In an interview with Gibson.com , Terri Clark reflects on her hit-making days:
Country radio was good to me for many years, but it also pigeonholed me. After my first album, I was expected to fill the slot on their playlist for ‘fun, up-tempo female.’ That provided me with a space to fill on that playlist, and a string of turntable hits, but in my entire career I had only two ballads that broke the Top 10.
There have been quite a few songs, songs that never got released as singles, that I felt were stronger than a lot of the singles that came out.
Lamenting the restraints that their former labels placed on their artistic freedom is a common refrain of country artists once they go indie. But in Clark’s case, I see her point. Her first wave of hits included two ballads, but most of the biggest hits were uptempo rockers like “You’re Easy On the Eyes” and “Better Things To Do.” Her second wave was only three hits deep, a trio of upbeat numbers that all reached the top two. Radio essentially walked away when she took a turn for the serious.
Interestingly enough, she fell out of favor during Gretchen Wilson’s meteoric rise, who essentially filled that “fun, up-tempo female” slot. Radio embraced Wilson more than they ever embraced Clark, but also tired of her quickly. Radio has since backed more female artists than it did in the early part of the decade, with Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift and Sugarland regularly topping the charts. But it could be argued that Clark’s niche has never been filled again, much like Mary Chapin Carpenter and Patty Loveless were never succeeded by a younger counterpart.
Do you agree with Clark that radio pigeonholds its artists to the detriment of their music? If so, what artists are currently being the most limited by this mindset?
I think JoDee Messina can be included in the mix. I wonder if program directors are treated as poorly as they treat the artists?
Perhaps “pigeonhole” is just the flip side of “personality” or “star.” If it is the star who sells albums, then the star needs a personality to distinguish herself from other stars. And that personality needs to be consistent. If I buy one Terri Clark album and I like it, I would hope that the next Terri Clark album is reasonably similar. Otherwise, why buy it?
Terri Clark is a brand, a personality, just like Holiday Inn is a brand. And yes, Holiday Inn is pigeonholed by its image (Holiday Inn might fail miserably if it tried to open a 5 star hotel under that brand name) but that image also makes its success possible.
I think there is an upside and a downside. Terri got to be the “fun, uptempo female” and that helped bring her a very nice career for many years. It also gave fans of “fun, uptempo female” music an easy place to look in the CD store when trying to find music. But, of course being the “fun, uptempo female” meant she couldn’t be anything else. But now that her run on radio is over, perhaps she will have the chance to build a new persona and appeal to a new (probably smaller) audience.
Sheldon says “I wonder if program directors are treated as poorly as they treat the artists?” I don’t know exactly what he means by that but I don’t think program directors have treated Jo Dee Messina poorly. In fact they treated her very, very well. They helped give her many hits and a very good career for a good 5-8 years.
I think many artists are basically interchangeable and pretty easily replaced. There are only a few core artists that are really all that important. Program directors should treat the artists who are interchangeable as just that. Seriously, I liked Jo Dee and Terri Clark, but five years of them was enough. They are good entertainers, but just as it is time to cancel a tv show sometimes, it is also sometimes time to get rid of the artists who have grown stale. Sometimes you gotta say “out with the old and in with the new.”
…yes it does – billy currington.