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Retired Garth still swings for radio hits
New CD boxed set to bring media blitz
By PETER COOPER
Retired country superstar Garth Brooks is still retired country superstar Garth Brooks, and he says he'll stay that way until his youngest daughter graduates from high school in 2015.
But the biggest-selling country act in music history believes he's still packing hits. On Saturday, he announced he's putting out another boxed set — this one containing four new songs — and he spent time explaining that just because he's retired from touring doesn't mean he won't compete for spins at country radio.
The presence of radio promotions wizard Scott Borchetta at the morning Renaissance Nashville Hotel news conference and the decision to corral 200 radio executives and dozens of music retailers in Music City for what was billed as the "Garth Radio Seminar" signals a seriousness about staying viable in the mainstream country market.
Though Brooks won't tour or release a full-length album of new material, he plans to saturate the national media this fall.
"You're going to see us everywhere," said Brooks, 45. "It's my job to let people know it's out there. And then after February, I'm going to go back to whatever I was doing before this."
The first single, a lost-love song called "More Than A Memory," will go to country radio on Aug. 27, and it will be "represented" (read: pushed aggressively) by Big Machine Records and Borchetta, its president and CEO.
"He's made great music that stands next to his early songs," Borchetta said. "I think we can go three (singles) deep, and I think these are big hits."
The new set, called The Ultimate Hits, will hit stores Nov. 6. It's essentially a greatest-hits package, plus the new songs and a DVD that has videos for each of the set's 34 tracks.
For the past two years, Brooks has sold his music exclusively at Wal-Mart, but this time it will be available to all retailers.
It will not, however, be available online through services such as iTunes: Brooks wants to release the material only as a set, and iTunes prefers to allow downloads of individual tracks.
Brooks announced his retirement in 2001. In 2004, Capitol Records released a greatest-hits collection. In 2005, Brooks put out The Lost Sessions, a CD of previously unreleased songs, most of them outtakes from earlier albums. That same year, Wal-Mart handled the All Access boxed set, and the "Good Ride Cowboy" single reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. In 2006, Wal-Mart and Sam's Club began carrying a five-disc DVD boxed set, The Entertainer.
As with All Access and The Entertainer, Brooks will issue The Ultimate Hits through his own Pearl Records, and it will come at a price much lower than competing sets'. At big-box stores, The Ultimate Hits will be sold for between $11 and $14, Brooks said.
Such pricing is made possible in part by a reconfiguring of songwriter royalties: Writers of Brooks' past hits take a smaller piece of the royalty pie, knowing that the pie itself will be bigger when it's a Brooks reissue than if it was a less-popular artist's release.
"Suppose (writer) Kent Blazy makes $10 a year with his regular songwriting cut," Brooks said. "He might take a 50% cut, knowing that you'll be making $100 instead of $10. We try to take care of the songwriters, and the songwriters have stepped up to make this happen."
Writers of the four new songs receive standard royalty shares, as they would on any other artist's boxed set, and the chance to sell the three discs for less than most single-disc albums cost is liable to increase sales. Thus, the royalty checks for songs such as Blazy's "If Tomorrow Never Comes" should total well more than $100.
He could surpass Elvis
While Nielsen SoundScan hasn't tallied Brooks' Wal-Mart sales because of the exclusive retail agreement, the Recording Industry Association of America does keep track of what Brooks has sold and shipped.
A significant jump in sales could place Brooks ahead of Elvis Presley as the top-selling solo act in American popular music history. Borchetta said the updated figures should be impressive.
"That's for a future press conference, this fall," he said. "It's a big number."
On Saturday, Brooks appeared trimmer and fitter than in recent years, another indication that he's willing to work in order to compete in the current market.
"Keith Urban is a beautiful guy, and he can sing his butt off," Brooks said. "If you're not willing to bring your 'A' game to this, you'll get run over."
Scott Lindy, Sirius Satellite Radio's director of country programming, was one of the radio programmers who heard the new songs on Saturday.
"For me, this is an instant add to heavy rotation," Lindy said of "More Than A Memory."
By that, he means the song will quickly become one of the most-played songs on Sirius' country channels.
"The audience will make the decision, but to heavily expose this out of the gate is a no-brainer."
Borchetta's confidence and Lindy's enthusiasm sound convincing, but Brooks has not topped the Billboard country singles chart since 1998's "To Make You Feel My Love."
"Radio is going to make him prove himself," said John Hart, who runs Bullseye Marketing and Research Inc. "In radio, we eat our young. We ran Garth out, we ran the Dixie Chicks out. I mean, how silly can it get? But I would not ever bet against Garth. The odds are in his favor, Scott Borchetta is a bulldog, and on the 'Know Him?' meter, Garth is at the top of the heap."