2015: Ladies First?
January 16, 2015
"There will be at least two female breakthrough acts in 2015, possibly three." -- WUSY/Chattanooga PD Gator Harrison
"2014 was the beginning of 'The Year of the Female.'" -- KATM/Modesto PD Nikki Thomas
Harrison and Thomas each shared these bold predictions for the New Year, even before Monday's (1/12) record-setting day for Mickey Guyton. Capitol Nashville's newcomer garnered 79 first-week ads on "Better Than You Left Me," a total which marked the highest-ever one-week add tally on a debut act's first single.
It's an amazing start for Guyton, stoking optimism that what happened Monday will serve as a catalyst for more new females to emerge in 2015. Not only would that make Harrison and Thomas a couple of soothsaying swamis, this format could use a lightning rod with a strong feminine touch. While still quite steady, Country will benefit from another layer of diversity to help bolster and insulate itself in 2015 and forward.
Let's also keep our wits about us and remember this was one week, one artist and one single (Although, the buzz on all of Guyton's music is huge, too). Additionally, during the next month or so, let's see if the enthusiasm radio just displayed for Guyton on the front end converts to truly measurable, impactful airplay. And by that, I mean stepping out and aggressively spinning "Better Than You Left Me."
Radio: You've already demonstrated rare consensus for a new female in the form of 80-plus stations on Mickey Guyton. Now, all 80 of you need to put this artist and song front and center with equal concordance, in the form of airplay quality and quantity. I mean, none of you will look exactly crazy, stupid or alone. Hey, 79 other crazy stupid programmers are apparently thinking just like you.
A ton of adds equals roughly two hours of bragging rights but this is a marathon we're running, not a 40-yard dash. I've said previously in this space that all of Country radio - or at least reporting stations - needs to play at least one new female at the same time, for a long time, in the daytime, if we have any chance to kick start our much-needed " Year of the Female."
Why is building a deeper female presence important?
Because - apologies to my Facebook friends here as I repurpose a Monday post - if we can't, won't or don't, we aren't a completely consumable product for our users, present and future; core or cume. We're a football team with no viable running game; a baseball club with a lousy bullpen or a basketball squad that can't rebound -- competitive, yet unbalanced ... and vulnerable.
"It almost doesn't make sense," says Phathead, JVC Broadcasting VP/Programming and PD of the company's WJVC/Nassau, commenting on the female artist vacuum. "If we were to bring in some kind of business consultant to review our strengths and weaknesses, they would certainly challenge us on this."
We've all celebrated and chronicled the growth of Country music and radio for a good five years or so. What has made the format's wider, mainstream appeal most impressive to me, is that it has pretty much paralleled a strong Top 40 music cycle. Country and Top 40 are the big two ubiquitous music formats right now, sharing cume and occasions.
There's a key area where these two formats go their separate ways however, and dramatically so. "It is a study in contrasts that on my pop station, we have a no more than three females in-a-row rule and on [Country WQDR] I work to force in three an hour," says Curtis Media/Raleigh VP/Programming and 'QDR PD Lisa McKay. "And we probably play more than most stations because we actually use local callout instead of running with the chart herd."
A look at the most recent Mediabase chart for Country and Top 40 affirms McKay's example: Country has only two solo female artists in its top 30 (I would ordinarily include Lady Antebellum as a third, but their current, #20 ranked single, "Freestyle" does not feature Hillary Scott, as many of their songs have). Carrie Underwood's "Something In The Water" and RaeLynn's "God Made Girls" are it, at #4 and 18, respectively.
That pales in comparison to the nine female entries in Top 40's 30 highest-ranked songs. By the way, in somewhat of a cruel irony, former Country mainstay Taylor Swift sits at #1 on Top 40 with "Blank Space," from her first, full-blown pop-targeted album, "1989."
Let's say Country does undergo a global musical shift back toward the middle in 2015, both sonically and lyrically, as discussed in last week's (1/9) 'Ville forecasting the New Year. Paired with even modest-yet-genuine momentum and advocacy for a new female artist movement via Country radio, the format will demonstrate its ability to continue growing and challenging itself, even during one of its most successful eras. That will give us depth, diversity and endurance, with a shot to at least maintain our ubiquitous status with Top 40 and other pop formats, while potentially becoming the most dominant, popular music choice among consumers.
And that's why it's important for Country to up its estrogen level in 2015, while maintaining its testosterone appeal.
KATM's Nikki Thomas is optimistic. "A lot of seeds were planted [last year] that should really start to blossom in 2015."
And she's right when you stop and think about it. Maddie & Tae topped the charts with their debut single, "Girl In A Country Song," late last year. Now programmers are telling me the follow up, "Fly," proves these two young ladies have real depth. While they are definitely a duo, last time I checked, they're both females, so anything they sing counts as a female artist.
But there is a much deeper roster of aspiring females who all had a taste of airplay success last year, indicating something is ready to give this year. Each had pockets of strong support at different times, but none ever achieved the critical mass Guyton and her team accomplished in one week.
"The ladies trying to break through now are so unique," says Thomas. "Lindsay Ell plays a guitar like a savage. Kristy Lee Cook owns any stage she puts her feet on. She's all in. Leah Turner? Her voice is so strong. Maggie Rose is another favorite. I predict at least two or maybe three of these girls getting serious footing in 2015."
KKGO/Los Angeles PD Tonya Campos agreed that it's evident the time is now for female artists to impose their will on this format. "People want it to happen, but only for the really good ones," says Campos. "We can't start adding music just to get females on the station."
Country radio benefited from 2014's groundswell of activity -- albeit intermittent -- to spur future growth, says Thomas. "We needed Maddie & Tae, Raelynn, Kelsea Ballerini and Cassadee Pope last year," she says. "Moving into 2015, I can't wait for Mickey Guyton's voice to be heard more. I'll be really surprised if she doesn't happen this year."
Guyton may well be on her way - and leading the way.
"I think we'll look back later this year and people will say, 'Where did it all start?'" says WJVC's Phathead, who agrees a "Year of the Female" is stirring. "We'll say, 'In the New Year, with a big add date and a #1 record for Guyton."