Songs, Success, and Standing Ovations: The Overdue Rise of Canadian Women in Country Music

2016 was a big year. A lot of people will look back at it and see all of the turmoil, loss, and general destruction that came from it – but there were positives that some of us will look back on from the year and use a fence posts for timelines and stories.

Some of those highlights came in the form of success for female artists on the Canadian country music scene. While we never hit a complete zero of radio play or live shows – the Bro Country movement, along with the general dominance of the genre by male artists, and the influence and import of American music in the genre certainly hindered the growth and bloom of women making country music north of the border.

And while we haven’t evened the scales, or even come close in some areas of the business, 2016 showed great promise for a 12-month period, and with any continued momentum, the future.

Before taking a deeper dive, let’s take a quick look at some of the accomplishments and milestones reached this year…

☆ Jess Moskaluke won her 3rd consecutive Female Artist of the Year award from the Canadian Country Music Association and was awarded a Platinum award in recognition of the success of Cheap Wine & Cigarettes.
☆ Meghan Patrick (#5) and Madeline Merlo (#9) landed on the Top 10 first week album sales charts.
☆ Jessica Mitchell went viral, saw exciting success, and earned critical acclaim for her single, Workin’ On Whiskey.
☆ Whitney Rose saw plenty of success and critical acclaim for her work on Heartbreaker Of The Year and the upcoming release of South Texas Suite in both Canada and the United States, including multiple mentions from Rolling Stone.
☆ Lindsay Ell continued her ascent in the U.S. playing at the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium half a dozen times.

Participate in a conversation about female artist representation for any length of time and you’re likely to hear someone say “it shouldn’t matter if an artist is male or female, quality will play”, and that’s all well and good to say. But it doesn’t fly. Going back even as recently as May 2015 we had to deal with Tomatogate and Keith Hill’s comments about women not being as important as men on the country radio landscape. That’s only a year and a half ago. We’re not talking about a quote from 1955 and a station manager living in the past generation. This is now and we’re still seeing the real life fight for equality in the entertainment world just like we are in business and personal life.

Jess Moskaluke (MDM Recordings) has seen her presence and success increase in the three years since the release of Cheap Wine & Cigarettes. We first saw and interviewed her in 2014, and named her as one of our breakout stars of that year. In the time since then country music fans in Canada have embraced the Saskatchewan songstress and singles like 2016’s Take Me Home and Elevator, which reached #7 and #15 on the Canadian Country Charts. Her performances have grown stronger, her fanbase has grown larger, and we’ve heard more spins on country radio as her popularity and viability have risen.

Jess Moskaluke Bright Lights Big City Toronto The Phoenix

We asked Moskaluke about the swing in country, with more female success and recognition being seen, and she told us, I think country music is cyclical. In the 90’s, the women dominated. In the 2010’s, it’s been the men’s turn. But it’s coming around, and I think in the next couple of years, it’ll be the women’s turn again (or at least it’ll be 50/50, which would be ideal!). We’re seeing strong content both lyrically and sonically on both sides of the border from female artists such as Kelsea Ballerini, Madeline Merlo, Maren Morris, Meghan Patrick, etc. That’s not going to go away. I have always believed that the music industry is one of the most difficult industries, so musicians tend to be extremely driven. The struggle has only made me want to work harder! I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way, as, like I had mentioned earlier, the women are coming back bigger and better than ever before!”

That work ethic, the one that makes Jess Moskaluke want to work harder, isn’t new to this year. In fact, we looked back at our 2014 Q&A where she said, “I would love to be the one that breaks the door down in Canada and makes it easier for women to gain popularity in country music.” And with the first Gold (and now Platinum) single by a solo female country artist in Canada since Shania Twain, we’re tempted to say that she has done a significant job of doing just that.

