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New Music Fridays: Two Years On, How Has Music Changed?

10/07/2017 12:07
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On this date two years ago, more than 45 music markets aligned to release their music on Friday. The arguments for making the change were numerous and had been debated for a long time within the industry, but it was still a huge undertaking.

When the initiative was announced, the head of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) Frances Moore wrote: 'Music fans live in the digital world of today... They want music when it's available on the internet - not when it's ready to be released in their country... Their love for new music doesn't recognise national borders'.

I couldn't agree more. But, two years on, with technologies advancing at a rapid rate, what impact has it had on the way the industry makes music available, and the way the fans listen to it?

New Music Fridays, officially titled but rarely referred to as Global Release Day, had some initial advantages. Last year, piracy saw an 18% decrease. What's more, since the implementation of Global Release Day, music consumption has risen - by 3.5% in 2015 and 1.5% in 2016. Encouragingly, this is the first time that the industry had experienced growth since the decline of the CD.

Admittedly, it's hard to know how much of these improvements can be attributed to the introduction of New Music Fridays, but the fact that listeners no longer have to wait longer than other parts of the world to hear new music must surely have played a significant part.

New Music Fridays have allowed the industry (and 7digital, as a global music tech company) to operationally mobilise around one day in the week, leading to a more focused internal process around playlisting, editorial, features and release tracking.

However, we know it has also put an immense amount of pressure on labels and marketers to execute global campaigns with identical impact moments. To help break through the noise, high profile artists such as Beyoncé, Drake and Frank Ocean have dropped albums out of the blue - often on alternate days in the week - to help create a fresh kind of buzz.

Whilst these releases are exciting for fans, it requires a very agile approach from everyone involved to ensure we can mobilise at very short notice. Additionally, with labels deciding release dates late in the day out of fear their content will get leaked, they end up delivering with minimal lead times, resulting in a Thursday rush to make sure content is made available on time.

There will always be exceptions to the rule but the industry risks making things chaotic internally, and unpredictable for consumers, if it happens too often!

Whether it's as a result of New Music Fridays, or a more general response to the way music consumption has changed in the digital era, the industry is getting more sophisticated about how to manage single and album releases. These tactics can work well, and we've seen No. 1 and No. 2 chart success through artists bundling music in with merchandise and going outside the major platforms to sell direct to their fans in stores that we have built for clients.

Do consumers associate new music with Fridays now? I'm not sure they do. For some people, it creates a sense of occasion (with communities sharing the experience across social networks) and can increase consumer demand, but it arguably doesn't have mainstream awareness. And just as the charts were built for an era of physical packaging and have struggled to remain relevant, rigid release dates may never chime with consumers as they once did.

However, being part of a global and fragmented industry coming together in such a way is quite something and we should see as a positive sign that - where there's a will - we can collaborate and create change in other areas of the industry too. There are other challenges we can, and should, turn our attention towards as this becomes a genuine digital music industry.

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