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The One Thing Garth Brooks Is Doing Wrong In His Comeback

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First published on www.forbes.com

Garth Brooks announced details of his long-awaited return at a press conference yesterday, and he got just about everything right. For the top-selling artist of the past 20 years, the news was suitably significant: a new album on RCA Nashville, due out in time for Black Friday, and a three-year world tour to follow.

He made sure to note that ticket prices would be reasonable. And he clarified that he wouldn’t be changing his sound–his last album, Scarecrow, was released in 2001–to fit the changing times and the increasingly mainstream-oriented direction of his genre. That, he explained, means no “bro country” or “hick hop.”

“I don’t think my stuff is either one of those,” Brooks said. “I wouldn’t describe it that way. To me, it’s Garth music.”

But Brooks got one crucial thing wrong: the means of distribution for his upcoming album. Though he’ll be making his music available digitally for the first time, it will only be accessible via his own website. That means he still won’t be on iTunes; more importantly, it means he still won’t be on Spotify,Pandora , iHeartRadio, Songza or Beats Music.

Like it or not, streaming is the future of the music industry. There are plenty of issues yet to be worked out, and compensation for most artists remains a stream of pennies rather than a flood of bills. But it’s where the audience is, and increasingly so.

According to Nielsen’s 2014 Mid-Year Music Industry Report, streaming is up 42% year-over-year; in the U.S. alone, on-demand streams topped 70 billion over the past six months. Meanwhile, digital track sales slipped from 682.2 million in last year’s first half to 593.6 million in this year’s, a 13% drop; total album sales sank from 210.2 million to 180.2 million.

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