News/Thoughts

Americana Outsells Country Music

For several years now, dissatisfaction has been growing over the musical direction the genre’ called country music has been taking. To many of us baby boomers, what is now called country music sounds quite similar to the 70s AM rock music we grew up with. It’s certainly traveled far from George Jones, Johnny Cash, and Merle Haggard.

While the younger generations seem to be embracing this new style, those still spending money on music seem to have about had enough. As reported on the Billboard Magazine charts for the week of October 22nd, Americana music outsold Country. Specifically, four full length albums listed on the Americana/Folk Album chart, — BonIver’s 22, A Million, Bob Weir’s Blue Mountain,Van Morrison’s Keep Me Singing, and Drive-By Truckers’ American Band were in the top ten highest selling albums overall in the tracking week ending on October 6th (according to Nielsen Music). Not to mention, earlier that week, For Better Or Worse, the most recent record for long time Folk artist John Prine, landed at #2 on the Country Albums chart.

Ready For Change
It’s reflective of the latest trend in music. Music lovers are growing tired of manufactured music. In a world that seems growingly less predictable, people are looking for something that feels authentic. Although the term Americana has been around a while, it is increasingly becoming a more legitimate classification of music and is growing to represent a cadre’ of artists seemingly more interested in roots oriented music.

Jed Hilly, executive director of the Americana Music Association, commented recently on the Chart Beat Podcast: (Dave Cobb & Jed Hilly on the ‘Melting Pot of Honesty’ That Is Americana Music) “I think it’s burgeoning in the commercial marketplace for a community that already existed in a non-commercial marketplace. I think that the fact that there is a word in the dictionary, there is a Grammy Award, [now] there is a place for these artists who don’t necessarily fit in the mainstream commercial boxes, but do have artistic similarities can call home.”

In 2010, the Grammys awarded the first-ever Best Americana album, went to Levon Helm, who passed away in 2012, for his Electric Dirt album. Best American Roots Song and Best American Roots Performance were added to the Grammys in 2014 and 2015, respectively. In August of 2015, Webster’s dictionary officially added the word Americana, calling it, “a genre of American music having roots in early folk and country music.”

Billboard Takes Notice
In May 2016, Billboard magazine announced the rebranding of the Folk Albums chart after long conversations with industry insiders. They announced the chart would “spotlight the middle ground bridging country and rock: organic, roots and acoustic-based groups and solo singer-songwriters.” This move likely contributed to the shift in sales reporting, but more importantly, signified that the music industry understands the popularity of Americana music to the masses of music listeners.

Dirt In Your Ears
Hilly went on to say, “Americana is a funny genre, because in some ways it can be very inclusive because it spans from blues to gospel to bluegrass influences, and it’s a grittier style that crosses genre boundaries in some ways. I think all genres are expansive; I don’t see any point in arguing. I just see it as a bigger conversation in the evolution of musical styles. What is rock today? It’s not Chuck Berry and the foundations of rock and roll.” Hilly added a nice compliment to the Webster’s assessment, “If you can taste the dirt through your ears, that’s Americana.”

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