Artists Debate Releasing Discs Near 9/11 Anniversary

Some ask why, while others ask, 'Why not?'

Terrorism struck the United States on a Tuesday, the day labels release albums, and that day had its share of potential blockbusters: Jay-Z, Bob Dylan and Mariah Carey were among the artists who released records on September 11, 2001.

The first anniversary of the attacks, by contrast, will pass quietly in the nation’s record stores, with no big-name releases hitting shelves this week and retailers predicting that new records will be the furthest thing from fans’ minds.

“It just seems to be in bad taste,” said bassist Joe Escalante of veteran punk band the Vandals, who chose a September 17 release date for their album Internet Dating Superstuds to avoid dropping the album this week. “Sometimes it’s hard enough to push silly punk rock on people and say, ‘Buy this,’ but if you’re going to do that the day before the first anniversary of September 11, it makes even less sense.”

Retailers say it’s also a poor marketing move to release an album on September 10. “You’re not going to want to spend this week trying to promote a pop culture product when most of the country is going to be mourning,” said Dave Montes, general manager of Tower Records in New York’s East Village. “There’s the ethical side of it that says it’s not the right time. And from a marketing standpoint, it’s probably not a smart decision. No one’s going to concentrate on a new album this week.”

Sales during the week of September 11 last year did not appear to drop drastically in light of the attacks. Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, sold just under 427,000 copies, while his previous album, The Dynasty – Roc La Familia 2000, sold about 560,000 the year before (see “Jay-Z’s Dynasty Continues As Blueprint Debuts At #1″ ).

Although this week will see an absence of major-label acts who typically score big first-week sales, some independent labels are proceeding with business as usual. Among the indie releases hitting shelves are albums by Ani DiFranco, X singer John Doe, the Bangs, “I Will Survive” singer Gloria Gaynor and former Arrested Development member Speech. DiFranco’s double live CD, So Much Shouting, So Much Laughter, includes a poem reflecting on 9/11 (see “In Stores Now And Coming Soon: LPs By Ani DiFranco, BT, The Pattern, Run-DMC, Sahara Hotnights, Ivy & More” ).

“It’s unbelievably self-centered to think that a record would matter compared to all these grand tributes,” Doe said Monday. “Records, especially on independent labels, last a lot more than one week. And you’ve got to get on with it. … Some [people] are paying tribute, remembering; others are moving on and listening to music.”

Speech said he immediately fingered September 10 to release Spiritual People, feeling that the album’s themes were particularly relevant considering the anniversary of the attacks. “We really wanted to go for it,” he said. “My music has always been pretty message-orientated, and we felt that coming out with an album with messages of hope and freedom was a good thing. … Music is part of reflecting, and yeah, you should buy music this week, just like you should still buy food.”

Doe, whose Dim Stars, Bright Sky features appearances by Jakob Dylan, Aimee Mann, Juliana Hatfield and Go-Go Jane Wiedlin, suggested it was mostly fear that motivated labels to refrain from releasing albums on Tuesday. “I think people find any excuse to be scared,” he said. “The entertainment industry is so paranoid, and it’s so difficult to even get noticed putting out a record. People are so scared that anything’s going to get in the way that they’ll move the day of the release. My theory is, ‘Keep going.’ ”

Yet some label reps said silence may be the only appropriate way for the industry to acknowledge the anniversary of the attacks. “It’s about respect,” said a spokesperson for Warner Bros., which is not releasing any major albums on Tuesday.

Major labels will be back in action in the next couple of weeks. Lifehouse, Enrique Iglesias, Disturbed, Ryan Adams and a single by “American Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson are due on September 17, while Beck, India.Arie, Uncle Kracker, Peter Gabriel, Underworld and Steve Earle will release albums on September 24.