Of all the streaming dissenters, Garth Brooks was by some considerable distance the biggest left out there. Around him, others slowly capitulated in recent years – like Metallica, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. Brooks has now been lured over to Amazon, putting his music on its Music Unlimited service exclusively. Amazon will also be the official sponsor of his tour.
Initially you think this is a tremendous coup for Amazon as it looks to take on the dominant streaming players on both exclusives and price (where it costs just $7.99 if you are on Prime or $4 a month via Amazon’s Echo speakers). Then you see that the initial offering from Brooks is, frankly, weedy. There are seriously slim pickings at launch and no confirmed date for the full catalogue being made available. What they are initially seeing as the tantalising hooks for consumers include ‘Baby, Let’s Lay Down & Dance, the lead single from his next album, a best of album and a live album. The rest of his catalogue will apparently be made available on Amazon at some unspecified time. This is perhaps the most underwhelming “exclusive” of all time.
Billboard has spoken to Brooks about the deal and, chopping through the PR braggadocio (Amazon is, apparently, “a company that’s one, if not the most trusted name, in Internet sales”), he made a number of telling points. He says he didn’t do a deal with Spotify as the company doesn’t allow download sales. (It used to, of course, but quietly packed this away almost four years ago, apparently due to very poor uptake.) He also said Apple had its “own rules” that he was not happy with (presumably an allusion to it wanting albums to be unbundled on iTunes). His insistence on having concurrent download and physical product elements, which Amazon is happily providing, speaks volumes about his own audience and just how far down the road of digital transition they are (i.e. not very far at all).
Brooks also said the Amazon partnership is “not a longterm deal” and the ability to walk away if it’s not working is “a sweet, sweet option to have”. Could that mean he’ll open up to other streaming services at the end of the Amazon exclusivity period? Or that Amazon has to hit certain commercial targets for it to continue? If so, is it really just a dry run before making his music available on the bigger streaming platforms? For a supposedly show-stopping exclusive deal, there are far too many unanswered questions.
Brooks, had of course, tried his hand at making his music available digitally just over two years ago on his own GhostTunes service – for download only. It is also selling albums by a multitude of other acts. No sales figures from GhostTunes have ever been made public but suggestions are that its appeal has been, if we are being kind, niche. Entirely unrelated to this, a banner on the site is currently offering Brooks’ entire catalogue priced at $29.99 for a bundled download. It is also running a promo to get a free Garth Brooks single from a code given away on bags of Fritos. Free MP3s on crisp packets? Is it 2004 again? He suggested to Billboard that his own music will go from there within the next 12 months which is not exactly a ringing endorsement of it as a retail platform.
All in all, what could have been a huge statement deal for both Amazon and Brooks just comes across as half-baked and half-cocked.