I was never a huge fan of Brooks and Dunn. Don’t get me wrong. I love the music, and I often catch myself singing along with it when it comes on the radio, but despite the “feel good” quality of their music, it was still a product of the “machine” that resides in Nashville. Everything about B&D was contrived by people in suits with marketing degrees. What they wore. How their hair was fixed. What songs they sang. Everything was choreographed by the “machine.”
In 1972, someone we all know and love had the foresight to separate himself from this snowballing monster. Willie Nelson moved back to his home state of Texas and proceeded to write songs that he wanted to write, sing them the way he wanted to sing them and dress the way he wanted to dress. This was a huge statement on the future of Country music. Still, however far Willie separated himself from Nashville and denounced the machine, the machine continued to embrace him, and eventually, those that followed in what is referred to as the “Outlaw movement.” Why? Well, Willie didn’t completely sever the ties. While he was in another state, doing his own thing and generating publicity about his rebellion, he maintained his recording contracts with Nashville labels. They continued to do business with him because even though they weren’t in control, they were capitalizing on his success.
Fast forward to present day Country music. The machine has created a generic art form that relies more on the visual characteristics of the performance than the auditory characteristics. The people who truly create good music for the love of it can’t get airplay on mainstream radio while the people who are in it for the money are dominating the airwaves. The career songwriters in Nashville churn out hundreds of songs per month that they don’t own hoping that someone will make it a hit. When the hits happen, they give up some of the writing credit to the performer so they can appear as though they have credibility. It is a sticky, sticky, manipulative mess.
In the last couple of months, I’ve been learning more about who Ronnie Dunn is, and I have gained a new respect for him. Twenty years of number one hits and “Artist of the Year” awards has ended with the divorce of Brooks and Dunn. Why did it end? Lots of people speculate that they didn’t get along, differences of opinion in music, one felt they didn’t need the other, etc., etc. Nobody really knows except Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn. The duo of Brooks and Dunn served its purpose for these two guys. It made them hugely successful, highly recognizable and extremely wealthy. Perhaps it was just a smart move to end it while at the top of their game. They are both in a position to do whatever they want for the rest of their lives. To me, the most important thing about the B&D divorce is what Ronnie Dunn is doing, now.
Ronnie has embarked on what promises to be an interesting voyage. He is birthing a solo career that, so far, has allowed him to write what he wants to write, play what he wants to play and wear what he wants to wear. Its been done, you say? Well, not entirely. Ronnie has broken away from major labels. He has started his own record label, Little Will-E Records, that has a business model like no other. Their focus is on artists who create their own music, know their audience and know themselves. Their mantra is that good music cannot be dictated by genre, age, gender or color of skin. Of course, Ronnie is the only artist on the label, but I see good things coming out of this. I suspect they will seek out artists who fit this description. They recognize that individual artists have individual followings, and they can capitalize on that by using social media to its fullest extent. Little Will-E Records has fully embraced the digital era and recognizes that the buying public doesn’t want cookie cutter packages of music.
What does all this mean to independent artists like myself who don’t have the money or clout that Ronnie has? Well, hopefully, it will open doors and level the playing field. I don’t fit the mold to be a part of the “machine.” I don’t fit the age requirement. LOL! I have no delusions. I won’t ever sell a million records, or make a million dollars. I just want to create the music that I want to create and be heard by people who want to hear it. It is my hope that more artists with clout will follow Ronnie’s lead and send a strong message to the machine.
If you want to know more about Ronnie, follow him on Twitter and FaceBook. I would also recommend that my fellow artist follow the blog of Bob Lefsetz. Ronnie turned me on the writings of this guy who knows the business inside and out. He is a realist and appears to be the most intelligent man in the music industry. Enjoy!