Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Country Music -- Catching up on international developments

At the Country Music Association's annual Festival in Nashville last month, a group of journalists discussed the state of country music outside the United States.

The CMA web site ran this report by Tom Roland on the meeting:

We call it “Country Music” — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s just for one country. That lesson was easy to draw from this year’s CMA Music Festival, where visitors came from as far off as Chile, Japan and Scandinavia: a total of 21 nations on five continents.
Their embrace of music whose values reflect America’s rural heritage and national pride poses questions that might best be answered by members of the foreign press, who were also more evident than ever at this year’s Festival. They were particularly easy to notice early on the morning of June 10, when three of its distinguished representatives gathered for a breakfast discussion.
“I was playing ‘Boondocks’ in my show,” said radio personality Dirk Rohrbach of Bavarian Broadcasting’s public broadcasting channel Bayern 3, in reference to Little Big Town’s first hit. “People kept calling and emailing, ‘What is that? Can you play that again? That’s great, that rockin’, edgy song.’ I suppose they didn’t listen to the lyrics, but it doesn’t really matter because the harmonies are so great and the sound is so different from pop radio.”
Yet even with the United States in what may be considered a state of greater political isolation than in years past, its essence, as expressed through the lyrics of Country Music, still connects with listeners throughout the world.
“People dream about your country,” insisted Georges Lang of RTL, France’s largest commercial radio network. “We don’t talk about politics. For the average French people, America is a dream — highways.”
“People in Australia who don’t know much about Country Music, I tell them that it’s about relationships, love, family, community and all sorts of things,” added Tim Daley, programmer for Australia’s Country Music Channel (CMC) on TV. “Those are the things that naturally appeal to people with children, so these people tend to be a little bit older.”
In this respect, at least, Country Music listeners around the globe have something in common with those in the United States. In Germany, for instance, Rohrbach identifies three general groups that gravitate to the genre: people intrigued with the American cowboy icon, middle-aged fans who seek an alternative to harder rock music and younger listeners drawn to the pop-influenced sound that underscores many current Country hits.
“I always envisioned this one big festival where the Springsteens and the Pettys and the Mellencamps, who are still huge in Europe, would bring Country acts like Trace Adkins, Brooks & Dunn and Keith Urban,” Rohrbach said. “You name it. Put ‘em on one stage and people would react. There’s no difference.”
Though Country obviously plays well in other territories, it also bears a stereotype, which is one reason why the term “Country,” according to Rohrbach, has been replaced by “highway rock ‘n’ roll,” a phrase that suggests the freedom of the road and an edgy attitude while avoiding old stereotypes and connotations.
“It’s really important, talking about Country Music internationally, to focus on a mainstream audience,” Daley pointed out. “You don’t go after Country fans. There aren’t enough of them. You don’t have the NASCAR crowd. You want to be on the biggest TV shows. You want to do the promos. You want to do in-stores at the best record stores. You have to approach it like it’s mainstream. You don’t go in looking for a sliver of the audience. You want to cast as wide a net as you possibly can.”
Doing this overseas is apparently easier than at home in the States. Instead of the intensive radio tours that new American artists frequently undergo, an artist could reach as many as 80 million people by visiting as few as 10 radio stations in Germany and France. And it might take just one radio visit in Australia, where the CMC claims to have sewn up about 75 percent of the Country activity.
Ultimately, the artists who make the biggest impact overseas are the ones who treat that market like a door prize: Must be present to win. Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Keith Urban and Dwight Yoakam were all mentioned as artists who built an audience by going abroad early in their careers and following up, on average, with international tours every couple of years.
“When you talk about Country, you talk about artists like Waylon Jennings, like Willie Nelson, because the [younger breaking artists], we just don’t know them,” Lang said. “I know them, because I’m coming to Nashville, but there is little communication between Nashville and Europe about the new Country. I’m quite sure that they will love this kind of new Country, but they don’t know a lot about it. They cannot read about it or see it.”
That’s one of the biggest reasons why the foreign press was on hand at CMA Music Festival. Daley and Rohrbach were making their second trips, and Lang has attended approximately 25 times. They care deeply about the genre and they’re doing what they can to bridge the distances between Music City and their hometowns.
“We’re so passionate about the music,” Rohrbach noted. “We’re over here to talk to the artists. We’re spending our time, our money and we invest that because we love the music.”

Meanwhile, in a related development, British radio personality Brian Clough has been awarded the CMA's annual international broadcaster award. The award ceremony took place in, uh, May.... but I am just getting around the posting on it.

The Award was presented to him in Durham, England by Bobbi Boyce, CMA International Consultant.

“I’m still trying to come to terms with the honor given to me by the Country Music Association and ponder as to why I should be rewarded with such an accolade for something that has been a great enjoyment to do for the best part of my life,” said Clough. “A sincere thank you to all those folks who thought I was worthy of the award, and a special thank you to all the artists for providing some of the greatest music around.”
Clough was introduced to country music as a teenager in the ’60s while listening to artists such as Don Gibson and Roger Miller on the radio. For 30 years, he has presented and produced country music radio programs at such places as the Independent Metro and Great North Radio Group, Harmony Radio, Century Radio, DLR, NLR, and Smooth Radio. Readers of a national magazine once voted him one of the top six country presenters in Great Britain. He has written a country music column for The Northern Echo, one of Great Britain’s largest daily regional newspapers, for 26 years, and also serves as the entertainment editor for
The CMA International Broadcaster Award recognizes outstanding achievement by radio broadcasters outside the United States who have made important contributions toward the development of Country Music in their country. Previous winners are listed at
Read full story HERE

And, states a CMA press release,  last month in Nashville, Australian concert promoter Michael Chugg of Chugg Entertainment was given the Jo Walker-Meador International Award. The award recognizes outstanding achievement by an individual or company in advocating and supporting Country Music's marketing development in territories outside the United States.
"To receive such a wonderful award from CMA during their Festival week in Nashville was a great honor, and will take pride of place in my office in Sydney," said Chugg. "To be able to play a part in spreading music to the world is very special, and I thank the Board of the CMA on behalf of all the Australian Country Music fans."

Chugg is one of the most experienced and respected concert promoters in Australia, with a career spanning more than 45 years. He received the CMA International Talent Buyer/Promoter of the Year Award in 2006, has won every major music and entertainment award possible in Australia, and currently serves on the CMA Australian Advisory Group. Chugg has been involved with establishing Australia as a strong live touring market for international artists, and has promoted or co-promoted tours with Brooks & Dunn, Dixie Chicks, Willie Nelson, Sugarland, Taylor Swift, and Keith Urban among others. Chugg Entertainment will co-promote a Tim McGraw tour with Entertainment Edge later this year. 

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