Advice to Young Girls Seeking Country Airplay

You know the days when you could turn on the radio and hear all sorts of interesting female voices? That’s been true throughout country’s history, from Loretta and Dolly on down to Martina and Faith. Nowadays, it’s Miranda and Carrie–well, no, not even Miranda, as her latest single struggles mightily to chart despite its sales and critical acclaim. Better to say Carrie and Kelsea. Anyway, to all the young girls out there who might be pursuing a career in country music and are wondering just how to shatter the glass ceiling on country radio, here’s some tried-and-true advice.

1. Don’t, under any circumstance, release something traditional. Fiddle, steel, mandolin, throw them all out. Even if they might make an appearance on your album–which is also discouraged–at least do what Maddie & Tae did with “Girl in a Country Song” and release a single with electronic beats and pop elements. Keep all the traditional fans guessing at your intent, wondering if the beats are serious or sarcastic, because it’s better to hold them at arm’s length or even to alienate them altogether if you want to get a #1 at radio.

2. Ignore all the misogynistic bullshit thrown at you by radio programmers, record executives, and in many of the male songs on country radio. Katie Armiger spoke up about that a couple years ago, and look what happened to her career.

3. Don’t date anyone in the industry, or better yet, don’t attempt to have a personal life on any level. Lindsay Ell taught us that.

4. Trivialize the female problem on country radio and in the industry. Kelsea Ballerini’s got success, and she barely admits to the problem. Meanwhile, the ones who speak up about such things struggle for recognition. Just worry about breaking in yourself, and don’t try to help other women along the way.

5. Forget just ignoring the misogyny, try writing lyrics about being these types of women. Throw all your dreams and hard-hitting lyrics to the side and sing about tailgates and tight jeans. If at all possible, try accepting the objectification and embracing this role.

6. Try not to veer too far from singing songs about love or getting noticed by men. Under no circumstances should you speak up about the type of songs that women are often stereotyped as singing.

7. Don’t be sexual or have sexual desires, and if you do suffer from these afflictions, don’t leak them into your music, for God’s sake.

8. Talk about your outfits more than your music. It’s not okay to be sexual in your songs, but it is important to be viewed as desirable at all times.

9. If all this fails, sing one or two lines on a male song, and you’ll soon have a #1 hit. It doesn’t matter if you sound like a glorified backup singer, take it from Maren Morris.

10. Finally, remember that your awards, sales, and most importantly, your perspective, do not matter in this industry and on the radio. Let go of these archaic notions, and you might soon be one of the only four females in the top fifty. Here’s to being one of the fortunate 8%, and I look forward to your #1 hit!

6 thoughts on “Advice to Young Girls Seeking Country Airplay”

  1. I felt both amused and saddened by this post. I feel the state of mainstream country music and the absence of authentic voices of either gender but especially women is representative of the larger struggles being witnessed in our national discourse. I am a lifelong country music fan and long, long ago ceased listening to anything you would find on a chart or was played. I had hope for Miranda as she was a commercial success and has a unique and powerful songwriting voice. Her latest album received critical acclaim but little airplay. I worry the young woman trying to make it will try to put themselves into the box you adroitly describe in your post in order to gain success. From their perspective, I can’t say I blame them given how hard they have worked to just be able to stand on stage and play music. I am visiting Nashville right now and the talent is abundant but who is going to make it?

    Some of this is indicative of how listening habits have changed. I grew up listening to entire albums over and over again and bought everything that my favorite artists released. While there are not categorical statements that are true of any generation, I am not sure the younger listeners behaviors foster a music industry that has space for a whole range of artists – from the Adeles to the Robyn Ludwicks.

    I have a shirt that says: “What would Dolly do?” And I watched her in the late 70’s cross over into pop super-stardom to perhaps find the level of success she needed to return to her roots and release “The Grass is Blue.” The music I hold closest to my heart is her authentic voice. The pop stuff is fun but it doesn’t have the soul resonance of Jolene.

    Great article – would love to hear other people’s perspectives

    1. Great points, and glad to have you, Stefanie! I think we are already seeing women trying to put themselves in this box, Kelsea Ballerini is a perfect example. Maggie Rose’s song “Girl in Your Truck song” from a few years ago flopped, partly due to Maddie & Tae and “Girl in a Country song” expressing the opposite mindset, but Maggie Rose defended that song by saying there are women out there embracing this, and she’s right. I see people all the time on SCM talk about how women like the objectification and they’re the ones listening to the male artists and misogynistic lyrics, which is true, but I think the culture has desensitized them, as opposed to them changing the culture. And it makes perfect sense because many of them are not getting the female perspective to counter these notions.

  2. Are the powers who decide what music gets played primarily old rich white republicans who don’t believe women deserve equal pay? I’d like to get Senator Elizabeth Warren after them. Just read her new book. Love to see her elected President in 2020. Back to music, how could Candi Carpenter’s “Burn the Bed” not be a hit.

    1. For politics…I’d support her too. Not a fan of either of our unfortunate choices last time. Anyway, I agree, “Burn the Bed” should be a hit. Same with RaeLynn’s “Love Triangle” I thought, because it appealed to the same generation radio is so desperate to reach.

  3. I’ll listen to anyone from the 90’s and older, but I now primarily listen to the unknown, or little known female country singers. I understand your article was sarcasm, but mostly true as well. Recently, I was listening to a live Wynonna Judd album and she was talking about when she first started as a solo artist and her opening acts were names like Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks. Could you imagine something like that happening today? Last year I attended both Carrie’s and Miranda’s concerts and their opening acts were all male pop/rock singers pretending to sing country. I search out real country singers who have managed to have a career, but in a smaller venue. Someone like Brandy Clark, a real talented lady. I’ve seen female singers go on the big tours with male country headliners, just to slip back into obscurity once the tour is over. Maddie and Tae are one exception…I hope. I had a lot of hope for Mickey Guyton, but her next single tried fitting the mold of pop more than country, so it didn’t go anywhere. Who will write and sing the next a song like Dolly’s The Bridge or Loretta’s Fist City or The Pill? It sure won’t be a male. As long as people buy the music or support the concerts, music city isn’t going to change.

    1. I’ve got a lot of hope for Maddie & Tae, and some still for Mickey Guyton. With Guyton, her music at least tends to balance pop and country in a good way, and I would think radio would have been more receptive to it. Also disheartening that Cam can’t do anything after the ridiculous success of “Burning House” (which, by the way, also couldn’t hit #1, peaking at #2 despite sales and critical acclaim.) Meanwhile, Ashley Monroe’s got name recognition from the Pistol Annies and now from “Lonely Tonight” with Blake Shelton–the only way she could get a #1–and she can’t do anything with radio despite having more pop-flavored songs on her last album. Curious to see where her next record takes her.

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