If you’re over the age of 35, then you might remember a time when the only way to obtain your favorite artist’s new album was to go to the record store and buy a physical copy of it. In the pre-digital era, this meant purchasing a vinyl record, cassette tape, or compact disc. Then, as now, new music was released on the same day of the week. Growing up, my friends and I would regularly go to the local record store at midnight to get copies (CDs, typically) of the new music that was slated to be released the next day (Tuesday). But why was there only one release day a week, and why has that day shifted over the years, from Monday, to Tuesday, to (as of 2015) Friday?
How Release Day Became Tuesday
Prior to the 1990s, new music was released and available to purchase in stores weekly on Mondays. However, music stores received their shipments of product at different times throughout the workday, which created an unfair advantage to those stores who received their packages earlier in the day than others. This meant that if one store received their shipments early in the morning on Mondays and the store in the adjacent neighborhood didn’t receive theirs until Monday afternoon, consumers would, not surprisingly, frequent the former store so that they could buy new albums sooner. With the introduction of the CD and the growing economy of the 1980s came an increase in music consumption. Therefore, whichever store had their product available first, typically sold more. And by the late 1980s, the music industry saw the largest increase in music consumption, with CD sales surpassing that of vinyl records and tape cassettes for the first time.
In 1989, in an effort to level the playing field, president of CEMA (an acronym for the company that used to distribute Capitol Records, EMI Records, Manhattan Records, and Angel Records) called for the music industry to adopt Tuesday as the universal date for new music releases in the United Sates. This way, the music store that received their packages in the morning on Mondays no longer had the advantage over the store in the adjacent neighborhood that received their shipment in the afternoon. Regardless of when they received their packages, all stores had to put new albums out for release on the following day, Tuesday, which as mentioned above was the release day of my youth and most of my adulthood up to date for that matter.
America vs. the World
Though “Release Day” was Tuesdays in the United States, this was not the case throughout the world. France and the United Kingdom kept release day as Monday, while Germany and Australia adopted Fridays. Other countries chose other days.
As the music industry continued to evolve during the 1990s and into what is now considered the “Digital Age,” new technologies such as the advancement of the computer, the internet, MP3 encoding software, and eventually peer-to-peer file sharing, threatened the hard-copy music business. Throughout the 90s and early 2000s illegal music sharing increased due to easier internet access around the world, globalization and the creation of file sharing websites such as Napster, LimeWire, Scour, among many others.
Napster pioneered in peer-to-peer file sharing, which allowed users to share digital audio files through their online platform. Almost immediately the company faced legal action from musicians and record labels for copyright infringement and robbing artists of earned royalties for their work. After several lawsuits, the company filed for bankruptcy and sold its assets to a third party. But, the problem didn’t go away, and technology continued to advance faster than legal systems. Individuals could find new ways to upload songs and send them to friends instantly, around the globe. This brings us back to release dates.
If you lived in the United States, where the release day was Tuesday, and you had a friend or relative that lived in Australia, where the release day was Friday, then you could simply upload new music to a file sharing site, and share it with your friend or relative across the globe three days earlier than when it would have originally become available. And people wouldn’t just do that for friends and family, but for anyone. There were two things happening: users were illegally sharing files around the world, and release dates were becoming arbitrary. The industry needed to be more consistent due, in part, to global connectivity.
Global Release Day
In June of 2015, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents the worldwide recording industry, announced the new international day for releasing music known as Global Release Day or New Music Fridays. Starting in July 2015, new singles and albums would now uniformly be available around the world on Fridays at 00:01 local time in all 45 signatory countries. This move effectively ended the earlier phenomenon where new music was unavailable in one country when it was legally available elsewhere.
Why Friday Maybe Isn’t The Best Choice
The shift to Friday for Global Release Day was supposed to boost consumption of new music on a theory, similar to what applies in the movie industry, that people are more likely to buy and consume music (and movies) over the weekend. But that theory hasn’t really played out, and for some genres and artists, the creation of New Music Friday has actually been a disservice.
For example, smaller labels especially don’t have enough time to promote their music before the weekend rolls around. Over the weekend, things tend to get lost in the shuffle. With New Music Friday, every major label is pumping tons of money into promoting their releases on the same day as other, smaller labels and artists are releasing their music. These labels and artists only have one day (Friday) to compete for attention in the media before the weekend, instead of a few days for “sleeper” releases and releases by smaller labels and artists to gain traction. There is only so much real estate on taste-making blogs on any one day, and when major artists are releasing music, that real estate tends to go to them.
Speaking for myself, I’m actually less plugged in to social media and the internet in general during the weekend. I’d much prefer an earlier release day – like the Tuesdays of my youth, or even Thursdays. I agree that having a single Global Release Day is a good thing (although I’m open to suggestions), but moving it to an earlier day in the week is a good idea that will help level the playing field a bit.