"It's My Life" was a worldwide hit, but also served to introduce the band to a new generation of listeners-while the original fans stayed loyal. In Light's view, Jon Bon Jovi "really got comfortable and enjoyed being Bon Jovi again. He found that moment where he just loved doing it, and when you love it, and with the feedback from the fans, it became this symbiotic relationship that pushed it all forward."
"Crush" connected the group with a new audience, Universal Music Group International (UMGI) COO Max Hole says. "I've probably been to more Bon Jovi shows than any other act on Universal, and I've seen them in more countries around the world," he adds. "Today, their audience is 17- to 18-year-olds right up to people in their 50s. They're an incredible live act that tours relentlessly."
Jon Bon Jovi is obsessed with writing and recording songs that are relevant today. He's not driven by financial gain. "I wouldn't be sitting here in a hotel room by myself thinking I need to make a buck," he says. "I could have sold my soul a hundred times over doing reality TV or what my dear first manager used to call 'the lunch box tour,' where you go out and sell bed sheets and lunch boxes. Anything I do and present musically or professionally is always with the art first in mind."
Maintaining relevance isn't the same as shifting styles to chase musical trends. "I try not to stray so far from what's comfortable," he says. "When we came into Nashville [to cut 2007's "Lost Highway"] . . . I'd always prided myself on being a storyteller, writing a lyric that people could relate to. So for me that wasn't that much of a stretch. But for me to have had rappers when rap was at its pinnacle, or boy bands, or dance moves, or gone to techno beats because it was big in Ibiza-none of that would have rung true. When you're defining who you are, it's important not to confuse the world. Do what you do and do it well, and people can like or dislike it. But at least we know what it is."
The act had its chance to chase trends during the grunge era that effectively closed the curtain on hair bands. "A lot of my peer group started to pretend they were influenced by the same things that Kurt Cobain was influenced by," Bon Jovi says. "Well, Kurt Cobain was an original, and that's why he was loved as he was. Record companies have done this time and again . . . sign 10 things that look and pretend to sound like the original until the genre loses its way. The big arena rock sound of the mid- and latter '80s was watered down so severely that it was the perfect time for a Kurt Cobain to come in and reinvent the wheel. The real ones stay true, and it's nothing more than you being you."
Bon Jovi says he doubts he'd be able to sell out stadiums around the world unless younger fans were coming onboard. "I'm aware that there are two generations of fans out there," he says. "We've known that for the last decade. But I'm not in the 'fat Elvis' suit yet."
The band "changes up the flow each time," Island Def Jam Music Group president/COO Steve Bartels says. "Just look at Lost Highway, an incredible breakthrough project that spoke to the country audience, many of which were Bon Jovi fans for years. They just needed the opportunity to lock back in again, and be rediscovered."
It's an important distinction: Bon Jovi still sells records as well as tickets. "When they go into a new tour, they play new songs along with the classic songs everyone wants to hear," Hole says. "They're always introducing new songs from the new record into their catalog on each tour. That's what keeps them a relevant, growing group."
For the label, Bon Jovi's heavy touring schedule provides the perfect global marketing platform, beginning with innovative ticket/album bundling programs before the record ever hits shelves. "We still approach it by drilling specifics in each local market . . . press, retail, the Web or radio," Bartels says. "The 'before' and 'after' of a concert gets completely marketed."
Tours can take a year-and-a-half to set up, and the records are also strategized far in advance. "This is a relationship over time, not just a movement shortly before albums drop," Bartels says. "We're already in discussions planning a new [Bon Jovi] studio album release for 2013."
As diverse as Bon Jovi's interests are, his band is "home base," he says. "I encourage everybody in the band, and myself, to diversify. Go and explore what it is in your life that moves you. But know that when the call comes to go back to work, everybody comes back to home base."
Bon Jovi has always been, at its core, a live band. Fans keep coming back, "because they know every year it's bigger and better than the tour before, no matter how big it was that time," Light says. "So what inevitably happens, and it's true of all the great bands, is everyone goes and everyone wants to go the next time, because they know it's one of the most satisfying, sure-bet nights of their lives."
