Jan 5, 2012

The Final Straw

"…one of the most real country songs I've ever had the pleasure of listening to." - Country Standard Time

"A masterpiece that is as timely as it is well written and sung." - That Nashville Sound

""Cost of Livin'" is a remarkable artistic triumph that any artist would have just cause to be proud of." - 1 to 10 Country Review

"…the most frighteningly real song of 2011. – Dan Milliken (Country Universe)

"This track is a masterpiece, which I can’t praise enough…" - My Kind of Country

"…the song and Ronnie’s performance are a potent reminder of music’s gift and potential for reflecting life as it is — and for offering messages that truly matter." - Country Music Rocks

"If it doesn't reach the top 5, I'm done with country radio, other than making fun of it. This is a signature song of our times." - Farce the Music

"Shame on the program directors and station owners who don’t have the testicular fortitude to play “Cost Of Living…" - The Music Junkyard


So, here we are. 2 months have passed since Ronnie Dunn's "Cost of Livin'" peaked at #17 on the Bob Kingsley Countdown (and at similar rankings - mostly lower - on other charts) and I, true to my word, have not listened to top 40 country by my own decision in some time. To be fair, I rarely listened to it anyway, other than morning shows to hear traffic and weather reports, but still. This unforgivable snubbing of a masterful and universally praised song is the end. Screw you, country radio.

I'm not going to put this on the listeners for a change. Sure, 20-30% of listeners probably hated this song because it was too slow, too sad, too country, too real - but the rest either loved, liked or tolerated it. Surely that's about the same numbers for any given hit single on the radio. So why did "Cost of Livin'" get frozen out (of the top 20 in many cases)?

Could this theory be correct? I think it's very possible. I won't say it's a government conspiracy - more likely a business conspiracy. Big business would like to put forward the idea that the economy is improving - there's the axiom "as you think so shall you be" - no matter how slowly this may be so. And just maybe, they'd be so brash as to nudge Clearchannel into putting the kibosh on this song. Ronnie Dunn didn't, and for that, I applaud him.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.” - Mark Twain

This was originally going to be one of my "sackpunch" articles, but country radio programmers have no balls. I doubt anybody was going to lose a job over playing Dunn's song, so why'd they stop playing it? If I knew the inner workings of single promotion and demotion, I'd have a stronger case here, but there's undoubtably enough blame to go around. I'm guessing programmers do as they always do - follow. Follow the lead of higher ups. Crank the happy stuff, the revolving-door redneck stuff, the mild 'she-left-me' songs with hopeful endings, the drivel that sells ads. Eyes on the bottom line.

In a way, eyes on the bottom line got us here… to this economy. Buying the cheapest crap, hiring the cheapest labor, resting on the cheapest of excuses. Get it now! Live for today! While that may be a good plan for the individual on some levels, it's not conducive to society's long-term success. I'll get off my lame attempt at making sense of America's financial situation, because I have no idea what I'm talking about.

I just know what I like to listen to. I just know I want something aimed at the heart, not the wallet.

How dare anyone in power determine for the listener what he or she wants to hear? Yet, this is country radio's business model. The 'failure' of Ronnie Dunn's "Cost of Livin'" is a microcosm of what's wrong with commercial radio and I'm done.

I know traditional country won't be played on mainstream country radio anytime soon. I've come to accept that. What I can't accept is that they won't even play something that makes the listener feel any feeling other than happy or blissfully ignorant.

For that, I feel that they can kiss my ass goodbye.


  1. We played the bejebus out of it at our Canadian country station but alas, it fared even worse up here. Apologies for using "alas" by the way.


  2. I don't think it's a political effort so much as the overuse of focus groups. You have to remember music directors don't typically pick their records anymore. They're picked for them by the consultants and corporate higher-ups who don't care about art so much as they pay attention to focus groups. If a song makes the listener "sad" the HQ suits think that's a bad thing. It's thought of as a negative. That's why country radio sucks so badly. It's all "feel good" and "country love" stuff. Nothing too deep, nothing too thoughtful. They don't assume their listeners are deep or thoughtful, for that matter.

  3. Amen brother Amen. This is a fantastic song and the fact that it failed to even crack the top 10 on the charts is a damn shame. I fear this just goes to show a lot of what is wrong with our country as a whole. Keep shoveling cheap crap down the public's throat to keep them sated even while the walls are crumbling down.

  4. another "amen." exactly why i listen to my cd's in the car and my itunes when i'm home. every now and then a song comes on a "country" radio station that i enjoy. not worth listening to hours of "ticks" and "made in america" songs while i wait for a song i like. i've come to realize that my musical perferences are way off from what radio is going to play.

  5. shameless plug - try Wrecking Ball Radio for an alternative. (smile.)

