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Music industry moves to New Music Fridays to fight piracy

07/10/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 07/09/2016 05:59 EDT
For a major shakeup in the way records are sold across North America, the demise of New Music Tuesdays went down rather quietly this week.

A bit too quietly for Brooklyn audiophile Tom Whidden, who, like many music fans, was unaware of the change while browsing LPs at Rough Trade NYC.

"Wait-wait-wait. Does this mean the new Tame Impala album isn't coming out this Tuesday?" he asked, thumbing through his iPhone calendar for confirmation.

"Yeah, it's a Friday! Son of a bitch! I pre-ordered it like two months ago. I thought I was getting it this coming Tuesday."

Whidden's disappointment is something the music industry has been scrambling in recent months to prevent.

Tuesdays were long considered banner sales days for music retailers in the U.S. and Canada, where habitual record shoppers have long regarded New Music Tuesdays as a mid-week come-on to browse shops for new titles.

Not anymore.

For industry types, the switch to Fridays for releasing new albums is making lots of noise, not all of it positive.

Starting July 17, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, the global organization representing the recording industry, has dictated that the new reality worldwide will be New Music Fridays.

Blame the rise of digital music and illegal downloading, says the IFPI.

A patchwork approach to release dates — France and the U.K. sell new records on Mondays, Australia and Germany embrace Fridays, and North America prefers Tuesdays — no longer makes sense, said Alex Jacob, a spokesperson for the IFPI.

He allows this may not have mattered much in the pre-digital age. "But in a world where a Daft Punk album could be available in Australia on Friday but not in Canada until Tuesday, you've got people in Australia tweeting their love for it and you're sitting there, frustrated that can't get it," Jacob said from London.

Jacob reasons that a universal release date "can get rid of that frustration so people will go to legal sources to buy new music."

Music Canada is on board with the plan, with president and CEO Graham Henderson saying the move "maximizes the opportunity [for artists] to engage with their fans around the world."

From 2004 to 2009, some 30 billion songs were illegally downloaded, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

The RIAA cites another study that pegs the annual revenue losses to the U.S. economy at $12.5 billion, on top of more than 70,000 lost jobs and $2 billion in lost wages to American workers.

Jacob said the decision came after industry meetings and polls across seven world markets last summer, but he expects to hear some initial grumbling.

"There's a commercial education job to do as we make consumers aware that Fridays are the new day for music," he said.

Siding with the concept of a global release day isn't the same as siding with Fridays, however.

Dennis Manzanedo, who makes purchase orders for Rough Trade NYC, depended for years on Tuesdays to prepare for bulk business on the weekend.

"It's about having ample stock," he said. "If a title is selling quicker than anticipated on Tuesday or Wednesday, I still have a couple days to re-up and have it here for Friday for the weekend," he said.

Otherwise, he risks going into a debut weekend without a certain LP that sold out.

Friday is 'a weird day'

Toronto's Paper Bag Records, the label representing Canadian artists such as Tim Hecker, Stars and Cuff the Duke, has reservations regarding press coverage.

"I thought Friday was just a weird day," said label manager Dina Young. 

"We never put out press releases on Fridays, I think because we get less clickthroughs. And Fridays, I don't think, have traditionally been a great day to have a track premier."

Among those opposing the change most strongly is Martin Mills, founder and chairman of Beggars Group, the U.K.'s largest independent record label.

In an interview with the Guardian, Mills warned the global Friday release date will "throw away one of the trading week's two peaks" and "also lead to a market in which the mainstream dominates, and the niche, which can be tomorrow's mainstream, is further marginalized."

The IFPI concedes it will take time for music fans to adjust.

Sean Ludwig only noticed the change when he loaded up his digital New Music Tuesdays playlist on Spotify, only to find the music-streaming service's latest offerings unchanged from seven days earlier.

"I'm like, 'What?' I'm just bewildered," the 29-year-old communications rep said.

Switch is 'delusional'

Mike Kurtz, who founded the annual Record Store Day that celebrates independent music shops, called the IFPI's switch to Fridays "delusional."

Whereas Tuesdays were relatively innocuous media days, he points out New Music Fridays will be competing with sporting events, movie premiers and concerts.

"The whole ecosystem set up for Tuesdays allowed artists to do events, radio, TV appearances, all week long, and people would respond to that and then go to the store or online to buy," Kurtz said. "All that goes away."

As much as he opposes the move to Fridays, Kurtz wants to the new model to work out.

Friday releases have proven successful for some big-name artists. Drake and Beyonce both dropped surprise digital-only albums on Fridays in the last two years.

Another argument for Friday could be that it's payday, or the day afterward, for most people, so they have that extra bit of spending money.

As a consumer, Ludwig's objections to the change have little to do with business. New Music Fridays just doesn't have the same ring to it.

"Tuesdays are usually not a great day, but at least you had great new music to look forward to," he said. "Now you don't even have that."

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