Universal and Sony enter 2011

In the age of music downloads, it’s long seemed old fashioned to have release dates for singles that happen 6 or 7 weeks after you’ve first heard the song on the radio. The reason labels do it is simple – it allows them to build a ‘plot’ for a record, gathering coverage and building hype; as well as having what has traditionally been thought of as the best shot at getting a #1. In the last 18 months or so, however, there’s been more of a move to records being released a couple of weeks early and then gradually climbing the chart.

Now Universal and Sony Music have decided climbing the charts is a fine thing to happen and announced that in order to ‘combat piracy’ they will now be releasing singles as soon as they hit radio. Whether this is based on a first play which sometimes happens 12 – 15 weeks before release (see Cheryl’s The Flood on Moyles in September?) or when it is added to a major radio group’s playlist remains to be seen.

It’s a huge deal though and will cause the biggest shake-up for the charts in recent history, combating claims that chart shows are pointless and out of date. Watching a record climb will be exciting. But there will also be lots of other impacts. Does the super fan who buys the single the moment it comes out so they have a copy, then feel compelled to buy it again the week it most looks like it might go to #1 to help it on its way? Will more records completely disappear as not everything that enters at #80 climbs? In terms of promo, labels will probably still have a 6 week off ‘impact date’ but how will radio and television playlists deal with this? How will this impact the other labels not working immediate releases? And how will this impact the A&R cycle of deciding when to drop acts based on their performance? Will the media really be able to get their heads round a record building and building rather than immediately labeling something as a flop?

It’s an exciting time, both as someone who consumes music and loves the chart, and from the other side as someone who works in promo for Sony Music. The use of Jessie J as an illustration about how this can work though is on slightly shaky ground. To your average music consumer it does indeed look like Jessie J has had a magnificent success story and she has done amazingly well entering at #25, dipping to #34 and now sitting at #2 in the official charts. As much as I despise her, that’s totally awesome and shows how given a long promotional campaign you can really build a hit. In reality though, ‘Do It Like A Dude’ has been treated by the Radio 1 playlist team unlike anything I can think of. Normally a record might get added up front somewhere between 6 and 4 weeks up front. It’ll enter on the INDWT or C list depending on the artist (some as big as Britney etc can go straight onto the B). Then depending on how the record is doing with the audience and how much it’s gaining momentum the track will gradually grow. In week of release however, Radio 1 have continually dropped records on that week’s playlist if they aren’t having much of a chart performance. It’s happened time and time again and is rubbish for the bands because it really doesn’t help them gather any momentum but good for the station because it keeps their music fresh. It does show a lack of faith in a record though – I think if you decide you’re supporting a new artist, then support them. Don’t drop them at the first sign of trouble. Give it a chance.

With Jessie J though, the 2nd week dip to #34 should have been enough to bounce it straight off the Radio 1 playlist. However there was no doubt that she was going to win the Sound of 2011 poll, so the record was given extraordinary treatment by Radio 1 as they pushed it further and further up the playlist to where it now sits on the A list, has maximum rotation and of course climbs the chart. Find me another record they’ve treated this well… With this new release method, it’s something they’re going to have to do more and more.

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