New Albums Need to Remain a Focus Through COVID-19 Outbreak

Willie Nelson/Ashley McBryde/Jesse/Daniel

Cancellations and shutdowns due to COVID-19 have decimated the music industry in the live context, putting careers on hold, side players and personnel out of work, threatened the future of venues, festivals, and promoters, with no clear of timeline of when everything will return to normalcy.

But amid all the chaos, it’s easy to overlook the other important aspect to the careers and revenue streams of musicians, which is the release of new albums. It might be live concerts where they make the most money in the streaming economy, but not if there aren’t any shows to play. The lack of live performances places an even greater importance on a new album release to help fortify or move forward the career of an important musician.

It’s hard enough to get the world to pay attention to your record when so many of them are being released every week. Now artists are having to compete with Coronavirus news for the world’s attention, along with the nightly parade of live streaming concerts many artists are offering to help supplement income due to touring losses.

An album release is the moment we often see the most sizable bump in name recognition and status for musicians. A marquee album release is really what helps put performers on the radar of fans so they can make sure to catch them the next time they tour through town. These releases also often coincide with live appearances, either on tour, at festivals, or on TV or at radio stations that are now not an option due to COVID-19.

Sony Legacy recently announced they’re postponing the release of the new Willie Nelson album First Rose of Spring from April 24th to July 3rd. Some other artists with late March or April releases have also pushed back their timelines. Though this might be smart for some artists and their strategies, if everyone starts moving their album releases to the summer and fall, it could result in overcrowded release days where individual artists find it difficult to find the critical attention for their project. Similar concerns have been raised with all the reschduling of tours and festivals to the fall.

“Obviously, [Coronavirus] is going to have an effect on releases, whether they come out in the next couple of months, or they get released in the fall,” David Macias of Thirty Tigers tells Saving Country Music. “As far as our acts go, we’ll let them make the call, and every situation is a little different. But in those discussions, certain patterns are becoming apparent. First of all, it’s going to be hard for all acts just to put their tours on hold and all tour in the fall (assuming that is even a thing by then). It will create a huge glut, and we’re already seeing that. I’ve spoken to managers and agents who are experiencing sixth and seventh holds for fall dates. The idea that you can just put on a sustaining tour in the fall may be a fallacy, especially if you’re not an established act that can guarantee a sell out.”

Ashley McBryde has a much-anticipated album coming out called Never Will on April 3rd. As an important woman in mainstream country with a single climbing the charts in “One Night Standards,” this release could be critical for the continued success of her career.

“I just received a text before I got on the line with you that so far we’re sticking with the April 3 release date, but most of our stuff all the way to mid April is going to be rescheduled,” McBryde told Taste of Country recently. “We had some really cool shows lined up in New York and L.A. and there was some TV stuff. I’m not sure if that’s still going to happen, but we’re just going to have to adjust in real time.”

An artists Saving Country Music has been touting over the last couple of years to break out is Jesse Daniel. His new record Rollin’ On is being released this upcoming Friday (March 27th).

“I believe that my purpose here on earth is to help people through music and I’ve put everything I have (literally and figuratively) into this,” Jesse Daniel said recently. “In this difficult time your support means more than ever … I think we all need music more than ever right now.”

After the first full week of the Coronavirus lock down, sales, downloads, and streams of music are not up like some predicted, they’re actually down significantly across the board according to Alpha Data. Streams dropped 7.6 percent, digital song sales dropped 10.7 percent, digital album sales dropped dropped 12.4 percent, and physical sales dropped a whopping 27.6 percent last week. Such weekly across-the-board drops are rarely ever seen during the year aside from the week after Christmas. Surprisingly, recorded music is becoming one of the casualties of the Coronavirus.

What is causing the sales and streaming slump? Obviously fans can’t get to their local record store to purchase titles, though some select stores are now offering delivery and curbside pickup that patrons should try to take advantage of if they can. Amazon has also now put delivering music and other media as a low priority as they work to facilitate the delivery of more essential supplies. And without many people commuting to work, there’s less time to stream your favorite music, while much of the at-home time is being spent consuming video media, including the wide array of artists streaming live sessions on social media and through ticketed online platforms.

Though these online streams are a great way to directly put revenue in the pockets of touring musicians stuck at home and are an important stop gap during the cessation of touring, music fans should also look at the bigger, more holistic picture, and make sure they’re not ignoring new releases or artists who don’t have the ability to do live streams. Album sales and streaming numbers are an important measure of how artists are being received that is utilized by the greater music industry. Even if and when you purchase physical albums from artists, streaming the album still ensures they rack up important metadata that may help them get into important playlists and garner more attention.

Meanwhile, pushing back album releases until an undetermined time in the future when the Coronavirus won’t be an issue seems tenuous at best, and could come with unintended consequences.

“Not that any act should do anything damaging to their career for this consideration, but I worry a lot about independent record retail if they don’t have albums to see through whatever means they are servicing their customers,” says David Macias. “If everyone pushes back [their releases], it will be one more contributing factor as to whether [record stores] survive or not. There’s no right or wrong answer to any of this, or if there is, it’s not apparent now. We’re just going to work with our acts and make the best choices on a one by one basis, but I don’t take it as an article of faith that pushing back releases is the best course of action for anyone.”

There are many ways fans are trying to step up to help their favorite performers in this time of crisis. But the album release cycle remains a critical component to the career success of a musician, and now more than ever, music fans should make sure to support their favorite artists and their favorite releases, and as always, continue to be open-minded about discovering something new in a time when artists without established fan bases may not be able garner a crowd online for a virtual concert.

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Country & Roots Album Releases for March 27th:

David Alan Bell – Self-Titled EP – March 27th

Brian Fallon – Local Honey – March 27th

Jessi Alexander – Decatur County Red – March 27th

James Robert Webb – Self-Titled – March 27th

Jim Lauderdale – When Carolina Comes Home Again – March 27th

The Tender Things – How You Make a Fool – March 27th

Lukas Nelson – Naked Garden (alt. cuts) – March 27th

Lilly Hiatt – Walking Proof – March 27th

Sarah Peacock – Burn The Witch – March 27th

George St. Clair – Do You Feel Strange? – March 27th

Saints Eleven – This Town – March 27th

Rye Davis – Cut To Tape – March 27th

The Brother Band – Vol. 1 – March 27th

Laurie Lewis – and Laurie Lewis (duets album) – March 27th

The Comancheros – Too Old To Die Young Now – March 27th