Everything but the Song: The Friday release makes for a lazy music-listener

(Sara Heymann | Daily Trojan)

When you write about music, work in “the industry” or are just a general listener and want to stay up to date on what’s new, Fridays are dreadful. According to Wired, the Friday music release became standard around 2016. As the industry saw an increase in streaming, it needed to optimize the way it released music and curb piracy concerns brought on by staggered release dates. Similar to the reason movies come out on Fridays, fans are also typically more willing to buy music on the weekends. 

The new normal that is the Friday release should be a blessing in disguise for anyone working in a music-related job, right? Your brain works on a schedule. For a writer, Fridays bring opportunities to write reviews, think pieces or listicles or get some funny tweets out. 

For industry professionals — college street team workers, marketing executives, A&Rs, etc. — it’s the moment they’ve been waiting for. One’s label or artist’s project is out and though a successful single or album is more than just its reception at the release, it’s how it sustains and grows after it: Half of the battle is done once the music is published. 

As someone who has worked in both capacities, in the industry and as a writer, I’ve always hated the Friday release. In an early music-related gig, I’d scoff at having to write mundane news articles about City Girls’ latest single or whatever random joint-album (see: “MihTy”) the industry conceived of that week. There was rarely any thrill associated with the cyclical nature of waiting for new-music Fridays.  

Yes, I’d get a rush for highly-anticipated albums such as Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter V” as I worked on an overarching news piece about the years of hype leading up to the project, but for most other releases, engaging with them felt formulaic. Like cleaning the bathroom, I’d come to work every Friday with my Fabulouso and scrubbing brush, ready to get down and dirty writing about whatever music dropped that day. 

Today, as a self-proclaimed music-writer and hip-hop lover, I’m still tired. At some point in many of my conversations with friends on the final day of the work week, I’m asked: “Have you listened to the new *insert artist name who dropped on Friday*?” The answer varies. 

I remember attempting to do an entire weave on myself in my junior year and waiting to persevere through the hardest part  — sewing in my tracks  —  until Meek Mill’s “Championships” dropped. Consequently, it was an amazing feat on my part, my hair turned out perfect and the album is one I still listen to now when overcoming challenging tasks (like doing sprints outside, instead of on the treadmill during the quarantine). 

Yet, over the past few years, my answer to the question has shifted from the affirmative to outright disregarding what’s just dropped. I’ve grown tired of being “in the know” or listening to music as soon as it’s out. If you asked me today about newer releases, you’d learn I haven’t listened to any of my usual pickings. DaBaby’s album is foreign to me, I’ve only listened to three or four tracks from Fiona Apple’s new project and my ears have yet to hear the collaborative effort by Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes. 

I’m not sure if I’ve become a lazy music consumer, too accustomed to the luxury streaming provides, listening to Amerie’s “All I Have” every day. Or, maybe I’m just no longer interested in today’s musical landscape — music and content produced alike.

It seems like conversations surrounding albums are touch and go. I want to have hour-long discussions with my friends debating the production on Westside Gunn’s latest, but with every Friday slapping me with more to consume, where is the time for it?

My entire Twitter timeline talks about a project from late Thursday night to about Wednesday of the next week and then we gear up for another round of releases. Yes, there’s lots of music that stands the test of time; I’m still talking about how underrated “K.T.S.E.” is to this day. Though if I solely based my music consumption and engagement on what was popular on social media or music journalism sites, I’d listen to something once or twice and trade it for the next release without full digestion.  

I want discussions around artists’ work to last longer. It seems like many listen to music to say they’ve listened, as opposed to listening to enjoy or better understand the work. Reviews from some major music publications seem formulaic, and long-gone are the days when writers would explore themes and motifs deeply rooted in an album after it’s marinated with the world and had a chance to mean something. It bothers me that talented, hardworking artists can sit in the studio for months or years on end and create something that is digested and tossed away so quickly but brought back for quick listicle or end-of-the-year roundups. 

Nineteen years ago, when Jay-Z said, (yes, another Jay-Z reference in an “Everything but the Song” column) “Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?” he was asking an important question: Are we actually listening to what’s being rapped or sung about? Are we deciphering the instrumentation of a track? Or are we listening because we have to, because it’s the right or expected thing to do? 

Ellice Ellis is a senior writing about the music industry and social justice. She is also one of the Arts & Entertainment editors for the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Everything but the Song,” typically runs every other Wednesday.