Shoot the Messenger

Recently a fairly well-known country music format radio consultant Keith Hill spoke his mind – stations that play more male country music stars had higher ratings than those that played a higher proportion of female country music artists.

I have no knowledge as to whether he’s right or wrong, though he said he had the numbers to back that observation up. He added that according to his research, women generally preferred male artists which is what really pushed the numbers to one side. He said that when his clients lowered the female quotient in the mix, their ratings went up.

Well, as you can imagine in this age of there-are-things-you-just-can’t-say, the cow dung hit the fan, or rather hit the consultant.

Nobody wanted to debate the guy. Nobody had their own equally detailed research on country music listening preferences and ratings. Nobody wanted to say that at their station, with plenty of women in the lineup, they were satisfied with their ratings or they ruled the local roost. Nope. The messenger had to be shouted down, with the implied response that what he said simply couldn’t be true because… Something.

Nobody offered to say, “Well, that’s your opinion and I think your wrong,” and then walk away.

Hill’s being accused of “discrimination.” Obviously some people don’t understand the definition of discrimination. Or, possibly more likely in these days of dumbed-down social intelligence and discourse, they’ve stretched their definition of “discrimination” to mean pretty much “anything that doesn’t benefit them.”

Country music artist Martina McBride snapped at him from her Twitter redoubt (Can I say ‘snapped’ in the same sentence with a woman these days?). Then she made the brilliant point in an interview that famous female artists were, well, famous, and many had had hit records, therefore Hill must be wrong.

Miranda Lambert issued a few expletives. Nothing like perpetuating that “emotional” woman stereotype.

Jennifer Nettles, best known for fronting Sugarland, had to insert her “vagina” into the argument, as if that somehow settled the argument. She offered nothing else.

And other female artists, some with hits and some obscure kept throwing out the names of female artists with a hit record or two and thought that somehow was convincing.

The context of Hill’s point was that there were female artists who had great records and hits but on a larger scale, if you want better ratings, when you modify a playlist it would be better to lean to marginal male artists over marginal female artists.

Such fine points never matter to the mob.

All that was missing was a chain of hand-holding female country musicians surrounding Ryman Auditorium and singing “We Shall Overcome.”

Country Music Television Senior Vice President Leslie Fram should have had enough sense to stay out of the pissing contest but she had to take sides. She stated that it was “just not true.” She failed to provide any counter evidence other than simply invoking it.

But what if he’s right – at least for now? Ooooh, can’t think that… Why, why, that just wouldn’t be fair…

Hill has so far stuck to his guns, “We’re trying to get the biggest possible audience… We’re not thinking about gender fairness, we’re just trying to make money.”

I’m sure we’ll soon be treated to Mr. Hill in a proverbial sack cloth begging forgiveness for hurting anyone’s feelings and pledging to not only burn his research but insist that his clients play more female artists.

Why do I think that if Hill had said that stations playing more female artists had higher ratings no one would have said anything? Or possibly that if he had said that playing male artists brought ratings down he’d be lionized as speaking truth to power; he was leading the “brave new wave and future of country music, more women!” NPR would cluck; he might even get a profile in the New York Times as breaking down the Grand Ole Opry glass ceiling with supportive quotes from Gloria Steinem, Sheryl Sandberg, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Elton John (none of whom have any idea who Hill is).

Do people really believe that music sales break down exactly along gender lines or exactly at 50-50? Seriously? If you divide any group activity like sales along two points, it’s highly likely that one side will be larger than another. But math and stats are hard (and I say that as a liberal arts grad).

After her hissy fit (can I say ‘hissy fit’ in the same sentence as mentioning a woman?), Lambert stumbled onto something, wholly by accident. “I am gonna do everything in my power to support and promote female singer/songwriters in country music. Always.” Good for her. Do it. That’s what the free market is all about. Put your money where your mouth is. Support what you like. Maybe you’ll discover some great female artists. There are plenty of unknown but deserving artists of both sexes out there.

But how is that much different than what Hill said?

I guess some sexism is more acceptable than other.

Here’s my pitch – Martina, Jennifer, Miranda, et al, you gals have some money between you and you’re completely convinced in your beliefs, right, so buy a radio station or two and program nothing but female artists or mostly women. If you draw well, sit back and count your bucks. You’ll be satisfying a market need and that’s what it’s all about. I personally tend to prefer female singers myself.

And if your station brings up the rear, admit you were wrong and then shut up. I don’t mean completely shut up, just concentrate on singing.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Hey, girls, here’s a question – how come there aren’t any unattractive young (and middle age) female country music artists? Just asking…

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