Prater: Music leaks won’t sink the industry

Nia Prater

Nia PraterIt’s a familiar feeling. A favorite artist has just announced the release of a new album, basically making their fans drop everything. Whether it’s been one year or a decade since their last record, they’re feeling excited.

Maybe music junkies mark the date in their calendar, or set a reminder in their phones. Either way, a copy is coming home that day. But what if, a week before it’s set to release, that highly awaited album leaks online? Is it even worth going out to a store or online to iTunes when fans can download every track early?

It’s a pretty new problem, due to the prevalence of the Internet. Illegal downloads have already been an issue for artists, and law enforcement officials that can’t enforce their own laws on them matter. It seems that it’s a problem that’s here to stay.

Just this past summer, the world was prepping for the July 4th release date of Jay-Z’s twelfth studio album “Magna Carta Holy Grail.” Trying to be cutting-edge as always, Jay-Z tried a new gimmick with his new CD. If you happened to be the owner of a Samsung Galaxy S4, S3 or a Note II, you were given the chance to download an app for the album that would provide the user with a free download of the album on its release date.

Only the first million subscribers were offered the opportunity. It seemed that Jay-Z was attempting to beat leakers at their own game, by essentially leaking his own album to a million people first, and getting paid $5 million by Samsung to do so.

But can album leaks actually be a good thing? A research paper from North Carolina State University, written by Robert G. Hammond, proposes the idea that artists actually make more money after their albums leak online. In his paper, found that listeners very often bought a legal copy of the album after listening to the leaked version and liking what they heard.

For many, listening to a leaked version of an album is a type of test run that helps to inform the listener whether they should actually shell out the money for this CD in the first place. If the music’s terrible, why waste your time and your cash?

You’d think that most people wouldn’t bother purchasing an album if they had a decent free copy of it, no matter how good it was. But consumers seem to be more willing to pay an artist for quality work.

During the promotional period for his new album “Yeezus,” Kanye West also did something innovative. In various locations across the nation, he arranged wall and screen projections of the video for his newest song “New Slaves” to occur. Fans would look to his website for dates and times and congregate at the location and watch it.

Of course, in this day and age, these West fans also brought along their trusty phones and tablets, so videos of the projections quickly appeared online. Even though, the video quality was sub-par most times, the videos allowed other fans to hear the song from the comfort of their own home, rather than from staring at a wall somewhere in the city at night.

“Yeezus” in its entirety also leaked four days prior to its official release date, but still managed to debut at number one on the Billboard 200 chart. Despite the leak, it seems as though devoted fans still bought copies.

Hammond discovered that this effect only works on popular and more established artists. Newer and independent artists would suffer from this, since they really are dependent upon sales to stay in the business.

Another seemingly positive effect of leaks is also the most obvious: they help to generate publicity. Within in the past week or so, news of the leak of Drake’s third album “Nothing Was The Same” ended up everywhere, trending on Twitter and prompting dozens of blog posts.

Older generations never had to worry about their record being prematurely released on the Internet, but it’s an issue that is here to stay. Artists just have to learn how to not care about them or how to work leaks to their own advantage. The rules of the game are always changing. Musicians just have to keep up.

Nia Prater can be reached at nia.prater@temple.edu.

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