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Bob Seger Faces Industry That's Turned a Page Since His Last Album

Of the Oakland Press

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Bob Seger’s new album, due out in September, is called “Face the Promise.” Hopefully he’s ready to face the reality of what must be done to make the album a success.

That’s not to say “Face the Promise” won’t be a big deal — especially in these parts and throughout Michigan, where Seger’s status as a preeminent rock icon is, well, like a rock. But it’s still been 11 years since his last set of all-new songs, 1995’s “It’s a Mystery,” and much has changed in a marketplace where absence doesn’t necessarily make the heart, or ears, grow fonder.

Seger will fi nd himself running against a different kind of wind, one in which conventional, old time rock ’n’ roll methods of spreading the word — such as terrestrial radio and retail record stores — have diminished and other opportunities, particularly in the high-tech realm, abound. The ability of Seger and his camp to make the right moves, night or otherwise, will be crucial to delivering this particular “Promise.”

Rock ’n’ roll may never forget, but here are a few key stratagems Seger should employ to keep fans accomp’nying him after such a long time out of sight (and sound):

Ears today,

gone tomorrow

Hard as it is to believe, Seger’s not a rock artist anymore. Oh, some of “Face the Promise” — including the title track — will surely rock, but modern/alternative stations certainly aren’t looking to play a new Seger track. Outside of his home turf, even active rock — what used to be AOR — isn’t a home for veterans other than, say, Metallica or Aerosmith.

Classic rock doesn’t really get behind anybody’s new product these days, although insiders say that visiting key major market stations in that format would serve Seger well. Similarly, NPR would be a credibility-making advocate. And while there’s always the small niche of AAA (adult album alternative), these days Seger’s most likely radio home will be ... adult contemporary.

I know, I know — that sounds like blasphemy. But the truth is, A/C is no longer just the domain of Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond. It’s also opened up to all manners of ’70s and ’80s hitmakers. It’s become the first stop for Chicago, Darryl Hall & John Oates and Huey Lewis & the News. And the songs don’t even have to be mellow trifl es anymore.

Much of Seger’s audience has gravitated to A/C as rock stations have gotten louder and/or more repetitive. It’s the best place to start telling his story this time around.

The eyes have it

TV has never been a serious part of the Seger marketing mix. It’s a medium he notoriously distrusts, mostly because of the lack of control and concerns it can’t live up to his exacting production standards. It’s time to change that position.

There’s a reason that many of Seger’s peers (Bruce Spring steen, John Mellencamp, Rod Stewart, etc.) have been living large on the small screen as radio has become less reliable. It’s another place where the audience has gravitated — and especially with radio’s continuing fragmentation, it remains the most powerful mass medium on the planet.

Seger and company should be smart about it, of course. An infomerical would be tacky, but Leno, Letterman, Conan, as well as the “Today” and “Good Morning America” concert series, fi t the man and the music. Even chattier shows such as “The View,” “Oprah” and “Regis & Kelly” would be productive stops, but we’ll give Rockin’ Robert a pass if he doesn’t want to subject himself to those. But one would bet Ellen DeGeneres could do a mean boogie to “Old Time Rock and Roll.”

“American Idol?” It would shine the brightest spotlight of all on Seger and the fact he has a new album out — though it might be hard to take some of the amateur-hour versions of his songs.

And Seger should present himself at VH1’s doorstep with flowers and candy in hand. After his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, he’s ripe for “Storytellers” and/or “Behind the Music” episodes. He could always visit Ted Nugent on “Supergroup,” but let’s not start planning the Silver Bullet Band reality series. Yet.

Surfin’ USA — and beyond

Seger needs to ramp up his Internet presence, including his own Web site. And his management office in Birmingham has the archival goods to make it really rock — in addition, perhaps, to streaming the album prior to its release and setting up some free download goodies via a special code for those who buy the album.

But there are even higher profi le opportunities, and right after VH1, he should take more flowers and candy to America Online, offering a “First Listen” window for the single, the aptly titled “Wait For Me,” as well as an intimate AOL Sessions performance (preferably taped right here in Detroit Rock City).

Wake up, smell the coffee

Bricks-and-mortar music retail isn’t dead, and there are a few things Seger can do in that realm to bring extra attention to “Face the Promise.”

Start with Starbucks. Have his label, Capitol Records, cut a deal to have the album sold in the coffee franchise’s stores — an endorsement that carries a cachet as rich as your favorite mocha drink and will sell a few (thousand) copies just because it’s there.

Then move on to Best Buy and come up with some kind of exclusive premium — a special edition of the album with bonus content or an extra disc of some sort — so that the chain will feature “Face the Promise” in its weekend circulars. Target also is hot to get exclusive releases and might even put Seger in a commercial for it. Aerosmith and Bon Jovi can vouch for the potency of that plan.

The independent mom-and-pop retailers should not be forgotten, either. Many labels have networked special packages into those stores, and something from Seger would give them impetus to give “Face the Promise” some push amid younger artists that are their stock-in-trade.

Ad it up

What was once unsavory has now become the norm — get some music in a TV ad. Seger was one of first to go that route when “Like a Rock” became a theme for Chevrolet trucks several years after its initial release. Relaunching that campaign would help, but so would fi nding a spot for one of the new songs in ads for an appropriate product — and, no, we’re not thinking about “Face the Promise” margarine.

After seeing Tom Petty launch his new single as part of the NBA Playoffs, Seger could consider a similar tie-in — maybe with Major League Baseball, especially if the Tigers are still in the post-season running.

This course likely isn’t the first thing on Seger’s list — and good on him for that — but it’s nevertheless an effective and proven tool that merits at least some consideration in the album’s marketing machinations.

Turn the page — again

Concerts. These are what Seger fans most want to see, maybe even more than a new album. There’s no question that getting on the road will help things along, but with the exception of vague noises that a tour is being considered, there’s no word.

But maybe it doesn’t need to be a full-scale, arena-sized outing — at least not initially. Why not a multishow residency at one or several Detroit area venues, similar to Billy Joel’s recent 12-night stand at New York City’s Madison Square Garden or the Allman Brothers Band’s annual monthlong stint at Manhattan’s Beacon Theatre? Perhaps even a tour of Michigan cities only, bringing Seger and the Silver Bullet gang to places such as Saginaw and Kalamazoo and other towns that no longer made the cut in the platinum-plus years.

Those kinds of big events on a smaller scale help to generate press and media attention. It builds a bit of buzz about Seger being back on stage and generates anticipation for a more national campaign. It also could launch a concert DVD — preceded by a Big Screen Concert movie theater premiere — or a TV special.

In short, Seger needs to take “Face the Promise” to the people — and put it right in their faces. If “The Fire Inside” still burns brightly, he’ll be ramblin’ and gamblin’ all over creation to give the album its best shot.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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