Cee-Lo’s ‘Fuck You’ was an internet sensation on August 20, 2010. Warners cleverly launched the song with a video that just displayed the lyrics , currently sitting on almost 7 million hits. They followed it up a couple of weeks later with the official clip, currently over 10 million views.
Then why did it take the UK until October 4th for the song to be released?
The music industry has changed almost completely in the last ten years. How we listen to music, how that music is made and how that music gets to us has all transformed. A man waking up from a ten year coma right now would be very confused by the state of music.
But one of the most stubborn facets of the old music industry is the idea of the ‘release window’ – and the reason the release window exists – the ‘charts’.
It’s still commonplace for big commercial acts to release a song to radio (and TV) 6 weeks before release. The traditional reason being it built up hype and demand, so everyone would buy the song on week one, and it would chart high.
It’s even worse for albums. The print cycle for big magazines like Rolling Stone take months. Plus, the labels want to give journalists some time to listen to an album. Sending an album out 3 months before release date is not unheard of.
But that old system is corroding, if not corroded completely. ‘Fuck You’ leaked all over the internet as soon as it hit the web. Worse still for the UK, the song was released in many countries, including the US, back in August. It was a number 1 single in the Netherlands, yet no legal version was available in the UK – yet it was playlisted on most UK pop radio stations. Hell, even a bad parody version was released in the UK before the official release.
I have been quite vocal about this issue. And, as someone rightly pointed out to me, the song hit number 1 in the UK anyway. Maybe the release window worked?
Of course not.
The song is great – it has hit written all over it. So it became the highest selling song within that small group of people who still buy music. And in particular CD singles or digital singles. Which is less than 10% of the people who were buying music 10 years ago.
But this goes beyond the labels. Radio stations still demand a release window. If the song is out, and it didn’t chart, they won’t play it. They also love the imagined exclusivity. They also love that radio is the only place to hear this track (obviously forgetting about the small market called the internet). What is more frustrating about this case is the nature of the song. No radio station was going to play the full, uncensored ‘Fuck You’.
There is a real smell of bullshit in the UK by these middle men who really think they have anything to do with breaking a song anymore. There is something really disgusting about a radio DJ playing this song in mid-September, claiming they are in anyway ahead of the curve.
The reasons the ‘release window’ exists is due to radio, TV and print. The more scared they get about their future, the more they are holding onto this imaginary line. And no wonder their formats are dying.
But the blame completely lies with the labels. Media are like the puppies who take a shit in the house. The labels are the dog owners who don’t do anything about it. Time and time again, the labels choose the 10% of people who still buy music when it charts, and listens to a dying format.
Here’s the point. The UK should have released the song when it hit the web. It wouldn’t have charted but they would have sold more. They should have told radio to sod off because they were only going to play a censored version anyway. And any implication that it would have been percieved as an underground fad is bullshit. For those last few weeks of August, it was easily the most famous song in the world. It might even end up the most famous song of the year.
Labels don’t move fast – they never do. And they are surrounded by fellow dinosaurs. But it’s those dinosaurs that are holding the labels back as well. And these old reptiles put themselves inbetween the label and the fans, making them wait weeks for a song they love.
It’s time for labels to get rid of those old friends. And the next time they ask for a six week release window, give them a big, uncensored ‘Fuck You’.