Women in Country, From a Record Label’s Perspective

In the midst of a CMT celebration inducting the 2020 Class of Next Women on Country, five of Nashville’s top label executives were given the platform to talk about getting females back onto country radio. They were introduced by CMT’s Leslie Fram and country icon Martina McBride.

Speaking from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s CMA Theater for an invitation-only crowd, here’s what the label executives had to say (presented in the order they spoke):

John Esposito, Chairman/CEO, Warner Music Nashville: We have to speak the truth. So first of all, Warner is committed. We’re all committed. We’re all committed to signing great artists, no matter what sex they may be, and getting them played on the fucking radio. … I do believe that we have a wonderful opportunity. Sophie and Ivy [of Walker County, who performed at the event] did me proud today. You’ll see Gabby Barrett who finally cracked that chart and is rising very quickly. …

We have also the lovely joy of having Ingrid Andress being No. 20 on the chart. We haven’t had a No. 1 female new artist song in over two years, so it’s about time we break that ice — gatekeepers who might be sitting out there. … I just want to say, which maybe Leslie is not going to be happy that I say, is that I can’t wait until we don’t have to celebrate, separately, women because it’s not an issue.

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Jon Loba, EVP, BBR Music Group: You can see that we all talk behind the scenes. You can really feel the structural changes and the conversation having been changed over the last couple of years. I think all the work that’s been done and all the seeds that’s been planted, conversations that can happen, are really going to start coming to fruition in the next two, three, four years. And we do this not just because it’s the right thing, but we are now starting to see examples of it being the profitable thing, or it being the thing that grabs ratings. …

There are real successes out there that we need to celebrate and talk about. Absolutely we want to do it because it’s the right thing, but it is commercially profitable for us to do so as well. That conversation has gone beyond the U.S. I just came from some corporate meetings. We’ve got the CEO of our company in Berlin in, and all the division heads from around the world. I think from BMG you’re going to see next year there is a huge initiative that will be a worldwide initiative for female country acts. And I’m really excited to roll that out, and for you guys to see that because I think it will benefit us all.

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Randy Goodman, Chairman/CEO, Sony Music Nashville: For Sony Music and Sony Music Nashville, across years and across the many imprints that make up Sony Music Nashville, it’s always been about great artists. That’s our legacy and that’s our heritage. And it takes you all the way back to Mother Maybelle Carter and that takes you to Martina and that takes you to the Chicks, and to Dolly and to Tammy and to Dottie. It takes you today to Miranda and Maren and what they’re doing.

But it also brings us to the artists who are here today, which is The Sisterhood and Tenille and Rachel, which we’re so very proud of. … [At] Sony Music Nashville, Sony Music globally, great artists, as John said, regardless of their sex have always been at the core of what we’re about. I think that Sony has and will continue to play a significant, aggressive role in that because that’s at the very core of who we are, and at the very core of who our music is, and what our music needs to be.

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Scott Borchetta, President/CEO, BMLG: It’s incredible that we can look at today as really more of a celebration. When we started this in 2013, it’s like, we have a big problem and it’s a problem that we’re all addressing. And as we continue to look at the success of this platform with Maren, with Kelsea, with Carly, with so many, this is working. And what we’ve done successfully is, we’ve raised the noise level of this conversation and we’re not done. We’re never done with this.

As Leslie mentioned, we’re celebrating personally my 220th No. 1 this week with Brantley Gilbert and Lindsay Ell, and of those No. 1’s, more than one third of them are from female artists, whether it was Reba McEntire or Trisha Yearwood or Wynonna, or, of course, Taylor [Swift], The Band Perry, everything else. So it’s part of my DNA and I’ve never been afraid of anything that was great.

And one of the things too, if you look over our history, you look at those moments, whether it was Shania, or the Dixie Chicks, or Taylor, or Gretchen [Wilson]. You actually have a wider audio opportunity than the male artists. If you look at those productions that Mutt Lange did (with Shania), it was absolutely a moment that changed the course of sonic country music history. You can go all the way back to Patsy Cline. You really have more opportunity, sonically and from a production standpoint, to do what the guys can’t do. And I really believe that. I always encourage that.

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Cindy Mabe, President, UMG Nashville: We can all keep moving through, thinking that things have changed at the rate that they need to change and they haven’t. … This platform today, these artists are so much more than a positioning statement that makes it to a press release this afternoon. This is about how we give a voice and a perspective to half the world. There was so much said about women not wanting to hear other women’s voices, but in speaking for all the women that I know, and raising two little girls of my own, I can only speak for them and they only want to hear female voices.

You are the ones that show them the way. You are the ones that will dictate the next generation’s impact. You represent how they are felt and represented in the world, and their feelings, and their thoughts, and their voices, and to show them that they matter. I think back to my childhood, and I think how music spoke to me, and I can say without a doubt that I wouldn’t be here without the voices of Dolly, and The Judds, and Reba in my ear because they raised me. Now on the eve of country’s biggest night, I can’t help but think about our sole female Entertainer of the Year nominee, and the fact that Carrie wouldn’t exist without the impact of Martina McBride.

The impact that her music made on Carrie as a little girl is what changed a whole generation, and this is how it works. And this is how each of you that are sitting in this audience need to understand your impact of where you go from here. I would be remiss to say that it’s going to be an easy way to get there. I think that we’re all going to have to have a different path and you’re going to forge your own way and none of them are all going to look like radio. But we have artists like Kacey Musgraves that are showing that there are different ways to expose new music to the masses. And I think that if there’s anything to say today, it’s that.

The women are bringing more adventurous, interesting, state-of-the-art, cutting-edge music, and you know it doesn’t all fit in a box. That’s the truth of the matter. So we will spend the next years figuring out how to get exposed, one foot in front of the other, because great music should always rise, and it’s not about fitting into a box. I’m speaking on behalf of Universal Music Group. We’re committed. We’re committed more than I can say. I have to get out of bed every day and make a movement towards making women’s voices matter again. Thank you.

Pictured at top: John Esposito, Leslie Fram, Martina McBride, Jon Loba, Randy Goodman, Scott Borchetta, Cindy Mabe