By James Shotwell, Social Media Coordinator of the media distribution service Haulix.
At Haulix, we dedicate the majority of our daily lives to making sure the music stored and distributed through our state-of-the-art servicing platform is as secure as it can possibly be. From the moment clients upload music to our servers their files are watermarked, and from that point forward every individual accessing their content is given a unique identifier that allows us to trace the source of any future leaks (should they happen to occur).
It’s our mission to keep your music away from the public until its intended release date, and we are always open to discussing that mission with anyone who may be unfamiliar with our efforts. If that applies to you, please do not hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for additional information. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.
There is a hard truth to life as a musician that you might as well face now: Your music, be it a future single or the album that follows a few months later, will sooner or later fall victim to music piracy and be freely available to anyone with a working knowledge of Google. It has happened to countless artists from every corner of the planet millions of times before you came along and it will, unfortunately, continue to happen to artists who deserve better for the foreseeable future. We are doing our part to put an end to music piracy, but until it’s wiped from the internet for good artists and groups of all sizes need to be prepared for the worst.
When that frustrating day comes, and it pains us to confess it will more than likely happen to every artist one day, you need to have a plan in place that can be enacted on extremely short notice. These plans will vary greatly from group to group, but there are several universal steps every artist can follow to minimize the damage done from their album reaching blogs before iTunes or Bandcamp. Let’s take a look at them now:
1. Stay calm and remember that the world is not coming to an end.
Album leaks are usually cause for disappointment, but there is a strange sense of comfort to be found in the fact people around the globe want to hear your music so badly that they are willing to risk being in trouble with the law in order to enjoy it before the scheduled release date. That comfort does not take away from the fact those same individuals have completely screwed the carefully crafted marketing plan you had in place, or course, but focusing on the negatives is not going to do anyone any good.
Whether your album leaks a day early or a two months in advance it is important to remember that your career has not been blown to tiny bits of completely free digital dust. It is only a minor setback, thanks in part to the fact you properly prepared for such unfortunate events after reading this article, and with a little focus you will be able to recognize that you’re in a unique position to capitalize on fan-driven curiosity in your album. Embrace it.
2. Recognize the fact your album has leaked, and ask those who enjoy it to support you any way they are able.
Will everyone who downloads your album eventually purchase a copy if they enjoy it? No. What may happen, however, is that a number of people who otherwise may have never encountered your art might come to appreciate your work as a result of the leak, and in time those newly converted followers will begin to show their support by attending a concert, buying merch, or possibly even picking up a record or two. Remember: Your album is as much a product as it is a marketing tool for your brand, and like it or not your band is a brand at the end of the day. If you cannot sell your album to consumers, you might as well try and sell those who take it for free on seeing you live. If they come, great! If they come and buy merch, even better! Either way they will come away from engaging your band with the outlook that you appreciate them simply for being a fan, and even though you wish people bought your music you can understand it’s not something everyone is capable of doing. That kind of outlook makes you appear more human than rockstar, and being viewed in that context is often far more rewarding longterm than any short term financial gains.
3. Revisit your marketing plan and make changes where necessary.
A lot of artists believe that if they choose to ignore the leak of their album and forge ahead with their originally scheduled promotional efforts that their sales will not be hurt. That may apply if you’re someone currently topping the charts, but for those of you on the come up each and every promotional effort made can mean the difference between advancement and career stagnancy. Album leaks should change your marketing plan because the circumstances surrounding the availability of your latest material has changed. Song premieres, for example, are not going to have the same impact now that fans can download the full record with a few clicks, so it is of the utmost importance to take time as an artist or group to try and further refine what is already scheduled it order to make that content more appealing to those who accessed your material early. Offer a behind-the-scenes look at your time in the studio, or put together a track-by-track rundown of the record. If you’re going to continue with songs premieres then make sure you have a lyric video or similar accompanying item to make the exclusive more enticing to fans who have already heard the full album, as well as the blogs who are hosting that content. If you know your album leaked it’s more than likely the bloggers do as well, and they also recognize how unlikely it is certain exclusives will bring in much traffic if the material is freely available elsewhere.
Challenge yourself to do more than you thought necessary, or even possible, and you will succeed. Stay the course and your release may very well be forgotten by the time it hits iTunes. It’s that simple.
4. Make a stream of your album available and direct all traffic to that stream.
This is kind of a continuation from the tip above, but it’s worth highlighting on its own. You can choose to look at album leaks as something people have to hunt for on the vast plains of the internet and try telling yourself that not many people will be willing to go through such efforts in order to hear a few songs a little earlier than everyone else, or you could choose to be realistic and reclaim a little control over how your fans access your new material by hosting your own stream of the record. Use Soundcloud or Bandcamp and, after recognizing the leak, direct all curious parties to hear the album through your link. Ask fans and friends and industry people to do the same.