  6. Along the lines with what Wrecking Ball said, the song didn't fare well in audience research. According to Bullseye Marketing's Call-Out research (call-out research is where they call a phone number and ask you to rate snippets of a song on a scale of 1-5), "Cost of Living" peaked at #10 with a total positive 64.7, compared to #1 Zac Brown Band "Keep Me in Mind" with a total positive score of 73.5. But what I think concerned radio people was the dislike. Ronnie's was 12.3, compared to Zac Brown's 6.6.

    That being said, when Ronnie was peaking at #10 based on research, on the two charts based on radio plays one had him dropping from 19 to 22, the other falling off the chart from 19.

    Yes, radio caters to the masses. Its a business that makes money by pleasing as many people as possible. And we all know that the masses are not the best judges of artistic quality.

    There is a valid argument that the masses don't know if they'll like it if they don't have a chance to hear it. But in the current radio environment where the mega-colossal radio corporations are laying off hundreds of people at a time, don't expect those who are still lucky enough to have a job take any chances.

  7. Basically what you're saying, Sean, is that the small sampling of listeners who got to take part in those reviews are also just as much to blame. I was giving the listeners a little too much credit for a change. Honestly, I can't blame anyone for doing what they need to do to hang onto a job in this era, but if you believe in one song, play it. I suppose enough people didn't feel as strongly as I do about the tune. If the powers that be are that strict about playlists, they should dump DJs (other than morning shows) and let computers decide everything for the brain-dead listeners.

  8. This article is your friend:


  9. One of my few serious posts here: I do think it is a shame this song, which is pretty good, did not do better. I think Trailer is onto something, but not necessarily a conspiracy of businesses trying to squash the song. I am guessing, but maybe the problem may be this: Radio's market is advertisers. Now, imagine this song comes on at the end of a "music sweep" or whatever they call it. Then, it is followed up by an ad for McDonalds or an annoying car dealer or whatever. If you are the car dealer that paid for the ad, you might be a bit upset. Stations may have hesitated to play the song for fear of angering advertisers.

    Likewise, in my area a few small businesses play local radio stations. If I ran a shop, I sure as hell wouldn't be happy about this song coming on while customers are in my store. I might change the station to pop or something if I thought this song might come on.

    But -- there is another possibility. Perhaps it is unfair to claim that the radio programmers lacked balls. The song did make it to the top 20, which isn't good, but which does suggest that radio was at least willing to play it a little bit. If a radio gave this song enough airplay to make it to the top 20, then perhaps at some point radio listeners just didn't care for the song enough to merit lots of stations putting it into heavy rotation.

    I know I personally think this is a good song, but when I listen to radio I am often driving and I do prefer uptempo songs. I think the Dunn song is awesome, but for driving Super Bass by Nikki Minaj is better! With so many radio listeners being people driving to work, this song just may not have been the right sort of thing to play on "Wacky Morning Shows" even though it is a good song.

    Perhaps there are other reasons. Ronnie Dunn is a (comparatively) old man, and country music generally prefers younger stars. Dunn's first single didn't exactly go top 5 either, and note that the last several Brooks and Dunn singles didn't do very well. Perhaps the song's bad performance has to do with Ronne Dunn as much as anything else. And perhaps radio sensed that Dunn's star is fading (or, never going to shine as a solo artist). Perhaps, regardless of the merit of a song, radio would prefer to play a younger artist who might possibly be a hit maker for the next five or ten years than play Ronnie Dunn, whose lead single tanked and who is at the end of his career as a star (presumably).

    Finally, as for DJs: If I ran a radio station I would want my music to be picked by the individuals who were best able to pick music that best attracted the audience I wanted listening to my station. Perhaps that might be a DJ who "believes in" a song, but I'm skeptical. I don't know much about the radio business but I know of one former Alt-rock DJ who has said he hated that kind of music, but needed a job. I know of one country DJ who has said something similar. I once listened to a radio station in a major market -- the DJ consistently referred to "Montgomery Gentry" as a "he" and even mispronounced "Gentry." I suspect a lot of DJs know little about the music they play and some may even actively hate the music they play. I'm not sure they would be people who ought to have a whole lot of say in determining playlists, at least if the goal is to play music that best attracts a certain audience.

  10. Very well said, Anon. You shoulda put your name to that....

    My assumptions are certainly a bit more far-fetched than yours. I'd misguidedly prefer there be some great conspiracy that could someday be proven and corrected rather than the more likely truths.

    I guess it comes down to the facts that: 1. radio is a business, not an art gallery 2. most people don't truly "love" music (especially nowadays when it's considered as disposable a medium as a newspaper). Those two things explain it all.

