Chuck Geiger and I obviously have been thinking the same thing this week with all of the exciting new artists as the 44th Annual Country Music Awards in Nashville formally recognizes the constant changing of the guard which keeps country music and radio relevant and vital, welcoming new listeners year after year.
Country continues to be the most programmed format in American radio, on at total of 2,017 radio stations.
As alternative rock today seems to be a gold-based format and music historians increasingly describe what was once "new rock" in the past tense, how is it that country continues to bring in new fans? And, who exactly IS our target today?
Painting with a very broad brush - there have long been three distinct country markets: traditionalists, transition 30's and country converts.
Traditionalists' portion of country's pie vary regionally, but they comprise roughly one in four of today's national country audience. Age: mid-teens to late 50's. A long age continuum, but possesses narrow artist preferences. They like: Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, George Strait, Randy Travis and new artists who sound traditional. They tend to listen to country radio exclusively, watch GAC (somewhat less to CMT). Most live in central Canada, the U.S. midwest and down through the Tennessee and Ohio valleys. Not exactly audiophiles, they still buy CD's over digital music five to one. They buy less than 20% of the country music product at retail.
Transition 30's. Size: a little less than half of today's country life group. Age: early 20's to early 40's. They listen to country music as their primary entertainment. The oldest of them came to country in the early 1990's and the youngest have discovered it in the last five years. They generally grew up not liking or listening to country music and now the prefer country music over any other type of music. They like it because it has understandable lyrics and beats and because it is more in synch with their values, passage through life. They buy almost two thirds of the country music sold at retail. They strongly dislike "old" (pioneer) country music and most "twang." It reminds them of the time in their lives when they had an aversion to country. They do not buy poorly recorded product and increasingly purchase digitally three to one over CD's. They buy both new artists and traditionalists. They watch a bit of CMT and GAC, but video channels are not important to them. They get it online via social networks and You Tube. They watch country awards shows religiously. These folks divide their radio listening among three stations, two of which are country.
Country converts. Size: a little less than one-third of the total country-oriented population. Age: predominantly in their teens, 20's and 30's, but country radio users among them range in age from mid-20's to late-40's. This is the market that has expanded the country music industry to the northern and western corridors in the last two decades, the fastest-growing portion of the market (also the most fickle and least loyal). They listen to some country, but also to Lady Gaga or Daughtrey. They buy about a third of country music at retail/iTunes, but may simultaneously purchase "Speak Now" and "Come Around Sunday" or Rod Stewart. They accept country as "hip," but are loyal primarily to their "seek" and "scan" buttons. Recognize them by their white ear buds. The challenge: can we convert them to more loyal listeners? Too many commercials, music repetition and unnecessary DJ talk alienate them quickly. If country radio can grow on them as it has the "transition 30's, who were attracted to the format and were just as fickle during and after the "class of 89" and briefer "class of 2006" surges, we will be a solid leader for the next twenty years!
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