Open Mic with Mike Thomas: ‘Why I Can’t Love Today’s Country Music’

Written by SLN Staff Writer
Open Mic with Mike Thomas: ‘Why I Can’t Love Today’s Country Music’

CountryMusicIsLove is excited to announce our new weekly column, “Open Mic with Mike Thomas.” We’ve been chatting with Mike on the radio for the past three years and are happy to share his (sometimes controversial!) insight into the world of country music. Read below for Mike’s first column where he discusses why he can’t fall in love with today’s country music…

As someone who has made a living off country music for almost twenty years, it always shocks a few people when I tell them, “I just can’t fall in love with today’s country music.” Don’t get me wrong, I love country music. I grew up on it. I live the lifestyle. George Strait is the most popular artist on my iPod. But when it comes to putting down my hard earned cash on a new artist, I just can’t do it.

I’ve narrowed it down to three reasons:

Reason number one: the hit single. The pressure for an up & coming artist to score a top ten hit with their first release is overwhelming. It seems that after years of development, money, and drive, it all comes down to getting that first single to move up the charts. You get one hit, your second better move up higher. Get three hits in that debut year and you’re on the fast track to super stardom.

As the guy who pushes the “play” button for these songs on country radio, I’ve always wondered if the fans knew how much money and marketing goes into getting a song played on the radio. Sadly, it takes a lot less for a song to never be heard again. Let me give you a recent example: David Nail’s single “Red Light.” I’ll never forget the first time I really listened to the words in that song. I was driving into work at four in the morning, sipping my coffee, when that “new” song was played. The idea of a guy thinking that a breakup was supposed to be something beautiful, something like out of a movie, fascinated me. David’s unique sound completed the sell.

For the next few weeks I watched that song work it’s way up the country charts and was extremely disappointed when it peaked at number seven. Not a top five. Not a number one. But there was some serious buzz now for Nail and “Red Light” secured another release. You couldn’t pick a better follow up than “Turning Home.” Co-written by Kenny Chesney, who didn’t feel like you were in the passenger seat on a trip back home to Lutrell, Tennessee? Still, “Turning Home” only hit number twenty on the charts. David’s working his next release now and I’m holding my breath that “Let it Rain” can break into the Top 20 because I fear his “turn” may be over.

I like David Nail and if country radio would give him (and other new acts) a chance, I’m pretty sure I’d “love” him. I was told by a country radio programmer, “why should we move his song to a power rotation? He won’t be a core artist in four years.” Come on! You aren’t giving the guy the chance he deserves. Nashville, give your talent more time to grow, more opportunity to be heard. Music Row, we need fewer “copy cat acts,” less one hit wonders, and more artists – not performers.

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Reason number two: Reality TV. Specifically “American Idol.” Dear Music Row, please stop signing every “Idol” castoff to a record deal. I recently had the chance to talk with Josh Gracin. Here’s a guy who was the first Idol contestant to sing a country song on the show. Remember when he sang Garth Brooks’ “Ain’t Goin Down Til The Sun Comes Up?” Did you do a double take too? After Josh finished fourth on “Idol’s” second season, Nashville didn’t know what to do. I told him during our interview, “they gave you that awkward guy hug instead of embracing you like Carrie Underwood.” That got a laugh from Josh as we recalled every artist who has gotten a song on country radio after “Idol.” (Good thing: most of them have fallen victim to not having that first BIG hit – so that reason doesn’t apply to them!)

My point is this: what makes c0untry artists better than pop stars is that our artists have singing and song writing talent. Which leads me to…

Reason number three: Manufactured stars. I don’t believe everything I see in movies but part of me really believes that Johnny Cash “found himself” at Sun Records in Memphis when his producer said they didn’t need another gospel singer, rather an artist with a sound. I’m a fan of an artist growing into their sound, but blatantly changing your identity or allowing yourself to be manufactured – that’s not why fans buy your music! Part of being a fan is having that unique connection with an artist and their music.

Despite all of these reasons, I’m still a fan of country music. Every year there will be a song or two that cuts through the clutter and grabs my heart strings. Every year I’ll get excited about a new artist with a fresh, amazing sound. And I’ll like them a lot hoping that one day I’ll have reason to love them.

Mike Thomas is a country radio personality and has been entertaining listeners since his sophomore year of high school when his Mom had to drop him off at the radio station. Now he’s a successful morning show host and has met many of country’s biggest stars during his almost twenty years of broadcasting. He lives in upstate New York, enjoys football more than you can possibly imagine, and is currently rolling a 5-for-5 record against his wife for picking great movies to watch on the weekend.

Be sure to check back to CountryMusicIsLove each week for a new “Open Mic with Mike Thomas” column!

The opinions expressed are those of the author only. They do not necessarily represent the views of CountryMusicIsLove.