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THIS is the Purpose of Saving Country Music



Editors Note: This article is Part One in a two-part series. Part Two answers the question, “Does country music really need to be saved?”

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Every once in a while, a reset of perspective on the ultimate purpose of Saving Country Music is in order. Now is one of those times. Coming out of a critically important moment in the history of country music when international superstar Beyoncé released what many characterized as a “country” album, (while Beyoncé herself made it abundantly clear that it wasn’t), this feels like an important moment to step back and explain the reason for Saving Country Music, which marks 16 years in existence and 8,500 articles published this month.

It’s really pretty simple. Though there is a common misconception that Saving Country Music was founded to be a music recommendation website, this not entirely accurate. It most certain can function in this capacity, and it makes sense why so many use the website for this resource. With the belief that good music sounds even better when it’s shared, the emphasis on album reviews and other coverage to help spread the word about good music is certainly a focal point of this place, and part of the Saving Country Music mission.

Along with helping to expose good country and roots music of all sorts, special emphasis has always been placed on music from unsigned, undiscovered, under-the-radar, and criminally underrated artists and bands, irrespective of the amount of clicks or revenue this coverage might generate. This comes from the belief that ground-level grassroots support is imperative to building a strong community to nurture music and artists worthy of wider audiences.

But this was not the reason Saving Country Music was founded.

Saving Country Music was founded to tackle critically important topics to the country genre whenever they arise, to be an industry watchdog for consumers and artists alike, to advocate for the artistic freedom of performers, to advocate for the preservation of the roots of country music, to call out corruption or other malfeasance within the industry and community, and to make sure that country music is a place where everyone feels welcome, as long as they have the true love of country music in their hearts.

It is in this very capacity that Saving Country Music chose to tackle the “Beyoncé goes country” moment with in-depth coverage and an elevated emphasis. It is these types of moments that go on to fill the chapters of country’s history and define eras. That is why focusing on them is so imperative, while still making sure that the critical album reviews and other direct music coverage is never overlooked or ignored in the process.

But whether it’s the Beyoncé issue, the recent imbroglios involving Oliver Anthony, Jason Aldean, and Morgan Wallen, or the drama revolving around Lil Nas X’s song “Old Town Road” back in 2018/2019, a common refrain that persists around this coverage is, “This ain’t Saving Country Music.” These self-appointed definers of the Saving Country Music mission seem to believe this outlet is here to write tedious album reviews and promote tours and festivals only. Everything else is off the script, or even perhaps chasing clicks through high-profile stories.

A curious amount of these criticisms even come with accusations of Saving Country Music “promoting” performers like Beyoncé, Lil Nas X, Morgan Wallen, or Jason Aldean. This is facilitated by folks not actually reading the coverage and instead simply reacting to headlines, while social media algorithms (especially Facebook) exacerbate these misnomers by rewarding negative reactions to articles by goosing those topics in user feeds, giving off the appearance of an obsession over these topics as opposed to intermittent coverage interspersed with many other articles.

As always, feedback and suggestions about Saving Country Music’s doings are welcomed, and this is one of the reasons Saving Country Music continues to operate a robust comments section so others can share their feedback and insight on any given subject. Even if comments are responded to or disagreed with, this doesn’t mean these comments and criticisms aren’t taken to heart. They always are, and that’s why criticism is not only tolerated, it is encouraged.

But the one exception is when that feedback comes via misunderstandings of Saving Country Music’s ultimate mission, which is spelled out right in the name. Tackling the issue like Beyoncé releasing an album that she doesn’t even consider country, but is being pushed as such because of ulterior agendas isn’t just pertinent to Saving Country Music, it’s imperative that these types of issues be addressed. Not addressing them would be a dereliction of duty.

Beyond being a place for readers to find out about some of the best music in country and roots, and to stay informed about things happening in the country genre, Saving Country Music is a forum and a platform to share ideas, information, facts, and arguments to participate and influence discussions about the country music genre taking place in the higher echelons of public discourse, whether it be in the media sphere, academia, the music industry, or music culture at large.

It’s certainly understandable that to some or many readers, these higher echelon topics are uninteresting to them or too involved to get into. They just want to get clued into some good music. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important in the grander scheme. These topics often affect the music in ways that can result in the success or failure of some of your favorite artists, events, venues, or perhaps the genre at large.

Sometimes the criticisms of “this ain’t Saving Country Music” or “why do you keep covering this topic?” are annoying and misguided, but ultimately inconsequential. At other times they can work to undermine whatever cause is being championed or whatever perspective is being conveyed at the time.

