It Takes Years to Be an Overnight Success

Garth Brooks

It was the second marriage for both of his parents While he was the second son born to the couple (February 7th, 1962). he was the youngest of six children. His mother had three children from her first marriage, his father had one. Designations such as stepfather, half-brother, stepdaughter weren’t used by the family – they were just parents, children, brothers and sisters. 

When he was four, his parents moved from Tulsa to the small town of Yukon, Oklahoma. His mother, a one-time professional singer, brought her love of music to the family and there were frequent family gatherings built around entertainment hours. There was singing, instruments, joke telling and more. The kids were encouraged to try new things, to stretch their imaginations and their talents. It was ok to fail – as he would later recall, “It was a house you could make mistakes in.”

He developed an interest in – no, a love of music at an early age. He was charming with a magnetic personality – he liked people and they liked him, especially the girls. He played sports throughout high school where, while decent, he never truly excelled. Music continued to be at the core of his existence – singing, playing, entertaining. He began with an acoustic guitar, got an electric guitar and eventually was given a banjo. Throughout high school, he formed a couple of bands and sang with the school vocal group.

Oklahoma State University gave him a sports scholarship to run track, as they had to his brother before him. Eventually he competed exclusively in the javelin throw. After he’d finished poorly in the season’s final competition, his coach said – Good, now you can focus on what you’re meant to do.” Music. He would put all of his energy and talent into music.

A variety of artists had impacted his taste in music – James Taylor, Elton John, Billy Joel and Don McLean – especially the song American Pie. He loved classic rock bands and appreciated their talent as entertainers as well as musicians. It’s not surprising that he was also influenced by country music, especially greats such as George Jones and Merle Haggard. When he first heard George Strait’s “Unwound” he knew the direction his music would take.

He played venues such as Shotgun Sam’s Pizza Parlor and Willie’s Saloon. He formed another band – which he called Santa Fe  – with whom he played at clubs and halls around the OSU campus in Stillwater. As his fan base grew, so did his talent. He worked on developing his voice, playing better guitar and learning how to be an entertainer – one who had a connection with the audience. His band also played some of his original songs including I’m Too Young (To Feel This Damned Old).

In 1986 he got married to a girl he’d met while working as a bouncer in one of the bars. He also drove to Nashville hopeful of being given a recording contract. He went to Tennessee and back to Oklahoma in less than 24 hours. The contract wasn’t meant to be – at least not then.

Convinced that music was his calling, he moved to Nashville in 1987. This time he had more experience, was better known and had better contacts. His recording contract finally came from Capital Nashville and in 1989 his first album was released. While it was not a huge success, it performed well enough for more albums to follow. His second album, No Fences (1990) sold over 700,000 copies in its first ten days and his third album, Ropin’ the Wind, had 4 million pre-orders and was the first country album to ever debut at number one on the Billboard Pop chart. 

Going from zero album sales to a cumulative total of well over 5 million records in three years may seem like overnight success. However, those accomplishments were achieved because of a lifetime of work by a truly fearless brand – Garth Brooks.

Building a Fearless Brand is a long-term investment

Garth Brooks has now sold over 100 million albums, the most by any U.S. entertainer, regardless of genre.  His influence on the country music industry is, without question, as big as any performer in its history. His success was not overnight and certainly was no accident.

He’s passionate. He’s talented. He’s likable. He’s energetic. He’s authentic.

Beginning as a young boy, singing to his family, Garth knew his passion – his why. Not once did he doubt his purpose, nor has he ever stopped pushing the limits of his talent. He knew that a key to him being successful was to engage all of his attributes – not the least of which was his ability to connect with people. Brooks has the knack to make each person in the audience feel as though he’s singing to them. 

Brooks announced his retirement in 2000, based primarily on personal reasons. He and his wife were divorcing and he wanted to spend more time with their three daughters. In 2005 he released a series of compilation albums to start his ‘comeback’. That year he also married his current wife and fellow country star, Trisha Yearwood. He signed a deal with Wal-Mart to distribute his albums, signed to perform live at the Encore in Las Vegas from 2009-2012 and in 2014, joined by his wife, began his third World Tour. 

The list of what can be learned from Garth Brooks the brand – is as long as his list of accomplishments.

Branding is a long-term commitment –  Building a successful brand does not guarantee it will remain so – adjustments and improvements must be made. Brooks embraced his why, improved his talents and works to remain relevant. Importantly, he has done so since he was a young boy. Throughout his career, he has continually made adjustments,tried new and different things and been committed to being the ultimate entertainer. Branding is a never ending process. As the lyrics say in Brooks’ song, The River…. Sail your vessel til the river runs dry.

Start with your why – then work on the what and how – Brooks knew he achieved great satisfaction from performing. He knew that providing quality entertainment to people – bringing them pleasure and happiness – was his calling. It was after he embraced his ‘why’ that he began to focus on how he would accomplish his purpose, what type of performer he would become, how he would do so. Always start with your why. It may change, either a little or a lot, but it is the essential element to success.

Be authentic – always and all ways – Garth Brooks today is the same charming, magnetic, talented person he was as a child. He loves the music he writes and performs. He still loves people and possesses the knack to connect. He is genuine. His music is genuine. People relate to authenticity. It builds trust and the emotional connection which is key to a successful brand.

Chances are good that you’ll never hold the record for most albums sold. Odds are you won’t become a global celebrity. However, like Garth, you can build your fearless brand – even if you only have Friends in Low Places. 🙂


Friday's Fearless Brand

Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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