It’s been popular talk for a while now. The music industry has been consumed by the internet. Gone are the days when we’d walk into our local record store ask the guy on the counter if he’d order in some occult album that will be released two weeks from now. Torrents, album leaks and mediafire downloads have robbed the music industry of its enjoyment and also the artists who provide the music you’re such a fan of, creating an abstract hype before the band even has the chance to stream that new music. Throw in the leaks of albums due out in the following month and the whole process has flown succinctly out of the window. After asking the industry professionals in bands and labels there’s a collective thought process to what is basically the digital equivalent of walking into a store, stuffing merchandise up your shirt and walking out again while those that commit the theft provide excuse after excuse trying to justify their outrageous actions with lies. We’ve all heard the “I’m going to buy a copy later” or “I’m advertising by telling others about it” excuse from these people and whether or not they do (99% of the time it’s just smoke) it doesn’t justify what is theft. Simple questions with some not so simple answers follow a sea of responses from industry figures (label owners to the bands themselves) as we work towards finding a solution to the problem that doesn’t just affect those within the metal community, but the collective music industry – down to the guy who sells merchandise at live shows. And while this isn’t a problem stuck only to the likes of music (electronic gaming, tv series and movies are copping it as hard if not harder), a simple Game Of Thrones or Walking Dead mention should suffice here, it’s music and metal that will take the focus here.
While this is by no means a short topic for discussion, and not all questions have definite answers there’s a lot to be found within the input of reviewers, bands, labels, PR and fans. We discuss the “why” people feel the entitlement to steal and share albums that aren’t even released yet. The complications for the labels and PR’s that have a set release schedule and what it does to the listening experience as well as address whether or not these people are actually “fans”. The general feedback I received was consistent and largely in the same direction creating a whole host of other topics in need of covering. I’ll apologise in advance for this massive wall of text, but it’s something that should be read thoroughly before being weighed in on.
So why do people feel they need to leak albums early (and illegally) and what is the effect of taking away the album’s official release or stream date? Well, unfortunately there is no single answer here. Trent Griggs from Tasmania’s (Australia) Thr0es had this to say:
“All I can really deduce is it’s somehow tied up in the social media numbers addiction. How many views does your YouTube channel have? How many likes does your Facebook page have? How many Twitter followers do you have? How many times can the album you stole be downloaded from your stolen music page before it’s actual release date?”
It creates an interesting thought, how many blog sites sit and wait for their numbers to break yesterday’s record at little thought to the damage they’re actually creating for a band who’s poured thousands of dollars into recording, production, printing, PR and merchandise. These blog sites justify their actions with a “we’re advertising the band’s music” and while more people may have heard that band the numbers simply don’t add up. I think of my own pages and the statistics that go on a steady trend of low numbers, wishing more and more people would visit my humble little review site (where fifty hits is a good day) but I’m not providing an outlet of musical theft. Trent continues;
“Someone lifted my album and put it on their stolen music page, it had some name like they were a serious collective, and on this page it claimed they owned copyright to everything posted on that page! They are mistaken however, as everything on that particular part of the page belongs to me. My music, my song titles, my words, my artwork.”
It seems there’s some huge misconceptions on what is intellectual property owned by the musicians and labels that made the music possible in the first place. It’s a thought process shared by all musicians (even at different levels). Indian based Transcending Obscurity Records led by Kunal Choski also points out that:
“There is a false sense of satisfaction that they’re helping “spread the music” when they should rather be spreading the word of the music than the music itself illegally – it’s not their music and they have no rights over it. If they respect the band, they really shouldn’t be doing this.”
This even affects the likes of bedroom recorders who may “not really be in it for the money” but still rely in some way on sales to improve gear, fund art or fund their next release. Of Solitude and Solemn and Ethereal Shroud (who releases most of his music on a “name your price” format) artist Joe Hawker says:
“I think it comes down to getting some kind of props or notoriety among other pirates. Music for me is an intimate, personal experience, especially one that is given to you before the release to anybody else. Perhaps you can get lost in the excitement and desperately want to talk to others about the experience.”
“They may be fans, but there is absolutely no justification to breaking an artist or label’s trust by leaking their intellectual property early. It can have seriously damaging effects to all involved.”
