Country music is larger, more lucrative, and to some, more laughable than it ever has been. The Nashville music industry is celebrating massive sales for singles and records. Promoters are selling out arenas and stadiums. Writers are cranking out hit after hit, that rival Katy Perry and Lady Gaga for chart space on Billboard. Meanwhile, country music purists are singing a sadder tune, calling the new movement, “Bro Country”. Artists like Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Brantley Gilbert have become bullseye targets for die-hard Garth, Merle, and Conway fans, hell-bent on taking rock n’ rap out of country music’s vocabulary. There has been a trend amongst gig-seekers in the music industry to bash the new direction that the genre has taken. You might have even found yourself throwing a dart or two at an easy target. But, you might consider this for a moment: will that dart will kill your chances of finding success as a gig-seeker? Although people critical of the industry believe that “Bro Country” has somehow taken country music in the wrong direction, as a musician, turning down a “Bro Country” gig may prove to be a career-killer, and there are many reasons why.
As gig-seeking musician myself, I recently had set my sights on moving to Los Angeles. However, after making a music video with a top 40 band, for a remix of a song where my bass part was magically taken out, I realized that the music industry in Los Angeles was no longer favorable to live musicians. Sure, there are a select few instrumentalists in Los Angeles, but there is very little budget for live or studio musicians, and little need anymore…I mean, why would there be? If you can make a hit record all by yourself, with a mid-priced MacBook Pro, an extra hard drive, a decent microphone and interface, and some experience with recording software, there isn’t much need for musicians, right?!
However, the vast majority of country music, even the bro-est country, is still 100% reliant on live musicians: both in the studio and on the live stage. Every single song you hear on country radio has live musicians playing on it. Every single one! There are mostly live drums, a real bass player, a badass lead guitarist, a solid rhythm guitarist, a piano or organ, and often you’ll come across a fiddle, a lap steel, dobro, ganjo, or even a harmonica. Occasionally, you’ll hear a drum loop to reinforce what the live drums are doing (as heard in a track by my boss Dean Alexander, “Kiss the Lonely Out of You”), and if you have really good ears, you may pinpoint a synth part or two.
As a gig-seeker, I came to a logical conclusion: I could either move to Los Angeles and fight for what little studio or session work there was available, in a market that uses mostly virtual instruments, or I could move to Nashville, where the demand for an actual musician is still high enough that I had a decent shot at earning a living. It was the easiest choice I had ever made (Learn more about the LA music scene from Grammy Award-Winning producer, Andreao ‘Fanatic’ Heard HERE).
I will admit there is a surplus of songs about Chevy trucks, tailgates, good stuff, blue jeans, backroads, rednecks, girls, parties, and combinations of each of these elements, which are sometimes actually illegal (drinking on a tailgate with the keys in the ignition to bump your system? And, I think that “good stuff” is actually only legal in 2 states currently). Not to mention, more songs about beaches, sun burns, tan lines, margaritas, and bikinis than Jimmy Buffet could shake a stick at. Has radio become saturated with these kinds of songs? Sure, but consider the alternative. Would you rather support Florida Georgia Line’s “Stay” or J. Lo’s “I Luh Ya Papi”? For me, it’s an obvious choice. I’d rather support FloBro Line, because musicians like me played on those tracks. And as long as musicians are continuing to be the backbone of country music, there is hope for the future of, not only country music but, “real music” in general. Even as bro as modern country may be, it is generating a massive amount of jobs for guys looking for work.
My goal as a gig-seeking musician is to land a gig. Nashville is a tightly-knit music community, especially with the advent of social media. Everyone from regional artists to mega arena acts, as well as the musicians who play for them, have made it a point to personally interact with fans and fellow musicians on social media. In fact, many musical directors, band leaders, and even artists’ management have taken to social media to investigate possible musicians to hire for tours or sessions. So think about this scenario… Luke Bryan’s band leader gets online to search for options for a new kazoo player (because, hey… every band needs a kazoo player). He sees your profile on Facebook, looks at a bunch of your videos on YouTube, and he likes your playing, likes your look, and wants to bring you on as Luke’s kazoo player. He befriends you on Facebook, and then he scrolls down to a comment you made two months ago in which you basically said, “All of these ‘Bro Country’ artists aren’t real country, and anyone who plays ‘Bro Country’ is an untalented hack…especially that Luke Bryan douche.” Not only will Luke Bryan’s band leader throw your name out of the hat for the kazoo position, but from that point on, the stigma that surrounds you and your negative attitude toward modern country, and the players who play anything other that what YOU consider to be “real country”, will cancel out any possibility of you EVER getting hired for that position, and very likely, ANY position within Nashville’s very select and very competitive industry. So why risk being blacklisted for the remainder of your career? Attitude is EVERYTHING, and if there is a hint that your attitude may be askew, you may find yourself on a very long list of people NOT to hire for a gig (Learn the better way to network from Jake Owen’s guitarist HERE).
Let’s be honest, playing old Johnny Cash covers at a local dive on Broadway, on four-hour shifts for only tips, is a great way to try out new licks, score free beer, and maybe convince a tourist to make out with you. However, if Florida Georgia Line called you tomorrow, offered you a job with a steady paycheck and benefits, would you be willing to swallow whatever “country purist” pride you have, get your rock n’ roll chops up to snuff, get a cool haircut and some tight-fitting clothes, and rock a show with five other well-trained, hard working, hard rocking country musicians? You should not only be willing, but you should be thrilled. If the answer to that question is “yes”, you’re on your way to becoming one of the most “hire-able” musicians in Music City. If you are fortunate enough to get that gig, you may face a barrage of criticism from the “Bro Country” haters. But while they’re in the midst of passing around a tip jar on a four-hour shift, you’ll be finishing up a stadium gig and getting on a bus to roll to the next venue, and coming home with a paycheck. However, if the answer to that question is “no”, a lucrative career as a musician in Nashville may already be out of your reach (Read about Florida Georgia Line’s hiring process HERE).
I count myself as lucky, that I get to tour with an awesome singer and songwriter who has, despite the fads, managed to connect with audiences while keeping the level of “bro” in his music to a minimum. However, if circumstances were different, and I didn’t have the blessing of being hired by this awesome artist, I would be doing everything in my power to get on the biggest, bro-est country gig ever. Why? Because I want to be an employed professional musician, and I’m willing to adapt to any situation, any genre, and any gig to make that happen. In the music industry, that ability to adapt is the very definition of “professional”. It is humanity’s very nature, and the nature of every aspiring professional musician, to evolve. But if you’re not willing to evolve, you’re just going to be left behind. You can either adapt, or the industry will push you out of the way to make way for someone who will.