So often, an artist announces a new album and even after months of waiting, it never sees the light of day. At other times, the artist even reveals a specific release date only for it to be pushed back later, much to the dismay of fans.
So what happened? Did the artist not finish the album in time before the turn-in cut off date? Did the label decide to drop the budget? Did the samples not get cleared? Did the producers not get paid? Does the label simply not care about the artist anymore? In the case of most medium to high selling artists, it’s because the label just couldn’t find an appropriate date where there is minimal competition from other releases on the same day. Or they did manage to secure one, but another album with approximately the same sales projection value was announced a few days later and now they have to re-think the date.
You see, no one wants to sell a respectable amount of albums in the first week but still not be able to crack top 5 on the charts. Labels hate it and artists find it embarrassing (how will they comfortably post screenshots of the Billboard charts on their Instagram otherwise?). The only exception is the section of musicians who don’t really care what their album will do and just want the music out for the fans. Therefore, when executives from a label get together and develop a strategy for one of their artists high up in the roster, the first thing they look at is how many other albums of approximately similar demand are due to hit stores on the same day. There are sometimes employees at the office who have just one main job: find out who is releasing what during a specific calendar period.
Let’s take last week as an example: Country superstar Brett Eldredge must have been really content with his release date of August 4th for his latest self-titled album. After all, there are no major releases taking place from any genre and no surprise albums are supposed to drop out of nowhere. Yup, he has the number 1 spot on Billboard 200 sealed. Right? But nope, there is Kendrick Lamar who has been selling steadily for several weeks due to consistent demand for his artistry. So what happens? K.Dot edges Brett for the number 1 spot by merely 2,000 copies.
Contrary to popular perception, experts at the label generally have a very good idea about the demand for a particular album weeks before its release. They already know the approximate amount of copies an album is going to move in the first week much before it becomes available in stores. You might remember the whole fiasco with French Montana’s MC4 album last year. French initially claimed that the album was pushed back at the last minute due to some sample clearance issues but the then Epic Records boss L.A. Reid later admitted that it was done due to lack of buzz. A.k.a. they were not happy with the pre-release projections of the album. So when Brett Eldredge’s label Atlantic Nashville picked August 4th as the release date during the strategy stage, they already knew the range of numbers the album would do in the first week. And they were aware that this particular demand would be enough to top the charts that week. It just didn’t go as planned as the Compton superstar decided to ruin the party.
“Yes when we sit down at the round table, one of the main discussions is about finding a date when there is no competition to our artist for a spot at top of the charts. It’s important to us, it just looks good,” an executive working in Universal Music who wishes to remain anonymous tells us.
So why do artists / management / labels go so hard over it? It’s simple: it changes the perception of the listener. It looks great on paper. It is easier to market the artist to radio stations. It is smooth sailing pitching him/her for a late night TV appearance. It looks fancy in press releases (“LOGIC TOPS BILLBOARD 200 WITH NEW DEF JAM SET EVERYBODY”). It’s important to note that this strategy works even better with Pop and Hip-Hop releases. These genres have young fans who are both easily impressionable and gullible. When they see how well their favorite artist sold and performed on the charts, they will champion you and spread the word like fire. On the other hand, genres like Country tend to have a fanbase which is older and have still not entirely embraced platforms like streaming services.
This is also why Hip-Hop fans who are generally young and tech savvy are so obsessed with first week sales. They want to know because they care to know the demand. They are interested in knowing where their favorite artist is placed on the pyramid.
When it comes to critically acclaimed or polarizing artists, there is one more important factor they keep in mind when picking album release dates: GRAMMY deadlines. Let’s take this year as an example. September 30th is the deadline for the GRAMMYs which means any album or song released after that day won’t be eligible to be included in any category of the 2018 GRAMMY nominations. Some artists and their labels accordingly pick a date to release their work. Because no-one wants to release an album on Friday, October 6, 2017 and compete at the GRAMMY award ceremony in February 2019. So with the deadline for this year being just a month and a half away, expect at least one big Hip-Hop artist to unleash an album before that. My personal guess is Nicki Minaj or Eminem.
– By Navjosh