As we have seen with the campaigns to spread outright false and misleading information about country music, sometimes they have very mobilized and organized efforts behind them, with foot soldiers from activist elements or Stan armies dutifully boosting the signals of whoever is fighting for their cause. Meanwhile, sometimes when an important cause comes up at Saving Country Music, not only is there little support for it, it’s this website’s own readers undermining the coverage with “who cares?” comments.

Saving Country Music was founded in 2008 in part because Hank Williams III was in a major dispute with his record label, Curb Records. The 3rd generation performer was fighting for the same thing that the Outlaws like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings were fighting for back in the mid ’70s, which was creative freedom and control over their own music.

In the late ’00s, creative freedom and fair compensation were massive concerns for major label artists with the proliferation of “360 deals” where labels got cuts of tour revenue and merch, while heavy handed producers and label executives strongly influenced the direction of the music. The tug and pull between traditional vs. pop, and commercial vs. critically-acclaimed is something that has been happening in country music since the very beginning.

Through the effort to “Free Hank III,” public pressure was put on Curb Records to release Hank III’s final album on the label, along with eventually releasing him from his contract. When Tim McGraw then entered into a public dispute with Curb right after Hank Williams III, this exposed just how deep this issue went through the mainstream country music industry. Hank III fans and Tim McGraw fans had few things in common, but the cause became shared from their common struggle.

In 2024, the issue of creative freedom for artists has almost been eliminated thanks to technology and social media opening up direct-to-consumer avenues where artists can circumvent the conventional recording industry. Artists now have so many more options as opposed to signing the restrictive contracts of major labels.

We also are in an era when the roots of country music are in a dramatic resurgence, support for older artists is strong, and equal opportunities for performers whether they’re mainstream or independent, White or Black, or straight or LGBT have never been more open. Of course there is still work to do, but the progress is unquestionable. And even though mainstream country radio is still as insular as ever, it’s also never been less necessary for the success of a country performer.

There are now major stars who started on social media like Zach Bryan who are completely circumventing the Music Row system. You even have some of these same independent artists turning around and signing major label deals, but from positions of power where they can negotiate their creative freedom, large advances, and fair shares of revenue.

So what is the purpose of Saving Country Music in 2024? There is still much work to do to make sure the country genre truly is giving a fair shake to all performers, and that talent, work ethic, and public appeal is what ultimately dictates who the winners and losers are. Sure, country is more country than it’s been in years, and creative freedom is quickly populating across the industry. But country music has always worked in a cyclical nature, where as soon as a victory is won, the industry immediately starts reverting back to its old ways.

Vigilance is an important part of the mission at the moment, though it does feel like with technological advancements, even this isn’t as big of a concern as it was in previous years. Then again, technology is creating its own issues via AI, fractional penny payouts, and other issues that affect artists in the music in ways that create the continued need for advocacy.

But one of the biggest concerns over the last few years doesn’t have to do with the music itself. It’s been the proliferation of activists embedded in media, academics spreading outright falsehoods and false notions about country music, and forwarding political agendas and other ulterior motives while attempting to use country music as a vehicle for causes that can corrupt or distract from what is supposed to be the center of attention: the music itself.

As the media sphere in country and all arts gets gutted due to budget cuts and AI expansion, the need for in-depth media coverage from informed voices as opposed to pop/hip-hop reporters thrown onto the country beat has never been more imperative.

In many respects, this is the biggest front in the effort to “save country music” at the moment, emphasized by what we saw transpired during the “Beyoncé goes country” moment. From the very beginning, covering how the media covers country music has always been an emphasis at Saving Country Music. That is the reason there is a specific article category called “Radio/Media.” And often it’s not just what the media covers and how, it’s often what they don’t cover that is most damaging, or revealing of ulterior objectives.

But there’s even good news on that front. Here weeks out from the release of Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter, the theory by much of the media that this moment would cause a wholesale reorganization of the country genre has gone unfulfilled. Frankly, it feels like a popcorn fart of a moment, despite the portrayal of some, and in part because the album just wasn’t country, something that Saving Country Music actively worked to emphasize, and ultimately, much of the rest of the media picked up on.

It’s even better news that instead of spending so much time harping on certain issues affecting country music, since they’re all so quickly blending into the background, the music itself is what can be focused upon here more and more. When you engage in advocacy, you can fall into the trap of emphasizing the negative to often, because that’s where you’ll find the most engagement. We often see this with the activists working within the country music space. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore it when major issues arise.

Country music has been saved, and country music will never be saved. It’s an ongoing effort that will never resolve and is constantly revolving in a cycle. But hopefully with all the positive developments over the last few years, we can enact more permanent solutions that emphasize musicians and their artistic freedom and fair compensation first, and put the familiar activities of the business interests and other overbearing factors in the industry behind us for good.

But when these concerns do arise, Saving Country Music will always meet them head on. Always.

Onward and upward, and thanks for reading,

–Trigger



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