Young guns beware: Country music’s juggernaut is about to return.
After a 13-year hiatus since his last studio album, “Scarecrow,” Garth Brooks announced Thursday he is emerging from semi-retirement with a new double album and three-year world tour.
Brooks said he would reveal the first stop by drafting a fan as a personal PR rep for one day. Brooks said the fan would disseminate the information in whatever way he sees fit — Twitter, Facebook, group text to all his friends — on July 14. Announcing a new record deal with Sony/RCA, he told reporters the new album will be released “around Black Friday,” Rolling Stone reported.
At 52, Brooks is sticking to his signature style, too. He said he had no interest in dabbling in the bro country or hick hop that’s worked so well for younger acts such as Luke Bryan and Lenny Cooper.
“If you had to put it in a box for me, [it'd be] ‘Garth Music,’” Brooks told reporters. “You’re damn straight we’ll do cowboys songs on this album.”
There’s little need for Brooks to tinker with a formula that works — though the music industry is not the same one he left in 2001 to raise his three daughters, and he has been loathe to adapt to its digital progressions.
Brooks is still holding out against Apple and refusing to release his music on iTunes in large part due to the company’s stance that songs be available for purchase individually. The only tracks featuring Brooks on Spotify are collaborations with other artists or songs that appeared on compilations. Brooks does plan to release his musically digitally through his own Web site.
It’s no wonder artists like Brooks are reluctant to release music on Pandora and Spotify. A few months ago, Grammy-nominated composer, keyboardist and recording artist Armen Chakmakian revealed his royalty statements to Digital Music News, and they were shockingly low. Chakmakian said 14,227 performances — each time a track is played counts as one performance — generated $4.20.
“Someone’s making money, and in true fashion with the music industry, it’s not the artists,” Chakmakian wrote. “Business practices like this are one of the reasons I jumped ship and only write for television now.”
Bette Midler hasn’t fared much better. “@Spotify and @Pandora have made it impossible for songwriters to earn a living: three months streaming on Pandora, 4,175,149 plays=$114.11,” she tweeted in April.
Brooks is one of a small number of artists able to exercise more autonomy over how their music is consumed thanks to the huge audiences they command. Another example: Beyoncé.
The surprise release of her self-titled album sent shockwaves through the industry. At least initially, it was only available through iTunes, and only as a full album. Sensing a threat to its business, Target sent a message to other artists by refusing to sell the album once it was released physically. Beyoncé responded by A) giving away $50 gift cards in a well-publicized shopping trip to Wal-Mart and B) selling her album in Starbucks, a significant number of which are located in — where else? — Target.
Brooks, a Country Music Hall of Famer and the best-selling solo act in American history, has been one of music’s more astute businessmen.
According to Billboard:
Brooks owns all of his records, thanks to a deal he signed with EMI in the late ’90s to get him to re-up with its Nashville label. That agreement expired in 2005. Upon exiting the contract, Brooks set up his own label, Pearl Records, and cut a deal to be exclusively sold by Walmart. His first release under that partnership, the four-CD/one-DVD ‘Limited Series’ sold one million units in its first week.
Though Brooks didn’t reveal specifics about ticket prices — only saying that he was “proud” of them — they’re expected to be fairly reasonable. When he toured from 1996 to 1998, more than five million people saw him perform, and he set prices at $20 when he could have commanded much more, Billboard said. This time, he’ll start with tickets available exclusively through garthbrooks.com, though he said he’s negotiating to sell them through TicketMaster as well.
Other big-name artists take advantage of cheap tickets, too. Last year, Kid Rock chose to charge $20 for his concerts in an effort to circumvent scalpers — and found himself playing to a crowd of 28,000 in Chicago, nearly double the 15,000 that came to see him in 2011. Tickets bought at Wal-Mart would actually be $20 — no extra fees. Inside the stadiums, beers were $4.
How novel — an artist who cares more about fans seeing a show than gouging them.
What music — live and recorded — is worth continues to be hotly debated. Even when you buy an entire album instead of just downloading a couple of your favorite tracks, music continues to be the least expensive art form you can own. Musicians meanwhile, are finding new ways to communicate that their work has value. For the Wu-Tang Clan, that means releasing one copy of an album and making it available via museum tours. Taylor Swift, writing in the Wall Street Journal, echoed the group’s message.
“Music is art, and art is important and rare,” Swift wrote. “Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.”