Country Music Dude: In Radio, Female Performers Are Basically Garnishes


Country Aircheck Weekly is a trade publication devoted to country radio news, not exactly a popular read for most households. But their latest issue has drawn the attention of star Martina McBride because of an interview with music consultant Keith Hill, who said if country music is a salad, men are the lettuce and women are just tomatoes.

In the issue, Hill is set up thusly: he’s “playfully described by some as ‘the world’s leading authority on music scheduling.’” He doles out helpful advice to DJs about keeping their music libraries limited and organized, but he also expounds on playing “female” music too often:

Finally, Hill cautions against playing too many females. And playing them back to back, he says, is a no-no. “If you want to make ratings in Country radio, take females out,” he asserts. “The reason is mainstream Country radio generates more quarter hours from female listeners at the rate of 70 to 75%, and women like male artists. I’m basing that not only on music tests from over the years, but more than 300 client radio stations. The expectation is we’re principally a male format with a smaller female component. I’ve got about 40 music databases in front of me and the percentage of females in the one with the most is 19%. Trust me, I play great female records and we’ve got some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females.”

There’s plenty to unpack here. For their part, Country Aircheck tweeted out an extensive report they released on women in country music in February. In that piece, they crunched the numbers on when women dominated the airwaves the most in the past couple decades, and the late ‘90s were the best, with women voicing 33 to 35 percent of the top 100 singles of those years. Since then, that number has hovered in the 20 to 30 percent range, though last year it was at 18 percent. In a discussion with some makers-and-breakers in country, many said they weren’t sure what the biggest reason behind the dearth of women in country is, but that it does seem to come down to patterns.

“The bigger challenge for our format is we’re so superstar-heavy and they go to the front of the line every time,” Michael Bryan, WSIX/ Nashville’s Operations Manager/ Program Director said. “It’s very hard for anyone, male or female, to break.”

Country Aircheck talked to John Marks, who you may remember for his plan to play only women artists on his Sirius show for a week last summer. According to Marks, it wasn’t incredibly successful: “For the effort in general, people applauded it,” he said. “But in terms of general reaction to the music, it was really kind of a non-plus. And that’s in terms of sales and social media reaction. Most were received with at best a yawn, outright hostility, or even worse, zero noise or sales.” That depressing sentiment being said, it’s clear from discussions that that’s partially the fault of record labels and the longterm environment that hasn’t encouraged women country artists to be themselves and develop an interesting sound, coupled with the fact that even male country artists can’t do those things either. We’ve fallen into this rut, and it’s hard to break out of it.

That’s something that Hill outlined in his interview as well:

“The superstars are the ‘Mount Rushmores’ of Country; Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney, Lady Antebellum, for example. I never go more than three songs without one of those identifiable superstars. It’s almost difficult not to now because there are so many. But just the other day I caught the competition in one of my markets going seven songs without a superstar.”

Hill’s sentiments took some heat from his peers, and he’s spent the past day defending himself on Twitter.

Some of his comments make more sense than others.

But right now, Hill’s most high-profile critic is female country music star Martina McBride, who wrote on her Facebook page Wednesday:

Wow…..just wow. Just read this from a major country radio publication. How do you feel about this statement? I especially want to hear from the females. Do you not like to hear other women singing about what you are going through as women? I’m really curious. Because to me, country music is about relating. Someone relating to what you are really going through on a day to day basis in your life. Did you girls (core female listeners) know you were being “assessed” in this way? Is this how you really feel? Hmmm….

She’s spent her time responding to positive Facebook comments, and has even received one from singer Sara Evans, who wrote, “Thanks for posting this Martina!” Just a couple of tomatoes, gabbin’ away.

Image via Kevin Winter/Getty for iHeartMedia

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