When Garth Brooks announced he was returning to country music last year, many expected it to be one of the biggest stories of the year in music. After all Brooks is one of the highest selling artists of all-time and was the undisputed face of country music in the 90s. Expectations were set high and many thought he could be a voice of reason in a genre that has no leadership or direction. I was certainly one of those people too. As I said in my review of his comeback album last year, I considered Taylor Swift to be the only current artist in the same range of Brooks’ icon status. Here’s how I led off my review of Man Against Machine:
In the world of music there were two albums everyone was looking forward to listening to this year: Taylor Swift’s 1989 and Garth Brooks’ Man Against Machine. Everyone looked forward to listening to Swift of course because she’s one of the top-selling and most popular artist in music today. To add to the hype she announced she left country music and that 1989 would be her first documented pop album. Regardless of the quality of the album, everyone knew it would have huge sales numbers. This proved to be true as it’s the only album of the year to be certified platinum. It gives you an idea of how bad music sales are right now and shows you why country music was devastated to lose her. Luckily for country music, Garth Brooks has made his triumphant comeback. Garth is the only other artist that can sell more albums than Swift in music right now. After all Garth is one of the most popular selling artists of all-time right alongside the Beatles and Elvis. Regardless of what I think or anyone else thinks of Man Against Machine, this album will be the second and only other album to be certified platinum in 2014.
Sometimes I’m right on with my predictions. This time I was wrong. Man Against Machine has achieved platinum status, but it took longer than anyone predicted and Taylor Swift outsold Garth by a lot. As of April 29, there have been 626,100 copies of Garth’s comeback album sold. Originally industry insiders predicted that 250,000-300,000 copies would be sold in the first week. Instead only 119,000 copies of the album were sold. Pretty disappointing numbers for an artist some hold in the same regard as Elvis and Michael Jackson. His sales are good compared to the average, as Man Against Machine was one of the top ten highest selling albums in country music in 2014. But that really isn’t saying much considering we’re talking about Garth Brooks and the current state of country music sales is in the dumps.
For the majority of 2014 radio struggled to find substance to put on the radio and many felt Garth could solve this problem. He was the king of country radio in the 90s after all. Instead Garth has been non-existent at country radio since his return. If you’re a country music fan, who for some reason only keeps up with the genre through radio you would have no idea Garth even returned. The first single, “People Loving People,” peaked at #19 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart. The followup single, “Mom,” did even worse, as it peaked at #32 on the Airplay chart. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Brooks told the outlet that he doesn’t know when his next single is coming out. Garth says he is uncertain because of the shakeup in leadership at Sony Music Nashville, as now former CEO Gary Overton has left.
Nobody wants to say it, although many are thinking it. I have no problem saying it though: 2015 Garth Brooks is completely out of touch with the music industry. He may have been a brilliant marketer and entertainer in the 90s, but it’s a completely different game in 2015. There are so many things Garth has done wrong since his return I don’t know where to begin. Let’s start with his singles. First off his reasoning for holding off on a third single because of a leadership shakeup at Sony Music Nashville is complete bullshit. Chris Young just released a new single and he’s on the same label as Garth. Miranda Lambert and Jake Owen are both set to release new singles within the next month. Garth doesn’t want to admit that he completely botched the first two single choices. Man Against Machine certainly wasn’t a great album, but it was solid and contained a few fine single choices to release to radio.
Garth blindly thought he could make “People Loving People” another “We Shall Be Free” and this blew up in his face. “People Loving People” is even more generic and bland than “We Shall Be Free.” “Mom” is even more milquetoast and vanilla. Everyone knew this single was dead on radio at arrival. It was maddening to see him choose these as singles, as they’re arguably the two worst songs on the album. I think the album’s title track, “Midnight Train” and “Cold Like That” would all be great single choices. The album’s title track could especially do well at radio with its working class theme and catchy rhythm. It’s also more rock than country sounding. This should easily be the third single choice, but instead he’ll probably choose the cheesy and cliché “All-American Kid,” which is way too country for the current radio environment to succeed.
As bad as his single choices have been and the poor radio performance to show for it, there’s something hurting him even more than his lack of radio presence. It’s his refusal to embrace streaming and YouTube. Every other artist out there releases their music to YouTube because it’s smart and how many people find music nowadays. Every other artist also has their music available on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Play and Amazon because once again it’s just the right thing to do. This how most people consume music nowadays. I bet 95% of my readers get their music through these outlets. As admirable as Garth’s crusade is to preserve the concept of albums and selling music in this way, it’s really hurting him. Singles are the new albums. Artists today focus on making great singles over great albums because it’s easier to pull off. Even though I buy the bulk of my music as an entire album, I know I’m in the minority.
