The Music Industry Christmas Break

Winter Calendar

In this guest post, Lee Hawthorn explains why the end of the year is not the best time to release new music.

On Monday night I found myself bored of reality TV, so took to Twitter with some stream of consciousness music industry tips. It’s something I do every now and again after a conversation with an artist, because I figure that if one musician doesn’t know, there’s a big chance others need to hear the same advice too. It is more for the artists who already follow me, so global hip-hop acts from earlier in my career or mixed genre artists from the North East of England through my current work with BBC Introducing.

That Venn diagram finds rappers from the North East in the middle; they’re the ones I typically have the most contact with. Every winter for the past five years I’ve found myself in the same situation. I’ll receive a message in mid-November from an MC who is releasing a mixtape / EP / album in December and wants me to interview them for a magazine, review the project for a blog, or play their music on radio once it’s ready.

I have worked across various parts of the music industry within blogs, magazines, radio, podcasts, vlogging, social media, and playlist along with spots of PR and artist management. In the seven years I’ve flipped between these vocations I happen to have picked up some industry know-how on the way, including that the industry shuts down in December and isn’t fully back running again until February.

It’s always important to remember that these music lovers are human. When it comes to Christmas it’s often a time for family, and a rare time when journalists, broadcasters and the like actually get to take a proper break. It wasn’t always true for me. When I first started blogging in 2012 I remember counting down the minutes on Boxing Day until the rest of my family went out and I’d have the house alone to blast the new music that had been released and write reviews for each, but I was 18 and my personal responsibilities are vastly different at 25 (I’ll probably be in the pub with the family this year).

The point being that there are exceptions, so it isn’t all doom and gloom for those of you who have already sorted out distribution for the next couple months. You will find independent bloggers, external playlist curators and some internet radio broadcasters who welcome your winter release with open arms. Those people are really important for niche, underground or very new acts, but the big boys – often responsible for pushing artists through to another level in their career – take a break over Christmas and New Year.

Traditional media like magazines typically plan their content way in advance anyway. It takes around two weeks from a magazine being finished to it being distributed, depending on the efficiency of the printers. You also have to think about the time it takes for a writer to finish their article and go through drafts with editors. If they’re monthly publications, as most are, you’re best off pitching your music for review, feature or interview two months in advance. This changes slightly for December and January, because most will do a double-issue, so any releases you have planned for January should be pitched at least a month earlier than usual.

The turn of the year is always list season. It has always infuriated me that end-of-year lists don’t factor in a whole two months of music because they’re being worked on throughout November. This is true for not only magazines, but blogs and quite often radio too. Everyone does some sort of special content to reflect on the past year and look forward to the next twelve months.

For blog coverage you can probably rule out the last and first weeks of the year, because that’s when list-aggedon will be in full flow. Radio shows probably have at least three weeks blocked off. While the shows you’re looking to pitch towards probably aren’t playing Mariah Carey and Michael Buble, many specialist music programmes will play niche festive tracks – I’d play the likes of Kanye West’s Christmas In Harlem back in my student radio days. So, you can potentially count out the second-last week of the year along with the following fortnight.

Playlist curators will likely be similar to radio broadcasters. There’ll be a load of Christmas playlists pushed out in the week leading to the big day, and then the look-backs and forwards I’ve already mentioned. While external playlisters might have different scheduled downtimes, I’d imagine most of the major editorial playlist curators for the big streaming platforms will take some time off. At the very least there’ll be less of a focus on finding new unsigned artists, and instead there will likely be a focus on the easy major label-pushed talent. I’d expect there’ll be less time off for playlists than magazines, but you’re still better off pitching early wherever possible.

It’s worth highlighting that none of this means you should not release music in December or January, it’s just about being prepared. Having a plan is important for every release, no matter what time of the year it is. Throwing shit at the wall and hoping something sticks is alright for new upstarts making bedroom demos, but to get to the next level it’s very important to not just upload your track to Soundcloud, share it once on social media and expect the world to fall at your feet. It takes some work.

You absolutely can release music in December and January. You may end up competing with East 17 and Wham, but there’s probably less new music competition, because they’ve missed the deadlines. It’s possibly a little tougher, but with simple, smart marketing it can be pulled off. The real message here is less about the industry shutting down for three to six weeks, and more about making sure you’re prepared for every release: get in there early, start pitching in October/November, and the industry can support you.

Lee Hawthorn is Team Assistant for BBC Introducing in the North East, and you can find him on Twitter @MrHawthorn.

Lee Hawthorn

Guest Post

One of a series of guest posts from bands, bloggers and other colleagues reviewing our Fresh Faves, sharing their expertise, and writing about their current projects.

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