Record Labels, Please Change Your Archaic Release Date Practices

by Gordon Elgart on August 3, 2009

Because I could never go home empty handed, I ended up with this

Because I could never go home empty handed, I ended up with this

For most of my life as a music nerd, Tuesdays were always my favorite day of the week.  On Tuesdays, I’d stop at Strawberries Records in West Springfield, MA and shop the new release rack.  I wouldn’t let myself leave without buying at least one thing.  This is how I ended up with The Bends, as I had liked “Creep” but not Pablo Honey, but there really wasn’t anything else interesting out that week.  As time has passed, Tuesdays have become less and less important, because now the release date for an album is somewhat random:  when it shows up online, it’s released.  Yet for some reason, the record labels are clinging to these release dates.  And in many cases, they still release albums on different dates in different countries.  This, for obvious file-sharing reasons, is beyond lunacy.  This post is a plea for record labels to end the archaic practice of release dates.  Not to help me–I’m well served by the Internet–but to help themselves.

The company I work for in my everyday life has a saying:  “We make it easy for our Customers to buy from us.”  When will the record labels adopt this attitude?

When I was a young prog rock junkie, one of my favorite acts was Fish, the former lead singer of Marillion.  What was frustrating about this fandom was that his albums would come out in the U.K. months before they would come out in the U.S., if they even came out here at all.  So what I was forced to do was buy them as imports.  This was the early 90s so this was a challenge all in itself.  I couldn’t just click over to Amazon.co.uk.  I don’t think it existed yet.  I’m sure I wasn’t alone, however, because when these albums would finally come out over here, no one would buy them.  Why not?  Because his fans had already bought the UK release months before.  How does that apply today?

[Editor's Note:  This space was originally going to be a Youtube embed of the Tommy Sparks video of the song mentioned below, but the label has also decided that they don't want anyone promoting their song.  This sounds like a topic for an entirely different post. ]

I found myself recently making a mix CD, and I really wanted to include a Tommy Sparks song called “She’s Got Me Dancing.”  This is a UK single for an album that wasn’t out yet.  According to Tommy Sparks’ MySpace page, the song was available on iTunes.  So I clicked the link and clicked to purchase, only to be told that this song was not available in my country.  Why not?  Is there some reason my money’s not good?  What is Island Records thinking when they do something like that?  I’m sure they’re not thinking that I’ll simply go to the Hype Machine, search for the track and find a free download of it.  Why aren’t they thinking that?  Why isn’t someone at these record labels thinking that potential Customers won’t just look for the free option if the paid one isn’t available.  Well, guess what, geniuses at Island Records?  Now, I have the whole album.  How did I get that?  Well, you went ahead and released the entire album on iTunes in the UK only.  You may as well  just hand it out to the whole world outside the UK.

It’s time for record labels to stop releasing albums at different times in different countries!

Here’s some other current examples:

The Gossip — Music For Men.  UK release date: June 22, 2009.  US release date: Oct 6, 2009.

Little Boots — Hands.  UK release date: June 8, 2009.  US release date:  TBA.  (And she even has a tour scheduled here!)

Dan Black — ((un)).  UK release date:  July 13, 2009.  US release date:  No release currently planned.

The Noisettes — Wild Young Hearts.  April 20, 2009.  US release date:  Sept 22, 2009.

I could go on.  There are countless examples of this, and I’m sure it goes the other way across the ocean as well.  I’m here to tell you, and this isn’t some sort of wild conjecture, that when these albums eventually get released here, everyone who wants them will have already downloaded them, listened to them, tired of them, and taken them off of their iPods for something else that they’ve downloaded more recently.  (Not everyone, but you get the picture.)

Mon, 01 October
In Rainbows
Hello everyone.

Well, the new album is finished, and it’s coming out in 10 days;

We’ve called it In Rainbows.

Love from us all.
Jonny

The amazing thing about the so-called Radiohead model isn’t that they let you pay whatever you wanted for the album, it’s that they released the album within days of when it was done.  This, to me, was the significant point.  Cut out this delay between completion of your music and the release of your music, and you cut out a lot of the potential for leaks.  Plus, you don’t allow demand to get pent up.  If I see a post on a band’s blog saying “the album just finished mastering, so it’ll be out in four months,” you can bet that I’ll be trying to hunt down that album for the next four months.  But when Stars released In Our Bedroom After the War within a couple of days of finishing it, I was so overjoyed that their new material was ready, I bought it from them that day.  I paid for more a download than I ever had.  And then I ended up buying the physical release because the packaging is so interesting and beautiful.

Album packaging as a work of art

Album packaging as a work of art

The counter-argument to this is that record labels need to get their marketing in order because they want to get that record as high up on the charts as possible in that first week.  Here’s a math problem for you.  Would you rather sell 300,000 records in one week and then no more?  Or 500,000 records over the course of the year.  Records can be marketed simply by being on store shelves.

Also, are they worried about record store placement?  What record stores?  Getting played on MTV?  I’m laughing.  The best marketing these days is the Internet, and last time I checked, you can access a website from more than one country.

I understand that the production of physical product takes time.  It’s good to take that time to make a nice product.   The hardcore fans and the technologically disinclined will buy it.  But I am here to implore you, dear record labels, to get it for sale digitally the day it’s done.  In Rainbows was available digitally for weeks and was still the #1 album in stores upon its physical release.  You won’t be costing yourself sales; you’ll be making it easy for your Customers to buy from you.  You’ll be making more money.

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Thanks to Dakin Hardwick for contributing to, and fact-checking the article.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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