RIAA Changes Strategy In Fight Against Illegal Downloading

The RIAA has stopped filing lawsuits for illegal downloading and is now fighting the problem through Internet service providers (ISP). The Wall Street Journal reports that the music industry—which has sued 35,000 alleged downloaders for copyright infringement since 2003—hasn’t filed a suit since this fall. The lawsuits had created numerous public/consumer relations for the industry as a whole.

Preliminary agreements with major ISPs show that the RIAA will notify the provider when it finds a provider’s customer uploading music for potential free download. Then the ISP will warn the customer, asking them to stop on more than one occasion. If the customer continues file-sharing, they could receive slower service or be cut off altogether.

Project Paper Doll Closes Successful Second Year

The Project Paper Doll auction closed this week, raising $22,273 for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Fifty-nine wooden paper dolls, representing the Children’s Hospital logo, were turned into one-of-a-kind pieces of art by celebrities and auctioned on eBay.

Wooden paper dolls decorated by
Reba McEntire and George Strait were among the highest draws, going for $3,500 and $1125, respectively. In the fundraiser’s second year, other top selling dolls were by Alan Jackson ($960), Kid Rock ($930) and Rascal Flatts ($820).

MG Gear Up For Sound And Speed

Montgomery Gentry

Montgomery Gentry will headline the kick-off concert for Sprint Sound & Speed Presented by SunTrust on Friday, Jan. 9 at the Sommet Center. The fourth consecutive event, running Jan. 9-10, 2009 in Nashville, combines Country music and NASCAR with the concert on Friday, and a day of fan-celebrity interaction on Saturday.

On Sat., Jan. 10 at the Municipal Auditorium, fans can meet musicians and drivers for autographs and question-and-answer sessions. Country music celebrities scheduled to participate are Josh Turner, Jason Michael Carroll, members of Diamond Rio and newcomer Rick Huckaby. Among the NASCAR stars set to appear are Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Michael Waltrip, Reed Sorensen, Jamie McMurray, and David Stremme.

Also for the fourth consecutive year, Sound & Speed will benefit the Victory Junction (a camp for children with serious illnesses) and the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum. The first three Sprint Sound & Speed Presented by SunTrust events drew an estimated 40,000 fans and raised more than $800,000 for its designated charities.

Tickets for the whole weekend range from $40 to $50, details at www.soundandspeed.org.

Rich Weds

John Rich wed longtime girlfriend Joan Bush in Nashville on Saturday night. He has been dating the former model who runs a modeling agency in Houston for more than five years, according to People magazine. The outlet goes on to report that the small ceremony was held at the Fontanel Mansion and attended by about two dozen guests.

Bobby Karl Works The CMA Awards Chapter 301

During a musical cornucopia of a show with 20 performances, Kenny Chesney was again crowned country music’s monarch at the 42nd annual CMA Awards.

With his fourth Entertainer of the Year win, Kenny now ties Garth Brooks. His performance of “Everybody Want to Go to Heaven” with The Wailers was one of the CMA telecast’s 2008 musical highlights.

“As much as tonight is about awards, I really believe that standing onstage tonight is more about great songs, great fans and standing before everybody every night,” he said.

(Top-Bottom): Sugarland, George Strait, Kid Rock, Alan Jackson, Miranda Lambert, Trace Adkins, Kellie Pickler and Martina McBride. Photos: Donn Jones and John Russell

Backstage, Kenny added, “The energy I give and the energy that I get back on stage is pretty addictive. Entertaining is what I do best. I already have a 3-D version in my mind of what my stage is going to look like next year. This never gets old.” He added that he felt that Garth “opened up a lot of roads” for shows like his.

Also repeating was show co-host Carrie Underwood, with her third consecutive Female Vocalist CMA award. She was also the evening’s fashion highlight, changing into nine different outfits for the red carpet, hosting duties, performance slot and post-show party.

“Thank you, country music,” said Carrie. “I came here on an unconventional route [via American Idol]. You guys didn’t have to accept me at all…Thank you, everybody I know!”

Show co-host Brad Paisley took home his second Male Vocalist prize. When his name was announced, he lept down into the audience, hugged duet partner Keith Urban and bent down to kiss wife Kimberly Williams Paisley on her tummy. Backstage, he confirmed that she is pregnant with their second child.

Rascal Flatts
won its sixth Group of the Year honor. “Again, all of our fans, again all of our fans, again all of our fans,” said lead vocalist Gary LeVox on stage. Backstage, he added, “There’s no greater feeling than standing on stage and hearing your songs sung back to you.” Jay DeMarcus said that multiple winning, “never gets old, especially when you’re standing there in the same category as your heroes, like The Eagles.

George Strait’s
Album of the Year win was also a repeat. Sugarland was in the Duo of the Year winner’s seat for the second year.

Facing stiff competition from Jason Aldean, Rodney Atkins, Kellie Pickler and James Otto, Lady Antebellum was the winner of the Best New Artist CMA Award.

“This is so cool!” blurted Lady A’s Hillary Scott. At the backstage press conference, she revealed that she has a tattoo and has challenged fellow Lady A member Dave Haywood to get one, too. The group described itself as “shocked” by the win. Hillary’s mother, Linda Davis, is also a country performer. When the two hugged, that’s when Hillary truly “lost it” and dissolved into tears.