  11. i'm a rich dude eating good food, my problems they ain't so much. i got more in common with Romney than i do with people i sing about, but you keep buying my records cause you think we really connect. you think we have they same problems, but i got millions of your hard work for shit that i didn't even write...

  12. You're way off point. George Jones didn't write his biggest hits. Do they connect with you?

  13. Thank you Nashville for your weak and shallow approach to what people like. This issue isn't about Mr Dunn, in fact most songs for country radio are "done" before they even start. Because they miss the mark and cram "calculated country" down our throat we have an opportunity to enjoy outlaw, red dirt,americana,Texas music (whatever you want to call it) like Stoney Larue , wade Bowen ,Brandon Rhyder, Pat Green, Cory Morrow, Jason Boland , Kevin Fowler to name a few. And lets give credit to the pioneers like Billy Joe Shaver, waylon, Willie, Kris, Townes & Crowell . Good songs never die and they usually never get played on Big Country station either.

  14. The radio station here played it almost to death - I got so tired of hearing it after a week or two. It's a painful song to listen to, and I don't mean the lyrics - Ronnie's vocals even sound depressed. I'd much rather listen to "High Cost of Living" by Jamey Johnson! Another great song radio didn't give a chance.

  15. I have a great disdain for country radio, and so my radio in my car is typically on AUX setting, as I only listen to my ipod anymore.

    It is frustrating to see such a great song not do any better at radio. It's frustrating to know that programmers won't allow a good ballad on their playlists, especially when the really good ones (Whiskey Lullaby, The House That Built Me) do really well at radio when given a chance.

    However, I've reached the point of being indifferent nowadays. Does radio put a huge chunk in the pocket of an artist(particularly one that hasn't written the song)? Not really. Are people that wouldn't have bought an album going to because of a single on the radio? These days, those of us that buy entire albums on a regular basis don't listen to the radio, so at best, a single getting airplay is going to lead someone to itunes that might not have otherwise sought it out. Nothing to stick your nose in the air about, but I just think at this stage in the game, radio just isn't a huge player.

    Where I get frustrated with great music going unnoticed is the faltering of the career of a great artist. So the question is: Does radio really play a big role in that happening anymore? Miranda Lambert didn't have a lot of radio support when she started, but through her continuing to make great albums with great songs, slowly her career built to where she's selling albums and concert tickets (where the real money is). The same can be said for Jamey Johnson.

    All of that to say, as founded as your speculations may or may not be (and I'm not discounting them, I have some pretty far out there theories about some things myself, and put very little past the government at this point), I think for me, it's not worth the blood pressure to get too worried about what radio does. Great music will find a place to be heard. I'm just glad there are artists, and ones on major labels mind you, that are making good enough art to get snubbed. That in itself is encouraging to me.

  16. While this a very touching song (I DO like it...while I don't like many new country songs, the bottom line is the marketing and plans that are all made between radio & the ever evacuating area in town known as "Music Row." It will be a hit if the committee of label heads and promotion departments get behind it. By get behind it, I mean spend the money to make it a hit. Payola STILL goes on folks...That little witch hunt a few years ago did nothing but give "guidelines" to what can be traded for hits and then the backs were turned again.
    All the vapid, narcissitic folks on the Row want to come across as hip rather than put out good music. Hip to them=Young.
    On the other end, the radio folks want to come across as VIPs. They don't want to be part of the audience; they want to act cooler than their audience.

    Music Row and Country Radio DO NOT speak to the masses. They speak to what their surveys and focus groups tell them too. They DO NOT get out in public and see that a large demographic of country fans are being ignored. They both aim at 18-35 because they buy more stuff than any other age group...more time, disposible income, more music sales, more concert tickets.
    The main effect this has on the artists is, they have to fit their career and music into that demographic. They have very little choice in that. If they don't aim to that audience, the radio won't play them and the label will push them aside and move on to the next one that will play what they want, how they want and be the face to market it as they want. Look and see how many artists put out shit songs to get a huge dumb hit..."Honky Tonk Badonkadonk"..."Country Girl (Shake it for Me)"..."Dirt Road Anthem"....All three huge hits but awful songs that will fade as time goes on. Hell, I saw Trace Adkins LIVE and he express a bit of a distaste for his dumb hit in it's introduction. It's obvious these guys are forced to do these...Well maybe not Aldean. He doesn't seem bright enough to know any different.

    We can hope for change but it doesn't seem likely. That is a shame because there is an audience out there for all country music but the two factions running the whole thing probably won't broaden it's focus. That would mean going out on a limb and taking a chance on music that may not immediately make them money, but it could mean for a long career for more artists, more diverse choices for the public, and a much larger demographic enjoying better songs and music. After all, great songs speak to EVERYONE of ALL AGES.



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