AUSTIN, TX–Imagine you are Texas singer-songwriter Bruce Robison on any given Saturday night, and you might be forgiven for thinking life looks pretty good. You’re on your way to headline at one of the Texas Hill Country’s legendary dancehalls—the Broken Spoke, say, or Gruene Hall or Floore’s Country Store—when one of your songs comes on the radio. Maybe it’s Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s hit version of “Angry All the Time,” or George Strait’s cover of “Wrapped” or even the Dixie Chicks’ No. 1 hit, “Travelin’ Soldier.” It’s a pleasant interlude in what Dan Jenkins used to call “Life Its Ownself.”
As one of the most acclaimed tunesmiths to come out of Austin, Bruce has worked in the traditional musical model all his life: Sign with a label; Record an album; release single; tour to support same…and repeat.
But although his songwriting work ethic remains anchored to traditional values—strong storylines, compelling characters, hook-laden melodies—Robison is working hard to refit his business model to reflect new music industry realities.
For one thing, although he has an album’s worth of new songs (From the Top, produced by Rodney Crowell, for his own Premium Records label) ready to go, Robison is committed to recording and releasing a song or two at a time, as opposed to entire albums. By releasing singles directly to radio in chosen markets, and making them available online, he can use exposure to cultivate interest in his personal appearances.
As this is written, Bruce is giving away free “Song of the Month” downloads, via his website (www.brucerobison.com) and his Facebook page. By using radio, the web and old-fashioned, boots-on-the-ground live shows, Robison wants to make it easy for fans to find his music without having to rely on the vagaries of traditional promotion outlets.
“My feeling is now, that everybody’s on their own,” he says of the current state of the industry. “There’s no labels, there’s hardly any management. It’s like the Fifties again; we don’t know how it’s all going to shake out. But I’m really excited about the future, and finding new ways to get the music directly to the fans. And I’m having fun doing it.”
In a similar spirit, he’s taken pains to revitalize his live sound. He has recruited Joey Sheffield from the Austin pop-rock band Fastball (their 1998 song, “The Way” was a massive radio hit) and Brian Becken and Bruce Hughes from the acoustic-music ensemble the South Austin Jug Band. In blending strains of acoustic roots music with pop melodicism and his own incisive sense of songcraft, Robison is injecting a new vigor and energy into his live shows.
“I’m the luckiest guy that I know, you know?” Bruce says rhetorically. “I just want to have a great time onstage, and I hope that comes across.”