The Implications of Cody Johnson, Aaron Watson, and Cody Jinks Partnering with Major Record Labels

Cody Johnson’s independently owned record label “Cojo Music” has partnered with Warner Music Nashville, which means Johnson’s next record will have the backing of one of the most powerful labels in country music behind it.

With the news coming shortly after Cody Jinks signing to Rounder Records, and ADA Worldwide entering in to a partnership with Aaron Watson’s BIG Label Records, it has some fans worried for what possibly lies ahead for three of the biggest torch bearers for authentic country music. From the perspective of a Texas/Red Dirt music fan, your worry is completely warranted.  We haven’t had the best experiences when it comes to major record labels: from Pat Green to Granger Smith. The bitter taste in our mouths is due to the change in sound and style, the lack of authenticity in the music, and the obvious pandering implemented in the songwriting that arises when artists make the jump.

I’ll be completely honest, if this was 10 years, hell 5 years ago, I might be worried too; but things have changed.  I wrote an article a few weeks ago talking about the exciting future of Texas/Red Dirt music; mainly I discussed why the mediums and infrastructure that has allowed mainstream country music “gatekeepers” to have a monopolistic stranglehold on a country artist’s popularity is fracturing, and that artists going the independent route like Cody Johnson, Aaron Watson, and Cody Jinks were proving the viability of being a nationally successful artists without the backing of a label. So do these developments disprove my article? No, in fact I think it confirms it.

Here’s why:

These label signings are more like partnerships.  While these 3 deals vary in power structure, level of control, and money, it appears that the artists will be able to retain their autonomy and creative control, while receiving support from the label in regards to sales, distribution, promotion, and marketing (especially in retail). These types of partnerships are virtually unheard of in the country music scene; meaning you must have some serious leverage to get something like this accomplished and apparently that’s exactly what these artists have.  While there are some obvious benefits to signing to a record label in regards to budget, resources, and connections, the labels know that these artists don’t need them. Due to the changing digital landscape, they’re already nationally successful artists, regardless if anyone in Nashville is willing to recognize that or not; and would likely continue to grow going the independent route.

These artists have also been offered record deals before, but have turned them down in the past because it wasn’t what they wanted — to me this means they weren’t being given creative control.  So if they’re now choosing to go this route, it’s because they can continue to make exactly the same type of music that got them there in the first place. In other words, there’s no reason to believe that anything is going to change in regards to any of these artist’s musical offerings.  

They keep control, continue to put out great music and get the resources of a major record label.  In my opinion that’s a win-win not only for now, but for the future. If they prove to the labels that artists making authentic country music can be just as successful as anything else out there, then that’s only going to open more doors for other killer artists proving a demand for their music independently.  Hell, Watson’s deal not only allows him and his long-time manager Gino Genaro to control the staff and direction, it also creates an infrastructure for them to launch other acts!

Nothing really changes, except the ceiling has been raised dramatically.  There’s “no selling out”, or  pandering, or drop in authenticity. The entirety of the compromise seems to be coming from the label.  It seems they’ve recognized the power of artists making damn good music and growing massive organic fan bases on their own blood, sweat and tears, and to me that’s something to be celebrated.

Whether you’re a proponent of the moves these artists are making or not, it proves that artists successfully going the independent route will likely have more advantageous options at their disposal as the landscape of the music scene continues to evolve in the digital age…and that’s without a doubt a good thing for the musicians in our scene!

Author: Chris Fox

Music addict, a sucker for heartbreak songs, and avid Houston sports fan! I'am also the Editor-in-Chief of Texas Music Pickers.

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