Charlie Cook On Air: CMA Awards

It is time for the Brad and Carrie show (also known as the CMA Awards show) next Thursday, Nov. 1 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville and broadcast on ABC-TV. The announced performers and the nominated artists makes this a must see TV event for all, including the 12,000 or so fans lucky enough to have a seat in the arena.

As a quick aside, it is pretty incredible that both the ACM and CMA have been able to tap into hosts for their programs that turn out to be naturals at the job. Earlier this year Reba and Blake were fabulous and if you’re anything like me you too look forward all year to the show opening in Nashville with Brad and Carrie.

That naturalness and professionalism of these superstars, in what is a tough job out of their comfort zones, points to the incredible shape the format is in as we approach the Awards show this year.

Country music has the best stable of artists today. Yeah, some of the other formats have bigger, better selling stars but our bench is deeper and country acts are going to enjoy longer careers than the other contemporary format’s artists.

At the stations I work with we identify the top nine artists and assure that we’re playing a superstar every quarter hour. This gives the station a bigness that guarantees that the listeners are hearing the big stars every time they turn the station on. It is becoming harder and harder to get that list down to just nine acts.

When your brand is strong enough that you can be identified by just your first name, you have made it. Pop acts start with just one name. Rihanna, Beyonce, Pink, Adele, Ke$ha and Usher for example.

Country acts morph into one name. Brad, Carrie, Toby, Kenny and Taylor for example. Country acts earn their one name.

All kidding aside, the format is so strong today and yet there are new acts breaking into the top tier. Eric Church, Luke Bryan, and Easton Corbin, are all right on the edge of becoming superstars. Still there are new acts like Kip Moore, Dustin Lynch, and Jana Kramer finding room on radio stations.

On this topic I reached out to my “go to lady” in the record business: Lesly Tyson, Vice President of Promotion for Arista Nashville. Lesly has always helped me see the whole picture.

“We are in such an incredible place overall in the format,” Lesly told me last week. “There are new artists breaking through with big hits – 8 new acts actually made a huge impact with singles in the Top 5 in the last 9 months – that’s awesome. We have brought in younger listeners and they are responding to new, fresh music.”

That’s the beauty of the country music. The biggest selling act in our format is 22 years old. The two biggest ticket sellers are a couple of 45 year olds. (Kenny…I just went and added a year to your age. You’ll forgive me.)

The one area where the format is troubled is with female performers. A few weeks back I wrote here that only four female artists are in the top 30 played songs for 2012. Music Row and radio need to do a better job here.

Lesly agrees, “Our format is still very tough on females and we do not have to be. Look at CHR, Hot AC and the other current formats and how they embrace female artists – 10 to 15 female acts in the Top 30 at any given time. There is room at Country to open up a few spots to more female voices. Of those 8 new artists with singles that have broken though this year – only 1 was a female solo act. If given a shot, I truly believe more female artists would turn into core artists in Country, too.”

With the exception of this one issue I would not trade the excitement and potential that country music has today with any other format on the radio.

The show next week will win the TV ratings night, as it always does. Hopefully it will also be a springboard to bigger and better successes for not only the superstars like Brad, Taylor, Blake, Kenny and Jason (all nominated for Entertainer of the Year), but also for the New Artist of the Year Nominees Lee Brice, Brantley Gilbert, Hunter Hayes, Love and Theft and Thompson Square.

There is one thing we can all get behind. Good luck to all of the nominees.

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MusicRow)

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