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Garth Brooks on Prodding Amazon, Prepping a Duets Record and Why Ed Sheeran Has Country Music Beat

Garth Brooks sold tens of millions of albums prior to the Internet era, but the country icon has plenty to say about the music world today. One of the savvier users of technology and social media, Brooks, who just released his latest multi-disc project, “The Anthology, Part 3 Live,” invites fans into his world every Monday night with his Facebook Live show, “Inside Studio G.” He spoke to Variety about technology, his exclusive streaming deal with Amazon and why he’s looking to acts like Ed Sheeran and Beyoncé for inspiration.

VARIETY: Tell us about your Amazon deal and how that is going.
BROOKS:
We’ve done a deal with Amazon and our deal with Amazon is about three years now. (I’m) getting ready to re-sign with them, and the one thing I keep harping on them is discovery. If everything is “next,” if I don’t like it, how in the world do I discover anything if it’s not a single? I’ve probably heard it before it’s a single. So discovery is everything in music — just trying to figure out how people that are digesting music now, that are my age when I was a teenager, are finding those nuggets that you don’t see (among everything) that’s been blown out and commercialized.

How do you enjoy the interaction with fans you have on social?
They’re so far ahead of us. These two girls wrote in to Trisha [Yearwood] and I and said, “Hey, look, I know you guys are gonna do a duet record. Would you ever think about doing a duet concert where the whole night is duets?” And I’m looking at her going, “No, wait a minute, let’s combine the two ideas. What if we cut a live duet record in front of a live audience? And that’s how we do our duet record?” And then all of a sudden you have a live greatest hits duet record and people get to watch how a record is made, so you kind of bring the studio to the stage. Section it off like you do in a regular studio, cut things live right there in front of people. I think it’s an awesome idea and I think it’s something we’re probably gonna do. And we’re talking about doing it with the Ryman down here in Nashville.

Is there a timeline for when you want to record it?
No, probably within the next year or so I think. The stadium tour kicks off next year in March. Miss Yearwood has her own tour going on, so we’ll find a window in there. We’re not touring as hard as we did the last three years. The last three years it was like 395 shows on the tour. This one is gonna be really spread out, just individual nights, like 10 a year. And it’s gonna be a lot of fun.

Who are the artists you admire for the way they’ve evolved and handled their careers?
Country music right now is trying to find itself. It’s okay; every format goes through this kind of thing. Right now we’re trying to find our own identity. So I’m gonna stay out of the country format right now and go to the pop format, which I think is in their full-blown self discovery right now. You’ve got a guy like Ed Sheeran, who’s doing all this stuff with so little. But he’s found a way to do it with technology’s help. So this guy’s juggling a thousand balls and he’s a one-man show kind of thing. Now take it to Beyoncé, who is leading armies — marching bands — and still keeping it together. So you respect those both type of people for entirely different reasons, but you respect them the same because they’re both juggling a million things. Love that. And some people will tell you it’s easier to juggle many things if you’re one person than it is to juggle many things if it’s a million different people. So each one has its own gift very different from the other. I wouldn’t want to take on either one of those. I love being part of a team.

You have Vegas residencies now, and “Springsteen on Broadway.” It seems like there are no limits to what certain artists can do, and you have the audience to go anywhere.
Everything that is a blessing is a curse. So with the digital age comes the curse of record sales disappearing. So people buying records and waiting for them, taking them home, listening to them, listening parties, reading the lyrics — all this stuff is gone. But what has totally changed is it’s made the live performance king now. “Oh, got it: there’s only one place this person is gonna be in the world. Never dawned on me before like it does before.” So now the live performance rules everything and the rulebook has been thrown away. Billy Joel showed them all. “I’m gonna do a residency in Madison Square Garden.” So that’s what these guys do. I think the doors are totally off, rulebook is totally thrown out and live, live, live is everything now.

What one piece of advice would you like to share with artists?
If there is one piece of advice I could tell every artist out there I would tell them this: Don’t let reality get in the way because what people say can be done and what people say cannot be done… they’re not correct. You determine what can be done. You really do. You can change the course of everything if you just don’t f—ing give in. That’s what Prince did.

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