Updated: Dec 14, 2019
We recently attended the Inside Studio G interview at CRS (Country Radio Seminar) on February 23, 2017 in Nashville, TN, and as promised, here are some highlights and insights.
The atmosphere in the room full of country radio professionals was electric waiting for Garth Brooks to take the stage, and as usual he didn’t disappoint.
To introduce the interview, Country Radio Broadcaster Executive Director Bill Mayne made the statement, “We [country radio folks] all have Garth stories,” and reminisced about Garth’s first CRS years ago when he walked around introducing himself to everyone.
Garth addressed CRS this year as a seasoned veteran artist, and yet still as a trailblazer as evidenced by his 45 + million viewers on his weekly “Inside Studio G: A Monday Night Conversation” on Facebook Live.
Interviewer Glenn Noblit of Pearl Records and Garth took the stage, and, in typical Garth fashion, didn’t sit down for the hour plus long session.
Garth spoke to the crowd as a room full of friends. He answered questions about his split from Sony Records, famed avoidance of Apple Music, Spotify and YouTube, and streaming in general, his Sirius XM channel 55 Garth Station, politics, social media, his recent partnership with Amazon Music, and the future.
Here are some highlights and quotes from the conversation:
Garth made it clear that he loves the relationships he has made with country radio professionals over the years, and expressed, much to the delight of the audience, how difficult he finds the task of programming content on his own Garth channel, referring to it as “a monster to feed.”
When asked about the future, he stated that his money is on the longevity of terrestrial radio (FM/AM), which he credits as an important element of country music’s success.
In terms of his own station, he believes the goal is to “surprise the people,” and therefore, he doesn’t abide by traditional ideas of genre, preferring instead to deliver his listeners a mash up of classic and current hits where a Prince song leads into Queen, leads to Patsy Cline, Lady Gaga, Eagles, and of course, Garth songs.
Garth noted that he loves radio, because despite the fact that it is a business, and everyone knows how it works, the advertising pays the bills, “people are in radio because they love music.”
Record Labels and Apple Music
Hearing Garth speak about record labels was particularly interesting.
With only kind words to say about his short-lived label partnership with Sony, and former label home Capitol Records, he had some intriguing comments that are especially applicable to artists who might be seeking a label home.
Garth was a notorious hold out to the new streaming technologies, preferring to keep his music off all digital platforms for a long time. Then when he did finally put his music online, he built his own GhostTunes system that was recently rolled into Amazon Music.
Reasons? Why would a businessman choose not to utilize the number one retailer of his commodity?
Again, speaking kindly about Apple, Garth laid out his reasons in the form of a story.
“Apple has their rules. What if you don’t want to sell just singles? What if you want to do album only?”
Garth has frequently spoken in the media about his talks with Apple’s iTunes, specifically about how they set the prices for the songs they sell, and historically refuse to sell in an album only format.
Typically, an artisan is able to set his own price for his work, but music is different in a lot of ways: 1) the government sets the amount the songwriter is able to charge, 2) the government sets the amount earned from radio airplay, and 3) there are compulsory licenses requiring song owners to make their material available, even if they don’t want to.
Imagine a table maker being required to sell his latest product, and having someone tell him how much he can charge regardless of how much it cost him to build the product.
“I’ll price it how I want to price it,” Garth said. “The difference is that the copyright owner gets to make that decision [on his GhostTunes platform].” [This quote from Los Angeles Times article listed in Resources below]
Garth has fielded criticisms about being a rich greedy superstar in the past, however his reasons for not streaming are not personal greed.
“Album cuts are what feed the songwriter’s family,” Garth stated, mentioning my dad, Kim Williams in his comments.
Image of Garth inducting Dad Kim Williams into Nashville Songwriter Hall of Fame
He quoted the recent stats that 80% of songwriters have left the profession over the past 15 years, and noted the dire situation for the craft’s profession.
As daughter of Kim Williams, and a songwriter myself, I can attest first hand to these changing conditions. Hence the Songpreneurs model based on the need to adapt to these hostile conditions, forced by the pressure of artistic creation and economic challenges.
Garth added, “No YouTube,” raised his eyebrows and hands in an, “Oh well” expression, shrugged his shoulders and said simply, “I’m no good to a label.”
Ironically, Garth’s own label Pearl Records is doing well, having just celebrated Garth’s 5 millionth ticket sale, and 7 Diamond (that’s 10 times platinum sales) award for albums sold.
As the songwriter’s daughter, I know that when someone hears and loves a Garth Brooks song on the radio, they turn around and purchase an album (not just a single song), and that $10-$20 purchase of an album supports a community of families.
When someone downloads a single, or simply streams, only crumbs remain. I have recently seen $0.0002444 in some cases, or worse on royalty statements paying for streams.
Even a million listens at that rate only generates $244.40 for the songwriter. Hardly enough to pay even a month of bills for most families, let alone a living wage.
Publishing royalty income is so low right now that many Music Row publishers have turned to putting out sound recordings and trying to develop artists instead of the traditional routes of trying to get cuts, even though they would far prefer to leave the star making to the record labels.
However, as one Music Row publisher said at a recent AIMP gathering, “There’s real money in selling masters online.” [For laymen, “selling masters online” means they’re selling both the recording of the song (the master) and the license for the use of the underlying composition embodied in that recording (the song’s publishing.)]
The flip side of that statement is the unstated, “… but there’s not much money anymore in just the publishing income that goes to compensate the songwriter and publisher.”
