive to sign another female artist and try to break through, when it's clearly not working for other people?" she reasons.
"Which to me, doesn't necessarily make sense, because to me, doing something when everyone else isn't doing it makes your chances greater of success, if you put your money and your energy behind it, and I think that's a huge component," Styles adds. "Are people believing in you? Do they think you're a great artist and that you can change the landscape? If people aren't willing to take that risk on you, there's nothing you can do. You just get stuck."
If radio's target is women then I feel like we need to connect with other women, emotionally and in what they're going through, what they're experiencing.
There's been no shortage of women giving country radio a shot in recent years. Both new and veteran performers have found it an uphill climb, as we reported late in 2014. At that time, it had been two years since a female solo artist topped the Country Airplay chart.
While many point to men having a winning formula at radio, or point to the fact that male artists outsell female artists as reasons for the imbalance, a recent piece from MJ's Big Blog refutes those assertions, noting that in a side-by-side comparison, that idea doesn't hold up. "In fact, with a number of women outperforming men on a sales per spin basis, it looks more and more like country radio has deliberately chosen an audience that favors male voices, one that makes it more difficult for women at every level of career development to achieve the same level of airplay penetration as male counterparts at the same level of career development," the site opines.
The decision-making part of the country music business is heavily male-dominated; most of the executives are male, as are most of the program directors. But while that lends itself to speculation that simple sexism could be at the heart of the imbalance, neither Anderton nor Styles have experienced that firsthand.
"I haven't," Styles says. "All the men have been very friendly, and very receptive to the music. No one has been disrespectful, which is a blessing, because it happens. I just haven't been on the receiving end. I've heard nothing but positive things about my music and a desire to hear more of it. I don't think it's radio programmers that are the issue. We're in a time right now where a lot of what's being played is being given to them, and they can very easily think that you are the greatest thing since sliced bread, but you're not on the list, so they can't play you. And that is something that I have run into."
"I'm seeing a lot more women recently" in decision-making roles, Anderton observes. "You know what's interesting is that as we're out doing these radio shows, a lot of them bring their wives, which is pretty cool. I love that they're doing it together, and their wives are usually really music fans that are coming to that."
Of course, trends come and go, and the most likely scenario is that females will gradually make their way back to a more level playing field at radio through the course of the marketplace slowly correcting itself. Until then, it's largely a matter of hanging in there and trying to appeal to women, without losing men.
If you stop, you will never run into that person who is willing to take a chance on you. But I totally believe that the tide is gonna turn.
"Actually our single, 'Crazy Too,' even though the song is written about a woman, saying that basically her boyfriend has one too many crazy ex-girlfriends, it could actually go the other way," Anderton says of Lucy Angel's new song. "It's just funny how many people have been like, 'Oh my gosh, I've so been there!'" she adds with a laugh. "That's actually what attracted us to the song in the first place, because I definitely had an experience with an ex-boyfriend who had one too many crazy ex-girlfriends. So if I can relate to this, I think someone else might be able to as well. We're just really excited to be releasing our single, and look forward to getting out there and connecting with people."
Styles agrees that recording the best songs and connecting with both men and women is key. "There are certain songs that I feel are about female empowerment, like my next song, 'Unbreakable,'" she says. "It's all about overcoming and being strong, and getting up when you fall down. I want every woman to know that. We're really sensitive, and sometimes when things happen and we get hurt, we can take it on stronger than we should, but to remember that you are unbreakable. That things can happen, and you can still bounce back."
That could almost be the theme song for women in country music right now.
"Right now it seems like you can't be a female artist, but it's going to happen," Styles insists. "If you keep going, it could be you, but if you stop, it'll never be you. It all comes down to who is willing to take a chance. If you stop, you will never run into that person who is willing to take a chance on you. But I totally believe that the tide is gonna turn."
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