Bruce Springsteen is pouring his still-hungry heart into pushing his new album, “Working on a Dream.”
He’s seemingly everywhere these days: Picking up a Golden Globe for the theme from “The Wrestler.” Performing at Sunday’s inauguration celebration kickoff concert. Guest deejaying on Sirius XM. Gearing up for the Super Bowl halftime show.
Now Springsteen is practically giving away his “Dream”: He’s set to offer a free, week-long preview of the album at NPR.org, beginning Monday at 11:59 p.m., Eastern Time.
It seems like a risky move in an age when many music fans are all too willing to rip and burn whatever they can for free. But Springsteen is betting that by whetting fans’ appetites he’ll see more legal downloads and CD sales than bootlegs once the album is released Jan. 27.
Despite his old-school roots, Springsteen always has been very smart about keeping up with, if not keeping ahead of, the times. His 1984 “Born in the U.S.A” is widely cited as the first major U.S. release on CD. His support of Barack Obama and the album’s “Dream” theme seem in sync with the mood of the country. Plus, with the album floating around the Internet already, he might as well get some promotional juice out of it.
The free preview gambit, though, speaks to other Springsteen traits: quiet confidence, trust and loyalty. The Boss is sure enough of himself to let his work stand on its own. He trusts his fans, and with the early listen, is rewarding to the loyal folks who buy album after album and go to concert after concert.
He’s also certainly learned from the example of Nine Inch Nails, whose online giveaway album proved popular with the base last year, as well as Radiohead’s pay-what-you-like 2007 download gimmick. And Springsteen is sure to have noted that Tom Petty and the Rolling Stones’ respective Super Bowl halftime gigs boosted album sales.
With the music industry’s changing architecture, the big money these days is being made in merchandising and touring, as album sales decline. Springsteen, who has nothing left to prove to anyone but himself, is throwing everything he can into getting the 13 songs on his 24th album into the public consciousness.
Which begs the question: Will Springsteen and the E-Street Band tour, even after spending months on the road last year backing the “Magic” album? Rolling Stone quotes a source as saying 50 to 60 dates are planned in the U.S. and Europe.
Meanwhile, click on NPR this week and take a listen.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.