Makes sense right? It makes a whole lot of sense. Think about it; Say you spent all of a decade perfecting a piece of art, only to have it stolen and sold to some random art gallery for a few million dollars… you’d be pretty annoyed bordering on devastated. The ideal for music is the same. These musicians can spend (up to) a few years making the music you’re such a “fan” of and then presto! It’s out there on some Russian blog site offering free downloads without consideration of the monetary effort involved in making that release. The justification of these sites, these untouchable blogs is completely invalid; breaching that gap between artist and fan even further stemming from some minor reward that outlines a complete selfishness. Australian based, Art As Catharsis Records (Sydney) provides some insight into “why” these sites feel they need to take the rights of an official release date away:
“Some people are motivated by anarchist or anti-capitalist philosophy, and truly believe that all digital music should be free and freely available. People who are successful leakers gain credibility within their own pirating community. When you see a pirated movie or video game, the pirate usually has their tag or handle in the file name or torrent info. They become infamous.”
“Finally, some people are able to monetize these leaks (I’m thinking of all those dodgy Russian sites who try and sell Art As Catharsis releases that we offer for free download).”
That’s pretty poor in terms of justifying why a site would get access to an album just so they can feel good about some left-wing anti-capitalist movement they feel is justified to meet the needs of their own sickened philosophy while sticking a few pennies in their pocket at someone else’s expense. The old motto “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” comes in to play here. So what do we do about it? Unfortunately, our options at this time are pretty limited. There’s some great services out there offering some solution to this problem but it’s like putting a band-aid on an already dead chainsaw victim.
Mark Brandt, one of the many talented writers and PR representatives from brokenamp.com provides further reasoning to why some may feel the need to leak new music:
“The reward in leaking an album early comes two-fold:
One, people are always impatient to hear something as soon as possible – and are wanting to share this. This goes back way before the rise of Internet 2.0 and people engaging on forums and social media. As soon as someone learns their favorite artist/band is recording, the curiosity and desire kicks in to hear it as soon as possible. And for a lot of people, the desire to listen to new material will outweigh any potential interest in supporting the artist and wait for the official release date. This has only grown in the digital age, where for a lot of bands release date are fairly arbitrary, more determined by any label influence, manufacturing logistics and PR campaigns.”
Two, a lot of people crave recognition. Even in the anonymous setting of leaking albums, to be known as the first person who got an album online early, there is a buzz from that. It’s their own kind of fame in a way, and also requires a near-complete disregard for the artist’s intentions. It has become easier and easier nowadays to leak an album. A promo download sent to a reviewer, a rip from a Soundcloud/Bandcamp stream, or even hacking the computers of those involved in the musical food chain. People will do anything necessary, and this can be for the biggest names in pop to the most underground death metal acts. In my time in PR I saw the releases of a number of the artists I worked with go up for illegal download ahead of time, only to be released for the band on Bandcamp at the cost of €1 or equivalent.”
Mark also references an article posted by newyorker.com, titled “The Man Who Broke The Music Business” which odentifies the rich and darkened history of leaking illegal media. It’s worth a read, despite its sheer length.
Nico from Kaotoxin puts it quite succinctly:
“Yet, featuring it on download or torrents sites is not really a fan thing anymore since huge amounts of ad revenues are then involved and it become an industry, somehow… a way healthier industry than most of the labels and artists will ever be, sadly.”
He also adds that the “leaking” of music should be a thing of the past:
“I sincerely think “leaking” is something of the past, only if, of course, it’s directly leaked way ahead of release (like from the studio or whatever) because nowadays releases are generally streaming in full way ahead of release: we’re actually streaming ANATA’s “The Infernal Depths of Hatred” remaster at Decibel since Monday (Jul.25) when it’s gonna be released on Oct.21… So there’s no real need for anyone to actually leak it anymore.”
So with the inclusion of full streams there should be a drop in how many albums are being added to these various download sites? The numbers fail to add up again.
