If you spend any time listening to the radio (not your Pandora stations, but actual radio controlled by real disc jockeys), you might realize that everyone getting airtime is a newbie. If you listen again a month or two later, you'll notice that the line-up has completely changed.
Music listeners, like consumers of every type of media, are fickle. Maybe it's because we are in the middle of an everything-is-popular-for-just-a-moment cultural revolution; maybe it's because artists are relying on reality competitions to make it instead of spending time honing their craft independently. No matter the reason, it's a harsh landscape for new artists trying to establish a lasting career.
But if they look to legendary artists, with decades-long careers, they may just figure out how to stick around beyond their 15 minutes of fame.
Songs need to have a universal theme to stand the test of time. Everyone understands love and loss. No matter how times change, songs about human emotion will continue to speak to people and will continue to be played. Songs with pop culture references like Brad Paisley's "Celebrity" are popular when they come out and make a lot of quick money, but give them a few years and they won't make sense anymore.
The truly great performers, regardless of genre, have been singers and songwriters. Many of the most memorable songs in music history were written by the person who's voice made them famous. Johnny Cash wrote "I Walk the Line." Conway Twitty wrote 19 of his number 1 hits, including "Hello Darlin'." Willie Nelson is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
More emotion comes across in a song you've written yourself, and the audience will connect with it more. Young artists should follow Taylor Swift's example and take this lesson to heart.
If there is one thing the fathers of country music have in common, it's that singing is easy on them. Listen to the easiness in George Strait's voice in this clip. Singers with lasting careers don't scream into the microphone, and they don't strain to extend their vocal range. You're voice is your instrument — take care of it. Otherwise, you could be looking at vocal surgery in the future.
To have a lasting career, you need to find a signature style that will make your songs instantly identifiable. Even if you've never heard a particular song by one of country's greatest, you will know who is singing it because it sounds like the songs of theirs you do know. That's no to say you can't experiment with your sound to stay fresh, but shy away from drastic changes. That didn't even work for Garth Brooks.