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Better days ahead?

Country Standard Time Editorial, January 2009

Music, theatre and movies are all part of our cultural fabric and provide important ways for us to confront issues, be exposed to different styles and sometimes even advance society, but the musical component is facing dark times.

Unless country and bluegrass fans have had their heads in the sand, the news has not been good at all in recent months. Country sales dropped 24 percent in 2008. That represented the second largest drop of any genre. And if not for the magic of Taylor Swift, who sold 8 percent of the 48 million country albums sold in 2008, the news would be even worse.

At the risk of sounding like Debbie Downer, other unfortunate events in the past year included the shuttering of the Equity label, the home of Clint Black, who was a part owner. One wonders if other labels will be far behind. After all, you can't keep the doors open without greenbacks coming in. Just a few years ago, it seemed like the time was ripe for indie labels to gain a foothold in the marketplace. Some did, but now everyone faces tough times in part because of the music business being in doldrums and also the economic disaster afflicting the world. Concerns are out there about whether concerts will be affected as well by the downturn, forcing bands off the road.

On the media front, Bluegrass Now, one of the key bluegrass publications, closed not only as a magazine, but just recently as a website. The magazines No Depression and Harp, which barely covered country and bluegrass any more, also shut down in 2008. It's too bad for the public and musicians because these various media outlets were resources to educate the public and help bands get their word out. In addition, several bluegrass festivals closed.

These various problems are complex, and some may be a changing of the times and how we do business, but on a deeper level, all these developments negatively affect our cultural choices. Let us hope that the presidency of Barack Obama will bring brighter days ahead for the world with peace reigning and the economy rebounding and hopefully a rising tide will help all and help ensure music - whether Hank Williams or Rascal Flatts is your thing - keeps its important place in our society and culture.