Country Music: Walking the line
Chair: Anna-Sophie Mertens, Live Nation (UK)
The Country Music Association (CMA)’s Milly Olykan – who, in her former role with AEG, helped launch the successful Country to Country (C2C) music festival – recommended everyone in the room “go along to a country show – you’d be surprised what the audience looks like.” Many of them, she said, are “young, good-looking and fashionable,” and the diversity of the fanbase extends to the music itself: “It’s a really broad church.”
When the CMA launched C2C in the UK, continued Olykan, it was a “real unknown. We didn’t know anything about the fanbase or who they are. But what we noticed really early on is the level of engagement from fans. Country artists really like interacting with fans, doing meet-and-greets, etc., and we realised it was all about building a community.”
BBC Radio 2’s Baylen Leonard said the perception of country music is changing, especially among young people, given the “ease in which people can find music now.” In the Spotify era, “you can find yourself listening to a song and not even realising it’s a country song,” he suggested.
“You don’t have to buy an album anymore, so the barrier is way smaller – you just go and stream,” added Oliver Hoppe of Germany’s Wizard Promotions.
On the live side, he continued, “there’s a lot of [country] talent coming to Germany now, so you don’t need to spend 75 bucks the one time Dolly Parton comes to Europe; you can spend 20 bucks on more shows and see if you like them, which gives people a chance to grow with artists.”
UTA’s Sean Goulding spoke on country’s global growth, saying Kacey Musgraves recently played Fuji Rock in Japan – not a traditional country touring market – and a growing number of artists are coming to Europe, while the already strong Australian market continues to “pick up speed.”
“I think it’s just about risk-taking and looking at artists who are bringing something different to the table,” he said.
“Women in country are smashing it out of the park”
Label support is also growing, said Hoppe. “In Germany, we have a person who is responsible for country working at every record label now,” he explained – something that’s not yet the case in the UK, added the panel’s chair, Live Nation promoter UK Anna-Sophie Mertens, though Olykan said that’s changing fast.
Both Leonard and Olykan added that country is leading the way when it comes to gender equality on concert and festival line-ups. Olykan said, although “there are a lot of dudes in country music,” C2C’s focus has always been on “building a really diverse line-up” that showcases the genre’s talented women.
“Women in country are smashing it out of the park,” added Leonard, who said he plays so many female artists on Radio 2 without thinking that “I have to sometimes consciously add men into the playlist!”