When it comes to determining which records become hits, does an artist’s behavior factor into the equation, or it simply about the three minutes of music sent to radio stations?
In recent months, several artists who have had just a modicum of success at country radio have shown up drunk for station-sponsored shows. One inquired from the stage at a family-oriented show where he could score some pot. Another threw lit matches into the crowd. Yet another reduced a station employee to rubble by screaming at her about a poor-quality sound system on a stage where the act was scheduled to play.
Another artist—who had yet to even score a radio hit by that point—none too nicely sent a station employee out to get the artist’s favorite brand of bottled water when the “wrong” kind was provided in the green room at a station event.
True, country artists are largely not trashing hotel rooms, employing contract riders about brown M&Ms or other excesses long associated with rock ’n’ rollers. But it seems poor manners—to put it mildly—have crept into our format over the last few years, even among the newbie acts who were once so eager to make a good impression.
When it comes to country artists, is bad behavior tolerated? And what will this mean for the close relationship country artists and radio have long enjoyed?
While most country program directors contacted for this story have not had a significantly bad experience with a country act, enough of them had to be somewhat alarming.
“My experience is that there is a new breed of artist that...knows nothing about paying dues,” says KFKF Kansas City PD Dale Carter, who illustrates his point with a story.
“We had a situation where an act was booked for a festival,” he says. “This act had one hit at the time. We booked a local band to play before them. When the local band was done, a lot of the crowd left. The ‘main’ act was so upset by this that he only played 40 of his contracted 60 minutes, and then opened the urine tank on his bus to flow downhill on the opening act’s bus. Class!”
Another PD, who asked that his name not be used for fear of angering the artist’s uber-uptight label, tells a similar story about a baby act who “refused to play because a festival only provided a 24-channel board. He wanted 48. He waited [to perform] until his record label secured the requisite equipment from two hours away. Meanwhile, most of the crowd left and the festival made a lot less money for their charity. But hey, he got his 48 channels.”
“Unfortunately, ‘star syndrome’ is creeping into country music more and more each day,” says WKIS Miami PD Bob Barnett. “In the past, country artists had to play the game and play the circuit. It was a long process from baby act to developed act to legitimate star. If the artist wished to have a long career, the artist had to do all the things necessary to make that happen, and part of that was remaining grounded, cooperative and accessible in the eyes of their fans and at radio.
“Now, it’s feeling like ‘take the money and run,’ [or] ‘get what you can-while you can’,” says Barnett. “It appears that many acts are less invested in the long-term . . . I don’t begrudge anyone making whatever they can, it’s the attitude that comes with it that troubles me.”
Barnett says at WKIS, “We've had numerous incidents that changed my perception of [those] artists. It’s becoming more the expected norm than the exception. I don’t want to say it's universal because we've had some over-the-top positive experiences with both new acts and established acts and it would be unfair to paint them all with the same brush . . . [But] those great experiences really stand out now, whereas before it used to be an expected practice.”
But does such behavior influence programmers’ airplay decisions on subsequent singles from these artists? The answer depends on the single, and the artist.
“If an artist is rude to a group of listeners it definitely can factor in our decisions,” says KWJJ (the Wolf) Portland, Ore., PD Mike Moore. “I am not a fan of supporting artists who do not appreciate the people who buy their music and concert tickets.”
“If the artist isn’t a good ambassador for the radio station or the format, I would rather support an artist that is,” agrees WPOC Baltimore PD Ken Boesen. “Find an artist that loses control at events and shows and you're likely talking about an artist with a short career. I don’t think there’s any room for any artist—or radio station for that matter— that doesn’t represent the genre well.”
Barnett also admits an artist’s behavior and attitude influences the music choices for his station. “I'd like to claim that it's all about the quality of the music, but I would be a liar,” he explains. “In all honesty, bad experiences equal the loss of ‘benefit of the doubt’ in my eyes.
“If it's a clear-cut hit, I will never punish the audience by NOT playing the song because of bad behind-the-scene incidents,” Barnett continues. “But if it’s a song that's even remotely questionable and we’re on the fence . . . it’s unlikely we’ll invest any further in the act.”
WQDR Raleigh, N.C., PD Lisa McKay says bad behavior impacts her music decisions too. “We are only human,” she says, “and artists who are being considered for airplay who become part of the ’QDR ‘Friends and Family’ concept get the nod quicker.”
While WMZQ Washington, D.C., PD George King says his music choices are primarily influenced by, well, the music, he does think an artist’s public behavior can determine how big of a star they can eventually become.
Moore is among those who say they wouldn’t put up with bad behavior from a country artist on stage. “I would not tolerate someone being rude to members of my audience,” he says. “I don’t tolerate that from my staff and I certainly won’t tolerate it from an artist.”
“It’s shocking to see undeveloped performers acting like divas or a-holes,” says Barnett. “Funny though, it’s a Catch-22 for radio. These hotshots act like jerks early on, wonder why they can’t get radio to respond to their music, lose their [record] deal, then go on to blame country radio for being unreceptive.”
While the rude behavior of some country artists may be troubling, King, who works in the same building with sister stations in other formats, puts it in perspective.
“I’ve seen just how bad things can get: areas being locked down, entourages taking over like they own the place, acts being very demanding, etc.,” he says. “We are so lucky to be in a format where the acts are so accessible to the fans. It’s what makes country music so well liked and different from other formats.”
by :Phyllis Stark