Promotion Management: Scheduling switch
Physical Records Era
For decades, the first question at the time of releasing an album was always the same – Q4 or not Q4. The market during the holiday season was completely different. Here too, the gap isn’t barely the size of the market. The profile of a December consumer isn’t the same at all as the July consumer, you don’t sell him the same material, nor for the same price. In recent years, each and every time fans compare debuts of strong albums, claims are made arguing the album issued before Q4 would have sold more if released during the Christmas rush.
That’s obviously wrong. First week sales are mostly fueled by fans, the number of fans of an artist is consistent all year long. The Christmas market is also way more competitive so an album that manages to be hyped in March may miss to impact the main audience in November when playlists of radios are full of new hits from major stars plus Christmas songs. The Christmas market can be so profitable when it works that a label can pay the big money to promote on the largest channels the album, which is why the X Factor-like TV shows always happened in the run for Christmas. At that time of the year, tons of albums are bought as presents, there the music has a secondary role. You decide which album you offer on the back of the image you have of it. Music have always been offered between persons from a different generation, e.g. from a kid to his mom or from a mom to his son. You don’t buy music for your sister when you are an adult. That means you don’t really know what’s popular for the persons you will buy an album for, you barely try as per what is being said. You buy the last Michael Bublé album to your mom because you suppose she will like him, while she buys you the last album from teen stars that she knows nothing of in reality.
All those elements plus many others bring the conclusion that the music market used to be entirely different during Q4 and during the rest of the year. Comparing sales as well as chart runs of a record issued in November with one that came out in February is touchy to say the list.
Streaming has no price, it can’t be offered as a one-shot present, it works by subscription. Revenues are linear all year long with monthly active users increasing steadily over time. Ed Sheeran‘s Divide broke all streaming records in early March, quickly topped by Drake, itself cracked in the US as early as in April by Kendrick Lamar. Big streams can be achieved anytime, there is no need to wait for December.
It’s quite the opposite, with streams being so linear all year long, the target of labels becomes to spread out fairly their big releases over the full year, avoiding strong competitions.
In fact, while consumers were able to buy two big albums at once in the past, they won’t be able to stream on a loop distinct sets. Each stream of one record comes at the expense of someone else. You won’t see Kendrick Lamar and Drake release an album the same day anytime soon, unlike what happened in hyped confrontations from the past like the history-making clash between Kanye West and 50 Cent. While there is space for everyone, for optimization purpose majors will need to be cautious in order to avoid artists with similar target audiences to front each other. They need to feed streamers all year long, to get a new big album out exactly when the previous one appealing to the same public starts to feel old.
This change will led them to announce records very late. Once again, it is no coincidence if we are getting more and more surprise releases. The rapper Future has already issued several albums that way, all of them on periods of weak competition. Indeed, 5 out of his 6 LPs released during the last 2 years came out when there was no Rap / R&B album inside the Top 3 of the Billboard 200. The only exception came out with What a Time to Be Alive which faced The Weeknd, but this was a collaboration effort with Drake which granted the album to get the edge. He is no exception, Eminem released a couple of days ago his new lead single featuring Beyoncé, herself the first major act that tried, and succeeded, the surprise release. Eminem‘s new album, Revival, still has no release date a mere 6 weeks before Christmas. This situation was absolutely impossible during the physicals era. Expect the release schedule to become more spread over the entire calendar in the future but also to become more and more fluctuant.