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The South is no longer country’s stronghold

Labels are now looking westward to break new artists and performers
/ Source: Billboard

If you thought the South was the support base for country music, think again.

Most record promoters and label executives now rank the area as the worst when it comes to breaking a new act or getting airplay on a single.

Meanwhile, the Western region has quietly ramped up, becoming the most fertile ground. And the Northeast — long thought of as the region least attuned to country music — is, for many record promoters, now their second-best area.

The Southeast, which includes such country-friendly states as Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and the Carolinas, has become a difficult region for new music, according to label executives. And radio promoters say the Southwest — Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas — is the last place they're likely to break a new act or get airplay on a new single.

"The Southwest, if you're not George Strait, is absolutely the hardest place to start any record, whether it's an established act or a new artist," says Gator Michaels, senior VP of promotion at Warner Bros. Nashville, home of Faith Hill.

When Quarterback Records national promotion director Anne Weaver was a Southwest regional promoter in the early '90s, "it was the region artists (and) songs broke from. Not anymore," she says, "and I think it's because of consolidation and very conservative (radio) brand managers."

Weaver is not alone in citing corporate consolidation as part of the Southwest's problem. Off the record, many label officials specifically finger radio giant Clear Channel as the main culprit. One label promotion head says the conservative nature of Clear Channel stations in the Southwest "causes a huge void in that region."

Most of the good news seems to come from the West, which encompasses 11 states. The region is just "a little more open to new music," says Renee Leymon, senior director of national promotion at Lyric Street Records, home of Rascal Flatts and SheDaisy.