From This Week's Billboard: Kid Rock Rides With iTunes
From This Week's Billboard: Kid Rock Rides With iTunes

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Below is an excerpt from BIllboard's cover story on Kid Rock, who -- as he explains here -- has just broken his longstanding refusal to sell his non-soundtrack music on iTunes. Also in the issue: a special package on the Rolling Stones and the events around their 50th anniversary, a look at Warner Music's internal reorganization and how it breaks the traditional label/publishing divide, Rhapsody's music-app strategy, the music business' efforts to support companies stricken by Hurricane Sandy, and much more. You can pick-up your copy of this issue right here or a yearly Billboard subscription here.

"I've always said that there was going to be a day that we were on iTunes."

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It's Halloween, and Kid Rock is singing a different, and unexpected, tune. Until recently, the multi-platinum self-proclaimed American Bad Ass remained one of the last high-profile iTunes holdouts, preferring to keep his music inside shiny jewel cases and off of Apple's giant retailer, and citing iTunes' near-uniform song pricing as the main reason. And then in late October, Rebel Soul, his ninth studio album due Nov. 19 on Top Dog/Atlantic, was quietly made available as a preorder on iTunes. Its title track was posted for $1.29, marking the first non-soundtrack piece of music the artist had issued on the platform.

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Something had changed for Kid Rock. But what? Despite forgoing digital sales, his career has been humming along in the iTunes era -- 2007's Rock n Roll Jesus has sold 3.4 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, with major help from the inescapable single "All Summer Long." Perhaps even more impressively, 2010's Born Free moved 1.1 million without spawning a massive hit. And his criticisms of iTunes haven't buckled. "I still don't believe that all pieces of music are the same price. I just don't think that's American," he says.

Kid Rock (real name: Bob Ritchie) wants to make it clear that the digital baptism of his music isn't a cash grab, but rather the recognition of consumer habits. When Born Free was released in 2010, downloads represented 28% of all album sales for that year; that number is now at 39% through Oct. 28, according to SoundScan. Since 2008, iTunes has been the biggest music retailer in the United States, and Rock has been giving away a chunk of his sales by not listing his catalog there -- "All Summer Long" was such a massive radio hit that two different studio clone groups charted on Billboard's Digital Songs chart with covers of the track. One of these homages, credited to the Rock Heroes, sold a whopping 1.6 million downloads.

Clearly digital consumers wanted his music (or a reasonable facsimile). And so after years of hearing naysayers maintain that his career couldn't survive solely on physical sales, Rock felt that he'd proved otherwise. Now it was time to cede to technology and superserve his fans. "As a musician, you want the music in as many hands as you can get it into," Rock says. "More importantly, I want people to get the music for the fairest price, and in the most convenient way. And that's really turned into iTunes when you're talking about selling albums."

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Of course, Rebel Soul marks the first time that Atlantic can monitor digital track sales and adjust its radio focus accordingly. [Anthony] Delia [Atlantic's VP of A&R and marketing] says that iTunes has long been a discussion point with Rock: "We've heard we might be doing [iTunes] for five years," he says with a laugh. Finally, in late October, a sales rep from Atlantic came into Delia's office and told him that a deal had been reached. The decision has led to Rock's first major preorder campaign, with his 3.3 million Facebook fans being told on Oct. 30 to reserve their copy of Rebel Soul on iTunes. Meanwhile, Atlantic will stream the album exclusively on iTunes on Nov. 13, and "Let's Ride" has already sold 34,000 downloads since its release on the platform, according to SoundScan.

Rock's back catalog could eventually make its way onto iTunes, although [Atlantic Records chairman/COO Julie] Greenwald says, "I don't think we're there yet." For now, the Atlantic team is content with placement for Rock on iTunes' home page and across its viral network. "For me to pull up iTunes all weekend and the first thing I see is Kid Rock staring back at me," Delia says, "that's kind of doing my job."

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