Country music accounted for about 10 percent of all album sales in Canada last year, and its share of market is expanding.
Digital track sales are climbing as well, according to data compiled by Nielsen SoundScan in its 2014 Canada Music Report.
But record sales are only part of the picture; tours bring in a piles more cash for savvy entrepreneurs who manage, record and promote their artist rosters. The 360 deal may be new to mainstream rock, but in country it's a way of doing business that's almost as old as the mountains in Montana.
There are no figures compiled for Canadian country tour grosses, but it would be fair to say that annual receipts amounts to tens of millions of dollars. It used to be a genre that primarily sold singles and albums in department stores such as Zellers, Eaton's, and in big box outlets, including Walmart and Best Buy. Those days have come and gone, as too the packaged polyester gloss that worked like a charm for years before Brylcreem was replaced with mousses stickered with fancy prices, and a brash set of newcomers arrived who are as comfortable on Rodeo Drive as they are moseying down Music Row.
Today's galaxy of stars blur the distinctions between pop, rock, alt-folk and country. In fact, we now find Don Henley recording with Martina McBride, Steven Tyler reinventing himself with an album recorded in Nashville, and Taylor Swift being anything she darn chooses to be.
Country is the most listened to radio format in the 12+ category in America today and it's a genre able to embrace all ages, income levels, races and regions, according to recent surveys. From 2000 to 2012, the number of 18- to 24-year-old country listeners grew 30%, and the number of African-American country listeners tripled, according to research firm GfK MRI. In Canada, we consider the west to be where the genre's loyalists hang, but Quebec has a surprisingly strong fan base as it's a nation-province that has always been a sucker for a good song.
It is a genre of music that is timeless, and has every appearance of staging another revival the likes of which we haven't seen since Mickey Gilley and John Travolta took it uptown in Urban Cowboy thirty-five years ago.
Earlier this month the Canadian Country Music Association released its nominees list for the 2015 annual awards gala, to be held in Halifax at the Scotiabank Centre on Sunday, September 13th. It is an event that is going to temporarily turn the port city into a rodeo town. Homegrown country stars Gord Bamford and Dean Brody are leading the pack in this year's derby, but there's a posse of categories to scrap over and sometimes a nomination and a performance can launch a career.
In the next several weeks we hope to be able to catch up with Gord; in the mean time, FYI has posed similar questions to three maverick entrepreneurs in the format: Jim Cressman operates Invictus Entertainment Group, an integrated entertainment firm that includes Big Star Recordings; Mike Denney, founder and CEO of MDM Recordings, a full service record management, distribution, and consulting company; and Ron Kitchener who runs his integrated RGK Entertainment Group that includes Open Road Recordings with offices in Nashville and Toronto.
All three are as similar as they are different; each instinctively entrepreneurial and incredibly loyal to and supportive of the artists they work with. They are also highly competitive and are on the road away from home more than perhaps they would like, but business is business and time is money. Please use the links below to read their insightful responses to the climate of country music in Canada and beyond.
This series of features follows yesterday's conversation with CCMA President Don Green.