Garth Brooks vs. Digital Music

A while back, I blogged about the fact that Youtube is setting itself up as a competitor to Spotify by putting out artists’ digital music, including both new releases and back catalogues. Reader and musician Kyle Boreing noted that technically, since these videos are ad-supported, artists are supposed to receive some revenue. Well, if the kind of revenue they get from Spotify is any indication, that’s probably small comfort. And it probably means streaming platforms like Spotify aren’t economically sustainable at all in the long run.

While most artists have chosen not to fight it, a few big names have pulled their music from Spotify in order to make a statement. Taylor Swift is the most popular artist right now who’s chosen this. And for a while, the Beatles estate wouldn’t even agree to put Beatles music on iTunes. That changed a few years ago, but Beatles music still hasn’t made its way to Spotify, along with fellow oldies band Led Zeppelin and a couple current ones like Black Keys.

But of all the digital-resistant artists I’ve found, nobody beats Garth Brooks. Not only is Brooks anti-Spotify, he’s anti iTunes AND Amazon Mp3 AND Youtube. In fact, in his words, Youtube is “the devil.”

Brooks is more than happy to elaborate on his decision in this article, among others. It’s not that he’s hurting for cash. For him, it isn’t about money. It’s the principle of the thing.

He argues passionately for preserving the album experience instead of giving younger generations with short attention spans the option of cherry-picking isolated tracks. However, Brooks realizes that as physical albums go the way of the dodo, it will become progressively more difficult for people to hear his work at all. So he’s decided to set up his own thing: an iTunes alternative site called GhostTunes. And just to prove that it’s not about money, Brooks offers fans a special deal if they buy his music through the off-beat outlet. For only $30, they can pick up his latest studio release, a two-disc 25th anniversary live project, and his entire back catalogue. That’s ten albums’ worth of music. Not a shabby deal.

I understand why Spotify bugs Garth. I understand why it would bug an artist for people to feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to art, that it should be free for the taking. The rise of outlets like Spotify and Youtube has pampered young people. People like me. We’ve become so accustomed to rushing to Youtube and typing in whatever song is on our minds, pulling up five different lyric videos to choose from in seconds. I think Brooks wants to remind people, especially young people, not to take art for granted. In fact, he’s willing to give it all away for practically nothing anyway, but he wants to do it on his own terms.

That’s a perspective I can certainly respect, even if I don’t fully agree with the extremity of his anti-digital stance. Brooks has recorded some great songs, and I’m just concerned that they’ll fall out of memory. I can understand staying away from Spotify. I do think it’s a bit of a shame that he’s not on iTunes. While I understand his lament for the album experience, there’s a reason why we still remember some songs and have long forgotten others. That reason is that the songs we remember are (usually) the best ones. An artist may be miffed that a listener isn’t getting the “album experience,” but what if a third of the songs on a given project are duds? Fans understandably don’t want to have to pay for those just to have the hits they love. Moreover, Garth doesn’t even have an officially controlled channel on Youtube where he can upload a few hits, a few music videos, a few live performances–at least something original and legit that people can find when they type in his name.

Fortunately, a few gems have slipped through the cracks. First, I was pleased to discover some kind of Asian dailymotion equivalent that has some Garth music videos and live performances, including one of my absolute favorite Garth moments: a duet of “New York State of Mind” with Billy Joel. If you want to experience a gourmet slice of pure entertainment, do yourself a favor, go to this link and watch the first eight minutes. I promise you won’t even notice the fact that it’s obviously digitized from an old VHS. In fact, that’s just the beginning of the entire 60-minute concert in Central Park. (Please note that I can’t vouch for the appropriateness of every lyric should you choose to enjoy the whole video.)

I’ve also found a few Garth songs on Youtube (originals, not covers), which have temporarily managed to escape the notice of the copyright police. Odds are I’ll have to circle back and remove these links in a few more months once somebody discovers them, but in the meanwhile, enjoy three of my personal favorites. (Oh, I should also mention that the official music video for “Thunder Rolls” was somehow acquired and uploaded by somebody or other, but I’m not featuring it because it’s frankly not worthy of the song. Turning the story into something that looks like a cheap 80s movie, complete with painful dialogue, kind of sucks all the intensity out of it.)

This reminds me that I was planning to do an “Anatomy of a Song” analysis on “Ireland,” because it’s just so good. Maybe I should hurry up and post that so you guys can still hear the song before someone pulls it!

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2 thoughts on “Garth Brooks vs. Digital Music

  1. joshvanklomp

    Like you said, it isn’t about the money for Garth.

    However, for many in Gospel music, it is about the money, unfortunately. Artists stand on stage proclaiming that their traveling the country to see lost souls saved. But for some, they don’t have the access to Gospel music other than outlets such as Spotify or Youtube. So by taking a stand against these platforms, you are also limiting the reach of the Gospel message.

    I understand the mantra that you need money to stay on the road, but whatever happened to having faith that God will provide?

  2. Pingback: Anatomy of a Song: “Ireland,” by Garth Brooks | Yankee Gospel Girl

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