No matter what realm of business or walk of life it may be, people are quick to espouse the pivotal importance of first impressions. Deemed to be the moment that someone’s perception of you or your art is irrevocably cemented, that all-important encounter could be the clincher that cements your legacy and gains a lifelong fan or consigns you to the listener’s mental scrap heap.
Tasked with walking this tightrope, its crucial importance means that most artists are content to err on the side of formulaic when it comes down to rollout. After all, the last thing an artist wants is for a full body of work or track that they’ve poured over to just disappear into the ether. In adherence with the industry’s wishes, this birthed what’s known as Global Release day. Commonly referred to as “New Music Friday,” this institution has been in place since 2015 and was justified as a direct response to both the streaming era and attempts to nullify the effects of widespread piracy.
In a glowing endorsement of the plans, the Record Industry Association Of America’s (RIAA) chairman Cary Sherman spoke of its many benefits back when it was first put forth:
“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. More than ever, the music industry has become global, and we represent international companies marketing international acts in multiple markets. Geographic lines are often irrelevant to digital marketing strategies and fans’ expectations of instant access to their favourite music. This change will be good for fans and good for the business.”
For the most part, the general consensus is that artists and labels are happy to comply with this shift in tactic. Save for surprise releases from titans of the music landscape, the structural integrity is generally upheld and everything else is a precursor to that big silo worth of new music that’ll arrive at the end of the week. That said, it’s becoming clear that many prominent figures in hip-hop are growing wary of its major label-mandated confines and are taking alternative routes to the precarious act of the rollout.
In a brazen but calculated move, Dreamville’s resident R&B songstress Ari Lennox flouted convention with the release of her debut album. Entitled Shea Butter Baby, the long-awaited full length arrived in the world’s collective eardrums on May 7th-- a Tuesday. Garnering no shortage of column inches on its arrival, this disruption to the preordained release schedule has given the project ample time to seep into her audience’s consciousness before the scheduled onslaught of Friday albums.
Considering that she’s on the roster of a label that champions ingenuity, the move aligns with their principles rather than feeling too gimmicky. In fact, this deviation from the norm echoes her stablemate J.I.D’s decision to unveil Dicaprio 2 on Monday, November 26th last year. Although Dreamville serve as a handy microcosm of where the genre’s headed, they’re far from the only ones that are taking matters into their own hands. The past week alone, we’ve seen Young Nudy take audiences aback with the release of Sli’merre with sought-after beatmaker Pierre Bourne. A star studded project that emphatically heralded his return, it quickly leapt to pole position in the hip-hop news agenda just as Jhene Aiko’s confessional “Triggered” (Freestyle)” did, on the same day, Wednesday, May 8th. Described as an exercise in “yelling and throwing paint at a canvas”, Aiko’s abstention from the industry standard is even more jarring considering that she’s on the Universal Music Group-backed label Def Jam. From the glitzy dystopia of LA to the diverse melting pot of South Florida, another esteemed artist that reneged on this uneasy truce between industry and artistry was Denzel Curry.
Denzel Curry - Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Unceremoniously debuted on Miami’s 99JAMZ, those hankering for new music from the man behind TA1300 had their wish granted on new single “Ricky.” A typically hard-hitting number from the multi-talented MC, the track and its visuals took the world by storm on Tuesday and quickly clambered to #9 on YouTube’s trending videos. Rather than his first dalliance with unorthodox drops, it falls in line with his laterally devised decision to unveil TA1300 in 3 parts over July 25-27th last year.
Typically enlisted by acts that have vocal fanbases at their disposal, dropping on alternate days has also been utilized in recent times for Schoolboy Q’s pre-CrasH Talk singles “Numb Numb Juice,” “Chopstix” and “CraSH,” Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats’ and critically acclaimed project Anger Management, both parts of Kevin Abstract’s Arizona Baby and even Suga Free’s first project in ten years. The latest batch in a long line of artists foregoing New Music Friday, it raises the question of when exactly is the optimal time to release music after all.
In the words of IFPI-- International Federation of the Phonographic Industry-- executive Frances Moore, the entire purpose of GRD was to steady the course of the music industry after “two decades of almost uninterrupted decline.” Yet as a representative of a time-honoured organization, could it be that his logic is tainted by a vested interest to hem the unbounded artists of today into some form of authoritarian control?
In the view of Young Forever Inc’s Chris Anokute, who’s worked with Jay-Z, Bebe Rexha and Fifth Harmony among many others, it is a move that allows the major labels to retain a shred of the business model that they’d profiteered off for decades and keep their bragging rights intact:
“They're looking for a certain amount of the market share that week or that month. Sometimes it's for vanity and ego. They want to say, 'We just debuted at the top of the charts, because we put out the video, single, and went to radio the same week. From Friday to Thursday, we got all this consumption, which gave us a better chart position.”
Devised as a way to dominate the conversation on social media and those ever-so-important New Music Friday playlists, Matador Records’ Chris Lombardi shares the belief that the odds are unfairly stacked in a major conglomerate’s favour:
“It clogs media. You're gonna be competing with stuff with a massive campaign behind it: lots of advertising, lots of editorial real estate on blogs and newspapers and magazines."
Embroiled in a war for strategic placement on streaming services and media outlets, these testimonies from insiders shed light on why the most powerful organizations wish to uphold this hegemony as much as they can. As physical media wanes, so too does their operational stranglehold on music and who rises to the pinnacle of the game in an era where anyone can upload to Soundcloud and make waves. Now that #NewMusicFriday has become a part of popular culture, it presents artists with a catch-22. Either veer off-course in an attempt to wider your impact but eliminate yourself from playlists and the big weekend rush, or comply and hope that you win out from the uncertainty of the streaming lottery. But as IFPI’s director analysis & insight Dr David Price keenly points out, the comfort of familiarity and routine makes it a calculated risk:
“I look on and we see people posting on Friday now, 'Here's the music you should be listening to.’ It's sort of synced into the popular consciousness."
Whether or not that’s another case of a bastion of the industry pushing their agenda, the groundswell of artists that are now opting for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays attests to a genre-wide eagerness to neutralise the possibility of getting lost amidst the commotion of “New Music Friday.”
Beyonce - Larry Busacca/Getty Images
Based upon all of the evidence at our disposal, it’s clear that New Music Friday has undeniable benefits. While the catalytic effect of Beyonce’s every move means that she’s generally unencumbered by the industry standards, it is telling that Homecoming: The Live Album-- released on Tuesday 17th April-- is her first project not to peak at number 1 since 2014’s More Only EP. Still, it’s important to note that commercial performance is the remit of the music industry, not the music fan and it is certainly not the be-all, end-all of artistry.
Just as it’s always been, the deck remains unevenly distributed in favour of the major labels and who they wish to propel up the ladder at an exponential rate. A status-quo that ensures smaller artists are always fighting on the backfoot, these rules don’t apply if your intention is to make a definitive statement or cement yourself with an emphatic single release as opposed to simply rocketing up the billboard charts. If the work is of a high calibre, the ensuing acclaim from fans will make the artist’s presence felt regardless.
Now that we’re all aware of the dangers, those artists that opt to eschew the industry’s rules are setting a new precedent that refuses to be dictated by the brass tacks of data. No matter what option they decide to go with, the day of release will ultimately pale in comparison to the dent that it leaves behind.