If it seems to you that a lot of important rock-and-roll albums are coming out this month—well, no, you’re not wrong about that. What this month’s release schedule lacks in overall SoundScan-measured sales impact, it more than makes up for in music-geek esteem: the National, Broken Social Scene, LCD Soundsystem, the New Pornographers, and the Hold Steady are all familiar entities to those who peruse critics’ year-end “best of” ballots. That all of these bands have new albums coming out this month, amid a general atmosphere of falling record sales, seems odd and counterproductive since whatever small, legal-record-buying audience that still exists could only have its attention split by all the worthy material on offer.
So how did this happen? Like movie studios jockeying for prime summer release dates, don’t record labels—especially the smaller ones whose overall business plan depends on maximizing key releases—have an interest in spacing out these entry dates to market? The answer is yes, though with a lot of caveats. Should a band with a hot new album in its hands be planning to tour throughout the summer festival circuit, they may want (or need) their album to have already been released before that same stretch of tour dates begins. And—lest labels artificially delay putting out a band’s new record until such time as there’s no competition—it’s actually written into some contracts that the label in question has to release a new album within a certain time span of its delivery from the artists. So, to some degree, this is all beyond indie labels’ control. “In general, the consensus is still ‘f--k, we’re coming out on the day of other big records,’ ” says Nils Bernstein, the head publicist at the New York-based Matador records, home to the New Pornographers (whose excellent new album, Together, is out this week).
And yet, Bernstein says that some in the industry wonder—or at least hope—that a packed release schedule may have the unintended consequence of doing the impossible: bringing consumers back into record stores through the sheer impact of having so much music talked about at once. “If you’re into indie music, it’s juicy right now. You’re reading about music, listening to radio. You’re more immersed. And there is an argument that sometimes retail will buy more [copies] if it’s a ‘hot’ release date because instead of the releases competing, it brings more people into stores—digital or otherwise,” Bernstein says. But he himself isn’t convinced. “I would say that, right now, this reasoning is a little bit like a passive way to reassure people and not worrying about meddling with the schedule,” he added. “It has more to do with the summer being a bad time to release a record.”