Bon Jovi tours have been a huge boon to AEG Live. "With Jon, we didn't go out and bid and win a tour: We went out and developed a partnership very early on," Anschutz Entertainment Group president Tim Leiweke says. "This is not only about a group of musicians that have risen to the top of the industry, and the loyalty they have to their fans, and the passion their fans have for them. From a business standpoint, this is a company and Jon runs it that way. They're disciplined, they're well-organized, very professional. It's like clockwork with these guys. Back-of-house: best machine I've ever seen. Front-of-house: most passionate love affair between a band and its fans that I've ever seen."
Ron Van de Veen, senior VP of events for MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., has been on the venue side of Bon Jovi tours for about a dozen stadium shows and 10 arena dates. Bon Jovi in its home state is about as big as it gets. The band opened the new stadium last year with four sellouts that drew 250,000 people and grossed more than $21 million. "We can't wait for him to come back," Van de Veen says. "It's an exuberant live performance."
Bon Jovi's history as a live act pays dividends, particularly in this era, when artists are often developed on TV rather than in sweaty clubs. "To have your roots as a live band and come up as they did through the clubs to the arenas and touring and touring, you create fans," Van de Veen says. "And that's what Bon Jovi has done."
There's a moment in Phil Griffin's 2009 documentary "When We Were Beautiful," which marked the band's 25th anniversary, when Bon Jovi says, "I want to sell out the desert. More than once." It's a telling quote. This band has always had a global perspective.
"I had the idea, going back nearly 30 years ago, that it's a big world out there and a lot of places are influenced by American pop culture," Bon Jovi says. "We established those routes from the first record. We went to Europe, Asia, and we started setting routes. What we learned was, with time, there are going to be certain markets that turn their back on you, [and] there will be other markets with economic unrest, or markets with civil unrest. We never had to rely on just one marketplace to distribute our records."
Such an approach is more common today than it was in the '80s, but still relatively few acts are willing to invest the time and money into touring overseas. "He was the first artist-truly-in the rock era to understand the breadth of the world in terms of opportunity," Light says. "He was opening doors in markets long before other bands were going there. That's part of his psyche and how he looks at the world. It's always a conversation . . . because new markets are always opening up, economies are changing, new economies are emerging. He's always looking for new places to go and extend the Bon Jovi reach."
One such market that has exploded for Bon Jovi is Australia and New Zealand, where Australian promoter Paul Dainty of the Dainty Group has done "beyond well" with the band, with multiple stadium-level sellouts. "Bon Jovi are massive here," he says. "December last year we went into Sydney planning to do one stadium and ended up doing three. Australia's a big country, but we've only got 21 million people. Five million people in Sydney. To do three stadiums, on a per capita basis globally, those are stupendous numbers."
Dainty describes "a real passion across every demographic that runs deep with Australians," and adds that Bon Jovi has made a commitment to the market. "He's so professional, dedicated and committed to everything he does. That connects with the audiences," he says. "They deliver every night the most real, full-on rock'n'roll, a brilliant show. That's how you know the minute they schedule to come back, it will be bigger again."
This global touring approach provides a critical platform for a label with the reach of UMG, which has a presence in 77 countries, and it's an opportunity seized, according to UMGI's Hole. "If they're touring in Japan, for example, we'll often release a special Japanese tour edition, which has unique content that will keep the Japanese fans completely interested. It's a question of working out what the fan really wants, market by market."
More than a few people refer to Bon Jovi as the "CEO" of Bon Jovi Inc. "He has a better handle on their business, their future and their path than anyone I've ever seen," Leiweke says. "When he wakes up in the morning and goes to bed at night, Jon is a CEO. That's the way he views his role."
"His business acumen and instincts are unparalleled," Bartels adds. "Jon Bon Jovi drives hard, and the entire organization feels his energy. It rubs off, and therefore much gets done in an efficient manner. The success speaks for itself due to this approach."