A Royall Juggle

Weekly #4: Two-stepping down the long tail of country music

Posted on: October 13, 2010

I’ve been following country music since Achy Breaky Heart premiered on the radio in the early 90’s… Who doesn’t love the famous Billy Ray Cyrus mullet?

In an effort to quickly prove my passion for country music, here are a few somewhat embarrassing stories I’m willing to share:

1)      I wrecked my car because of my love for Kenny Chesney. As Chris Anderson mentions in his book, The Long Tail, there are lots of advantages to turning tangible products (CDs) them into digital versions (MP3s) that you can purchase online (iTunes) including near-zero inventory costs BUT the experience is not always the same. I will not settle for the digital version for certain artists and Kenny is one of them. I always go to the store the day his new CDs are released to purchase them. After quickly deciding to take a Walmart exit to purchase Lucky Old Son right before I headed on a long road trip from SC to DC in 2008, I rear-ended a guy, but I didn’t forget to go into Walmart to buy the CD while I was waiting for the cops to arrive at the scene. Luckily, it was just a fender bender (I don’t encourage reckless driving).

2)     A country concert t-shirt quilt is on my Christmas wish list this year. All my friends who have been to country concerts with me know I am a sucker for buying the t-shirts. I have way too many sitting in my drawers and don’t have the self-control to not buy anymore so my wonderful mother is helping me turn my collection into a collectible this year.

3)     I travel to different cities for country concerts. I decided to start a sisterly-bonding tradition of attending country music festivals in different cities last year. My sister is the only person I know that is willing to spend that much time with me and country music — I love her for it.  So far we’ve crossed the CMA Music Festival in Nashville and the Bayou Country Superfest in Baton Rouge off our lists. Now that she’s expecting her first child in December, I think we may have to take a sabbatical this year.

Even though I consider myself a country music fanatic, I have just begun to make my way down the long tail, where a multitude of songs and artists that aren’t considered “hits” or “stars” yet live. My journey down the long tail is what led me to my new favorite country singer, Eric Church. He only had 1-2 songs out on the radio when I saw him perform live at the CMA Music Fest last year, but after hearing him live, I was craving more. I looked him up on iTunes and discovered that he has many more hidden jewels that are even better than the songs the pre-filters (record label scouts, radio, etc.) decided were the most “marketable.” Case in point: the last single by Eric Church released on the radio “Smoke a Little Smoke” disturbed many conservative country music fans and was my least favorite track on his CD. Before the web, I probably wouldn’t have become an Eric Church fan, because his radio play is insignificant and his songs that make it on the radio don’t grab my attention enough for me to go buy his entire CD (before the web I didn’t buy a CD unless there were at least three songs I knew I would like on the album due to the cost and risk of disappointment).

Since traditional media isn’t always the best way to find exactly what you’re looking for, I delved deeper into the niche of country music online. After looking at some social sites, I discovered that there is a pretty large community of country music fans like me gathering right now, and not just in Nashville. A couple worthy findings:

Country at Heart – A Meetup group of 406 country music fans living in the DC area. They find each other online and then meet up to go to line-dancing at local country bars and tailgate at country concerts. Their acceptable bargain, as defined by Clay Shirky in the book Here Comes Everybody: “In our group, you never have to explain why country music rocks. Everyone is encouraged to be an assistant organizer and be a part of creating and shaping the fun. The only rule is to enjoy ourselves, have fun and leave stress behind.” I’m sold; why didn’t I think of this four years ago when I moved here??

ChesneyWorld.com – I follow this group on Twitter @ChesneyWorld and it’s a classic example of the power of peer production. A fan not affiliated with Kenny Chesney created this site in 2008 and has since integrated many social tools (I just counted about 10 on the homepage) to help connect communities of fans just like him and me. The creator of this website has become a new tastemaker (regular people whose opinions are respected) for Kenny Chesney fans. When I want to most recent Kenny news, I turn to this site, not www.kennychesney.com.

Following long-tail aggregators such as iTunes and niche communities like the ones listed above are what will help me to continue down the long tail of country music so that I can discover more of the Eric Churches of the world.

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