Leaks Are Good For The Music Industry

By DMS
A very nice read from The Weekly Geek Show

Amidst all the RIAA legal action, could it be that they're waging war against themselves? A few trends emerging in the last five years indicate that the artists, perhaps even those that feared their music seeing early release, are discovering that internet leaks are beneficial to them. After the jump, I'll outline three pieces of evidence to support this controversial claim.

Fans are rabidly primed for supporting tours. The first, and maybe best, proof of the positive impact of leaks is tour support. It's no secret that the vast majority of performers make their living doing just that- performing.

So how do leaks help a tour? I witnessed a perfect example last summer at a Decemberists Concert. A throng of a few thousand folks made their way to the Seattle Zoo to watch them, while a month prior the Decemberists' latest album The Crane Wife surfaced on the internet. The band made plenty of appearances in the Northwest backing up their previous record Picaresque. This could've just been another average show, but the leak made it special.

The band proceeded to "debut" several new songs to uproarious response and the crowd was singing along to tunes they shouldn't have even heard yet. Colin Meloy, the Decemberists' lead singer, took notice between songs and facetiously remarked with a smile: "We have a new album coming out in the Fall called The Crane Wife, which none of you have."

Colin and The Decemberists went on to have a successful Spring Tour in 2007. The Crane Wife vaulted to the Billboard Top 40 and made almost every worthwhile critic's year-end list.

Album sales are actually better for it. One of the most high profile internet leaks since the phenomenon appeared was that of Hail to the Thief by England's Mega Stars, Radiohead. After the double platinum, insanely successful OK Computer and the genre bending Kid A, Radiohead's fan base was massive. Any semblance of news that popped up about the band's upcoming release in early 2003 was gobbled up by the masses and the buzz was incredible.

Then the inevitable happened. Someone got their grubby little mitts on an un-mastered, pre-release CD-R with tracks from Hail to the Thief three months early. Faster than you can say "pirated copy" .mp3 files made the rounds on the all the popular P2P clients at the time.

The band's reaction? Wary. Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood had their fears about the premature liberation of the songs- even going so far as to say the versions on the internet weren't complete and urging fans to wait for the final mixes.

What happened when Hail to the Thief was actually sold in June of 2003? Everyone bought it. It was the fourth consecutive #1 album for Radiohead in the UK and it peaked at #3 in the US with the highest opening week sales for the band to date.

Artists are using leaks as a marketing tool. More recently, Trent Reznor and the Industrial Demigods Nine Inch Nails have decided instead of being victims of a leak, to harness it for themselves as a guerilla marketing ploy.

Nine Inch Nails' bread and butter are their fantastic live shows, so what better way to start the leaking process? On their European Tour earlier this year, fans started finding USB drives in the bathroom stalls loaded with high quality tracks from Year Zero. Additionally, cryptic websites were set up with subtle clues to enhance the mystery of their newest concept album. Fans ate it up and the press was even more enthralled.

With the material already released by the band what incentive did anyone have to buy the physical copy or pay for the download? Value added content. Year Zero came out in April on a special Thermo-chrome CD that appears black when cold and white when heated. A binary code on the disc's face, when translated, leads to a secret website for the album. It's basically a glorified collector's item. Subsequently, Year Zero hit #2 on the Billboard Charts and #1 on the Billboard's Top Internet Album Charts.

With successes like these, we may start to see more artists promoting their albums in a similar fashion. Reznor thinks the demand for pre-released music will drive sales instead of hindering them:

The medium of the CD is outdated and irrelevant. It's really painfully obvious what people want — DRM-free music they can do what they want with. If the greedy record industry would embrace that concept I truly think people would pay for music and consume more of it.

Despite the negative connotation of people "stealing" music through leaks, one thing is certain – listeners will financially support good music and a good product whether they downloaded it early or not.



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