Lil Wayne announced this morning that his forthcoming album Tha Carter IV, scheduled to be released in stores on Monday, August 29, would be available for digital purchase in advance—specifically, at midnight ET after the Video Music Awards air (at 8pm on Sunday, August 28). But wait, you say. Don’t albums tend to premiere digitally around midnight the night before their physical release?
That’s very incisive of you—but this press release isn’t merely a rebranding of an existing fact. The pullquotes provide the clues. Cash Money Records CEO Ronald “Slim” Williams, talks about “pairing the release of Tha Carter IV with the VMAs,” and this pairing seems to have been the plan for some time now. Lil Wayne announced the album’s release date in an MTV News interview last month, after the Video Music Awards had already been scheduled.
Furthermore, MTV President Stephen Friedman says that the digital release allows VMA viewers to “go online at midnight and download the album they’ve all been waiting for.” The similarity of this attempt to digitally recreate the experience of lining up outside a record store to that of Watch The Throne two weeks ago is probably not coincidental. Even still, both Lil Wayne and The Throne are not necessarily aiming to improve their sales with these tactics; rather, they hope to recreate the big-tent release-date excitement of old (albeit not that old; for the most part the day-of iconic big releases—like Use Your Illusion I and II, twenty years old next month—were part of a marketing plan that did not really exist en masse prior to the CD era).
All in all, this is a canny move by the rapper. Anecdotal evidence suggests that viewers of television shows (particularly those on HBO and other premium cable channels) will wait impatiently for a download to become available for purchase (or, erm, “free”) if they don’t get the channel or miss the airing. Why not replicate that for music? Of course, this is another adaptation to the digital world that may only be effective for the biggest artists, but if it catches on, it’ll be an interesting one nonetheless.