Building a Regional Music Market – The Texas Model

Posted by: Pat Watters
June 27, 2015

Nearly 10 years ago, while living in St. Louis, I wrote this article as part of an ill-fated blog I was running called "The Man in the Middle." The blog didn't last, but this article stood the test of time, so I thought I would repost it here. The truth is, I've always admired the Texas country music scene. And my ultimate goal would be to recreate it here in Wisconsin. 


For those of you who have been living under a rock, there’s something brewing down in Texas. Actually, it has been for quite some time. It started when Willie grew his hair, rolled his own, moved back to Austin, and brought Waylon with him. It’s a revolution- its artists who turn their back on the establishment, and succeed not in spite of it, but because of it. It’s a regional country music market where unsigned bands place a higher premium on their music and fans than they do on their money and the size of your heart matters more than the size of your home. And the coolest thing of all- these guys are making a living doing what they love, on their own terms. Fast forward a few decades and the legacy of the men who started it all is being carried on through guys like Pat Green, Jack Ingram, Cory Morrow, Jason Boland, Reckless Kelly, and Cross Canadian Ragweed (although from Oklahoma, it’s the Texas market they’re working).

When I look at Texas, and all that’s happening there, only one question crosses my mind- why Texas? Not just why Texas, but why not Wisconsin, Missouri, Arizona, Maine, Deleware, Nebraska, and the list goes on? Country music is a whole lot bigger than the south. There are rednecks and hillbillies all over the place. So what does Texas have that we don’t? I think it comes down to relationships- three very important relationships.

Artist/Artist Relationships
The first thing that makes the Texas music market successful is the good old fashioned principle of teamwork. What is good for one is good for all. Often times, in a regional market, there is 1-3 lead horses. And damn, don’t they feel good? They are the band that the radio stations call when they need an opener. They are the band that headlines every county fair, rodeo, pig roast, corn broil, and keg party in the state. Then there’s everybody else. They play shows here and there, and book what they can, wherever they can. If we as local musicians recognized our opportunities and learned to work together, we could do so much more together than we can as individuals. The artists in Texas look out for each other. Imagine the power that a union of 5-10 bands could hold. They could do so much. They could host their own independent musical festivals. They could pool their resources to bring national acts to the area, and they could all have an opening gig. They could fund an indy label and recording studio where they all have the opportunity to affordably produce and market their music. They could develop a referral network and help each other find jobs.

There’s really no limit to the possibilities. And arrogance is the only thing in the way. Look, you may be the most popular country band in the state, but what does that really mean? Wouldn’t it mean more if your state was known for great country music? I think you’ll agree that it means a lot more to be even on the bottom rung in a place with Texas’ reputation than it does to be on the top rung in any other regional market.

Artist/Radio Relationship
Artists and radio need to meet in the middle somewhere. Here’s a reality check for independent country artists: Radio is annoyed to shit by you and your relatives’ constant calls to play your song. And here’s a reality check for radio: If you guys would throw us a god damn bone once in a while, we wouldn’t always be on your ass. We’re both in this industry, so why don’t we work together? For a regional music market to work, the fans have to be exposed to the music. It’s plain and simple. And the best way to expose them to the music is to mix it in with the regular radio play list. For the most part, indy artists don’t want a freakin’ royalty check. They want a NAME check. They want their song to be sandwiched between Kenny Chesney’s latest hit and a classic from Alabama. They just want to be heard. But as artists, we need to understand the station’s position as well. They are responsible to their advertisers and listeners. And just because your grandma wants to hear your latest song, that don’t make it good. HONESTLY assess your music. If what you are about to send does not stand head and shoulders with or above what’s currently on the radio, don’t send it. Don’t waste their time. Why should they play a half-assed song by an artist nobody knows? You have to give them a reason to play your stuff. And it better be good. So focus on your VERY best material.

In Texas, not only do the regional artists get regular airplay, but they even have a Texas music chart where regional artists chart their latest singles. I realize that some stations are owned by the evil conglomerate drones like Clear Channel, and their hands are tied. But every station could all be doing something to help their local bands and expose their listeners to some great local music. Maybe it is a weekly 1 hr. program on the local scene, or maybe it is a daily featured song from a local artist. But damnit, do something! We’re more than willing to work with you! Indy artists, focus your attention more on independently owned stations. They typically have more freedom with their play lists.

Artist/Fan Relationships
This is the single most important relationship in the equation. For a regional country music market to thrive, there has to be demand for it. And only the fans can create the demand. It can’t be faked or manufactured. It has to be real. There has to be a commitment from the artists to stay true to themselves and their music. And there has to be a commitment from the fans to go to the shows, buy the music, and help promote the artist. See, that’s what so many musicians forget. The only difference between an artist and his fans is which side of the microphone they are standing on. The sooner we all realize that, the better off we’ll be. Fans don’t want some phony ass wanna be up there. They want someone real. Someone who will be true to the music, true to himself, and true to them. If they want an arrogant jackass to feed them bullshit, they can get that from plenty of major label egomaniacs. They don’t need us.

So I guess Van Zant’s got it right. If you want to build a regional music market, damnit, help somebody if you can. Oh, and a little sip now and then don’t hurt either.

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