change seems to be occurring in the country music world among the record companies.
Quite clearly, the line dance craze, which helped catapult country to the fore, has greatly diminished. The closing of many country clubs around the country is evidence of that.
When any kind of musical genre experiences a downturn, rest assured the powers that be are looking for the Next Big Thing to bring the particular type of music back.
Such is happening with country right now. Hat acts are not readily being snapped up to record contracts. Many artists are being dropped after an album or two - even some who achieved moderate success - because they are perceived as having no commercial future.
What is replacing these artists? The New Breed well may be on its way. The artists in some cases may be new, but their sound harkens back to the country of yesteryear, before line dance songs and hat acts ruled the airwaves.
In some cases, new record companies are assuming the mantle. For example, Sony started up the Lucky Dog label as a haven for alternative country artists. The first two signings - Asleep at the Wheel and David Allan Coe - are not exactly rookies. Both have very long established musical careers, which have experienced their ups and downs.
Capitol signed The Delevantes, a brother duo from New Jersey who quickly recall the Everly Brothers. A couple of years ago, Capitol probably would not have ever considered inking them.
Arista signed Robert Earl Keen to its Austin subsidiary (although for some reason, they are marketing him as a rock act) and, of course, BR5-49, who have done quite well with scant radio play.
Others on the edge of today's mainstream country - some honky tonkers and more traditional artists - are rumored to be considered signing with Nashville labels.
On a different plane, alt. country acts, such as The Old 97's and Whiskeytown, are being snapped up by major labels, although they are not necessarily being marketed towards the country crowd.
While the times are a-changing, the record companies need to exhibit a quality they certainly have lacked - patience.
Whether it be Lucky Dog, Capitol, Arista or any other labels jumping into the fray, they had better realize radio stations are not likely to jump on the bandwagon any time soon. Record companies need to be willing to spend the bucks and time needed to develop artists. That means tour support, promotion and most importantly commitment.
If they are only interested in the quick payback, they are wasting their time signing acts whose type of music may not immediately cause listeners to reach into their pockets.
But if they are willing to give it time until the Next Big Thing develops, perhaps in the guise of the New Breed, then they are on the right track. Let's hope the latter proves to be the case.