Mere days after stuffing myself filled with turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, etc. on Thanksgiving, I find myself sitting in my room, compiling a list of albums to put atop my year end list. I begin by listing every album from the current year that I have listened to, rating each one, and eliminating the bad ones until I’m left with between 25 and 50 albums. Suddenly, however, I realize something: there are albums missing. A couple of bands that I enjoy have yet to release albums. With their arrival not until the very end of December, their release date will be well after reconsideration time is over. This was my predicament in 2013, while anxiously awaiting an album from a band I enjoy quite a bit: After The Burial. Released on the 17th of December, it was after my year-end list had been finalized, and when many people’s lists were already published in various media outlets. It was disappointing, because the album likely would have ended up on my list had I heard it beforehand.
It’s been happening since I began writing for this website. It seems that every year a band releases an album late in the year, either in late November or even in the middle of December, as opposed to waiting until the following year. While this is something that is largely out of their hands due to their label, there’s still the question as to why they do this, and why their label would even consider this at all. The end of the year is supposed to be a time when people are wrapping things up in the journalism world. Reviews slow down, lists pile up, and many outlets, including our site, make posts discussing the best and worst of the year. However, with albums released later in the year, it’s extremely hard to warrant coverage during all the holiday chaos, especially considering that some sites slow down during Christmastime so the staff can spend time with their loved ones.
New music serves us two purposes as fans and listeners. First and foremost, it gives us the entire story about what the band has been working on, in excruciating detail. Every note, every measure, every lyric (and sometimes every absence of lyrics) is indicative of where the band currently stands. It serves as our musical compass, so to speak. New music helps you decide between two choices: should I pursue this band further, or have I grown weary of their evolution or lack thereof? Additionally, new music also makes us decide whether or not to support the bands by seeing them on tour, buying merchandise, and so on. All that considered, it’s clear why we need time for the music to gel with us. There have been countless cases where music takes longer than expected to connect with me on a personal level, or even simply on a musical level. This adjustment period becomes harder to accomplish towards the end of the year, at least personally. Reasons include lack of time because I’m with family, lack of funds because I’ve spent money buying friends and family holiday gifts, and even simply because work tends to pick up around the holidays (since I’m employed in the service industry). There are millions of listeners out there who share at least one of these issues with me, and it makes listening to and enjoying music rather difficult. Additionally, it can begin to feel like a chore to have to stop in the middle of the holiday whirlwind to listen to a new record, even if it’s only 30 minutes in length.
Beyond the music, it’s simply a time-related issue. While most bands capitalize on at least a decent duration of the year (around 3 months minimum), bands that release albums in December are doing themselves a disservice by waiting. Once again, it could be due to labels or management, or sometimes even factors out of their control such as copyright/contract issues that stall the release of new recordings. However, bands that release albums in, say, May, benefit in three ways: 1) their music is out for a long enough duration so that everyone has a chance to hear it at some point, 2) it gets released during a less hectic time of year, primarily for students who will be out of school in the coming months, and 3) they can use the first half of the year to promote and sell their new record. While it can be argued that all these factors are things that can be achieved later in the year, it’s not nearly as effective, and at a time when album sales mean more than ever for bands big and small, it’s important to catch your audience at the most opportune time.
While, in regards to the financial considerations, one might bring up gift-giving as a solution, it doesn’t resolve many of the more salient issues. While it’s true that we can buy each other albums, you and your friends and vice versa for example, it all comes back around to being able to enjoy the music once it arrives. Personally, I spend my holiday with my family and even if I received a new album from them, I’d probably only get in one or two listens late at night. It’s not normally how I listen to music, nor how others who write for this site listen. I have to have the album for a decent period of time to make sure it has a lasting effect on me. This period allows me to make the decisions I need regarding our earlier question: is this band still relevant to me? Am I engaged with their current direction or is it time to move on?
Simply put, artists don’t get the full benefit from their music by releasing it so late in the year. You’d be far better off waiting until the following year to drop your latest release, particularly if you’re a young, independent band not influenced by any sort of deadline other than the one you set. Though it is far easier if you’re independent, it’s far more important if you’re affiliated with a label. Bands get dropped all the time over poor chart positions and poor album sales, and you’re digging your own grave by waiting so long to let the fans hear some new music. You should by no means take away the quality of your music by rushing to record, mix, and master your new music. However, you should be aware of some of the common pitfalls that come along with releasing an album at the end of a calendar year, particularly during December. This suggestion is just that: a suggestion. It does, however, address core issues with how people consume music and how they digest it. It’s worth noting that many fans describe this sensation: the albums which grab instantly are rare and far apart. Most of them take time to grow on us and late-year releases just don’t give time for that.