Tracy Lawrence And Randy Houser Discuss The Freedom Of Leaving A Major Record Label: “I Felt Such A Load Coming Off My Shoulders”

Tracy Lawrence Randy Houser country music
YouTube/Tracy Lawrence

When you’re talking about the country music industry, the traditional school of thought has always been that major labels are king.

And honestly in a lot of ways it’s hard to argue with that.

If you look at who gets played on country radio, or who’s taking home trophies at the awards shows, it’s always artists from major labels.

Even Garth Brooks recently discussed the power that labels have over radio:

“I think radio is a reflection of the label’s agenda…

The labels simply own radio. They just do. They can say they don’t or radio can say they don’t, but the truth is nobody’s going to be playing on there that doesn’t have a major label deal. You might get 1 out of every 100 artists or whatever.”

But then when you look at what kind of music fans want to hear, it often seems like there’s a disconnect.

Artists like Tyler Childers, Zach Bryan, Muscadine Bloodline, Koe Wetzel…and there are a ton more who can all sell out more shows and get more streams than many (if not most) of these major label artists who are on the radio.

(And I know, Zach Bryan has a deal with Warner to release his music in partnership with his own Belting Bronco Records. But make no mistake: Zach’s popularity has nothing to do with him being on a major label).

In this new era of streaming, radio no longer holds the keys to the music that fans can listen to. And that’s given rise to some incredible independent artists making their way into the mainstream who never would have had a chance just 20 years ago.

But it’s not just new artists who are finding success without major labels. Many established artists, and legends from decades prior, are finding out that a major label no longer represents their only chance at success.

On this week’s episode of TL’s Road House, Tracy Lawrence sat down with Randy Houser, and both discussed the experience of leaving major record labels and finding their own path in this new era.

Tracy is obviously a legend in country music, and was the king of country radio in the ’90s. At one point, he was one of the top 10 most played artists on the radio – in ANY genre. But as the years have passed, Tracy had to come to grips with his time on the radio coming to an end:

“I had a real hard time after I got done with all that and realized, you know, there comes a point – at least there was for me – where I had to accept the fact that my radio career was done…

Things just changed as we got older, they just phase you out and they really don’t want us older artists back in that game. It’s a bunch of younger guys. That’s just part of it.”

But according to Tracy, not having to play the radio game, and being able to release his music independently, also presented him with new opportunities:

“Once you get settled into that and realize that there’s a huge future on the back side of it, and you can have control of your destiny, a lot of that stress and a lot of that treadmill existence just kinda goes away. Once you get control of your life like that – I mean, because you can actually start to enjoy your career again. At least I have.”

And that’s something that Randy, who left his last major record label after the release of Magnolia in 2019, says he can relate to:

“Same here. When we left my last major label, Stoney Creek which is [Broken Bow Records], I really just felt such a load come off my shoulders.

And then also, not only was it just the busy factor and how many things they’d stack up for you to do and you couldn’t even enjoy your family, it was just the creativity started coming back.

There’s another level of it, that when you’re in charge of your own destiny and you’re on your own label, you see where the back end is, you want to work twice as hard when you actually have a piece of the pie and not just a crumb…

They keep you in the red on all the books so that you always owe them.”

I’ve said for a while now that Randy Houser has one of the best – and most underrated – voices in country music. Unfortunately Randy can sometimes get lumped in with the “bro-country” crowd of the mid-2010s because some of his earlier music, but he’s been touring with Jamey Johnson recently, and his last two albums have been some of the best of his career – coincidentally or not, as his time on radio and with a major label has come to an end.

It seems like more and more artists are starting to see things the way Tracy and Randy do these days. Having a major record label behind you is obviously nice, but having creative control over your music and the freedom to put out music that you’re proud of has proven to be a successful strategy for more and more artists.

Obviously major labels aren’t going away any time soon. But I have a feeling that this trend of seeing their power slowly slip away isn’t going to go away any time soon either.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock