You used to swear by them. You and your friends used to talk about them. You used to get mad when they changed. You used to have time to think about them - they meant something to your life. Those days are over.
NOBODY WAITS OUTSIDE THE RECORD STORES ANYMORE
I used to work in a record store - actually, I worked in a mall where I ended up working at 3 record stores- HMV, Sunrise Records and Music World. I remember when Nine Inch Nails "The Fragile" album was released in 1999. I opened the store that day and people were literally lined up out front of the store to buy the CD. How did people know it was coming out? Well, because of early message boards, TV and release dates in magazines of course. This activity doesn't happen anymore. People can crawl out of bed and buy whatever music they want with a click of a button. And if they do go the record store to buy the CD, it's at their own leisure and it could be weeks' after an album arrives in stores.
Release dates used to be a tool to spur excitement and anticipation, driving people into physical stores for purchase. These days are long gone and never coming back...ever.
THE MUSIC WOULD BE BETTER WITHOUT THEM
Was there a loose plan for Kanye and Jay-Z to drop their "Throne" album? I assume so however after watching the behind-the-scenes videos and reading about the recording process, it's clear that the album happened organically and when it was done, the machine started turning. Taking the pressure of a release date and completion time off an artist is something that the record label fat cats would take time to get used to. Music is a business after all and they need the music completed and turned in as a means to keep money flowing. But the labels need to look at it like this...
If artist X takes 2 months longer to complete their album than originally scheduled and goes over budget, this on the surface looks like a problem. But what if that music turned in spans 2 extra hit singles and one of them ends up in a car commercial or becomes the theme song for a TV show or runs radio for the next year? The music business needs to become more organic like its artists and institute more flexibility, because it's a new day...it just seems like the record labels haven't seen the sun yet.
NO ONE CARES ABOUT THEM
A funny thing happened on the way to 2014. Back in the 90s and onwards (let's say until the real digital era), Def Jam Records was notorious for changing release dates. Hip-Hop fans know what I'm talking about. Remember picking up an issue of The Source magazine and seeing that Redman's new album had a release date and was coming out in 5 months? The lead up and announcements of album release dates used to be so far in advance that it was almost comical (it was a similar model to the movie business however they stick to their release dates 90% of the time). Evidently, that Redman release date would change 2, 3 maybe even 4 more times...and there would be ads for all of the dates.
Unless we are talking about Beyonce type album announcements (like, Beyonce is releasing a new album by the time you eat dinner), people don't really care about release dates anymore. Part of this is because of the "why should I have to wait?" mentality and part of it is because people are just too damn busy in this 24/7 connected world to worry about when someone's album is dropping. Sure, release dates can still make some sense for indie artists who don't yet have the following to encourage a mad stampede to purchase or download. But for the majors and major artists, a release date is simply a marketing function - and is mostly in place to serve non music business partners (retail chains, beverage companies, clothing companies, etc.). Music is a product - just like a pair of jeans is a product. Can you tell me the release date for the latest pair of True Religion jeans?
If release dates are so important, make them internal to keep the business flowing smoothly. People don't care about release dates anymore.
THERE IS REAL VALUE IN PROMOTING AFTER THE RELEASE
It used to go like this. Artist X releases a single, album comes out, first week numbers come in very low - promotion done. It really did used to be that cut and dry for major labels. If an artist didn't hit, they moved on to the next one. Usually, the only way an album's promotion started up again was if some random radio station played a song that took off and the label jumped on the opportunity. Now, with budgets being smaller and each investment in an artist needing to work to some degree, labels are much more keen on promoting post-release. Release dates used to be the mid-way point of an album's promotion cycle, now they are acting more as the beginning.
NO ONE REMEMBERS THEM
Back in the day, off the top of my head, I could tell you when about 10 of my favourite Hip-Hop artists album's were dropping. Can you name me 10 release dates for upcoming albums today? Can you name me 5? Can you name me 3? I rest my case.