Why All Country Music Sounds The Same

Better that you hear this from somebody who loves and understands country music than from someone else.

By the way, sharing this on facebook would be pretty cool of you…

This isn’t a new thing, the genre has always copied itself. Every genre has. Johnny Cash’s first record was him trying to sound rockabilly/doo-wop because it was 1957 and that’s what was in. The “Nashville Sound” and “Bakersfield Sound” and something I learned about today called “Countrypolitan” were all fads that had the same textures, chords, and grooves. When blues-based bar country was going on in the early 90’s every song was a 12 bar progression and the chorus walked up to a 4. Then soccer mom country happened in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and a bunch of songs were major key and peppy with low testosterone. Save A Horse and Hicktown helped usher in an era of country that was masculine and equal parts redneck and Def Leppard. When Florida-Georgia Line came out with Cruise, the Hillbilly Bon Jovi era ended and the bro country era started with the slow grooves and programmed drum loops about trucks, girls, parties, and backroads. We’re in year 5 of that era and as the internet’s ambassador of country music I just wanted to explain to you what’s going on.

An educated public full of informed consumers will improve things. Country listeners are passive listeners for the most part (this isn’t a negative thing at all). They work 40 hours a week welding car parts and making doorknobs and when they drive home from a long, hard day of work they want noises to come out of their car speakers that make them feel happy. Country listeners are not art critics. They don’t demand much. Why would they? That would be a huge waste of energy. Music is just a thing that’s on in the background while they hang out with their friends, because it would be weird to stand around in silence. Country music makes these people feel good in times when they don’t want to be examining or thinking about anything. That’s why every time some new country sound comes along and kills it on radio, there are a thousand clones of it trying to hitch a ride on the trend. Country listeners aren’t gonna notice, capitalism forces them to slave their lives away doing labor until they’re 60, why the hell would they question something that actually gives their brain joy?

The disappointing thing (to me) is that a formula has been figured out to get the most dollars out of the most peoples’ pockets and into the music industry. It changes slowly over time, but the formula is there and has always been there and that’s part of the reason there is so much similarity between songs i an era of music. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. This formula gives us music creators a way to maximally satisfy our audience, which is incredible. We know how people respond psychologically to music and we can make stuff that REALLY makes people happy. It helps us write better songs, play better guitar parts, craft better mixes. Us creators can press these psychological buttons in ways that augment our art, which we create by taking our souls and putting them out there for everybody to consume. The groove I talk about in this video is one of tools we can use to press the buttons of this generation and make them feel things. The problem I have is when the “putting your soul on the line” part is skipped and only the formula is used. The result is generic garbage that satisfies a passive listener’s minimum requirements but doesn’t have any real emotion or give-a-shit put into it.

For example, a drummer can work for years on getting the right touch to make a drum beat perfectly emote, so the drummer is expressing himself fully through his art and the listener can feel the feelings the drummer wants the listener to feel. This is art. OR a guy who owns a MacBook and Logic Pro can draw in the kicks, snares, and hats on a MIDI grid and call it “good enough”. The second way is cheaper and is becoming much, much more common. The country audience will never consciously know the difference, because again, the world already gives the country listener enough real stress to deal with so they aren’t gonna be listening and thinking “are those real cymbals?”.

So it’s up to you to make the music industry up its game. People can influence people face to face really, really well. If you find a song that makes you feel a real emotion, say so. If there’s a band that you think is killing it and puts their heart into it, say that they’re cool! If enough people are saying something is cool, the music industry will reward that thing. Drown out the mediocrity. Love cool things, proudly. And if you’re a creator, create things you love proudly. Be intentional. Make decisions. Express yourself. Go make some music.

-Jim

(seriously, the facebook button is right there…)