By Sasha Savitsky, ,
Published January 13, 2017
Former Sony Music Nashville Chairman and CEO Gary Overton set the country music world on fire when he boldly claimed back in February, "If you're not on country radio, you don't exist." But with services like Spotify and Sirius XM, artists are now able to bypass the radio execs and share their music directly with fans. In fact, some industry experts and artists disagree on mainstream radio's ability to make and break careers.
"I think radio is still essential for the listeners," host and executive producer of "CMT After MidNite" and "CMT Radio Live" Cody Alan told FOX411 Country. "Radio is still the gatekeeper for that discovery. As much as I love Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio -- I love them all, but -- I think ultimately, there is so much coming at you that radio is the filter for what's great, and I don't think that has really changed, at least in country music."
He added, "We haven't really had a star born from Spotify in country at least, however, we are discovering new talent through it...radio has to be a gatekeeper for greatness."
Today's biggest country music hit makers agree; without radio they'd be nowhere. Taylor Swift told Esquire in 2014, "Country music teaches you to work... In Nashville, if you don't care about radio and being kind to the people who are being good to you... it's a symbiotic relationship, and if you don't take care of it, then they won't take care of you."
But what about more traditional-sounding country artists who put out critically-acclaimed records and fill up concert venues around the world but haven't broken into mainstream radio?
Whitey Morgan and the 78’s have been churning out traditional tunes for a decade, playing for rowdy crowds across the country. Their lead singer told FOX411 Country he doesn't care if he ever makes it onto mainstream country radio.
"When I'm ready to wrap it up [I want to say] we went out there and worked hard we and didn't worry about the mainstream, and we didn't worry about the radio stations in Nashville, in Texas because there's a thousand people in Chicago, or another city, that want to hear us play but who don't give a s--t what's on the radio."
Morgan said many of the fans he meets at shows tell him they discovered his music through Pandora. "The way that people discover music today is great because of [music streaming services] in the digital world."
Fellow Americana singer Lindi Ortega echoed Morgan's comments. The Canadian-born singer has released multiple award-winning records but has failed to break into country radio. She told FOX411 Country it's time to make room for artists like her.
"I think there’s room for everything and I think there just needs to be more of a level playing field as opposed to a fight," she explained. "It just seems that the mainstream country world, as far as radio is concerned, is kind of stuck in what they call 'bro country.' It seems you hear the same themes over and over again with it, and it’s this sort of cyclical thing that keeps going. I think there needs to be room for other things, some more variety and diversity within the genre and it should be allowed to coexist."
Lead singer of the Southern Rock group Blackberry Smoke, Charlie Starr, who has toured all around the world with his band and opened for Zac Brown Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd told FOX411 Country he has learned not to rely on mainstream radio but on Sirius XM for support."
"We like to thank Sirius XM for supporting us for so long and for the people that don't play our music, well... we've never really received support from [mainstream] country or rock radio, so we've never really hung our hat on that," Starr said. "There's tons of artists that don't get radio airplay and they should... it's way more political than I could understand."
With dozens of new (and old) artists making waves on Sirius XM, Pandora and Spotify -- think Old Dominion, Maren Morris -- does country radio have anything to fear?
"I don't think mainstream radio needs to fear anything other than their own approach on how they're planning on developing the future of the format," Sirius XM host Storme Warren told FOX411 Country. "I think we've lead the charge in the search and discovery of new artists beyond what the labels and music row are supplying to radio."
Warren continued, "I think what we're doing is game changing as far as a new artists' careers go, but also in the support as those careers continue to grow. We can do it on a scale that mainstream radio can't since the reach of Sirius XM [is national.]
Alan agrees but says radio is here to stay. "I think radio should see [these alternative sources] as competition, but I think the experience that radio can give listeners versus what the other sources give is completely different. When I do my radio shows, it is about bringing the music to life and bringing the stars to life and making them stand out in a way "I'm not sure the other sources can."
Taste of Country head writer and former radio man Billy Dukes disagrees. He told FOX411 Country it's time for people in country radio to start adjusting their business models. "People in radio spend a lot time convincing themselves that they're still top dog."