Garth Brooks: ‘The Sky’s the Limit’ With Amazon Streaming, Pearl Records
When Garth Brooks announced his retirement in 2000, streaming and digital music platforms -- specifically, iTunes -- were just beginning to make their mark ... but by the time Brooks returned to country music, digital and streaming were the way of the musical world. The music industry had shifted tremendously in Brooks' absence -- and he wanted no part of the new method.
"When we came back out of retirement, things had changed a ton in the music business: Digital had become apparent ... Streaming was just getting started, and physical sales were coming down," Brooks shared at a recent media event. "So, we signed with Sony when we came out -- very sweet, great company. What Sony found out very quickly is the same thing we found out very quickly: We own our own masters, we don’t stream, and we don’t do digital downloads, so it’s tough.
"Apple has a set of rules, and if you didn't play by those rules, you didn't get in the game," Brooks continues. "What about a guy like me, who was here before Apple got here? What if I don't want to sell just singles? What if you want to do album only? That’s how an album works."
It's not just his own livelihood that Brooks is concerned about. The Oklahoma native feels a personal responsibility to look out for fellow songwriters, whose jobs are threatened by the digital age.
"How a songwriter lives in this town is ... you get album cuts on a Randy Travis record, a George Strait record; that pays your rent for six more months, seven more months, maybe. And then, one day, you hit it: One day you’re sitting in a room, and it’s crawling all over you; you can't write fast enough, and someone like Strait cuts it. And all of a sudden, somebody calls you and says, ‘You got a single,'" Brooks explains. "If it weren’t for those album cuts, that songwriter would not have stayed in this town long enough to feed himself and his family. That’s how the system works."
Brooks says that he talked several times with iTunes and remains a fan, on a personal level, of a number of the people he spoke with, but he and the company couldn't compromise on a deal to work together. However, those discussions led Brooks to conceptualize and create a business model that did work for him, first his own (now-defunct) GhostTunes platform, followed by a streaming deal with Amazon Music Unlimited, along with the creation his own Pearl Records label.
"You realize, ‘Holy cow. I’m no good to a label.' So maybe the label I need to be on is something that works for this area here," Brooks says. "And, serendipity -- thank God, whatever you want to call it -- right when [Pearl Records] was being formed, we got a call from Amazon, out of the blue.
"We had wonderful talks with Spotify, we had honest conversations with iTunes, but none of them were what we needed. We needed someone who was involved in digital, in physical and in streaming -- all three," Brooks continues. "When Amazon called, it was a no-brainer ... So this looked like a great marriage ... I think the sky's the limit."
In March, Brooks released “Ask Me How I Know” as the second single from his newest studio album, Gunslinger. He continues to tour around the U.S. and Canada on his World Tour.
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