Beyoncé is certainly a trendsetter in many ways. And now, the 2013 surprise Friday drop of her album Beyoncé hasn't just created a ripple effect through popular culture. It's part of the reason the record industry has decided Tuesdays are no longer a good enough day to release new music in the United States.
Billboard reports that, after seven months of negotiations, the record industry has decided that it will release albums across the world on Fridays, starting this summer. This will completely change the way music is distributed and reformat the charts for everyone. It could also be the key to combatting international piracy problems.
Why were albums released on Tuesdays?
There is literally no good reason for albums to be released on Tuesdays. The United Kingdom and France release albums on Mondays. And Germans and Australians have been releasing their albums on Fridays for some time.
In the United States, albums have been released on Tuesdays since the 1980s. Before that, whenever a record arrived at a store, employees just put it on the shelf. What that meant was that some artists had a clear advantage over others, depending on when their album arrived. Creating a standard day evened the playing field.
Tuesday is also a date that is firmly rooted in a culture that printed, recorded, shipped, unboxed, and bought albums in their physical form. When albums weren't digital downloads, they required a lot of manpower. By placing the release date on Tuesday, record labels had the entire weekend to ship new inventory across the country to record stores, and stores had a full non-weekend day (Monday) to unpack albums and prepare the store for shelving.
For artists, the benefit of releasing an album on the standard American Tuesday release date is that it makes your album sales look better. Billboard creates the top album and singles charts every week, and those are published on Wednesday and track sales from Tuesday to Tuesday
What this means is that if you release your album on Friday, like Beyoncé did with her 2013 surprise drop, you'll only get four days of album sales to count as your "first week." So Beyoncé didn't sell a million copies in her first Billboard "week" to make sales history, even though she actually did sell one million copies in her first calendar week.
For an artist of Beyoncé's caliber, it's a loss that doesn't really matter. But for a smaller or up-and-coming artist, making a top 10 or even top 100 sales list can really change your career.
That wasn't always the case. The Billboard Top 100 chart has been around since the 1940s and used to be tracked on the standard American week (Sunday to Sunday). It was only after the standard Tuesday was introduced that Billboard switched when it counted. So really, that benefit could easily have happened on any day of the week.
Mostly, though, Tuesday is just what the record industry did. In fact, Billboard reported that the American Association of Independent Music (which fights for independent American labels) and Department of Record Stores (which represents independent record stores) both wanted the global release date to shift to the American standard of Tuesday during recent negotiations.
It was the day we Americans crowned for new music, for better or for worse. Yet Tuesdays lost out to Friday after the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) found that consumers polled preferred new music to come out on Friday or Saturday.
So why is the date changing?
In short, piracy. When albums came out on different days in different countries pre-internet, it didn't matter. Someone in Germany might read a review in an international newspaper about a US release and simply wait four days to buy the album in their own country. But now, the world is smaller, connected by the internet, and more impatient. As soon as an album is released, it can be uploaded and illegally shared around the world.
"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. "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."
The subtext of this quote is that "the frustration" people are experiencing isn't leading them to angrily await a new release by stomping around their room. The delay just means that instead of buying or legally streaming an album and the artist being compensated for that, a fan would illegally download the album and listen right then. That's bad for the record industry and artists because they lose money, and it's bad for fans because accessing new music is inconvenient and, well, illegal.
The idea, then, is that if every single country releases albums on the same exact day, then there will be no need to pirate an album because everyone will have access. This, of course, does not take time zones into account, but it could be something.
As with any change, there is backlash to this motion. As Martin Mills, a founder and chairman of the Beggars Group, a British record label conglomerate, told Billboard, "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."
This viewpoint is in direct opposition to the original formulation of a standard date, which was meant to level the playing field. This concern is placed in the idea that it might be harder for international mid-level bands to break through on the United States market because the "new music" hype would be dominated by the larger, more mainstream releases.
This, however, seems unlikely, because smaller bands have always had to compete with larger mainstream artists and have found fans of their own. Also, the impact streaming services can have on premiering new releases— like the existing "New Music Tuesday" on Spotify—could actually help smaller bands by placing their songs next to larger mainstream releases.
Is moving albums' release dates a good idea?
To prevent piracy, maybe. If the success of streaming platforms has taught us anything, it's that if you make access to music convenient for consumers, piracy rates will drop. Streaming isn't perfect by any means, and there are still large debates about how it pays artists, but at least artists get paid. And they certainly aren't paid at all for illegal downloads.
For music fans, though, Tuesday has always been album day. In general, Tuesday is easily the worst day of the week. All of the energy from Monday is gone, and Tuesday is too far from Friday to have any hope. Tuesdays are really terrible. The only thing good about Tuesdays was that at least we got a few new albums that we could celebrate or bemoan.
But soon, we won't even have that. By moving albums to Fridays, the record industry has ruined Tuesday once and for all.