Leaks & release dates- does one kill the other?

by Jason Gross

1 April 2009


While you could buy a copy of the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album in stores on Tuesday, it’s already old news by now.  That isn’t only because it’s been available digitally for sale since March 10th but also because it was also widely leaked before then.  The situation became so serious that the band/label were forced to move up the release date to try to stop the damage.  How much good it does remains to be seen. 

Like any known-entity artist who announces when their album is coming out, there’s always the worry that the material will make it to P2P services before it hits the stores.  As JT Ramsay pointed out, these efforts might be futile.  So is it possible that we might be able to add to the list of music biz rituals biting the dust in the Net age another item, namely advance release dates?

Part of the reason for the advance dates was to get the album out to reviewers who could then have copy ready for their publication, which needed to have the reviews ready weeks or months in advance.  This would help built up hype for the album and get people excited and interested in the record.  But when fans got the chance to nab the music online and not have to wait, what do you think they did?

(As a side note, I remember reading a recent story about a band that was so protective of their upcoming album that they microwaved (destroyed) all CD-R copies that they had once they were done with them.  It worked and the album went on to sell well.  Anyone remember who that was?)

Surprisingly, not every performer reacts the same way that YYY’s did.  When the same thing happened to U2 (for 2004’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and Oasis (their latest, Dig Out Your Soul), they kept their release schedule the same.  When it happened to Lil Wayne for Tha Carter III, he just turned the leaks into his own mixtape.  It definitely didn’t hurt his sales: it was last year’s best selling record.

To add to this headache for reviewers, when Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead did their recent online pricing experiments, they unleashed the music with little warning, sending writers scrambling to come up with reviews quickly.  Of course, fans felt empowered though- they didn’t have wait and hear whispers and stories about upcoming albums or have to troll around Torrent sites to track them down.

Though hoopla for upcoming releases goes back to the early age of vinyl (see Yazoo Records reissues of 1920’s blues singles- there’s some hilarious ads in the CD booklets), it became even more of an event when albums were taken more seriously in the pop/rock world in the mid/late 60’s so that each release was an event.  I myself experience this some three decades later when on April 20, 1992, I camped out at Rocks In Your Head (a now-extinct record shop which was in Soho, NY) to wait for them to get a copy of Pavement’s debut Slanted and Enchanted.

(Another side note: I’d be really interested to hear from some jazz heads about how the respective labels handled publicity for upcoming releases in a pre-rock era)

Despite leaks, torrents and such and bands pleading with fans to stop indulging in this, it’ll still go on.  And so will the ritual of advance release dates though in the Net age, it won’t be months ahead of schedule anymore.  Maybe weeks.  Maybe days.  Maybe hours.  Maybe minutes. 

Think that won’t build any hype?  Just imagine the scrambling that’ll happen when a known-entity band surprises fans (and non-fans) by suddenly posting on their site that they have a new album out even though there wasn’t a hint or rumor about it before.  Blogs, Twitter, zines online sites for music mags will all go nuts posting info about it, sending people flocking to the site to see what’s up.  If that ain’t building up hoopla, then what is?

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