Timeliness is next to godliness as far as this tip is concerned, but if you have a good relationship with any music writers this may be the perfect time to call in a last minute favor. Getting a blog or site to host your premiere ensures even more people with social influence will be directing fans to content you essentially control. You can survive without their help, but if it’s available to you then you might as well use it.
5. Make the album available for purchase as soon as possible and consider offering it for a discounted price.
There may be two weeks until your physical product comes in for pre-orders, but if your album leaked before you got out of bed today you better do everything in your power to make it available for sale before sundown. Services like Bandcamp makes this type of immediate change incredibly easy.
You will also want to consider discounting the price of a digital download of your album for a short amount of time. It may seem counter-intuitive to ask for even less money on an album you’re already losing sales on due to piracy, but lowering the cost may actually increase the chances of fans supporting the album financially. Most people pirate because it’s both affordable and incredibly simple. You cannot beat free, but you can combat it by lowering the price of your downloads, or even making the record available on a pay-what-you-want basis and appealing to fans to contribute whatever they feel they are able.
You can also take things one step further and offer a discount on all your remaining pre-order packages. How much to offer will vary based on your overall costs, but any amount will help to further entice listeners on the fence over whether or not they should purchase an album all their friends have received for free.
As an example of someone taking back control of their release, please take a quick look at this message released by our friends at Topshelf Records following the leak of You Blew It’s new album near the beginning of 2014:
Wow. The response to yesterday’s premiere has been overwhelmingly awesome — thank you!
I noticed a ton of “leaked” copies of the record being shared everywhere within an hour of that premiere going up, though, and just wanted to post about that. We don’t mind that, at all. We get it, and that doesn’t bother us — we’re excited people want to share this. However, when “this” is a 92kbps 2003-Myspace-dot-com-era-quality-sounding rip of a stream, we get kinda bummed how that’s what people might be hearing and sharing. So, we’ve now sent out the high quality downloads to everyone who pre-ordered the record. We’re not gonna be download cops about it — share it, enjoy it, tell your friends about it — sing it when you see them on tour this month.
As always, we’re for damn sure gonna make the record available for download at the more than reasonable price of $5 on bandcamp and as affordable as we can on physical formats (with an immediate download on FLAC, ALAC, MP3 320, MP3 VBR or AAC 256). Also, if you’ve got an iTunes gift card for the holidays and don’t know what the hell to buy with it, well, the record’s for sale there too.
If you haven’t listened to the album yet, you can stream the premiere on Pitchfork now.
Thanks, you guys.
This messaging recognizes the leak, then immediately directs everyone’s attention back to the band and what the band has going on in the immediate future. It’s about the band’s stream of the album, the band’s store with pre-order options, and the band’s upcoming tour dates. Bring the focus back to the you and your music. Don’t let pirates steal the spotlight.
It’s worth mentioning that those who choose to put their album on sale early will have a few additional decisions to make, including whether or not to distribute album downloads to those who pre-ordered the album prior to the leak. There are pros and cons to both sides, so the best advice we can offer is figure out what is best for your audience and run with it.
6. Be proactive in fighting music pirates. Submit take down requests and whatever else needs to be done in order to keep your music away from leak sites.
Fighting an album leak is forever an uphill battle. It only takes one person to leak an album on one site or social media service before files begin spreading like the common cold across the web. You may not be able to completely erase every trace of your early album leak from the net, but with time, dedication, and a little help from Google you can make it a lot more difficult for pirates to locate your stolen material.
First, set up notifications through you favorite digital alert service to notify you anytime someone mentions your album online. You will (hopefully) be inundate with news and reviews most the time, but this service will also peak up leak blogs/sites running your album. You may also want to search for your band name and album title, both together and separately, with the phrases ‘zip’ and ‘rar.’ As soon as you find a link you need removed, contact the blog owner, as well as the site hosting the file download (Mediafire, Sharebeast, Zippyshare, etc.) and politely request that your content be removed with the help of a DCMA take down letter. Then use this form and ask Google to remove links from search. It may take a few days, but most people and sites will comply with your requests. As soon as one goes down, however, another one or three will likely appear. Keep pushing. Keep fighting.
You can also ask fans to join in your anti-piracy efforts. Lady Gaga, for example, called on fans in 2013 to report any early leaks of her Artpop album, and thousands sent Mother Monster links in response. It did not plug the leak entirely, but it delayed the majority of music fans from hearing the material until much closer to the intended release date, and in doing so forged a stronger connection between Gaga and her fans.
7. Live to create another day
When all the take downs have been issued and you have told the story of how the leak impacted your plans for the future to the last blogger and fan willing to listen the time will come when you simply need to move on with your career and begin working towards the future. There are more songs to be written, more albums to be recorded, and more many more shows to be performed. People all over the world now have access to your music and no matter what happens from this point forward that will never change. The discovery of your art is going to continue, every day, week, and month for as long as there are people online with a passion for music. There is something beautiful about that, even if it is also financially frustrating, and it offers a rare opportunity to connect with others that many never receive. Make the most of it and forge ahead. Live to create another day.