Back to the YouTube subject, some artists get big mostly through this outlet. A non-country example is the a cappella group Pentatonix. Their brilliant covers of hit songs helped many people discover them. Another non-country example is hip-hop artist Lunchmoney Lewis, as his video for his hit single “Bills” has gotten over 10 million views as of this writing. Lewis was a complete unknown coming into 2015 and now he has a hit single, mostly thanks to YouTube. Garth is cutting off an entire outlet that could not only boost his single sales and radio airplay, but introduce him to a whole new generation of listeners. Many younger listeners have no idea who Garth Brooks is and really don’t care. Garth isn’t on YouTube or iTunes, so he’s completely off the radar in their minds. You can’t buy just his singles, so there’s another turnoff. Throw in the fact you can’t stream his music at all before listening and it perfectly explains why Brooks is in the situation he’s in. His GhostTune store is the Zune to Apple’s iPod.
Garth is trying to do things his own way in 2015 and it simply isn’t going to work his way. Most people are no longer driving to Walmart to buy a CD and instead purchasing their music online digitally. Digital is the name of the game. Garth said this himself in an interview with CMT. Why aren’t you following your own words, Garth? It’s pretty simple: ditch GhostTunes, join iTunes, make your music available for streaming, allow your music to be sold individually instead of as a whole album, and pick better singles. Brooks can still be a factor in 2015 and make the impact on country music we all envisioned he could. But he needs to make changes quickly. They say an old dog can’t learn new tricks, but Garth better if he wants to be relevant again.
Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases
- Whitey Morgan is releasing his much-anticipated Sonic Ranch album to the public next Tuesday. I’ve had an early copy for months and I’ve been dying to review it here on the site. This is an album you do not want to miss out on, so stay tuned for my review on it next week.
- Jon Pardi is releasing an EP next week titled The B-Sides, 2011-2014. These are songs I’m assuming didn’t make the cut for his debut album Write You A Song. We haven’t heard a new single from him for a while, so I’m guessing there will at least be one new single from this EP. We’ll definitely a review on this.
- Kelsea Ballerini is releasing her debut album The First Time next Tuesday. Based on what I’ve heard and seen from Ballerini, I’m not that excited about it. She’s proven to be the female equivalent of Sam Hunt to this point with her brand of pop music being marketed as country music.
- Mickey Guyton announced this week that she’s releasing a self-titled EP on May 26. Unlike Ballerini, I’m excited to hear new music from Guyton. In a perfect world her single “Better Than You Left Me” is on the cusp of the top ten instead of “Love Me Like You Mean It.” This one will definitely get reviewed.
- Luke Bryan is releasing his new single from his new upcoming album next Tuesday. As everyone speculated, it’s called “Kick The Dust Up,” a Dallas Davidson co-written song. I can only imagine how bad this song is going to be.
- Chris Young just released his new single “I’m Comin’ Over,” which is the first track of his new upcoming album set to be released this fall. You’ll see my review on it soon.
- Toby Keith’s new album is coming out on June 26 and it’s titled 35 MPH Town. I wonder if he acts like a grumpy old Baby Boomer throughout it like the album’s title track?
- Steven Tyler just released his first country song, “Love Is Your Name.” Believe it or not, it’s actually not terrible. We’ll have a review on it soon.
- Kid Rock is releasing a single to country radio titled “First Kiss,” off of his new album. This is nothing new, as a few years ago “All Summer Long” was a big hit on country radio and Kid Rock knows how to make money. I’m curious to see how well this does on the Airplay chart.
Throwback Thursday Song
Alan Jackson – “Chattahoochee” – The warm weather is coming and summer is just around the corner, so I thought why not choose one my favorite summer country songs. Fun and traditional don’t have to be mutually exclusive, bro country artists. Plus there’s no other video where you can see Alan Jackson on water skis!
Non-Country Song of the Week
Adele – “Take It All” – After having a great conversation with Noah in the comments section of last week’s Hodgepodge about Adele and the impact she could have in country music, I went back and listened to her 21 album. It’s as good as I remembered and instead of pointing out one of her great singles, I instead chose to point out a great album cut, “Take It All.” The piano play is top-notch and Adele’s voice is just awesome.
Tweet of the Week
You want to know what else didn’t make me excited about Ballerini’s album? When this was brought to my attention. Kudos to Windmills for pointing this out.
An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm
It’s another comment left under Sam Hunt’s Montevallo album. We’re now at the point that Hunt fans are using Brantley Gilbert quotes to defend him. Oy.
That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments!