Commodore Record Shop, August 1947 by William P. Gottlieb, via Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons
There are some very exciting albums coming out this Tuesday, June 30, serious album of the year contenders from Vince Staples and Miguel, as well as new releases from big names like Neil Young. And it’s likely the last Tuesday that will ever be like that, a worthy swan song. Tuesdays will soon cease to be the default weekly release date for albums in America.
After beginning talks on the topic in 2014, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry announced a few weeks ago that it had cleared the date with various labels, retailers and governing bodies, and it was official: the standard global release date will now fall on Friday, starting with next week’s new releases arriving on Friday, July 10. Forty-five countries, including most major music markets, will now make digital and physical product available as soon as the clock strikes 12 in its time zone. The IFPI has spoken.
Truth be told, America was always fairly alone in releasing music on Tuesdays. Canada had our back, naturally, but territories in Europe and Asia largely opted for other days, often Mondays or Wednesdays. The wobbly domino effect of varying release dates became more and more toxic in the digital era: Once a record is online in one place, it leaks everywhere, border patrol be damned. Sometimes albums come out in completely different weeks, which exacerbates the problem. Carly Rae Jepsen’s new album is due out in North America in August, but it’s already out in Japan, which means of course that anyone who’s eager to hear it has already stolen it. Perhaps getting everyone in line on Fridays will put an end to those slow, uselessly staggered international rollouts.
Although there are logistical reasons for why Tuesday used to work—in the physical media era, CDs and vinyl could be shipped over the weekend, stocked on Monday, and put up for sale the next day—it was for consumers simply an arbitrary tradition. And though there are reasons the music industry agreed that Friday was beneficial enough to break that tradition, it will also be, for most of us, another arbitrary time of the week to now gear our expectations toward.
We all enjoy the arbitrary, value neutral facts of our daily life that we’ve come to expect, and sometimes change is aggravating simply out of our most basic, lizard brain instincts to reject and fear. When someone moves your soda to a different shelf in the refrigerator, when the green hallway is repainted off-white, when your celebrity crush gets a stupid haircut: You’re not harmed or even inconvenienced, but you’re annoyed nonetheless. So those of us who have spent years—or decades—orienting our anticipation of new music around Tuesdays can and should take a moment to mourn the end of an era.
Hitting a record store after school on Tuesdays was a ritual for me growing up. Once I even persuaded my mom into taking me to a store to pick up Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy before school that Tuesday morning, even though I’d only be able to show off the CD at school and not listen to until I got home in the afternoon. Stores would hold special midnight sales on Monday nights if an especially anticipated album was due. There were legendary Tuesdays, like the one in September 1998 when Jay-Z, Outkast and A Tribe Called Quest all released albums, giving the next week’s Billboard 200 its first all-hip hop top three.
Granted, Fridays might make more sense for a lot of people. After all, they could have a fresh paycheck to spend on new music and a weekend to spend listening to their purchase. By the IFPI’s reasoning, more people will be in stores on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as on social media spreading the word about their purchases. But in high school and college and my years of nine-to-five office work, Tuesday was my midweek treat, something to get excited about when the weekend was still days away.
Of course, release dates have come to mean less and less. An album that’s due in stores on Tuesday can and will leak, or get a preview stream, at some point in the week or two beforehand. Independent artists and small labels are constantly throwing new songs, Eps, and mixtapes online whenever they feel like it. And many of the memorable “surprise” releases that have helped changed the industry in recent years retained their element of surprise in part by not appearing on a Tuesday morning. Beyoncé’s self-titled shocker and Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late both appeared late on Thursday nights. D’Angelo’s Black Messiah went online on a Sunday night. When Tyga’s long-delayed The Gold Album suddenly appeared on Spotify last week, the fact that it showed up in the middle of the day on Tuesday, alongside all the scheduled new releases, just felt like evidence that he was doing the whole surprise album thing wrong.
Billboard has traditionally tracked sales for a given week’s chart from Monday to Sunday, giving Tuesday releases six days to rack up sales. Recent releases that hit retail at unusual times, then, were sacrificing sales. Drake and Beyoncé had fervent fanbases to help give them hefty three-day totals. But recent albums by Troy Ave and Young Thug hit iTunes on Fridays, and the shorter sales weeks resulted in surprisingly low chart debuts that attracted so much negative publicity that it may have even hurt their second week sales as well. Fortunately, Billboard announced last week that it would change its tracking week to now run from Friday to Thursday, giving new releases a full seven days to tally up sales for the chart. It also means that if any stubbornly old-fashioned artist does decide they still want to release their album on a Tuesday, it’ll hurt their chart position. So there’s no going back now. Rest in peace, Tuesday.
Al Shipley is going to go put some 8-tracks in his Discman now, thank you very much. Follow him on Twitter.