Routines are comforting. We've got milestones through the week as we head into the weekend. Monday is the first day, back to work. Wednesday is Hump Day. Thursday is thirsty, and Friday is TGIF. The only thing Tuesday had going for it was new music. But now Tuesday doesn't even have that.
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry has led a worldwide initiative over the past year to get the entire world on the same music release day in order to standardize chart performance and reduce the possibility of illegal downloads. Today is the first New Music Friday.
But if you pay attention to music — or use Spotify — you already sensed something was amuck. Spotify's beloved New Music Tuesday playlist didn't go up on Tuesday. And then, after three days of absence, it returned.
Whether or not fans like new music on Fridays is pretty irrelevant at this point. Gears for this movement have been turning since last summer and decisions for the change were made in February. We're now living in a world where Friday is the new music day.
Releasing music on Tuesday is an outdated concept
Most of the world (until today) had been releasing albums on totally different days. In the United Kingdom and France, albums were released on Mondays. Australia and Germany were ahead of the game; there, albums have been released on Fridays for years.
In the United States, albums have only been released on Tuesdays since the 1980s. Before the '80s, record store employees simply pulled the records out of the boxes and put them on the shelf whenever they happened to get them. Record label execs and artists thought this was unfair. Why should some artists get the advantage of having their albums up the whole week and others lose a week of sales because their box was buried deeper? It made sense to pick a standardized day for all the albums to be placed on shelves.
The music industry chose Tuesday of the physical market. Because it was more of an actual industry. The albums had to be pressed, assembled, and shipped. A Tuesday release day meant that record labels had all weekend to distribute the new records across the country and record stores had all day Monday to organize their shipments before putting them on shelves.
Today, if an artist wants to share her new song with her fans, she can record it in the morning, edit it in the afternoon, and upload it to SoundCloud that evening, so it goes right into the ears of her fans. The digital empire allows for direct fan access with little-to-no middle men and much more artistic control. But in the '80s, '90s and even '00s, it was a group effort to get an artist's album out there. Hence: Tuesday.
The music industry is terrified of piracy
There's a lot of buzz in the music industry about the future of music and how streaming is messing up the way that artists are paid. But there's a bigger, much more salient fear: piracy. The real reason industry executives want all music to be released on the same day is that they are terrified of what could happen if people (again) started consuming music through illegal platforms.
"Music fans live in the digital world of today," Frances Moore, the head of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, the group that represents record labels worldwide, wrote in a press release in February. "Their love for new music doesn't recognize national borders. They want music when it's available on the internet — not when it's ready to be released in their country. An aligned global release day puts an end to the frustration of not being able to access releases in their country when the music is available in another country."
When he says he's worried about listeners getting "frustrated" by the delay, what he's really concerned about is what may come of that frustration. Fans might choose to illegally download a band's album instead of waiting however many days for its official release in their home country, and that's horrible for the industry.
Like everything else, this is mainly about money. Everyone in the music industry — record labels, publishers, artists, and distributors — would prefer that you pay for the music you consume, be it in the iTunes store or through your plays on Spotify.
Is Beyoncé to blame for this change?
Today, the benefit of releasing an album on the standardized release date is that your albums sales look better. In the U.S., the charts used to count album sales on a weekly basis from Tuesday to Tuesday; new charts were published on Wednesday. (Now the Billboard chart's tracking week has shifted.) If an artist released her album on Tuesday, she got the whole week of sales counted toward her ranking on the Top 100 albums charts.
Beyoncé's 2013 surprise album was, in a trendsetting move, released on a Friday. The album sold well, and hit the number 1 mark with no problem. She sold 828,000 copies in 72 hours. But choosing to release her album on a Friday kept her from scoring 1 million sales in her first week — a feat that only 14 artists have ever achieved in recorded albums sales history.
Of course, Beyoncé is not your average artist. For a newer, more chart-concerned artist, having an album in the Top 20 could change the course of her career, and she wants — needs — every single day her album is out to count toward that possibility.
Beyoncé, though, isn't to blame for the change in the release date. Consumers are. When the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) polled consumers about when they wanted to receive new music, the majority preferred new music to come out on Friday or Saturday.
Moving to Friday might be a terrible idea, though
Martin Mills, a founder and chairman of the Beggars Group, a British record label conglomerate, told Billboard in February, "I fear this move will also lead to a market in which the mainstream dominates, and the niche, which can be tomorrow's mainstream, is further marginalized. I fear it will further cement the dominance of the few — and that is exactly what it is intended to do."
Mills has a great point. One of the biggest problems that every entertainment industry faces in the digital age is that your product is competing against all the other things vying for the public's attention. If you, as an artist, don't have a song that's more alluring than a listener's Twitter feed, or Angry Birds game, or any of the millions of things people can do instead of listen to your music, you can't win over fans.
Although a Friday release date has its upsides — a lot of people get PAID on Fridays, after all — moving to Friday puts albums in direct competition with the newest summer blockbusters, and if you're an up-and-coming artist, your music probably just can't compete with the minions.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.