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The long haul versus one-hit "wonders"

Country Standard Time Editorial, March 1997

What do Ricky Van Shelton, John Anderson, Billy Joe Shaver, Ty England, Asleep at the Wheel, Guy Clark, Doug Supernaw, Carlene Carter, Mark Collie, Jon Randall, Charlie Daniels, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Bobbie Cryner, Lari White, Clinton Gregory, Stacy Dean Campbell and Ken Mellons have in common?

They all either used to have major record label deals and have since been dropped by their labels or left their labels under mutual agreement. In all cases, the artists and labels parted after records did less than stellar numbers.

And that is part of the problem plaguing Music Row. Unlike other musical forms, in country, almost all artists are only as good as their last album or single.

In other words, if the record doesn't sell, it's "hit the road Jack." Sometimes musicians will end up at other labels, sometimes big (Chely Wright switched from Polydor to MCA), sometimes small (Holly Dunn went from Warner to River North) or nowhere (Daniels).

It is quite unfortunate that artists are so so tied in with how well a particular single does. First, that gives no indication of whether an entire album is worthy. Second, once a single fails to chart sufficiently, the labels are quick to the draw in what they perceive to be cutting their losses and spending their money elsewhere.

Once that happens, you're likely to see the artist label shopping.

Also disheartening is the number of acts who fail to have their albums released because a single did not do well. In country, that seems to be the kiss of death. That's why George Ducas' fine new album was delayed from last summer to January. Upcoming releases from the likes of Burnin' Daylight were supposed to be out months ago, but were delayed. And remember the publicity around the Sky Kings last summer? Funny thing happened on the way to the album being out. The single failed to do much on radio. The labels will tell you without a foothold on radio, forget it. The album's dead meat.

Let's face it. Not all artists are singles-oriented, delivering ear candy to the public.

One of the big problems for Nashville is that there appears to be so little interest in actually developing artists. In rock/alternative music, the major labels will go to the well sometimes several times because of their faith in an act even if the initial release did not sell well.

Are the country labels so blind to developing artists for the long haul and sustaining careers at the expense of one song or one album or do they merely think someone better will come down the pike? Presumably the execs had faith in the artist at some point. Otherwise, they would not have been signed.

Add these problems to the list of reasons why country isn't so healthy these days. And if they are scratching their heads, the suits ought to be singing the chorus of Diamond Rio's "Mirror Mirror" for the answer.