Thinking about the music industry’s continued commitment to release dates got me thinking about the Royal Tenenbaums. You remember the scene where Eli Cash is on a show very similar to Charlie Rose and he says, “Wildcat…was written in a kind of obsolete vernacular”? I think release dates are part of the music industry’s obsolete vernacular. I’m guessing not many on the label side would admit it publicly, but they will eventually. Release dates just don’t matter to anyone anymore. O.K. I lied. They do. Sort of.
I guess that it, too, is part of a “kind of obsolete vernacular,” as if to say, not quite yet. But when the new Yeah Yeah Yeah’s album, It’s Blitz, leaked earlier this week, I couldn’t help but smile. Here’s an album that won’t street until April, yet it’s everywhere you turn around online. This wasn’t like the U2 leak, where the labels did due diligence for a while until they realized the game of whack-a-mole was going to kill them. This leaked everywhere!
Blogs like Stereogum jumped right on the case. See, editorial has adapted. They’ve had no choice. Part of what I learned as a freelancer was that it wasn’t good enough to wait around to request an album to pitch it. Leak blogs were simply too fast. If you’re not on top of them, you’re left out in the cold. We had to change the way we did things to meet the changing habits of the most intense music consumers. The problem is that the industry hasn’t caught up yet.
If everyone agrees that leaks are inevitable, then why is anyone pretending they’re not. Even Pitchfork holds fast to release dates, which just seems absurd. We have to change the rules that print media set for us!
The real difficulty in reacting when an album leaks is the continued reliance on CD sales. If it weren’t for CDs, online outlets could flip a switch and make mp3s available. That would be easy, right? It would, but it would offend brick and mortar shops, which are still the industry’s bread and butter, immensely. That would be a bad thing. The last thing labels want to do is give retailers, especially big box stores, any excuse to pare back their music inventory further.
But something has to change, and overnighting shipments of product to those big box stores isn’t going to fix the problem.
So what’s the best solution? I think it’s a matter of reaching out to online outlets the moment an album leaks. Just pick a few to start and set up interviews, performances, whatever you can do to get out in front of the publicity again. Give yourself a chance to salvage some brand awareness. If you don’t, editorial will have a field day with your release and all your planning will be for naught. It’s hard enough in this business as it is. Why make it harder?