There has been a musical cold war happening for decades with GENRE v STYLE – and STYLE is winning. Is this the end of the Australian country music genre?
First things first; what is the difference between genre and style and should we really be worrying about it?
Well genre is an overall grouping of music that has become socially accepted over time such as Rock, Blues, Jazz and Country. Style is a subcategory of genre as in Heavy Metal is a style of the genre Rock. Trad Jazz has become a style of Jazz (even though some would argue that it was the original Jazz) and likewise Bluegrass is seen as a style of Country.
However, it is just Country that seems to have fewer styles associated with it when compiling lists for charts, placing in record stores and for that matter, helping to guide artists in their career decisions. A genre is the key to unlocking lost avenues for music industry success, so resist the urge to shrug it off as a meaningless label. It really is an important part of communicating your music to the masses.
In placing songs in the genre of Australian country music, there is little to no academia, study or educational grants taken up for research, either historically or in business.
Countless books have been written about country music, all with little or no peer review. Wikipedia is plagued by very slick country artist entries, edited by professional Wiki editors, about people who have just entered the industry with their first album but there are few entries for our historical legends.
Along with this, country music in Australia is plagued by a plethora of charts from any number of sources, also with little to no credibility. These charts are authored by anyone from community radio hosts, to print and digital media journalists, to Australian recording industry companies again with little or no peer reviewed data.
The data for these numerous charts comes from a variety of again, dubious sources such as ARIA’s country album chart (they don’t have a country ‘singles’ chart?) derived from sales from a ’club’ of music stores. Even though their website proclaims that:
“…over a thousand physical and digital retailers, as well as music streaming services across Australia contribute their weekly sales/streams…”
This data is from just 15 national chains (JBHIFI, Sanity etc), who all sum their national data for ARIA and a handful of state based stores plus Apple, Google Play and iTunes et al (https://www.ariacharts.com.au/stores).
So who calls the shots at these stores as to what is country and what isn’t? After ringing several head offices, I found out that none of the stores mentioned above provide staff that sort albums into genre.
Enter ‘Trade Services Australia’. Never heard of them? Neither had I till I researched this article. Do they provide academic rigour to their choices? Not by the way it’s presented on their website:
“…Trade Service of Australia aggregates product information provided by the mainstream Home Entertainment distributors in Australia. The information is received in various formats and processed by enthusiastic editors, into a central database. Information from the database is used to create and publish paper-based reference catalogues, and provide a standardised and structured data format for clients to feed their software systems and websites…” (http://www.tradeservice.com.au/about/aboutus.aspx). Please note the ‘enthusiastic editors‘ bit.
The stores listed above, used by ARIA to gain their data, do not place albums in any genre. TSA supply their data to all of the above stores for cataloguing purposes.
The rest come from unreliable and undocumented sources, even down to purely subjective taste, all with no academia applied, no peer review.
Hence, all of Australian country music is now clouded with objective and subjective ‘opinion’ – the majority confusing ‘style’ over ‘genre’. Is it any wonder that our country music is in such disarray?
This situation has culminated in the unbelievably ignorant but seemingly acceptable practice, happening on a daily basis in Australia, of a bush ballad being placed on the same chart as an obvious pop/rock song.
Sure, as an artist, content is chosen on what the fans/market want. However should it be them or for that matter the industry that chooses what is ‘country’ and what is not as far as genre is concerned? I say NO!
The situation we have at present is motivated by economic concerns and so academia is our only solution.
An example is the Melinda Schneider track ‘My Voice’, clearly a pop song, but one that sits on many country charts because “it’s Melinda and we love her”.
This is my objective argument that academia has a vital role in helping to lead the future of Australian country music.
© Pixie Jenkins 2018
Bachelor of Entertainment Business Management (2016 JMC Academy)