In the weeks after the Country Music Association Awards show, Nashville’s music executives will sit back and watch their artists’ albums catapult their way up the Billboard pop charts.
Essentially, that’s what the awards show is designed to do — sell more records to a wider audience — even as country albums, especially those by Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, Randy Travis, Trisha Yearwood, and Alan Jackson, are appearing on the pop charts as never before.
”I see the awards as nothing more than a marketing and publicity mechanism,” says Edward Morris, country music editor of Billboard. ”If there is a single factor, it has to be the labels’ vision of who will profit by the awards — people who’ve sold the most records, or people who are on the way up and have the prospect of selling a lot of records.”
If that’s true — past awards shows bear out Morris’ theory — the people to watch this year are Brooks (nominated for five awards), Jackson and Vince Gill (six each), and Clint Black (three). Brooks’ three albums have sold a total of nearly 9 million copies in only two years. Nashville loves stars who bring more money into Guitartown, but on the heels of his controversial video for ”The Thunder Rolls,” banned by the two country-music cable-TV channels but nominated for Music Video of the Year, there is already some backlash — a feeling that Brooks has come too far too fast and done too many things his own way.
Even though record labels are widely accused of manipulating the nomination process (by collecting their employees’ ballots and writing in selected artists), the awards are voted upon by the association’s 6,500 members — 5,500 of whom live not in Nashville but throughout the U.S. and in 31 other countries.
These voters — talent buyers, club owners, and semi-amateur performers — could reward Reba McEntire with a sympathy vote for the loss of her band in a plane crash last March, the Judds for mother Naomi’s illness, and Lorrie Morgan for the death of her husband, singer Keith Whitley, two years ago. And, although unlikely, they could give Vocal Group of the Year to old favorite Alabama rather than the rowdy and unorthodox Kentucky HeadHunters.
Whoever wins, though, one thing is sure: Music City is already at work developing next year’s candidates — those stars who have the biggest prospect for selling the most records, talent be damned.