Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Missing Roots of Music on Radio? Why Not To Worry

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I just got an email from a frustrated music lover who is afraid his favorite genre of roots music, traditional country, is getting lost in the marketplace. His message called to mind the fear some of us have that our own roots-based music doesn't fit radio's slots these days. Here's why I don't worry.

What Is Roots Music?

The term 'roots music' can mean different things to different people. Here's how I define it: 
...Roots music feels deeply familiar to the soul, calls the heart 'home', and new music either incorporates it or borrows from it. 
Traditional country music is 'roots' music, and so is blues, traditional R&B, Celtic, bluegrass and, I would say, classical music! Older rock and pop that stand the test of time become sort of grafted roots that the music of today builds on. (Radio stations actually use the term 'classic rock'!) The roots genre you love may go underground, but it will, I believe, always resurface and feel oddly new, like when today's mainstream radio smash incorporates elements of a classic hit into a current one. A good example is Tom Petty's song 'Won't Back Down' that is so closely mirrored in Sam Smith's record 'Stay With Me' .An ensuing lawsuit ended when Petty was given some writer's credit for the Smith smash. As for traditional country, Alan Jackson, Maranda Lambert, Randy Travis and yes, George Strait have all broken through and been embraced by mainstream country markets along with very pop-sounding artists. 

Combining Roots

Sometimes multiple genres of roots music combine in amazing ways. The voices of country icons Ray Charles and George Jones wouldn't be the same without their r&b riffs and bends. Loretta Lynn is today enjoying a major market renaissance with her alt pop producer Jack White production! Influenced by scores of African-American R&B, mountain bluegrass and traditional country icons, pop artist Justin Timberlake and country artist Chris Stapleton created an incredible musical moment in history at the 2015 CMA show! The Rolling Stones famously borrowed from black blues artists of the American south such as Little Richard, Buddy Guy and BB King to create their (now classic) rock. In classical music,  Copland's 'Appalachian Spring' borrows a melody from a very old Appalachian Shaker tune called 'Tis A Gift To Be Simple'. 

No... roots music will never die. But it's extremely important to understand that different people with different backgrounds, personalities and affinities will be moved by different kinds of music. My husband and I just created our album "Here We Are" laced with our own multi-favorite roots, to some truly satisfying response and the President's Choice award by 'Strictly Country' magazine. Different people favor different songs on that album. Instead of fearing this or judging another's tastes, I say embrace our diversity!! 

So What Can We Do?

Vote with our wallets! I do think whether we make this music or just listen, it's important to support the music we love by purchasing it, requesting it on our local radio stations and going to those concerts when we can.  But there's no reason to worry about the roots music we love disappearing. Radio will always chase trends, and try to anticipate what retailers who advertise with them think their audiences want to hear. But the music and the music business sometimes are not in sync, just like the art of Van Gogh and the lack of market for his paintings in his time. Radio is often out of sync with what listeners really want to hear; for instance the hottest live performers of 2015 include The Who and Neil Young... not exactly current radio stars.  I believe we all need to stay true to our calling, no matter what's currently popular... or there never would have been a 'Starry Starry Night'. 

What's Next?

I predict that a couple of new traditional country artists and a Billie Holiday-influenced r&b artist will be breaking through to major market status in the coming year or two. (He and or she may just be students of mine, by the way:) Kacey Musgraves has already done it. I even have a young Hispanic student who shows me that salsa music (another example of roots) is alive and well! There will always be new, creative and even strange music, embraced especially by next-gen ears to define their era and make memories by.  God help us if we stop making and exploring new art! But not to worry. Like the alphabet from which all books are created, the value of the heart moving roots of music or any other art will always be... priceless. 

Your thoughts?

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  • At January 30, 2016 at 11:39 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    So many times the people fearing the demise of a particular style of music are simply wanting it to be hand fed to them by their local radio station. Almost every artist I play on my internet radio show plays a traditional form of roots music. Country, Bluegrass, Western Swing, Cowboy/Western music, Honky Tonk, Folk. They are ALL making great records and writing great songs but you have to HUNT to find them. None of them will be on your local radio station. I play nearly 60 artists every show all playing their own unique music yet still fitting into one or more of the styles mentioned. That is a lot of good music and many of the bands/Artists I play have multiple CDs out. Traditional music is out there you just have to REALLY WANT to find it

  • At February 4, 2016 at 7:43 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Dear Unknown... please leave us a link to your internet radio show! And yes, let's commit to actually searching for what we want to support. That's the way niche gets bigger, and sometimes becomes mainstream again.


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