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Will Summer Album Releases Be Coronavirus' Next Victim?

Lady Gaga
Courtesy Photo

Lady Gaga

While coronavirus-related restrictions prevent some artists from finishing projects at all, others are choosing to postpone their releases, saying, “The music can wait.”

Last Wednesday, CNCO delivered some sad news to fans: Due to coronavirus-related restrictions, the Latin pop band hasn’t been able to record new music, so its upcoming album will be delayed.

The following night, Alicia Keys tweeted that her self-titled album — then expected in mere hours — would be postponed until further notice, echoing similar social media posts from artists like Kehlani, who said she "HAD a release date" for her next album before the pandemic foiled her plans, and Cardi B, who told a fan that her next single is "delay [sic] due to the virus." Now, Lady Gaga is postponing her hotly-anticipated Chromatica, which was originally set for April 10.

The coronavirus outbreak has already decimated the summer touring circuit. But now — as travel restrictions and social distancing measures prevent artists from recording music, shooting music videos and promoting their work with tours and other live engagements — could the summer music release schedule be next?

Latin music manager Fabio Acosta says that several artists on his roster are physically unable to complete their projects amid the pandemic. That includes Argentinian singer and rapper CAZZU, who was forced to postpone shoots for two music videos central to her upcoming EP, Bonus Trap. This will likely delay the EP, Acosta says, which was originally set for an April 24 release through Universal Music Latino/Vibras Lab.

"With the restrictions on travel and having more than 10 people in the same place, it's impossible," Acosta says. "The music video is one of the most important tools to promote music and, right now, we can’t do it."

Another client, Colombian pop singer Manuel Medrano, recently canceled a planned trip to Mexico to record music for his upcoming album. "The music can wait, the people can wait," Acosta says. "But the safety of the team members ... that can't wait."

And in major cities including New York City and Los Angeles, local governments have ordered that all "non-essential" businesses close to prevent the spread of the virus — including recording studios. Lee Foster, the studio manager for New York’s iconic Electric Lady studios, is "working with clients to reschedule sessions for now," he says over email. "No one has the right answer to what's happening. The only response we can count on is that people's health must come first."

But even artists with completed or nearly-completed projects are choosing to postpone their releases. "All the mechanics of how you go out and promote those releases — how you would normally tour and do media and press and all that — it’s very hampered," explains veteran music publicist and manager Keith Hagan of SKH Music, who represents the likes of Toto, The Afghan Whigs and the late Kenny Rogers.

That’s especially a problem for brand-new or mid-tier artists, for whom “you have to go out there and do meetings and performances, and sell merch,” says Edith Bo, co-founder of management and publishing company Arketek, who works with emerging acts like King Elle Noir and Saint Bodhi. “It’s the digital age, so you can take advantage of that, but there’s still fans who want that type of personal engagement.” Plus, she notes, "To create a project takes us nine months to a year anyway," so what’s another few months?

Sources say the financial impact of holding a release is negligible, since it presumably means delaying money made, not losing it. Bo adds that labels may even save some cash in the short-term, since they won’t be booking flights and hotels for promo runs. "Postponing things for a month or two shouldn’t make that big of a difference," she says.

Holding a release also makes sense for artists looking to "event-ize" their album cycles. Gaga's postponement isn't too surprising: Not only was she planning an extravagant Chromatica Ball world tour, but she had also lined up a surprise Coachella performance to promote the album — before the festival was moved to October. It’s likely that touring also went hand-in-hand with plans for HAIM’s third studio album, Women in Music Pt. III, which the trio have now postponed until later this summer. Just before restrictions on mass gatherings would have made it impossible, HAIM embarked on a five-city novelty "Deli Tour" to celebrate the project (though they were forced to reschedule the Chicago date amid the pandemic).

Others worry their releases would simply get lost in the relentless coronavirus news shuffle. "It's not the ideal scenario to release an album," says Acosta, "because people right now are focusing on the news and what’s happening around the world." For Bo, "It depends on if you think your artist can truly have an impact at a time like this," she says. "The news is oversaturated, and people are scared. You don’t see people talking about how they’re obsessed with a song."

While it would seem logical for music streaming activity to increase during quarantines, so far, the opposite has happened. In the week ending March 19, total streams fell 3.5%, while physical sales fared even worse, with overall consumption units down 12.3%.

It doesn't help that Amazon is holding off on replenishing vinyl records among other items deemed "non-essential" until at least early April, in order to devote its warehouses to essential products necessary to withstand the coronavirus pandemic. Because of this, Hagan says he may even preemptively push back some clients' albums that are coming later this year. "I have to get my artists out of harm’s way for their own career,” he says, “if it’s going to impact what they could do eventually."

Artists and their teams are also grappling with a different question altogether: Is it insensitive to release music at a time of crisis? Madrid-based quartet HINDS moved their album The Prettiest Curse from April 3 to June 5, because "we think our focus should be on staying safe and staying home, not promoting a new album," they wrote on social media. J Balvin appeared to choke back tears in a video he posted to Instagram on March 12, asking his 36 million followers whether he should delay the release of his concept album Colores "in this gray moment." In the end, he released the project as planned on March 20. Says Acosta, who co-manages Balvin alongside SB Projects’ Scooter Braun: "Colores is the way we want to help [bring] relief [to] people around the world."

And for artists who depend less on touring, or who tend to connect primarily with their fan-bases online, there’s less of an incentive to delay releases. Crisis or not, last weekend saw new albums from the likes of The Weeknd ("Let the music heal us all during these dark times," he said in a press release about his album After Hours) and Childish Gambino, who initially unleashed surprise album 3.15.20 as a free, continuous online stream — an event of its own.

Some artists are even moving their releases earlier. During an Instagram Live video stream on March 23, Dua Lipa announced that her sophomore album Future Nostalgia would be released March 27, one week ahead of schedule. The decision came after the album leaked last weekend, but her manager, TaP Management co-founder Ben Mawson, tells Billboard that Lipa wanted to move the release "to give some light and positivity to everyone stuck at home."

Mawson adds that although Lipa had several television spots lined up to promote the album, including a now-cancelled Saturday Night Live appearance, "we've tried to be creative in ways to market and promote the album online" instead. For example, Lipa hosted a YouTube Music track-by-track listening party and Q&A livestream ahead of the album drop, and appeared on Miley Cyrus’ new Bright Minded daily talk show on Instagram Live, which is a COVID-19 quarantine-inspired project itself. And if everyone else is delaying their albums, that means less competition.

"Obviously the global situation may have an effect on Dua’s week one," Mawson says, "but long-term, this album is [still] going to be hugely successful."

Noga Erez, a singer-songwriter based in Tel-Aviv, is similarly doing her best to roll with the punches. After the music video shoot in Mexico City for her upcoming single "You So Done" was called off in light of coronavirus — and her back-up option, a shoot in Ukraine, was canceled due to travel restrictions — she’s brainstorming ways to shoot a meaningful video at home. "I'm so curious to see what people will do. It forces you to think simply; to think ‘no budget, no equipment, nothing,'" Erez says. "You need to really invest in the idea."

And still others are joining Balvin in the hope that their albums will bring a moment of joy to a time of fear and uncertainty. Lipa, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Pearl Jam, 5 Seconds of Summer, Vanessa Carlton and more all released new albums today.

"This is one of the few ways I have to reach other humans," Carlton says of hers, titled Love is an Art. "I think releasing this record will make me feel less alone, and maybe other people will feel the same way when they listen."

Adds her manager, Rishon Blumberg of Brick Wall Management: "We didn't consider moving the release, for even a moment. 'Love is an art' that needs to be practiced now more than ever."

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