So are these people truly fans of the music? It all stems down to personal definition. Those that steal can hardly call themselves fans, taking away one of the main reasons an artist will make, record and promote their art. Sure, there’s a cry from the peanut gallery complaining that music is “too expensive” or not available enough for your computer/laptop to hit the “buy” buttons on iTunes and Amazon… whereas your computer just took a round trip to Russia, Bangladesh and Brazil in a matter of seconds while you picked up three or four zip files for nothing. It’s somewhat human nature; people love freebies, whether it’s a buy three and get the fourth tyre free at your local garage or a bonus CD thrown in your shipment because you bought 4 or more discs (which frankly is incentive for the guys who did the right thing).
So how do we deter these “leakers” and pirates?
Well, there’s various online services that help prevent the exposure to pirating sites, but they too operate as a business so there’s an extra cost involved with the likes of www.audiolock.net, haulix.com and ipool.net. These sites are in fact leading the way in terms of file watermarking and intelligently sourced libraries giving full control to the artist or label promoting the music – even if it is for a fee. Art As Catharsis’ Lachlan states:
“Digital watermarking is playing its part for major labels, but a lot of indie labels or smaller bands might [not] be able to afford that sort of software (I know we can’t).”
Again, it’s the world’s economy at work. If there wasn’t a piracy issue, there’d be no need for watermarking services and no reason for those services to charge for it. It’s a necessary catch 22, albeit it’s not for everybody. But these small time labels and indie bands are wising up to the fact that seeing your music posted on an inferior blog for download is going to happen eventually, even if you’re one of the industry’s big hitters. The music’s community need for all things new and fresh is outweighing the need for hype, while those promoting albums need that hype to build in order to run an effective marketing campaign both during and before the release of a record.
These days it’s not like albums are expensive, jump onto Bandcamp for a few minutes and you’ll see bands posting album pricing starting at the super-high rate of $0.00 for an album (but will take a few cents donation if you can find it in the bottom of your empty heart). Chances are if you end up in the higher of the range you’re securing yourself a package including a shirt, vinyl, physical CD sent out to you et cetera. Even iTunes have dropped their prices to encourage sales. Sure these services may take a chunk of the sale for themselves but at least the band is seeing a percentage. Even the Australian based www.nervegas.com.au/ offers high quality international products for pretty decent prices, if you’re truly a fan you should already know where to look.
There are other factors at play too. YouTube is as much of a problem as it’s a marketing solution. An article on recode.net (original article can be found here) by a avid, yet tenacious artist manager/writer Irving Azoff highlights some key points in the battle between artist and internet. While highlighting the musical works of one Taylor Swift (no introduction needed) Irving states that:
“If YouTube valued music, then it would allow artists to have the same control which YouTube grants to itself. YouTube has created original programming. Those programs sit behind a “paid wall” and are not accessible for free unless YouTube decides to make them available that way. If a fan wants to watch the YouTube series “Sister-Zoned,” that fan has to subscribe to YouTube Red for $9.99 a month. But the same does not apply to music.”
“But artists can’t opt out of YouTube. Because of the outdated Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the only way for an artist to keep a song off YouTube is for that artist to send YouTube a notice every time that song is uploaded by a different user. It is impossible. The Content ID system that you flaunt is meaningless when YouTube continues to hide behind the “safe harbor” provisions of the DMCA. If YouTube cares about copyright management then join the music business in its efforts to reform the DMCA. Or, better yet, you could really prove your love for music by not allowing music on to YouTube unless you ask the creators of that song for permission.”
It seems here that Youtube is doing the same things these illegal blog-sites are doing, but tying the legalities up in a confusing net of legal precedence. Irving’s open letter should be read in full as it clearly states what options should be given to bands on that platform while identifying some ways for YouTube to “come to the party”. Every time a song goes up illegally, it becomes the artists’ responsibility to find these individual tracks and send a “take down” order to YouTube. Unfortunately, it can go back up within seconds from another user. Repeat.
So at the end of the day if you’re an artist or label sharing your music early to the likes of reviewers you should be vetting the guys you’re about to pass an album to (whether it’s digitally watermarked or not). This isn’t just for the likes of Metallica or Taylor Swift. Even entry level garage bands should do their due dillegence before passing copies of their music out. Joe Hawker provides:
“Keeping your promos to trustworthy, notable media outlets is the only real way to assure that your music won’t be leaked. It’s your music, and it should be shared with the world when you are ready for them to hear it and not a moment sooner.”
