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Changing the Conversation in Nashville

Updated: Dec 14, 2019

On Monday night we attended Change the Conversation, a meeting of prominent music industry executives whose mission is to “change the conversation” about the role of women in commercial country music.

Change the Conversation Nashville CMA

For those of you who don’t remember, a few years ago a gentleman found himself boiling in controversy when he admitted that women on the radio are like tomatoes in a salad, and men are like lettuce.

You want mostly lettuce in your salad with just a few tomatoes sprinkled in for taste and variety, so he said.

Those words were a call to arms for women in the Nashville industry, and almost overnight there were t-shirts and slogans bearing the image of a tomato, proclaiming the outrage of female artists and executives at these comments.

The group Change the Conversation has taken up the mission to define the problem of why there aren’t more women represented on country radio, and how to solve the problem moving forward.

At Monday’s meeting Erin Crawford, a Senior Vice President of Nielsen Entertainment and General Manager of Nielsen Music presented some interesting data that supports the argument that women need to be more widely included in industry reach and opportunity at the consumer level.

In her “The Power of Female Country Artists” presentation, Erin showed data supporting a movement toward women oriented artistry.

It comes as no surprise that one of the biggest growth areas for artists in the new music business is brand building, and partnering with similar audience curators for sponsorship and greater reach.

Brands seek out artist ambassadors based on many criteria, and the biggest ones are: awareness, likability, successful, good looking, influential, dependable, stylish, role model, social media savvy, funny, and trendsetter.

Female artists are something special Nielsen

Using this criteria, Erin showed the top 10 most desirable artists for brand partnerships are: Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire, Blake Shelton, Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, Sheryl Crow, and Trisha Yearwood.

So if 6 of the top 10 most desirable artists for brand partnerships are women, one would think that women would play a larger role in radio airplay and concert bookings.

However, the data shows that in 2017 only 20% of the radio airplay was female artists, leaving the men with a whopping 80%.

Younger Listeners Growth Engine

Over the next 30 days, Erin will be visiting the major labels to present this data so that they can factor this information in to their signing and promotion decisions in the future.

Adding to the actionable data, Erin presented a case study of Maren Morris’s recent Target ads.

Maren got her start by self releasing a 5 song EP, and hitting one of the major playlists on a streaming platform.

Even when a song goes viral on a streaming platform, the income related to streaming itself (especially for the non-performing songwriter) is typically not enough to sustain an artist financially, forcing them to tour and develop ancillary sources of income that can help them maintain their careers.

So, Maren targeted small market radio stations, and built her fan base by touring regionally in venues where she could build upon her audience engagement.

And speaking of targets, Maren hit a bulls eye with her smash single “In the Middle” with Zedd in a video commercial produced for Target that aired during the Grammys.

Assuming Target can get just a small percentage of their 35 Million country fan customers to make another trip to the store, they will reap big monetary rewards from the exposure to Morris’s audience, and reciprocally, she will reap the rewards of ties to the major brand.

Other important take aways from the Nielsen presentation:

  • Early adopter fans are more devoted, and are more easily moved to action than average fans, which means that brands do consider up and comers who are just building their fan base as possible ambassadors

  • 54% of millennials connect with friends and family through music – which means that you don’t have to make “their kind of music” to connect with them as long as you’re connecting with someone in their circle strongly

  • 46% of millennials want to be the first among their friends to discover music, so if you have something new and fresh, look to resonate with those tastemakers through your branding.

Streaming Consumption Nielsen

If you’re struggling to make something happen with your music, whether you’re a man or woman, a baby boomer, generation Xer or millennial, the key to successful artistry is still your brand.

Your brand helps you stand apart with your message, and enables you to connect with your audience about what’s important to them.

And at the end of the day, isn’t connecting with others what music is all about?


Special thank you to Tracy Gershon, Leslie Fram, and Beverly Keel for co-founding Change the Conversation to help address some of these important issues facing our beloved music industry today. Connect with them here on their Facebook Page and join their email newsletter here.

Do you need help identifying and developing your authentic brand? Get our workbook Brand Yourself the Right Way in the New Millennium of Music Business, and get started building your sustainable career in the new music business.

Brand You Book

Read more about Target’s music branding endeavors on Forbes “Target Gets In the Middle Of IT All During Grammys” by Steve Olenski here >>

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