Along with the accomplishments and accolades have come more opportunities for Jess Moskaluke and other female country artists in Canada. In 2016 alone Moskaluke performed across Canada at shows and festivals that featured some of the biggest names in the country genre. At Trackside Music Festival in London, ON, at the Havelock Jamboree in Havelock, ON and at Country Thunder Music Festival in Calgary, AB, Moskaluke put on shows to thousands on the same stages as big-time acts like Tim McGraw, Florida Georgia Line, The Band Perry, and Luke Bryan.

Jess mentioned the 90s dominance of country by women. In Canada we saw awesome success in that decade from artists like Shania Twain, Terri Clark, Michelle Wright, Patricia Conroy, and K.D. Lang. And when looking at the Single and Album of the Year Awards handed out by the CCMA from 1990 to 1999 we can see a total of 13 awards won in the two categories out of a possible 20. That’s an impressive 65 percent. However, in the 17 award shows from 2000 to 2016 women have won only 3 Album of the Year awards and 4 Single of the Year awards for a total of seven wins out of 34 awards. A much less impressive or encouraging 20%. The cycle has taken long enough in our opinion, it’s time to see some turnaround.

One of the artists that had a big breakout in 2016, and looks forward to more in 2017 was mentioned in Moskaluke’s quote. Meghan Patrick (Warner Music Canada) burst into the market, playing her own sets at festivals and shows all over the country with some of the genre’s biggest stars, and by the end of the year it has started to feel like she’s been here all along.

Patrick’s album, Grace & Grit, was released in April, following the February release of her debut single Bow Chicka Wow Wow, and quickly became a fan favourite. The lead single and video have combined for nearly 1 million plays (official YouTube and Spotify streams) and reached #17 on the Canadian country charts. The title track follow-up reached #12, and has added another nearly half million plays to her 2016 total.

When we asked Meghan Patrick to talk about 2016 and the role and success that Canadian women saw in country music she said, “It’s very inspiring. It has been great to see these women climb the charts this year, sell albums and make big impressions on the Canadian country music scene, and I don’t say that just because they are women… I say that because they deserve it. These are women with great talent as songwriters, performers and who are so dedicated to their craft. Women who have truly created their own sound and product and stayed true to themselves. That’s where truly great music lives… within artists who are sure of themselves, who know their strengths and who have the drive to make it a reality. I’m very proud to be considered one of those artists amongst both my male and female peers, and I am especially proud of the impression my female colleagues and I have made in country music this year.”

To tell you that you should expect to see Patrick’s name in tier one company on the nominee list for 2017 CMAO and CCMA Female Artist of the Year awards is not a bold prediction. But to tell you that we believe there could be another two or three radio singles (following current single Still Loving You) from the album should give you some indication of how much Meghan Patrick could end up accomplishing with this album, as she actively writes and prepares for her follow-up release.

To get a look at the situation for Canadian women in country music from a different perspective we talked to Jenn Dalen (Program Director at CCMA Medium or Small Market Radio Station of the Year, Real Country 95.5 Red Deer, AB and Newcap Alberta South) and asked her to tell us about the genre and scene from where she sits. And her excitement shined through when she said, My favourite part about Canadian country music at the moment is that it’s filled with strong, passionate, determined, fierce, and talented women who are also as real and genuine as it gets! They are hopping on stage with some of the World’s biggest country stars, shredding it like no ones business, earning Platinum titles, writing award winning songs, earning standing ovations, and stealing everyone’s hearts! As a woman it makes me both excited and proud for what’s going to come in 2017! And I think the rest of the country should get ready… because they’re comin’ in hot!”

To have someone like Jenn making programming decisions is a big deal and should not be overlooked. Her enthusiasm for the genre as a whole is palpable, and her support for women in the industry has the chance to go a long way towards success and recognition for the talented performers we know, and the ones on their way like Lindsay Broughton, Raquel Cole, Livy Jeanne, and Shae Dupuy. With the increase in online streaming and digital listening there are those who doubt the importance or relevance of radio, but don’t be fooled, it still matters and it is important that women, and most importantly Canadian women, are represented at country radio.

