Many of you country music fans out there know the story about how Kris Kristofferson convinced Johnny Cash to sing Kris’s song, “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” And if you don’t know this story, it’s a great one! Kristofferson, who was in the Army at the time, found himself in financial distress and needed to push his music to keep his head above water. At least that’s how he felt at the time. Having written many songs to no real success at that point, Kristofferson was frustrated with the industry and decided to take matters into his own hands. He stole a helicopter from the Army base, flew it to Johnny Cash’s house, and landed it on his front lawn, thereafter convincing The Man in Black to record the song, which would eventually become a hit and a classic staple of country music.
You can still find country music t-shirts today with “Sunday Morning Coming Down” written on them. Another fantastic story happened decades ago in Green Gables, a night club in Texas, when an unknown songwriter named Billy Joe Shaver accosted Waylon Jennings in person and demanded Waylon sing his songs. Billy told Waylon, “Man, if you don’t sing my songs, I’m gonna whip your ass in front of God and everybody.” Waylon chuckled and told Billy to give him his best. The rest is history.
Of course, in the age of the Internet, we’ll never hear stories like those again. Now it’s all about contacting someone’s agent, or publishing company; and you have to compete with tens of thousands of other country music songwriters, all trying to get a star to sing their songs. And that’s just the start of it. You also have to contend with YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and more. So what happens is that many country music singer-songwriters don’t even become “stars” in the traditional sense. They just end up with a ton of downloads and plays on these streaming services.
What does that mean for the regular country music songwriters out there today? Well, it means the old ways are gone. That’s it; point blank. You probably shouldn’t go steal a helicopter. It just won’t be worth it. Blake Shelton isn’t going to sing your song if you land on his lawn. He’ll probably just grab a shotgun. He already has a publisher, an agent, and an entire team helping him choose his music. But the bright side here is that these professionals do often check the popular songs on streaming services. If a big country music star finds a song they like from an independent artist on Spotify, for instance, then they might end up singing that song.
The times have changed, but talent is still talent. You can find a wide range of fantastic country music songwriters on platforms like YouTube. Just because the landscape is different doesn’t mean that good music has faded away. The rules of the game are just different now.
Whether you yourself are a country music songwriter or just a fan of great music, check out these streaming platforms and help to support independent creators. Blowing up online with a hit song in today’s world might be a better path to success than submitting your music to publishers.
The olden days of the radio stars are officially over for country music. But the world of online streaming is vast and still relatively new.