Why labels and artists should still release new music during the coronavirus crisis

Dua Lipa

To release or not to release, that is the question.

As the coronavirus lockdown enters its third week (or is it fourth? I’m losing track), mental horizons broaden but the release schedule suddenly looks like the social engagements diary: depressingly empty.

So what to do with all those quiet nights in? It’s entirely understandable that, in these unprecedented times, record companies decide this might not be the best time to unleash that new project on a locked-down Great British public. Particularly, with every record shop in Britain closed to the public, if physical sales were an important part of the plan. And a special investigation in the new issue of Music Week, available in physical and digital editions now, shows that many labels are pushing things back in an attempt to avoid losing out.

But in many ways, despite the terrible circumstances, right now could be a pretty good time to release a new record. You have a captive audience, many of whom have almost unlimited time on their hands. Why would you not want to give them music options to compete with binge-watching box sets and the PS4?

In these bizarre times, every day is like National Album Day

Music Week

These days, people often talk about the decline of the album, with streaming playlists and dwindling attention spans eating into the time given to full bodies of work. But if listening habits in the Sutherland household are anything to go by, in these bizarre times, every day is like National Album Day. But less retro.

True, I spent last Friday's deadline day burning through the Fountains Of Wayne back catalogue in honour of the late, great Adam Schlesinger, who tragically died of coronavirus complications last week.

But elsewhere, Dua Lipa’s pop masterpiece Future Nostalgia (pictured) has soundtracked home workouts; Kelsea Ballerini’s brilliant Kelsea has been prompting kitchen singalongs; Hayley Williams’ Petals For Armor EP has eased cabin fever; and Sorry’s superlative indie-rock debut 925 has become an essential companion for many a government-sanctioned walk around the park. All new releases, all now nailed on to be listened to all year round.

Dua Lipa's team's decision to move the release forward was a bold one and, while she just missed out on the No.1 spot on Friday to 5 Seconds Of Summer, you suspect it will pay off in the medium to long term. More pertinently, if fresh options like those dry up, will people keep up the listening habit (and their streaming subscriptions)? Or will Netflix be the beneficiary?

Audio streaming is already looking sluggish during the lockdown. So, while some labels and artists might think they can’t afford to release their albums right now, the real question might soon be, can they afford not to?

* For more on the release schedule during the pandemic, see the new issue of Music Week, available now. To make sure you can access Music Week wherever you are, subscribe to our digital issue by clicking here.

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