Not even superstar musicians who have sold more than 120 million records are insulated from the winds of change still blowing a storm through the music industry. Bruce Springsteen’s new album, which is released next week, has given up the retail sales ghost before it’s even got out of the blocks.
In a unique move by someone of Springsteen's stature, High Hopes has been up for free on the website of US television channel CBS this past week. There will be further "market penetration" when the CBS show The Good Wife features songs from the album in the episode broadcast January 12th in the US.
In all the breathy talk of Springsteen's "imaginative crossover", no one has mentioned that The Good Wife is a miserably bad baby-boomer drama for the domestic wine-drinking demographic. And giving an album to a TV station to stream before it hits the shops is not something someone like Springsteen would have countenanced even five years ago.
The inconvenient truth is that, for all the critical slavering, the last few Springsteen albums haven't sold at anywhere near his usual mid-career level. In fact, this is Springsteen's fifth album in a row to be released with either a TV or film crossover angle. But previous works were simply promoted with straightforward Super Bowl/Grammy-type appearance slots. The selling of High Hopes is a radical departure as he loses all control of how his music will be used.
The Good Wife pulls in around 12 million viewers an episode in the US alone. With the Springsteen special being heavily advertised, it is expected that Sunday's show (which some naughty people here will be illegally accessing on their computers) will pull in record viewing figures of 15 million-plus.
Springsteen’s problem is that he can still debut each new release at No 1 in the album charts but can’t sustain the sales over weeks or months. It says it all that his first-week sales now amount to about a third of the album’s total take.
In Springsteen's defence, High Hopes might be considered a more difficult sell: it isn't a new studio album per se, but a mix of unreleased material, re-recorded songs and the odd cover.
The ploy is all the more surprising given that Springsteen has previously turned down most every offer from TV shows to use his music (and there have been thousands of requests through the years). In the past he gave the very early track Rosalita to The Office and his Jersey Girl cover to How I Met Your Mother.
Similarly, The Good Wife is not known for its use of music, so obviously there's something in this for both programme and artist. It would strike many a loyal Springsteen fan (and if you've seen the documentary Springsteen and I, you'll know the word "loyal" is an understatement) that the place they've been going to all week to hear his new album is the website of a TV station.
The knock-on effect of this is that many other artists who would have considered themselves too high and mighty for such mass-market promotion will now let themselves off the leash. If it’s good enough for The Boss, then it’s sure good enough for them.