To purposely misquote a Paul McCartney classic, bands are on the run in country music — straight to the top of the charts.
Little Big Town’s new album The Reason Why, bolts out of the chute to No. 1 on this week’s Billboard Country Albums chart, and it’s followed by the Randy Rogers Band’s Burning The Day, checking in at No. 2. In fact, groups occupy four of the Top 5 slots on the chart. Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now checks in at No. 4, and the the Zac Brown Band hanging in at No. 5 with the double-platinum project The Foundation. The only thing blocking bands from a Top 5 sweep is the Trace Adkins album Cowboy’s Back In Town.
Most fans probably don’t think much about it, but being in a band is completely different from working as a solo artist. There are more expenses, more opinions and more egos involved, so decisions require more communication and more time. As a reward for all that extra work, there’s less potential income — the band members have to split up the proceeds in the end.
That collection of issues is part of the reason there historically haven’t been a lot of bands in country music. It’s hard to keep them together, and executives on Music Row didn’t want to spend all the extra time required to market and develop a group just to watch the band break up.
One way to avoid the break up, of course, is to plan ahead. Bands in the past didn’t do that much, but they’re encouraged to do it today.
“Somebody told us to plan on the best and the worst happening and to make up some rules and by-laws and stuff for the band so you don’t have to decide [on the fly],” Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild says. “What if someone gets asked to do this [separate project]? Or money comes in on this [outside work]? How will you handle it? You don’t think about that when you’re new, so we set about figuring that out from the very beginning, and it’s always worked for us.”
That’s a factor in Little Big Town’s ability to defy the odds. Despite some trying times, the group has stayed together without a lineup change for a dozen years.
The Randy Rogers Band isn’t too far behind in longevity: RRB formed in October 10 years ago, and it celebrated five years with its current record label last month.
For Burning The Day, the group sided with a producer who likewise boasts longevity. Paul Worley has worked with more successful groups than anyone else in the business: Lady A, the Dixie Chicks, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Desert Rose Band and Highway 101. That kind of history wasn’t built by mistake. Record producers’ jobs are a little tougher with a group than with a solo artist. They have to figure out how to handle multiple personalities and how all those different people interact with each other. And still find the right way to get all those creative minds working on the same page.
“He’s a true musician,” Randy says. “He’s just a killer guitar player and a great listener and can figure parts out, parts that are played by individual band members. And I think he understands about bein’ in a band. He was always a band guy. He liked bein’ in a band… He wasn’t a songwriter. He was jammin’ in the garage with whoever would jam with him. I just think he has a different approach to the process of getting to where you record — all the rehearsals that we did with him leading up to it. I think he enjoyed it just as much as we did.”
Look for a few more band successes in the months ahead. The Zac Brown Band’s next album, You Get What You Give, comes out Sept. 21. The Band Perry’s self-titled debut is due Oct. 12. And Rascal Flatts’ next project, Nothing Like This, will be released Nov. 16.