Garth Brooks On His Amazon Deal and Putting Radio First: 'Country Radio is the 800-Pound Gorilla'

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Garth Brooks performs onstage during MusiCares Person of the Year honoring Dolly Parton at Los Angeles Convention Center on Feb. 8, 2019 in Los Angeles. 

Two years into his exclusive streaming and downloading deal with Amazon Music, Garth Brooks detailed how he hopes to expand the relationship to embrace terrestrial country radio stations further and to protect the songwriters during an in-depth town hall session on Thursday (Feb. 14) at the 2019 Country Radio Seminar in Nashville.

Brooks -- who is among the top 10 artists streamed on Amazon in any genre -- and Steve Boom, vp of Amazon Music, discussed how Amazon can stop competing with radio and learn how to partner with it in a session moderated by Melinda Newman, Billboard’s executive editor, West Coast and Nashville.

Many radio industry professionals have expressed their fear of streaming to Brooks, and the singer promises platforms like Amazon Music won’t eliminate the importance of country radio. In fact, listeners can stream over 40,000 radio stations on Amazon Echo from around the world. 

“The opposite has happened from what the fear was. It brought music back into the home,” Boom explained. “It’s in your family room, it’s in your kitchen. It’s a communal listening environment and radio is a huge part of that. Tens of millions of hours of terrestrial radio is being listened to on Echo every month. We just brought radio into the home. That’s why we’ve seen such great growth of music. We’re not bound by a device.”

Brooks added, “Country radio is the 800-pound gorilla. It ain’t going anywhere. Everybody talks about the demise of radio because of streaming. What you guys got ain’t nobody else has is discovery. That’s what it’s all about.”

The country legend then proposed a radical idea for how Amazon and radio can work even more closely. Since radio plays a major role in music discovery, he suggested Amazon look into monetizing radio’s impact, such as when a listener is streaming a radio station on Amazon and wants to purchase a song, radio would share in the revenue. “Eighty-six percent of discovery is from radio, but radio doesn’t see those retail dollars,” he noted.

Surprised at Brooks’ proposal, Boom suggested that today’s technology could possibly remedy this issue with the help of software like Shazam. “We would love to work closely with radio. I would love feedback and know what you’re doing and how it’s impacting streaming,” Boom added. 

With ever-expanding technology, Boom says he is working with his team to offer additional tools  to make requesting music even easier through Amazon’s devices. “The simplest user experience has the most complicated technology behind them," he said. "We keep working on that and want to make it as easy as possible. [We] want to bring the country world to the fan . . . and let you play music the way you want to play music.” 

Having recently re-signed his partnership deal with Amazon Music, both Brooks and Boom plan to work with the radio community more closely to give its listeners what they want. “I like the fact that whatever the consumer can imagine or want, we partnered with the people who can bring it to them,” Brooks said.  “There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to get what you want.”

Brooks remains committed to selling albums in full, as opposed to allowing fans to buy individual tracks. On his last studio album,  2016’s Gunslinger,  Amazon offered the album for sale for two weeks before it was available for streaming on the site. Brooks said he and Amazon had not yet decided if they would use the same windowing strategy for his next studio album, Fun, when it comes out later this year. 

“We’re going to bust our ass to make sure that the album does not disappear with the new streaming arising,” Brooks concluded.

Prior to his discussion, Brooks took the stage at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday evening for an intimate, stripped-down set based on his former one-man Las Vegas show for CRS attendees. Throughout his 90-minute performance he discussed his musical influences, playing snippets of covers by George Strait, Willie Nelson, Randy Travis, and James Taylor, among others, as well as taking questions from the audience.