“Leaking material prior to release date is a no benefit way to totally destroy a band’s promotional cycle.”
So who are the “trustworthy, notable media outlets”? Well, this is where things get a little hazy. Unless you write down where you’ve sent your album to, to who you’ve sent your music and whether they’ve done what they sey they will there’s a grey area that needs to be cleared up before you go handing over perfectly fine audio files. Sure the services listed above help but if you don’t have the extra finance available for iPool or Haulix you should probably be doing some research first. The music community, especially within metal are a rather tight-nit bunch; ready to help out when they can. Bands organise shows together to help spread costs but they should also be asking each other who they sent their album to for pre-release review. Some simple questions will go a long way here, for example:
Who did you send it to? How was the feedback? Did they respond to your questions? Did you get the name of the reviewer/site editor? Do they have other review outlets they reccomend? Did they go the extra step and offer you more promotion (interview or banner space)? How long did they take to review your album? Do you think they acted in any way unproffesional? Do you think they leaked your album?
The opinion of a fellow band or label can go further to helping you avoid (at least in some part) musical theft. It creates more work for those involved but in retrospect, think of what could happen. If you have a gut feeling about a particular site or person asking to review your album, without specifying who they are or who they write for you can either avoid them like the plague or send an email to the site they claim to write for. It’s your intellectual property, you have every right to say no. Luckily for the groups out there who find this all “too” much there are PR companies that will do this for you (it’s thanks to them that my little webzine can continue).
Should we shame the culprits who acheive this level of musical theft? Probably, but it’s not a fool-proof system. The chances for a defamation case is high if you get your facts wrong. Then again who’s to say the culprit won’t be back at it within the week with someone else’s music? The internet is as much of a problem as the guys hiding behind their laptop screens.
At the end of the day we’re no closer to turning the tide on music piracy. Wikipedia may claim that musical piracy is seeing a downward trend but for the artists and labels out there living on the front line it’s still as much of an issue as the Napster, Limewire days. For most artists they don’t see an end to this chapter, Trent Griggs (ThrOes) offers more insight:
“The people who actually care about your music. These faceless downloads though, how many of them actually care about your music? How many faceless thieves lives have you changed with your music that somebody stole and gave away as worthless? None! You’ve changed no lives because your stolen music is just one amongst hundreds of thousands. Your work has been reduced to soulless binary code squeezing through the pipe of someone’s monthly data allowance. It has no form, it is sick, in ailing health because someone has stolen an already inferior copy and generated their own garbage mp3’s from that. Your album now has aids. This is helping no one! It’s producing a culture that doesn’t value the arts of any kind anymore, and they are happy to accept lower and lower quality.”
“My album ‘This Viper Womb’ was stolen and downloaded thousands of times from multiple eastern European torrent sites 2 days before it’s official release. They were even kind enough to rate it. I kept getting top marks on all of them. If it’s so good, and these faceless thieves are real fans why is my Facebook page not getting bombed with likes? Why am I not receiving messages from fans who have been deeply touched by my work, why are the stats for www.throesofficial.com the same several hundred a week that it always is? Shouldn’t it have been in the thousands once those torrents started? It’s because it’s not real, [you idiots]. They are data addicts. Consumers, not connoisseurs. Don’t get me started on how this has impacted the recording industry…”
It’s pretty clear that this has touched a couple of nerves here and there. Not that I blame any of the artists involved in all this. When it comes down to it, it’s a bands livelihood at stake. Imagine a world where the guys from Mastodon, Despised Icon, Amon Amarth or Machine Head were flipping burgers instead of writing new music? They’ve all had their music leaked over the years and any bet there’d be a few thousand hits for their albums on any torrent service. Are you going to pay for their music? Go to a show maybe? Jump on their next album pre-order? No, probably not. You just stole intellectual property, why would you then fork out a few dollars to go to a show? Just jump the fence, match the theft you pulled off in the comfort of your own bedroom.