The second Canadian mentioned in Jess Moskaluke’s quote is a fellow 2016 Canadian Country Music Award Female Artist of the Year nominee, the reigning British Columbia Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year, and 2015 CCMA Rising Star Award winner – Madeline Merlo. With two successful singles released in 2016 (What Ya Wanna Do About It #10 and War Paint #13) Merlo was seen and heard from coast-to-coast. Adding together her YouTube and Spotify streams for the two songs gives an impressive total of more than 2 million plays on the year… but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Madeline Merlo BH5 Boots and Hearts 2016

The power and reach of War Paint was one of the genre’s best stories of the year. Pulled from the real life tragedy of mental illness and suicide, the song tells a story that is real and personal. It connected with many listeners, and Madeline Merlo made the most of that connection. In August, Merlo partnered with Spokehaus in Toronto in support of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). She also talked about the significance of the song in interviews on TV and online. And those appearances helped to show her charity as a person and an artist. The song itself continues in the tradition of country music anthems with a powerful message. On merit alone War Paint is a fantastic song and deserves to be recognized as it has been by fans, critics, and on the charts regardless of gender – which is exactly what happened, and what we’re happy to see.

As a rising star in the Canadian country music community (we named her a breakout performer of the year in 2015), Madeline Merlo has already proven that she belongs. And a strong 2017 will be a surprise to nobody that has been paying attention to her career, has listened to her album (2016’s Free Soul), or has seen her perform live at venues like Boots & Hearts, Lucknow Music in the Fields, Calgary Stampede and more.

One of 2016’s biggest, and most pleasant surprises, in Canadian country music came courtesy of Jessica Mitchell. If you haven’t heard of Jessica by now, you’ve probably been under a rock. Her year was an exciting blur of shows, accolades, standing ovations, viral videos, and the kind of recognition that a hard working artist earns when all of the pieces come together.

Mitchell’s breakout single, Workin’ On Whiskey, is the kind of country song that gets stuck in your head and changes the beat of your heart. It’s country music in all of its heartbreaking, liquor pouring, songwriter glowing glory. And it’s a song that has put Mitchell on the damn map. At the end of May, Mitchell played Workin’ On Whiskey at the Country Music Association of Ontario awards show and earned the night’s only standing ovation with her acoustic performance. And in mid-July the song was the most added track by country radio (week of July 13) across the country. She also earned Rising Star (CMAO) and Roots Artist of the Year (CCMA) nominations, proving that the industry admires and appreciates her soulful, heart-felt country contributions.

It is a refreshing thing to see the same kind of respect that’s being paid to artists like Chris Stapleton, given to a woman with those same talents. Do not be surprised to see Jessica Mitchell’s name on award nomination lists again in 2017 – with Female Artist of the Year nominations more than just an outside possibility.

The list of talented Canadian female artists making country music is long (go listen to Kira Isabella, Lindsay Ell, Whitney Rose, Lindi Ortega, Leah Daniels, Trinity Bradshaw, Olivia Rose, and more). The list of names that the average fan is learning and listening to is growing. And the trend of increased popularity in sales, radio play, and online streams is encouraging.

But we aren’t where we need to be yet.

CanCon rules require radio stations to meet a 35% to 40% Canadian song threshold. And if we’re looking for equality, we should be looking for an even split between Canadian men and women. If we can get there on country radio, if fans make the effort to call and request the songs they want to hear from female artists, if they show programmers and advertisers that the women in Canada who make country music are valued and valuable, then maybe we can stop rolling our eyes when we hear someone say, “it shouldn’t matter if an artist is male or female, quality will play”. Because it will be true, and won’t need to be said in the first place.   

The success of women in Canadian country in 2016 should be a beacon of good things to come. But we need to see continued momentum and success in 2017. We need to see the industry recognize this talent at the highest and most visible levels. We need to see support for grassroots and marque names. And it needs to happen now.

We promise to do our part. We hope you’ll do yours. 

Let quality play.

creator of content, manager of community, writer, tweeter, coffee drinker. sports, comics, movies, food, music & pop culture geek. Proud MoBro.

