Women in Music 2016

Kree Harrison, Kalie Shorr Among Women Making Inroads In Post-Bro-Country Era

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Kree Harrison performs during American Idol Live! 2013 at UNO Lakefront Arena on July 30, 2013 in New Orleans. 

When singer/songwriter Jamie Floyd went shopping for a label deal around 2013, the responses were invariably the same: “We’re not signing girls right now, but keep going.”

She could have — probably should have — gotten demoralized. Instead, she figuratively rolled up her sleeves.

“That just kind of pushed me, like ‘Alright, I’m doing this full-speed ahead, because I don’t accept that answer,” she says with a laugh. “I just can’t.”

Instead, Floyd self-funded her own project, a smart six-song EP, Sunshine & Rainbows, that’s drawn a favorable response from critics and includes her version of “The Blade,” a song she co-wrote that became the title track to Ashley Monroe’s Grammy-nominated album. Floyd also received a positive response from a major label — the president knew her music well, was interested in her, but didn’t have a roster slot available — and it’s a sign that things are opening up for Floyd.

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They’re actually opening up for women as a whole, and they have themselves to thank. Floyd’s just one of numerous country females who’ve taken determined, often different, paths toward artistry. Some are already making a difference in mainstream country culture as the short-term bro-country trend has waned. Kelsea Ballerini, recently crowned new female vocalist of the year by the Academy of Country Music, broke through the logjam with pop-flavored songs through indie Black River. Cam rode well-crafted songs and pre-signing airplay on WSIX Nashville to a deal with Sony Music Nashville. And Maren Morris garnered 2 million streams on Spotify before her single “My Church” earned airplay via Sirius XM and sparked a deal with the new regime at Sony.

Women are essentially working independent routes to create their own opportunities. Some are dedicated to a long-term indie model, but others are — like Floyd — recording their own projects for indie release, hoping they can build enough interest to get signed by a larger company.

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Margo Price became the first female ever to debut her first album in the top 10 on Billboard’s Country Albums without the benefit of a charted single, as Midwest Farmer’s Daughter hit No. 10 via Jack White’s Third Man label. Kree Harrison, runner-up in the 2013 season of Fox’s American Idol, has an emotional album ready to launch this summer, though the label home is yet undetermined. And Kalie Shorr generated interest when Sirius XM picked up her song “Fight Like A Girl,” which is selling a reported 2,000 copies a week without label affiliation.

Shorr, who performs regularly in Nashville’s weekly all-female “Song Suffragettes” showcase, finds understandable satisfaction in satellite radio’s support of “Fight Like A Girl.”

“It’s just so ironic,” she says. “We wrote it about not being on country radio, and it went on to be my first song on country radio.”

The music industry has changed enough that even in tough times, women have a range of options to make their voices heard. Traditionally, artists needed a label to sign them, fund their recordings and do the marketing. Loretta Lynn was a rarity in 1960 when she practically self-promoted her initial single, “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl,” into the top 15.

The proliferation of cheap recording equipment and the ability to sell and/or stream tracks more easily on the Internet make it easier for artists to find their own path from many options.

“It’s kind of crazy how different it can be,” says Harrison, who is roommates with Morris. “It just kind of depends on the artist.”

In Harrison’s case, she came out of the Idol experience with significant name recognition. But she was exhausted and determined not to rush an album. In the last year, her publisher, Plaid Flag Music, financed an album she recorded in a week of intensive sessions in Asheville, N.C., that mines old-school soul and country roots. Whether it’s considered commercial country or Americana or something else was less important to her than the quality.

“I care that people think it’s good,” she says.

Floyd relied on goodwill to hire quality people to help in the recording, graphics and manufacturing of her CD, promising to compensate them on a payment plan, since her regular job as a server at Lockeland Table hasn’t exactly made her wealthy. As luck would have it, she was asked to write the music for a Lifetime TV movie, Manson’s Lost Girls, which aired in February, allowing her to pay those debts immediately. Making the album increased her confidence, important if that label deal never comes through.

“I feel like I have the tools and the experience and the drive and the belief in myself now to be able to go on without help,” she says. “But my wish is that someone, some entity, would kind of see what I see in me.”

Shorr knows Floyd’s financial strain well. She started earning cash by performing in hotel lobbies, a gig that allowed her to set her hours around music-business appointments — and to get paid as she practiced her craft in public.

“Most girls in town have their parents at least helping them out with rent or something and I’ve never had that, which I think I was bitter about for a while,” she says. “Then I was like, ‘Well, crap, I’ve got to pull myself up by my boots and get going.’”

The “Song Suffragettes” connection has proven invaluable to Shorr. She’s now managed by Cassetty Entertainment president Todd Cassetty, who founded the showcase. And when a Sirius XM intern saw her at the “Suffragettes” show, she recommended “Fight Like A Girl” to Sirius programmers, who made it one of the company’s “Highway Finds.” It’s since been picked up by Radio Disney Country and CMT, helping generate attention in the public arena, but also on Music Row, where Shorr hopes she’s able to move from indie status to label signee.

But if it doesn’t work that way, Shorr — like her fellow indie females — has discovered a certain self-reliance. Appropriate for someone who would write and record “Fight Like A Girl,” she won’t be giving up.

“It’s all a little overwhelming for me in like the best way possible,” she says, “but if a label doesn’t jump on board, I’m gonna fight to get this song out there. No matter what."

This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.