Big record labels are gearing up to move their release scheduling so that all new records come out on a Friday at a minute past midnight. They argue that everyone knows anyway through social media when a record is released; that record stores for those buying physical products need to know what day to rotate their displays (they do now of course, but risk being out of sync with download and streaming release dates); that new music should be introduced when interest in music is at its peak in order to compete better with other entertainment options. And also, that simpler planning means better coordination for global marketing campaigns, and also for their flip-side, anti-piracy activity.
This all looks convincing. Some High Street shops might prefer a different day (Fridays must already be busy for non specialists as everyone gets ready for weekend shoppers) but will welcome being at less of a disadvantage to digital retail and streaming. Much of the rest looks like simple common sense.
But let’s look at some of the assumptions here. For a start, this is clearly built to fit the Western Christian working week. OK, so the major music markets might work on Western weekly cycles, but at the very least this shows some overreach from record label representatives in the UK & USA who led the decision to move to Fridays. So much for ‘think global, act local’. Also underlying this move is the idea that new music discovery is a short burst of highly competitive attention. It allows no time for second listens, or getting used to an unfamiliar style over the week before deciding to spend your money and make your mark on the chart.
But are we not increasingly ignoring charts, and making our own journeys of discovery through social media and infinite libraries of music? That would be nice to think, but the money says otherwise. Those charts are important, not just as a signal of success, but also as a vector by which music can move from a niche audience and find broader support. So constricting the gateway is an inherently conservative strategy, favouring the bigger and better resourced marketing teams, and familiar artists. It would not be too far fetched to suspect that the same voices calling for a global release day will soon be trying to coordinate global charts, all based on the ability to mobilise marketing clout in a very compressed and highly contended window of essentially two day’s sales.
This is a kind of market shrinking madness, inevitably benefiting bigger companies and those with access to TV, which is probably no accident. The recorded music market is essentially static, so if the dominant labels want to improve their financial performance they need more market concentration, and less cost.
For the rest however, young artists, independent record labels, and anyone who wants to roam outside of the mainstream music playpen, we need to get a bit more organised and find ways to support truly local music and music retailers, outside the hypercompetitive sharkpool that global release day will become. May I start by suggesting Folk Monday’s, Welsh Tuesday’s, Opposite Latitude Wednesday’s, Over 50’s Thursdays…. you get the picture. And then we will be fortified against the torrent of Global Pop Friday.