Songs, Success, and Standing Ovations: The Overdue Rise of Canadian Women in Country Music

2016 was a big year. A lot of people will look back at it and see all of the turmoil, loss, and general destruction that came from it – but there were positives that some of us will look back on from the year and use a fence posts for timelines and stories.

Some of those highlights came in the form of success for female artists on the Canadian country music scene. While we never hit a complete zero of radio play or live shows – the Bro Country movement, along with the general dominance of the genre by male artists, and the influence and import of American music in the genre certainly hindered the growth and bloom of women making country music north of the border.

And while we haven’t evened the scales, or even come close in some areas of the business, 2016 showed great promise for a 12-month period, and with any continued momentum, the future.

Before taking a deeper dive, let’s take a quick look at some of the accomplishments and milestones reached this year…

☆ Jess Moskaluke won her 3rd consecutive Female Artist of the Year award from the Canadian Country Music Association and was awarded a Platinum award in recognition of the success of Cheap Wine & Cigarettes.
☆ Meghan Patrick (#5) and Madeline Merlo (#9) landed on the Top 10 first week album sales charts.
☆ Jessica Mitchell went viral, saw exciting success, and earned critical acclaim for her single, Workin’ On Whiskey.
☆ Whitney Rose saw plenty of success and critical acclaim for her work on Heartbreaker Of The Year and the upcoming release of South Texas Suite in both Canada and the United States, including multiple mentions from Rolling Stone.
☆ Lindsay Ell continued her ascent in the U.S. playing at the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium half a dozen times.

Participate in a conversation about female artist representation for any length of time and you’re likely to hear someone say “it shouldn’t matter if an artist is male or female, quality will play”, and that’s all well and good to say. But it doesn’t fly. Going back even as recently as May 2015 we had to deal with Tomatogate and Keith Hill’s comments about women not being as important as men on the country radio landscape. That’s only a year and a half ago. We’re not talking about a quote from 1955 and a station manager living in the past generation. This is now and we’re still seeing the real life fight for equality in the entertainment world just like we are in business and personal life.

Jess Moskaluke (MDM Recordings) has seen her presence and success increase in the three years since the release of Cheap Wine & Cigarettes. We first saw and interviewed her in 2014, and named her as one of our breakout stars of that year. In the time since then country music fans in Canada have embraced the Saskatchewan songstress and singles like 2016’s Take Me Home and Elevator, which reached #7 and #15 on the Canadian Country Charts. Her performances have grown stronger, her fanbase has grown larger, and we’ve heard more spins on country radio as her popularity and viability have risen.

Jess Moskaluke Bright Lights Big City Toronto The Phoenix

We asked Moskaluke about the swing in country, with more female success and recognition being seen, and she told us, I think country music is cyclical. In the 90’s, the women dominated. In the 2010’s, it’s been the men’s turn. But it’s coming around, and I think in the next couple of years, it’ll be the women’s turn again (or at least it’ll be 50/50, which would be ideal!). We’re seeing strong content both lyrically and sonically on both sides of the border from female artists such as Kelsea Ballerini, Madeline Merlo, Maren Morris, Meghan Patrick, etc. That’s not going to go away. I have always believed that the music industry is one of the most difficult industries, so musicians tend to be extremely driven. The struggle has only made me want to work harder! I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way, as, like I had mentioned earlier, the women are coming back bigger and better than ever before!”

That work ethic, the one that makes Jess Moskaluke want to work harder, isn’t new to this year. In fact, we looked back at our 2014 Q&A where she said, “I would love to be the one that breaks the door down in Canada and makes it easier for women to gain popularity in country music.” And with the first Gold (and now Platinum) single by a solo female country artist in Canada since Shania Twain, we’re tempted to say that she has done a significant job of doing just that.

