As the covid-19 pandemic began to impede business around the world, the music industry first took a hit with the cancellation of music festivals and tours. Now, the virus is impacting the release calendar in the coming months.
Lady Gaga, The Pretenders, and Kehlani are among the growing number of artists delaying their album releases as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Artists that previously planned to debut new music in the spring and early summer have pushed dates back to the fall or indefinitely.
For artists that operate under the traditional release route, social distancing mandates have impeded their ability to roll out new records. An album release is often the start of a larger undertaking for a musician, kicking off months of late night appearances, press events, radio play, and touring. Promotional events allow musicians to distinguish themselves from the glut of new releases that come out everyday on streaming platforms. Unfortunately, these things often require some sort of physical element to them that are nearly impossible with stay-at-home orders.
Songwriter Antonio Dixon told Rolling Stone that the issue with releasing music now is not in the distribution of the album, but the promotion of the work. “You can’t go do The Tonight Show. You can’t go radio station to radio station. You can’t do any of that,” he said in the piece.
While some artists have chosen to postpone their albums, others have decided to move up their drops. For instance, despite not being able to go out and promote it, popstar Dua Lipa released her sophomore album Future Nostalgia on March 27 ahead of the original April 17 release date. Future Nostalgia made major waves on social media and garnered critical praise. Additionally, artists, like independent rappers, who get most of their engagement online through streaming and social media haven’t been hit by the crisis as hard.
Although albums are up in the air right now, that doesn’t mean that musicians are stopping musical releases altogether. Artists like The 1975, who are delaying their album releases, are still dropping new tracks.
As for the attention issue regarding new releases, there are still ways to capture the attention of listeners, especially during a time where everyone has too much attention to give. Take Drake, for example. The Canadian rapper dropped his new single “Tootsie Slide” on April 2, and it has already blown up massively on TikTok with the creation of an eponymous new dance challenge on the platform. As The Ringer’s Micha Peters smartly pointed out, the song is little more than a smart marketing move, capitalizing on people’s restlessness and giving them a song to dance to on the internet while they await the next time they can go outside.
Regardless of the quality or popularity of “Tootsie Slide,” there may be a lesson in viral distribution lying in Drake’s single: there are still ways to get people to talk about an artist’s music, but that may involve shifting release strategies in order to do so. With TikTok’s new short-term licensing partnerships with legacy record labels Universal Music Group, Sony Music, and Warner Music group, Drake may be the first of many mainstream artists during the current crisis to target new releases to the popular social media platform in the coming months.