POZ Perspective: Has It Leaked? It Leaked. Why And What Now? (Part I)
Album leaks have plagued the music industry for years, but 2013 has been a different kind of year for leaks. There has been a true amount of transparency from bands and labels on leaks in our scene, and we thought we’d take a closer look in a two-part Perspective series. Written by Editor in Chief Erik van Rheenen, the first part of Has It Leaked? It Leaked. Why And What Now? can be read below!
Album leakers are soulless vampires with torrent ratios where most people have hearts. They forget about the Jesse Cannons of the world. Take, for example, the overeager Man Overboard fan who leaked a Real Talk cut — a month before street date — to her Tumblr while Cannon, the band’s manager, was walking through Union Square on his way to meet a girl. Cannon scrapped his date, pulled out his laptop, and spent his Friday night begging the fan not to upload more tracks to her blog. With sites like What.CD and It-Leaked upping their arsenals, leakers have set the precedent: it’s no longer if an album will leak, but when.
So why is We Came As Romans singer Dave Stephens all smiles when he says — with just a touch of defeat — “I think it already leaked anyways, like last night” on a scorching Thursday in Cuyahoga Falls? The “it” Stephens mentions is Tracing Back Roots, his new record, slated for release the following Tuesday.
The band’s previous record, Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be, leaked “way too early for our liking,” Stephens quips with the ghost of inescapable frustration. He’s got every right to be pissed the hell off that it’s happened this time as well. But five days from release, this leak seems more like a pale sort of victory.
“Equal Vision was aware that it was going to leak last night or today since we were doing a live stream, and as soon as you do that, it’s out,” Stephens says. “What’s cool about it this time is that we pretty much decided it’s going to leak today….this one was perfect.”
Welcome to what Cannon not-so-jokingly calls “the crazy Internet age,” where an album leaking less than a week early is perfect. Forget about if entirely— when has become the new standard.
“Dealing with leaks is a common occurrence these days,” says Earshot Media’s Mike Cubillos. “In fact, labels almost expect that it will eventually leak. Usually the label finds out before I do and when they let me know, I can’t say I’m too surprised. But it’s definitely frustrating.”
Pointing fingers is tricky, and motivation for leaking records is tough to pin down. “Some people do it because they love the band,” Cannon says, “Some people do it for spite.” There’s a wide divide between ambitious ManO fans like the one Cannon squared off against and people like Senses Fail’s “asshole manager,” who leaked Let it Enfold You nine months early. But as music grew (and still grows) more widely available online, a paradigm shift caused the floodgates of leak culture to burst: somewhere, sometime, fans started to embrace a “first or bust” mentality.
“There seems to be this odd need for instant gratification with so many wanting to be the first to hear something and be the first to share it with the masses,” Cubillos states.
Leak sites — “It-Leaked, What.CD, pick your poison,” Cannon says — capitalize on the “first is best” ethos, rewarding users who are the quickest to upload records. The race for “first,” and for the bonuses that come with that title, are enough to make anyone an album-leaking asshole. Even, Cannon says, some sketchy record storeowners, a twisted cycle he begrudgingly calls “Record Store Fridays.”
“No matter what, you can expect your record to leak on Friday,” Cannon says. “With Man Overboard after Real Talk, Human Highlight Reel leaked on the Friday before it came out. Some asshole record store owners will upload new albums on torrents and go for the glory. The more people who want to hear it, the better chance it will come out.”
Leaks pose a precarious balance for Cubillos. There’s always a looming risk that sending an album out early for review will result in a leak, but some media outlets — usually print publications with long lead times — require advance copies months before deadline. If this “do-I-send-it, don’t-I-send-it” quandary is a music industry catch-22, publicists like Cubillos are its proverbial Yossarians.
“It’s a balance getting music out early enough to still get print coverage, but not so early that the record could get into the wrong hands,” Cubillos says. “Sometimes we might lose out on some great high visibility coverage in a long lead magazine because of the need to keep music under lock and key.”
When blame gets assigned for leaks, “bloggers” is the scapegoat that typically gets thrown around. Bloggers are often (but not always) the biggest culprits, Cannon says, but anyone with a computer and a decent Internet connection can leak an album. And that’s a scary thought.
“You’re a fucking fool if you send albums out three months early,” Cannon says. “There’s always a chance someone will go up to a reviewer’s computer when they’re out to lunch. It’s a crazy Internet age.”
Take it from Cannon: once, when he was working on producing a Misfits album, his iPod, loaded with rough mixes on it, was stolen. He was lucky enough to have it returned without losing the files.
And that’s the inexorable truth about leaks: they happen. Cannon thought Real Talk was airtight, only sending it to seven writers, all from websites or publications with gleaming track records and reputations. Hell, the band only had one copy between them, and it was in the form of one long track so that it would be tough to share with friends and girlfriends.
It only takes one overenthusiastic writer to send the album to a few friends, and a few friends to send the album to a few more acquaintances. Real Talk pinballed around the Web until Run For Cover Records’ Jeff Casazza tracked down the album leaker through Tweets, Facebook friends, and Last.FM scrobbles.
Fear of leaks stifles creativity (especially for producers who are nervous to take mixes out of the studio) and “breeds a bitter musician,” Cannon says. Sometimes album security is relaxed: masters can get mislabeled, and marketing plans can focus on one single, solitary release date. We’re all to blame, and leaks are the new normal.
“There are always ways for people who want to leak music to try and beat the system,” Cubillos says.
The paradigm has changed, and now the system is changing too. “There’s no silver bullet solution to leaks,” Matt Brown, the founder of digital promo system Haulix, says, but that isn’t stopping an industry bent on finding new ways to become leakproof.
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