The industry has largely moved on, adapting to the times and allowing the fight for songwriter’s pay to become largely symbolic, going from battling from 2 cents per song up to a peak of 9.1 cents for mechanicals (physical sales or digital downloads), to the currently underway negotiations where NSAI and NMPA are fighting for streaming rates up a fraction of a nano-penny from the currently proposed (by Apple) $0.00091. [Source Digital Music News linked below]
Garth began answering this question by stating, “Industry – we’re eroding the music rock,” referring to the notable decline in songwriter royalties and the perceived value of music in recent years.
Garth was asked to speak about his Amazon partnership, and called it, “A great deal all around.”
As someone so opposed to digital retail in the past, it is curious to note why Garth is willing to go along with Amazon, often painted as a predatory company right alongside Apple, Spotify and Google. [Source Music Business Worldwide below]
He noted as reasons the willingness of the company to work with him, having sought him out because of his industry stature (as was later noted in the talk by Amazon Music Exec Ryan Redington), and their overall outlook, which was one of mutually beneficial partnering rather than of subordination (my word, not Garth’s).
Garth also noted that he and Amazon share the desire to work in physical, digital and streaming, along with other retail avenues. From a business distribution perspective, it is a partnership with loads of possibility.
Garth said, “We can make what we have done previously look small.”
Garth said he stays away from politics, because it divides the audience 50/50.
“Seems like the artist side just spews. Why not a conversation?” asks Garth in regards to social media.
Facebook famously recruited Garth to launch their Facebook Live service, and Garth has used the opportunity to grow his audience to 45 + million during his Monday weekly broadcast.
“Do social media in an honest way and talk about your feelings,” Garth advised, “If it falls on its face, it falls on its face. Move on.”
When asked about performing, Garth quipped that his concerts were like sex – your goal is to be invited back.
Having recently celebrated his 5 millionth ticket sale, a clever songwriter might have a few clever quips of her own to razz Garth about his comment.
However long time fans know the intensity and crowd pleasing mentality Garth brings to the arena or honkytonk stage.
With record breaking attendance in every city he has visited during his World Tour, it is curious that we haven’t heard even more of the new Garth music on country radio.
Garth, being Garth isn’t going to tell you exactly what he’s going to do in the future, because as he said, a big part of making it work as an artist is keeping the audience surprised.
However with that said, Garth did drop a few hints about what to look for in the next few years.
For one thing, when he was discussing his Amazon partnership, he emphasized the physical and digital capabilities there, and lingered on the word “Book.” Could there be a Garth book coming in the near future?
He also mentioned how much he loved the “Double Live” album, and how he credits that as being how many of his younger fans were initially exposed to his music.
He said, “We have to do it bigger – maybe ‘Triple Live’ this time.” So, it’s a good bet that fans can soon expect a collection of live performances from his recent world tour on an upcoming Live album project. (fingers crossed!)
Garth talking to fans after his interview
As a songwriter performer who has looked up to Garth Brooks before most people knew his name, I am continually amazed at how much a person can learn from watching him and his skillful team in action.
Here are a few key insights I gleaned from hearing him speak at the Inside Studio G Interview at CRS in particular:
Be friendly and outgoing –
Any salesperson will tell you that it’s important to be friendly and personable. But for singer songwriters, it’s somewhat common to be introspective and shyly reserved.
One of the first insights I gleaned from this talk was in noting what Bill Mayne said in the introduction – Garth walked around and introduced himself to everyone when he was new to CRS.
After hearing this, I was emboldened to walk around and introduce myself, too, and as a result, met some awesome new friends.
Be in it for the long haul –
At the end of the session, Garth took a few questions from pre-selected college students. Instead of simply answering questions, Garth gave each questioner a mini-interview, asking him or her three or four questions about him or herself before offering an answer to their questions.
His advice centered around finding your passion, being open and immersing yourself in the world you want to enter without being in too big of a hurry to get to the destination.
By building relationships, being consistent and persistent, success is eventually won… because you earned it.
Write, write, write
Just like my dad used to say, the key to being a successful songwriter is to write, write, write. Dad also said you have to balance the input with the output and read, read, read to replenish your well of ideas and new concepts.
As simple as these takeaways are, isn’t is true that so often success isn’t in some big break or monumental event, but rather in the consistent, daily activities that build on your skill sets every single day.
As always, Garth Brooks provides an exemplary role model for aspiring singers, songwriters, and music business people. His Inside Studio G Interview at CRS was a wealth of information, and proves yet again that you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks.
In fact in Garth’s case, maybe the “old dog” isn’t finished showing us the tricks he already knows.
Songwriters Fight Apple, Spotify, Google, Amazon and Pandora Over Streaming Rates by Rhian Jones March 8, 2017 from Music Business Worldwide http://www.musicbusinessworldwide.com/songwriters-fight-apple-spotify-google-amazon-pandora-streaming-rates/
Apple Music Proposed Increased Songwriter Royalties; Can Spotify Survive? By Charlotte Hassan July 18, 2016 from Digital Music News
Garth Brooks Unveils iTunes Alternative: GhostTunes by Randy Lewis September 4, 2014 Los Angeles Times http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/posts/la-et-ms-garth-brooks-ghost-tunes-itunes-alternative-competition-20140904-story.html
Country Radio Seminar Official Website http://countryradioseminar.com
CRS In Action: Garth Brooks ‘Inside Studio G’ February 23, 2017 All Access Music Group (link accessed 3-14-17) http://www.allaccess.com/net-news/archive/story/163034/crs-in-action-garth-brooks-inside-studio-g
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