Along with the accomplishments and accolades have come more opportunities for Jess Moskaluke and other female country artists in Canada. In 2016 alone Moskaluke performed across Canada at shows and festivals that featured some of the biggest names in the country genre. At Trackside Music Festival in London, ON, at the Havelock Jamboree in Havelock, ON and at Country Thunder Music Festival in Calgary, AB, Moskaluke put on shows to thousands on the same stages as big-time acts like Tim McGraw, Florida Georgia Line, The Band Perry, and Luke Bryan.

Jess mentioned the 90s dominance of country by women. In Canada we saw awesome success in that decade from artists like Shania Twain, Terri Clark, Michelle Wright, Patricia Conroy, and K.D. Lang. And when looking at the Single and Album of the Year Awards handed out by the CCMA from 1990 to 1999 we can see a total of 13 awards won in the two categories out of a possible 20. That’s an impressive 65 percent. However, in the 17 award shows from 2000 to 2016 women have won only 3 Album of the Year awards and 4 Single of the Year awards for a total of seven wins out of 34 awards. A much less impressive or encouraging 20%. The cycle has taken long enough in our opinion, it’s time to see some turnaround.

One of the artists that had a big breakout in 2016, and looks forward to more in 2017 was mentioned in Moskaluke’s quote. Meghan Patrick (Warner Music Canada) burst into the market, playing her own sets at festivals and shows all over the country with some of the genre’s biggest stars, and by the end of the year it has started to feel like she’s been here all along.

Patrick’s album, Grace & Grit, was released in April, following the February release of her debut single Bow Chicka Wow Wow, and quickly became a fan favourite. The lead single and video have combined for nearly 1 million plays (official YouTube and Spotify streams) and reached #17 on the Canadian country charts. The title track follow-up reached #12, and has added another nearly half million plays to her 2016 total.

When we asked Meghan Patrick to talk about 2016 and the role and success that Canadian women saw in country music she said, “It’s very inspiring. It has been great to see these women climb the charts this year, sell albums and make big impressions on the Canadian country music scene, and I don’t say that just because they are women… I say that because they deserve it. These are women with great talent as songwriters, performers and who are so dedicated to their craft. Women who have truly created their own sound and product and stayed true to themselves. That’s where truly great music lives… within artists who are sure of themselves, who know their strengths and who have the drive to make it a reality. I’m very proud to be considered one of those artists amongst both my male and female peers, and I am especially proud of the impression my female colleagues and I have made in country music this year.”

To tell you that you should expect to see Patrick’s name in tier one company on the nominee list for 2017 CMAO and CCMA Female Artist of the Year awards is not a bold prediction. But to tell you that we believe there could be another two or three radio singles (following current single Still Loving You) from the album should give you some indication of how much Meghan Patrick could end up accomplishing with this album, as she actively writes and prepares for her follow-up release.

To get a look at the situation for Canadian women in country music from a different perspective we talked to Jenn Dalen (Program Director at CCMA Medium or Small Market Radio Station of the Year, Real Country 95.5 Red Deer, AB and Newcap Alberta South) and asked her to tell us about the genre and scene from where she sits. And her excitement shined through when she said, My favourite part about Canadian country music at the moment is that it’s filled with strong, passionate, determined, fierce, and talented women who are also as real and genuine as it gets! They are hopping on stage with some of the World’s biggest country stars, shredding it like no ones business, earning Platinum titles, writing award winning songs, earning standing ovations, and stealing everyone’s hearts! As a woman it makes me both excited and proud for what’s going to come in 2017! And I think the rest of the country should get ready… because they’re comin’ in hot!”

To have someone like Jenn making programming decisions is a big deal and should not be overlooked. Her enthusiasm for the genre as a whole is palpable, and her support for women in the industry has the chance to go a long way towards success and recognition for the talented performers we know, and the ones on their way like Lindsay Broughton, Raquel Cole, Livy Jeanne, and Shae Dupuy. With the increase in online streaming and digital listening there are those who doubt the importance or relevance of radio, but don’t be fooled, it still matters and it is important that women, and most importantly Canadian women, are represented at country radio.

