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The unhealthy state of country

Country Standard Time Editorial, March 1999

Just how healthy is country music as we head into 1999?

Not too, according to several year-end statistics. The sales of country music increased 2.7 percent over 1998, paling in comparison to the music industry average of just under 10 percent for the year.

And a large chunk of that increase was due in large part to Shania Twain, who sold 4.9 million copies of "Come On Over" and Garth Brooks, who sold 7.6 million copies of "Double Live," "Sevens" and The Limited Series." Brooks accounted for almost 12 percent of all country sales.

The lone breakthrough act was The Dixie Chicks with "Wide Open Spaces." Not only did the album by the Dallas trio offer a slew of hit singles, but the disc is at 2.3 million sales and rising.

Even such stars as George Strait and Tim McGraw only sold 1.2 million albums apiece. Not exactly stellar numbers.

Record company honchos pretty much downplayed the spate of negative news in recent months saying the sky wasn't falling. It may not be, but neither are the skies sunny.

The Chicks aren't going to the carry burden alone. Companies haven't figured out a way to break new acts in awhile - only The Wilkinsons and Michael Peterson hit the top of the charts last year among new artists, and the former have not put up big sales numbers either.

Neither are Garth and Shania going to bear the cross because neither probably will tour and who knows about a new album?

Part of the problem is the labels are so singles focused they'll never break any acts unless they have a hit single. When will they try other methods, such as getting acts out on the road to generate a following?

Or maybe sign more cutting edge acts as Asylum did in snagging Monte Warden or inking a prestige act like George Jones? Few labels seem to be willing to take such a chance on something different.

But maybe such bold action is needed.

Some execs in Nashville say that's just what's needed. Let's see if they stick by their words.

Country isn't going to go away, of course, but it sure would be nice if it were a lot healthier in 1999. Doing nothing will ensure it won't be.