Josh Groban: The Billboard Cover Story
Groban also chose to cover Nick Cave's "Straight to You," which might seem like a puzzling choice. But Groban says he's a longtime fan of Cave's, and when Rubin suggested he try it out, he went for it.
"I trust Rick for a gazillion things, and I certainly trust him for cover songs," Groban says. "We got James Newton Howard to create a sonic atmosphere to represent what the words are. At first, I started off telling him, 'I want Terry Gilliam, I want Baron Munchausen, I want cannons coming through the opera house.' And then I realized that was exactly what we shouldn't be doing; that we should just let the words do the talking. We wound up making it more haunting, and when I went back and listened to it, it moved me."
Rubin's expertise as a producer is evident throughout the album; while both Groban's voice and the orchestration are full and rich, they always strike a balance and one never subsumes the other. "Bells of New York City" is an homage to Groban's adopted hometown and also slyly riffs on the
To reward that devotion, Somlo says that fan club members will have access to everything first. "They will be the first to see art, the first to hear music and the first to know about TV appearances," she says.
As it has been in the past, TV will be a huge part of the campaign. Groban's album will be in stores on a Monday instead of the usual Tuesday release day, due to the fact that he'll have two major TV appearances on Nov. 15 -- a morning show and a daytime show, although his camp declines to specify which ones. "His is an audience that still buys physical product," Somlo says. "And because of that, we want people to be able to go out and buy the record the same day they see him on TV."
He'll follow those up with another daytime appearance on Nov. 17, and will also take part in the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony the following week, an event he's participated in twice in previous years.
Jonathan Norman, supervising producer of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," says Groban has been on the show five times and will be returning for a sixth appearance.
"He has a great sense of humor and doesn't take himself too seriously, but he takes his music very seriously," Norman says. "He's up for anything. When Ellen was doing a skit last year recapping the Oscar nominations, he came on and covered himself in blue paint and was willing to be totally silly. But he came on the show another time and performed with the African Children's Choir, and he was so wonderful and sincere with them. And he's just a nice guy; he's never been a diva."
While Groban is in demand as a musical performer on TV, he's been shaping his acting chops, too. He willingly pokes fun at himself in the viral video hit "I'm Fucking Ben Affleck" and told a middle-aged woman "Josh Groban loves a blousy alcoholic" when he guested on "Glee." He'll also appear on the big screen next year in the Steve Carell film "Crazy Stupid Love," playing Emma Stone's fiance, whom he describes as "a douche bag lawyer."
It's hard to imagine Groban playing a douche bag -- part of his appeal is that he comes across as a genuinely nice guy. In a way, he's a perfect fit for the "Glee" audience: sincere, serious about his work, but with a sense of humor.
"I was so happy that I auditioned for a comedy role playing someone other than myself and got it," Groban says. "I started in theater, and while I don't want to take on any huge roles, it would be nice to keep coming back and doing funny, silly things."
While Groban's campaign will focus on traditional media, Somlo says that efforts are being beefed up in the digital space, too. "This is Josh's first original album in five years, and the space has changed," she says. "We have a great plan to do a countdown at iTunes, and we're developing a strong viral campaign."
Somlo says that Warner has built a series of widgets designed to encourage fans to introduce friends to Groban and to "take Josh to work or school."
"We want to cultivate a community and also keep Josh top of mind for fans," she says. "So the widgets will live on a desktop, and throughout the day, Josh will pop up with a video message."
The increased use of technology is one way Groban and his camp are reaching out to potential younger fans. "There is no reason he can't have a young fan base," Bernstein says. "I mean, he's not going to be in the teen magazines or anything, but he is a young guy."
Groban says that he feels just as comfortable joking around with Jimmy Kimmel as he does sitting on the couch with Oprah Winfrey. "I'm an old soul and an opera guy, but I'm also a twenty-something who loves poop humor," he says. "It's important to make sure people see both sides of that."
The last time Groban toured was in 2007, doing arenas in the United States and Australia; according to information reported to Billboard Boxscore, he grossed $40.7 million from 56 shows and sold 533,664 tickets. His booking agent, Gayle Holcomb of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, says an arena tour for May and June 2011 is being routed. Holcomb adds that Groban will also tour overseas afterwards. She says tickets for the 2007 tour all cost fewer than $100, but prices for the next run have not been set.
To keep Groban's reputation as a live performer top of mind for fans, he will perform four intimate shows (three in California and one in New Haven, Conn.) in early November, and Somlo says he will perform a "private concert" after "Illuminations" is released. "We wanted to reward people who bought the CD, so every disc comes with a unique code that allows a user to access a site to view a stripped-down live performance, followed by a question-and-answer session." The event will be powered by Ustream and will take place in early December.
As the release date for "Illuminations" approaches, Groban has time to reflect on the major changes he's made within his team and the new approach he took to record the album. Looking back, he says he is grateful for all the chances he took.
"It's been a terrifying couple of years, but I guess I'm a glutton for punishment in the best way possible," he says. "I'm grateful for the itch. When it first started to bug me, I thought I was crazy. I had just sold a gazillion records and could rest on my laurels. But I owe it to myself and my fans to try to keep making things better. The day I lose that urge is the day I should just put on a jumpsuit and move into a nice retirement village."