With 123 million records sold and counting, a low-priced hit greatest hits package high on the charts, and nine consecutive sold out shows in Kansas City of all places, Garth Brooks would look ready for a comeback, and if you ask nearly any one in the Nashville wing of the music business, they’ll be happy to roll out the red carpet, shine his boots, pick up his dry-cleaning, buy a few copies of the new Trisha Yearwood–whatever it takes–to get Garth Brooks to come back and save their business model. It’s hard to imagine any artist who would hold this much power over high ranking business people, but even the vague hint that Garth Brooks might come back means “let the wild speculation and compliments begin!”
Peter Strickland, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Warner Brothers Nashville, doesn’t think that artists of Brooks’ caliber ever completely withdraw from the pop mainstream, not as long as their music remains commercially viable.
“There’s always an opportunity to engage the marketplace without making it a full-time job, especially for people who have reached a certain stage in their career,” Strickland said. “We’ve seen many artists do that, from Fleetwood Mac to Rush. It’s only when you actually say you’ve retired that it becomes a marketing angle.”
Marketing ploy or not, Mike McGee, executive vice president of North American operations for Ticketmaster, believes it would be great both for Brooks’ fans and for the beleaguered music industry if his official return to performing came sooner rather than later.
“Garth Brooks has intangibles that most acts don’t,” McGee explained. “Garth has a unique ability to relate to his fan base. He’s genuine and you can’t fake that. He’s also never lost sight of the fact that the fans are the people who put him where he is. I was in Kansas City on opening night, and it was unbelievable. It was like a Mitch Miller singalong. Everybody knew every word of his songs. He sold out nine shows in less than two hours. Few acts of any stature or ability have that kind of drawing power.”
Ticketmaster’s McGee sees Brooks’ commitment to affordable record and ticket prices as an expression of loyalty to his fans. “In these days of $100 to $200 ticket prices, he’s keeping his prices down in the $25 to $30 range,” he said, referring to the face value of tickets for Brooks’ shows in Kansas City.
“Garth thinks that where he has his tickets priced is fair to his fans,” he added. “Before they went on sale we had a bridge call, and he got on the phone and said, ‘Where are we, boys? What do you think?’
“He’s hands-on, but not meddlesome hands-on,” McGee said. “He’s knowledgeable hands-on, and he can articulate that knowledge without being condescending. He’s a genuine guy, and the marketing of that sincerity will transcend a lot of things that have changed in the marketplace.”
Thom Schuyler, a senior executive at RCA’s country division from 1992 to 1998, had this to say when he addressed a gathering of the group Leadership Music in Nashville recently: “There is much spoken and written about Garth Brooks’ remarkable achievements, but our opinions of him, positive or otherwise, are irrelevant. The people have voted. He has reached them. He did it with shrewd, global marketing [and] with an astonishingly exciting live show.
While Brooks’ new single for Ultimate Hits isn’t exactly tearing up country radio at the moment, the spins on Garth’s catalog make him the tenth most played artist in the genre so far this year, ahead of Carrie Underwood, so the desperate pleas for his return have the numbers to back up the dreams of floating RIAA plaques and increased revenue. Although it’s difficult to think of any artist that could provide a jumpstart to the flailing music industry at this point, the odd take from these fawning execs is that one of those quoted manages to excuse Brooks’ refusal to join the digital music game: “He will not allow his songs to be cherry-picked and downloaded. If you want to get his music you have to buy the whole album, not just your favorite tracks. Not many people could pull that off.” Which seems strange considering those precious albums have been repackaged and diced up into various greatest hits collections over the last few years. While thinking of the guy who sang “The Thunder Rolls” as the potential savior of the pre-digital way of selling records might be unsavory to some, he might be one of only choices left.
Brooks Still Has The World On His Strings [LA Times]