A People’s History of American Songwriter: Michael Kosser

Michael Kosser: Columnist (1984-2011)

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If you walked up and down Music Row in 1984, you’d be pleased at how little had changed over the past decade or two. All the little houses that held the offices of small companies were still there. Most of the few office buildings along the Row looked like they belonged. New songwriters came to town every week – some of them stayed, some of them went back home and a few headed for the coasts. There were still plenty of parking spaces along 16th and 17th, and downtown was an easy destination. Nashville was still a little big town.

And here was another thing that didn’t change. In the bars and meat ‘n threes near Music Row, you could hear the old songwriters moanin’ the blues: “Country ain’t country anymore.” “Country radio has sold out.” “The music stinks.”

Nothing changes. They were moanin’ the same tune in ’64, in ’74, and they would be moanin’ it in ’94, ’04 and ’14. And they would all have been correct. The music that had made them passionate back in their hometowns and made them want to pull up stakes for a strange town in a strange state had changed into something that no longer claimed their passions. Some stayed and tried to retool. And others just gave up.

But in 1984, interesting things were going on in our little music world. Record sales had fallen and some in the business thought that a little less pop in their country music would be a good thing. George Strait and Ricky Skaggs and Vern Gosdin were having hits and Randy Travis was just around the corner. These guys would lead us forward to Garth Brooks and we didn’t know it then, but from then on country music would be a place for young fans to go anytime pop got a little too stale or a little too weird. The roots for Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert were planted on Music Row the day country radio and records decided that country music could be a lot more than chart-driven middle-of-the-road adult music. It took time but it happened.

Back in 1984 American Songwriter primarily covered the Nashville music industry, which was overwhelmingly country. Today the magazine does its level best to cover songwriting wherever there are American songwriters, which means not just Nashville, L.A., or New York. Thanks to today’s studio technology, and the Internet, any singer-songwriter who has talent and is willing to work his or her tail off can find an audience somewhere on the world wide web. And American Songwriter is looking for these talents so we can tell our readers who they are and how they do it.

From my viewpoint it appears that today it’s much harder to make a living writing songs, but it’s easier for an artist to find a way to tell the world, “Here I am. Listen to what I’ve got!”

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