HomeEF CountryWhy don't more Country artists release live albums?

Why don’t more Country artists release live albums?

The announcement that Carly Pearce will be releasing her excellent ’29: Written in Stone’ album in live format in March got me to thinking. Aside from Cody Johnson’s recent live album, which we gave a glowing review to right here the whole concept of ‘the live album’ seems to be a dying art form in Country music.

Think back. How many mainstream, major label artists can you name who have released live albums in Country music this century. The last one I could come up with was The Chick’s excellent ‘Top of the World’ album in 2003! Aldean has never released one, although there were some live songs tagged onto the end of his last double ‘Macon, Georgia’ release, neither has Shelton. Luke Bryan, even though he has done around 10 albums? Nope. Miranda, Little Big Town, Keith Urban? Nada. Nothing.

These are all artists with big enough back catalogues to warrant a live album but still the concept of ‘Greatest Hits’ is a bigger draw than showcasing artists in the environment that they really excel in. Brothers Osborne have dipped their toes into the ‘live album’ format with great success so why don’t other artists do it?

So why don’t modern Country music artists release live albums? The greats of the past always did, with the exception of Dolly Parton, oddly. A trawl of her catalogue on Spotify yielded a blank return for live albums but there must be a live vinyl of hers out there somewhere, right? Johnny Cash’s whole career was based on two live albums: 1968’s ‘Folsom Prison’ release and ‘Live at San Quentin’ just a year later. Jon Denver, Willie Nelson, Hank Jr, Merle Haggard – all released live albums but it’s a concept that seems to have slipped off the radar in these current times. Here are some reasons that might suggest why.

It’s Just Too Damn Expensive

As the dominance of record labels declines so does their budgets. As more and more labels let platforms like TikTok do their A&R for them the margins that they operative within have got tighter. There’s just not the money in recorded music anymore. If you want money you need ticket sales and merch. Maybe the budgets preclude artists from producing live albums now?

Country Music Prides the Single Hit Over the Album

FM radio’s stranglehold over the Country music industry in the American south has always meant that the genre is more concerned with big hits than the art of the long form album. The advent of playlists and shuffle has only added to the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ nature of songs within Country music. This is a genre and demographic of people that love the radio hits, but as artist after artist who comes over to the UK from Nashville tells me, the album cuts and deeper tracks are often criminally ignored by American crowds. Maybe there just isn’t a demand from the fans for full live recorded sets?

We Want Greatest Hits Rather Than Live Shows

Leading on from the above point, maybe what sells in America is ‘Greatest Hits’ collections. All the radio hits gathered together in one place. Hell, Tim McGraw has countless ‘Greatest Hits’ collections to his name but not one single live album! You’ve got to go where the demand is, right? Maybe Big Machine are taking a huge punt on the popularity of Carly Pearce’s ’29’ album and it will be something that they end up in the red over?

Youtube and the Other Video Platforms Have Killed the Live Album

If you want to see live music then you can just go and click on Youtube, TikTok or any of the other video streaming channels and find what you want in seconds. Want to see Little Big Town sing ‘Girl Crush’ or Keith Urban sing ‘Days Go By’? It’ll be there. You can have a quick watch and then move on with your day. The immediacy of content at our finger tips might well be another factor in the death of the live album format. After all, why sit and listen to something aural when you can watch the performers sing it right before your eyes?

The counter argument here, however, is that the live album is still going strong in other formats like Rock, so it can’t just be about streaming or video platforms – I still think we are looking at something specifically Country music related.

Are Artists Worried About their Performances?

Surely, in this day and age, where content from every single concert an artist performs can make its way online, musicians aren’t precious about their abilities? Most of the Country artists I’ve seen have been great live. Some singers are, obviously, stronger than others and if you listen to some of Jason Aldean’s live songs on the ‘Macon, Georgia’ release from last year you might not be terrifically impressed but songs can be doctored in the studio. Some of the greatest live albums in Rock history (I’m looking at you here Judas Priest) were tinkered with in the studio and the bum notes or mistakes removed so that could be easily done.

Do the Artists and Labels Want You to Buy Concert Tickets and Not Live Albums?

Maybe artists these days don’t want to give away their live intellectual property in such a cheap form as a streaming or CD release? I’ve already mentioned the discrepancy between earnings from recorded music versus concert tickets and merch. Maybe there’s a prevailing view that live albums would be a barrier to people buying tickets to see an artist live? I’ve never thought that and it wouldn’t discourage me but maybe the label suits think that way?

Who knows what the reasons are but it certainly is odd that the concept of the live album just doesn’t resonate in Nashville in the same way that is used to anymore. I, for one, would love to listen to a live album from the likes of Little Big Town and Keith Urban. It’s a way of merging a greatest hits with the live concept. Can you imagine how good a Chris Stapleton live album would be!? I’ve always been a fan and will be looking forward to listening to Carly Pearce’s forthcoming live album. Maybe it will open the floodgates to some more releases in the coming years?

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