This post was updated Sept. 21 to include rankings from Rolling Stone and Billboard rankings of country albums in 2016.
Though I am mainly a classic rock fan, I enjoy country music, too. And I can sum up a sizeable chunk of country radio airplay here in Austin in one sentiment, it seems:
Bro to girl: Hi, you’re pretty. Let’s drive in my truck.
Granted, country artists have been singing similar things for a while now, but it seems like the catcalls, uninspired lyrics and wannabe pop stars are taking over—and winning—the country airwaves. And apparently the female artists aren’t invited, either, when it comes to one Austin radio station.
My wife usually listens to this country station in her car, and after listening to said station enough, I predicted we could go an hour without hearing a female artist. Unfortunately, I was correct.
I became so convinced of this station’s or its owner’s possible bias against female performers that I, on five separate occasions—this blog loves things in fives, apparently—counted every song the station played over a 24-hour period using different times of day on various days of the week as start/end points. The station has a history of all the songs it has played that spans days—maybe even weeks—and I found the following:
- 8 p.m. Sept. 12 to 8 p.m. Sept. 13: 267 male artists played, 30 female artists played—roughly 10 percent of airtime featured female artists
- 5:15 a.m. Sept. 14 to 4:55 a.m. Sept. 15: 276 male artists played, 35 female artists played—11 percent of airtime featured female artists
- 11:01 a.m. Sept. 15 to 10:59 a.m. Sept. 16: 137 male artists played, 13 female artists played—nearly 9 percent of airtime featured female artists
- 8:05 a.m. Sept. 16 to 7:57 a.m. Sept. 17: 118 male artists played, 16 female artists played—12 percent of airtime featured female artists
- 6 p.m. Sept. 17 to 5:55 p.m. Sept. 18: 130 male artists played, 9 female artists played—about 7 percent of airtime featured female artists
When I average the percentages of female artists played over these time spans, I get about 10 percent. Some days have more songs than other days because of radio programming or commercials, I assume. Oh, and bands such as Lady Antebellum were included in my female count even though guys are band members, too.
Perhaps male artists get more airtime because studies have shown more fans prefer male artists and the fellas sell more records—the station is simply following the money. Maybe there are more male artists than female ones, too, in the genre as a whole. Regardless, doesn’t a 10:1 ratio of male-to-female airtime seem a little extreme? What is this station saying to everyone listening—that female artists aren’t good enough? Kinda seems like it.
And fellas in the industry, you aren’t off the hook, either. Aside from the likes of Eric Church, Dierks Bentley, Darius Rucker or maybe Tim McGraw, the rest of you have created repetitive, boring and quasi-sexist music that has done nothing to advance the genre. Country music, to me, in its truest form is deceptively witty, bold, at times depressing and actually sounds like country music, not some pop/rock knockoff.
Much like I predicted that females will save, or at least extend the life of, the superhero movie genre, I believe country’s female artists will need to resuscitate the genre as we know it in order to save it from itself. Listen to a Kacey Musgraves song and tell me she isn’t brilliant. Maren Morris is exactly what country needs right now, and who could hold a candle to Carrie Underwood?
If you ask me, the future is female for country music. It has to be. Especially if you listen to modern country radio stations in Austin.
Postscript: For what it’s worth, Rolling Stone released a ranking of the top 40 country albums of 2016. Fifteen of the albums—about 38 percent—were released by female artists or included females in the band, by my count. The top three albums were all by female artists.
Billboard’s top 40 country albums of 2016, ranked by Nielsen, which tracks consumers to record trends and habits worldwide, included 10 female artists, or 25 percent of the total. Included in those 10 is “Now That’s What I Call Country Vol. 9,” which “includes today’s latest country hits from country music superstars and exciting new artists,” according to the album’s description on Amazon.com. Seven of the 19 tracks—about 37 percent—on “Now …” are by female artists.
Based on these trends, shouldn’t the ladies get more than 10 percent of the airplay on my local station?