The second Canadian mentioned in Jess Moskaluke’s quote is a fellow 2016 Canadian Country Music Award Female Artist of the Year nominee, the reigning British Columbia Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year, and 2015 CCMA Rising Star Award winner – Madeline Merlo. With two successful singles released in 2016 (What Ya Wanna Do About It #10 and War Paint #13) Merlo was seen and heard from coast-to-coast. Adding together her YouTube and Spotify streams for the two songs gives an impressive total of more than 2 million plays on the year… but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Madeline Merlo BH5 Boots and Hearts 2016

The power and reach of War Paint was one of the genre’s best stories of the year. Pulled from the real life tragedy of mental illness and suicide, the song tells a story that is real and personal. It connected with many listeners, and Madeline Merlo made the most of that connection. In August, Merlo partnered with Spokehaus in Toronto in support of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). She also talked about the significance of the song in interviews on TV and online. And those appearances helped to show her charity as a person and an artist. The song itself continues in the tradition of country music anthems with a powerful message. On merit alone War Paint is a fantastic song and deserves to be recognized as it has been by fans, critics, and on the charts regardless of gender – which is exactly what happened, and what we’re happy to see.

As a rising star in the Canadian country music community (we named her a breakout performer of the year in 2015), Madeline Merlo has already proven that she belongs. And a strong 2017 will be a surprise to nobody that has been paying attention to her career, has listened to her album (2016’s Free Soul), or has seen her perform live at venues like Boots & Hearts, Lucknow Music in the Fields, Calgary Stampede and more.

One of 2016’s biggest, and most pleasant surprises, in Canadian country music came courtesy of Jessica Mitchell. If you haven’t heard of Jessica by now, you’ve probably been under a rock. Her year was an exciting blur of shows, accolades, standing ovations, viral videos, and the kind of recognition that a hard working artist earns when all of the pieces come together.

Mitchell’s breakout single, Workin’ On Whiskey, is the kind of country song that gets stuck in your head and changes the beat of your heart. It’s country music in all of its heartbreaking, liquor pouring, songwriter glowing glory. And it’s a song that has put Mitchell on the damn map. At the end of May, Mitchell played Workin’ On Whiskey at the Country Music Association of Ontario awards show and earned the night’s only standing ovation with her acoustic performance. And in mid-July the song was the most added track by country radio (week of July 13) across the country. She also earned Rising Star (CMAO) and Roots Artist of the Year (CCMA) nominations, proving that the industry admires and appreciates her soulful, heart-felt country contributions.

It is a refreshing thing to see the same kind of respect that’s being paid to artists like Chris Stapleton, given to a woman with those same talents. Do not be surprised to see Jessica Mitchell’s name on award nomination lists again in 2017 – with Female Artist of the Year nominations more than just an outside possibility.

The list of talented Canadian female artists making country music is long (go listen to Kira Isabella, Lindsay Ell, Whitney Rose, Lindi Ortega, Leah Daniels, Trinity Bradshaw, Olivia Rose, and more). The list of names that the average fan is learning and listening to is growing. And the trend of increased popularity in sales, radio play, and online streams is encouraging.

But we aren’t where we need to be yet.

CanCon rules require radio stations to meet a 35% to 40% Canadian song threshold. And if we’re looking for equality, we should be looking for an even split between Canadian men and women. If we can get there on country radio, if fans make the effort to call and request the songs they want to hear from female artists, if they show programmers and advertisers that the women in Canada who make country music are valued and valuable, then maybe we can stop rolling our eyes when we hear someone say, “it shouldn’t matter if an artist is male or female, quality will play”. Because it will be true, and won’t need to be said in the first place.   

The success of women in Canadian country in 2016 should be a beacon of good things to come. But we need to see continued momentum and success in 2017. We need to see the industry recognize this talent at the highest and most visible levels. We need to see support for grassroots and marque names. And it needs to happen now.

We promise to do our part. We hope you’ll do yours. 

Let quality play.

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