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2004: The year ahead

Country Standard Time Editorial, January 2004

With 2003 now behind us, it's time to look ahead to 2004 and consider the future of country music.

The music industry as a whole seemed to be doing better at the end of 2003 than it has for the past several years. Thanks to folks like Apple, the industry seems to be getting at least somewhat of a handle on downloading and sharing music on line for free versus consumers paying for their music.

Continuing the trend of consumers paying for music certainly bodes well for all types of music. Country may have been less effected by downloading than other genres, but the overall impact may well be positive.

Most importantly, of course, is the music, which is what matters most. The major labels - RCA, Sony, Warner, Universal, DreamWorks and Capitol Nashville - are not going to be releasing many albums anytime soon. In fact, several of them are going about six months between releases.

After all, are more business than art these days. And without a hit album, the red ink will run. Record company consolidation also could affect country as it would all types of music.

Driving the music will be the artists themselves. Chances are Kenny Chesney will have another big year. Who knows what new artists will emerge to capture the public's fancy - and what artists will fade into the woodwork?

Not everyone is going the major label route. Clint Black is launching his own, artist-friendly label in March with a new album. Whether that takes off and is able to overcome the resistance by radio to play non-major label music will be interesting to see. That also could bode well for artists like Joe Diffie on small, independent labels releasing music in 2004. A few smaller labels have had a hit or two in recent years, but nothing on a sustained basis. Tight radio playlists where songs can stay on the charts for months on end doesn't help.

Chances are that radio as we know it is not going to undergo any big alterations in 2004, but what remains to be seen is how much of a role satellite radio in the form of XM and Sirius will play in attracting listeners. The listening mode has received praise, but whether that translates into enough customers paying for it is uncertain.

2004 should prove to be an interesting year in many areas.