CMA-Commissioned Study Examines Country Music’s Multicultural Audience Opportunities & Barriers

As country music grapples with how to become more inclusive, a study commissioned by the Country Music Association reveals that while the number of  people of color enjoying the genre is rising, 20% say they experienced racial profiling and/or harassment at a country music live event.

That was one of the key takeaways from “Country Music’s Multicultural Opportunity,” a Horowitz Research study commissioned by the CMA, whose results were presented during a Dec. 7 webinar by CMA senior director of market research Karen Stump and Horowitz’s chief revenue officer and insights & strategy lead Adriana Waterston.

The study also found that while 50% of overall respondents who had listened to country music at a live music venue reported perceiving events as “family-friendly” and 43% said they felt “a sense of camaraderie with the audience,” only 33% reported that they frequently “feel safe” at a country music event.

The study emphasized the importance of reframing the perception that the country audience is “white,” given that the research showed that one in four Black and Latinx fans and one in five Asians listen to country music on a weekly basis.

The Horowitz study included a three-week online community of Black, Latinx, Asian and white participants, as well as an online survey of more than 4,000 consumers, ages 18 and older, 1,000 of whom identified as Latinx, 1,000 as Black, 1,000 as Asian and 1,000 as white/non-Latinx.

Only 36% of study participants who listened to country music at a live venue reported seeing many people of their same race/ethnicity, while 23% reported they feel as though they stand out due to their race/ethnicity. Additionally, 14% reported being made to feel uncomfortable and unwelcome during such an event and 17% reported seeing racist symbols, such as flags and hand gestures, while attending a country music live event. White listeners over-indexed for many of the “positive” feelings listed, while Black listeners more frequently reported feeling uncomfortable, feeling that that they stand out due to their race/ethnicity.

As the country becomes more multi-culturally diverse, it is vital that the country music community find a way to reach potential listeners who may feel excluded from the genre. Over the last decade, the multi-racial population grew by 30%, according to the Horowitz research. Specifically, the white population declined 8%, while Hispanic and Asian-American populations grew by 20% each and the Black U.S. population grew by 8.5%.

Reaching Multicultural Audiences

Multicultural listeners spend 2.9 of every 10 music listening hours with country music, while white/non-Hispanic listeners spend 4.2 out of 10 music listening hours tuning in to country music.

The study showed that in order to increase engagement, engaging fans via video, YouTube and television is essential: While 69% of white participants report viewing music-related video content weekly, that percentage was higher for Black (76%), Latinx (79%) and Asian (75%) study participants.

The study also broke down which audiences used various platforms most frequently, reporting that only 45% of white participants reported using YouTube’s free version, as compared to 51% of Black participants, 55% of Asian participants and 55% of Latinx participants. Overall, Black participants overindexed on platforms including YouTube’s free version, TikTok and Instagram, while Latinx study participants overindexed on platforms including YouTube’s free version, Spotify, Tiktok and Instagram. Asian study participants overindexed on YouTube’s free version as well as Spotify.

Barriers and opportunities

When asked why participants do not listen to country music, the most common response selected was “Just not that into it,” a response selected by 57% of Latinx participants, 53% of Black participants and 59% of Asian participants.

Drilling down, Black, Latinx and Asian study participants said barriers keeping them from engaging with country music included not receiving streaming music playlists/recommendations that include country music, as well as feeling that the country music industry is not interested in attracting people of color to the genre, that the country music industry does not market or advertise to them and that they do not see enough Black, Latinx and Asian artists in country music.

According to the study, 35% of participants believe the industry is not interested in attracting people of color. However, among study participants who identify as “core” country music listeners, 71% of white core listeners feel that country music is becoming more diverse lately, as do 66% of core Asian country music listeners, 59% of core Latinx listeners and 66% of core Black listeners.

Working to Diversity Country Music

Asked which initiatives could have the most impact on attracting higher multicultural listenership in country music, the most-cited response from Black, Latinx and Asian participants was collaborations with artists of other genres, as well as seeing more Black, Latinx, Asian and other diverse country music artists, seeing more artists speak up for racial and social justice and the industry itself doing more to celebrate cultural diversity.

The study found that it is not only Black, Latinx and Asian country music listeners who support these initiatives. Among the “white core” country music listeners in the study, many agreed with the same initiatives. 67% said they “Very/Somewhat agree” that they would like to see more collaborations between country artists and artists in other music genres, while 60% selected that they “Very/Somewhat agree” with seeing more Black, Latinx, Asian, and diverse artists in country music, while 59% supported the industry doing more to celebrate cultural diversity. 58% of white core country music listener participants supported artists speaking up for racial/social justice.

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