So what can the real fans do to help improve on this detrimental inclusion to everyday metal culture? They can start turning the tide on the opinion that leaking music early or pirating altogether is okay. It’s not. See a guy say an album has leaked early on “illegalmusicearly.com” and let him know that it’s not “cool” to go and download some rabies filled zip file just to listen to an album before it’s released. Educate the guy, show him where the streams are, show him the album teaser that was released last week and then the pre-order page he should be halfway through filling out. If you’re lucky the band will be touring in a city near you in the next few months, get him to buy a ticket and stop hiding behind his computer screen. There’s a big world out there and it’s filled with metal.
So what about the people who say that these downloads are actually helping the industry out in the long run? Well, it’s a sweeping statement. I’ve never seen the statistics to back a statement like this up, nor do I believe that they would exist un-modified and in a truthful form.
Mark Brandt also weighs in here:
“Debating whether to call these people ‘fans’ is an interesting take, actually. In some cases it is fans of the band who are leaking the album early. In other cases, it’s ‘professionals’ who run entire leaking websites as a venture – making their money from advertising and what not. In fans’ cases, I think they believe they are doing a service to fellow fans by spreading the music and allowing people to hear it earlier than expected. A generation who grew up on the internet and are used to getting things ASAP, they thrive off instant gratification. Why wait another month for the new [Insert Band Here] album, when you can get it now and for free?! And completely disregard the fact that the band will lose even more money that they most likely won’t make from album sales. *Some* bands do encourage torrenting though, because they realize that 1000 people downloading their music is better than 10 people buying an album, due to the chances of the 1000 fans passing on the recommendation to people who will buy the album. But that’s more for the underground bands than for the big names.”
So are these people fans? They may say they are, missing the key components that make a fan a “fan”. These people will listen to the music but in retrospect it’s a false claim, belying the fact that leaking music is like a “digital drug”, thirsting for that all important new music. Professionally, the need to leak becomes more disturbing. Mark has some insight on the matter, like myself he also has access to these unreleased albums, advanced streams and other general opportunities to access music not yet sitting on shop shelves.
“Education is also still an extremely important part in this. Both educating newer people in the music journalism and reviewing community (as in a lot of cases it’s more likely them than established veterans and also those who are likely to leak), to make them understand the implications of their actions. That if they leak, their favorite bands are less likely to be able to continue making music. I recognize that a lot of small name bands don’t expect to make money from their music, but at least to lessen the financial burden of recording and touring costs.”
It also brings back a point of how we deal with these new faces in the reviewing community. I’ve already suggested a complete shut off in their advanced music priveledges, but there’s also a need to educate these newer guys just like Mark suggests. It may seem like a new blog pops up every other day, but strong writers are becoming a dime-a-dozen. Mark adds another dynamic to this confusing scenario:
“I personally don’t agree with some labels’ habits of refusing to give out any advance downloads for their artists, as a reaction to leaking, although I do to some extent understand their mentality; it’s a version of damage control. But there are still ripping services that can take from Soundcloud/PlayMPE or any other service they use, so the problem will persist regardless, unless labels don’t give out ANY advance listening to writers. And that would have a negative effect on the coverage of their artists, so nobody wins.”
So promote, don’t promote? It’s all up in the air at this point. Personally I’m thankfull for all the access I’ve received from all the great bands and labels willing to trust a stranger on the other side of a computer screen. Reviewers (and sites) forge relations, but we’re all faceless, known only as a brand ending with “.com”. Overall this article won’t help in any measure. But it may promote some discussion by those that CAN do something about this issue in our grand industry. If you’re a band or label out there asking the questions that need to be asked, then you are doing the right thing. If you need advice on reliable review sites like Broken Amp, Heavy Blog Is Heavy, Outlaws Of The Sun, Angry Metal Guy, Man Of Much Metal as well as a host of others feel free to ask. We’re a tight-nit bunch of writers willing to read each others work and give gratitiude for that new band/album that even we didn’t know about. If you’ve made it this far through this article I applaud you (it drags a bit to be honest) but I want to provide a special thank you to those who contributed their thoughts on the matter, highlighting the bands/labels and writing platforms. The industry isn’t dead yet, we’re working on it.