So: a music artist–say, the most famous half-Jewish, half-black, all-Canadian former DeGrassi star (who also happens to be really, really good friends with Lil’ Wayne) in the universe—spends all kinds of time working on the follow-up to his major label debut, which was widely perceived to be an ambitious-yet-rushed effort to capitalize on his quickly rising fame. Fans eagerly await the new album as singles trickle out and release dates get pushed back. Finally, after months of hot-and-heavy press anticipation, the album is unleashed onto the public…via a leaked copy on the internet, over a week ahead of time.
While sympathy for millionaire rappers like Drake—whose forthcoming album Take Care leaked last night—might be in short supply, put yourself in their platinum-selling shoes: How can that not be a frustrating experience? All the work put into it by the artist, the producers, all the coordination of press and marketing and carefully curated buildup goes out the window and is tested by an unplanned early fire sprung by who or what knows.
But look at how Drake reacted.
At first, resignation mixed with hints of graciousness:
And then, the suggestion of humility, ever-so-slight guilting, but in the end, a positive outlook:
How is Drake playing it so cool? Shouldn’t he be outraged? Maybe—representatives for Drake declined to comment on the leak—but the fact is that others in his spot could use a lesson from the guy, who’s managed to keep his cool in situations past just like this one.*
At this point, album leaks are something many an artist is simply prepared for now: Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs—whose last album leaked a full two months ahead of the scheduled release date—was simply resigned to her experience. She found out her album was everywhere (long before it should be anywhere) not front her label, but a friend from another band whose albums have leaked, Bradford Cox of Deerhunter, who—when his own album leaked—canceled the official release and raged on his blog about it:
Fuck this shit. I can just make another album. It’s not finished and now it never will be. It was also going to have a rad cover. i would describe it to you but that would be stupid. P.S. there are no vocals on Quick Canal. I never got the chance to record them.
Cox eventually relented, apologized for the raging, and took full responsibility for the error. Sometimes it isn’t even remotely the artist’s fault, though (Karen O attributed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ leak to a “production-related thing”), and sometimes the frustration of having an album leak can develop complexities of its own when other artists get in on the leak to the betterment of the release. For example, Pitchfork told Karen O that Kanye West had posted one of her songs on his own blog, an incredible exposure for anyone no matter how famous (West, of course, raged when one of his own tracks leaked last year, cancelling a weekly music series in light of the intrusion).
As simply sitting around and rage at the internet doesn’t help anyone, artists and labels then have to move quickly, finding a way to make the best out of a bad situation. British band Los Campesinos’ album recently leaked, prompting the band to get in touch directly with fans over Twitter: those who emailed them a proof of purchase would receive an exclusive link to an official download. They then—as many a band have—opted to give a stream of the album to a high-profile media outlet, which dilutes the power of the leak and helps the band with press exposure. This all goes without mentioning the more conspiratorial side of album leaks which suggests that artists leak their own albums, because the royalties they receive from album sales are marginal in comparison to the buzz an album leak can supply towards bolstering their other revenue streams (like touring).
But assuming that isn’t the case, is there any way to realistically combat album leaks? Is there any way to fight against the torrent of BitTorrent streams and plethora of cloud-download sites (all of which can be crawled with a simple FilesTube search?).
Sure. An associated act of Drake, Toronto R & B crooner The Weeknd, releases his albums for free, without a label, with little advance notice. His last album, the much-anticipated Thursday—wasn’t released by anyone but the artist himself, who clearly kept those surrounding the production of the album to a minimum. Jay-Z—who once stabbed a guy for bootlegging his album—managed to keep one of the highest-profile releases of the year, his collaboration with Kanye West Watch The Throne, from leaking by keeping it under lock-and-key, with the artist at all times up to the release date, and eschewing the typical routine of sending out advance press copies for review.
Whether or not the cost of fighting an album leak outweighs potential benefits of this stripe of crisis is the kind of ongoing battle that likely falls more to the labels who handle these albums and profit from their sales than the majority of artists who don’t have the means or career infrastructure to prevent their albums from getting out ahead of time. At this point, however, a leak is almost an inevitable crisis, and the options that remain for all involved becomes less one of plugging the hole than finding the best way to let the water in.
It’s a spin on the old adage: leaks are less about what happened to artists, and more, now, how they react to it. Drake’s clearly got this thing down.