“Stay” Song of the Year winner Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland said, “I love writin’ songs and I love performin’ ‘em. It’s just been a gift from the beginning, and it was a gift to write.”

Musically, the telecast was a mixed bag. In the winners’ column were Alan Jackson, Keith Urban, Kellie Pickler, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Darius Rucker, Trace Adkins, George Strait, The Eagles and co-hosts Brad and Carrie. Lady Antebellum was particularly electrifying. Jason Aldean and Kid Rock rocked. With her long silver-fringed top over black tights, Jennifer showed the other ladies how to dress during Sugarland’s “Love,” which was another great performance.

Not so hot were a vocally flat effort by Rodney Atkins and a wobbly-pitched performance by Taylor Swift. Brooks & Dunn’s collaboration with Reba McEntire initially suffered from an inaudible Reba. Muffled vocals also troubled the show-opening “Join a Band” by Brad and Keith.

The parade of presenters included Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, the stars of the cinematic epic Australia. “It’s a true testament to the international power of country music that you would have us Ozzies here tonight,” said Hugh. On the red carpet, Nicole said she wasn’t nervous about presenting, because hubby Keith Urban wasn’t in the Single of the Year category.

Native Nashvillian Reese Witherspoon, another presenter, said that her family has steadfastly remained in Tune Town, despite her entreaties to move them to the West Coast. She added that she misses Music City’s “soul food.”

“Do we have any Tennessee Titans fans in the house tonight?” inquired Billy Ray Cyrus, who presented with tween-sensation Miley Cyrus. They did not walk the red carpet together. Miley said it was a relief to be away from the L.A. papparazzi so she could shop for two hours at Wal-Mart unmolested by them. Billy Ray spotted Shania Twain getting out of her limo, walked over with open arms, embraced her and escorted her to the red carpet. But he walked it with former Nashville Star contestant Justin Gaston. They met on the show and bonded. Handsome Justin has been playing in the BRC band and singing harmony. He begins recording his debut disc in Nashville this week.

Other presenters included Julianne Hough, Josh Turner, Lee Ann Womack, Jimmy Wayne, Jake Owen and Vince Gill. Among the show’s notable gaffs were the miniscule amount of time allotted to Brad’s tribute to Jerry Reed and Vinnie’s salute to this year’s Hall of Fame inductees, plus cutting James Otto’s song short to announce radio-station winners.

Josh and Sarah Buxton had a class reunion on the red carpet. They attended Belmont together. “I knew he was a star the first time I heard him sing,” Sarah told Channel 2 reporter Brad Schmitt. Also walking the red carpet were Jennifer Hanson, Crystal Shawanda, Darryl Worley, Big Kenny and Chuck Wicks, plus most of the show’s performers and presenters.

“I’m as nervous as I can be,” said Darius Rucker prior to his performance. Taylor Swift said that her beaded crystal red-carpet dress weighed 30 pounds. During her CMA performance, her voluminous purple ball gown magically transformed into a romantic, white floor-length creation.

Big Machine Records had its after-party right at the show-hosting Sommet Center. The jam-packed CMA bash was across the way at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Shania Twain was all the buzz at the UMG party at its headquarters on Commerce Street. Capitol’s after-party was at Lime on Upper Broadway. Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney, Reese Witherspoon and The Wailers all turned up at the Sony after-party on Music Row.

The soirees have been ultra-cool all this week. In addition to The Wailers and Reese, Kevin Costner, Lynyryd Skynyrd, steel-guitar great Robert Randolph, Titans quarterback Kerry Collins, Miley Cyrus, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, ‘Lil Wayne and Kid Rock have all been on the party circuit, as well as all the big country stars. What a fabulous time to “work the room.”

Country By Numbers (11/26/08)

As the industry heads home for a dose of Thanksgiving family and fowl to replenish its fortitude reservoir, it leaves Black Friday week sales in the hands of retailers nationwide. During last year’s comparable holiday week the Country Top 75 hit a healthy 1.53 million units. This year expectations are more reserved with some insiders hoping to at least break the one million unit mark. Can we do it? To a large degree it may depend upon how aggressive retailers get with loss leader pricing. Will we see $3.99 digital album downloads again from Amazon and perhaps other sites? How low will markdowns go on physical product?

The week ending 11/23/08 was ruled by debuts from Zac Brown Band (No. 3; 43,531), Blake Shelton (No. 7; 26,264) and Randy Houser (No. 21; 7,041). Also pivotal was the natural second week falloff in numbers for the Taylor Swift CD which retained its Top spot on the Current country Top 75, but dropped 63% to 217,209 units. [private]Faith Hill’s Christmas offering leapt 83% wk/wk to the No. 2 country chart position stuffing its stocking with 46,284 scans. Other holiday offerings showing signs of jingle bell fever are the Elvis Christmas Duets (up 135% to 29,000), Julianne Hough Sounds Of The Season (up 115% to 22,460) and George Strait Classic Christmas (up 75% to 6,823).

Zooming out to the big picture, country sales Y/Y are off 23.3% with marketshare leveling off to 10.7% of the overall U.S. music industry. Interestingly, the share of digital country album sales is averaging 8%, up from about 5% at this time last year. However, country digital sales still only account for about 5.3% of overall digital album sales, a number below its marketshare, showing that country buyers are markedly less inclined to go online than total market buyers. [/private]