In the aftermath of yet another music leak within his record label, Pusha T took to Twitter to air out his grievances:
The tweet, while censored on the surface, is soaked in enough menace and hatred to fuel 1000 Pusha T coke raps. The 42-year-old president of G.O.O.D Music is no stranger to music leaks, after versions of an unreleased track titled “Success & Nightmares” appeared on SoundCloud and several songs from Kanye West’s project “YANDHI” found its way onto various internet forums earlier this year — sparking equal disgust.
The rapper is not alone. Playboi Carti expressed frustration after five tracks were posted under his official Apple Music account back in June. Young Thug fell victim to 30 unreleased songs surfacing online around the same time. Even Travis Scott couldn’t escape the leak crisis, with a multitude of tracks appearing on Apple Music and Spotify under the artist and album name “Rager Universe” in October.
Music leaks are nothing new. From Jay Z admitting to stabbing a record executive after suspecting he was leaking his fourth album, “Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter,” to thousands of unreleased albums being released during the meteoric rise of LimeWire, the leak era has been a damaging — and occasionally violent — stain on the music industry. The emergence of streaming services was thought to curb this threat by offering users access to an abundance of music at their fingertips for one low monthly subscription payment.
But while this phenomenon succeeded in squashing piracy websites into nonexistence, music leaks merely adapted to the times, become just as dangerous of a force as ever before.
One of the culprits of the music leak resurgence is listener demand. Fans of artists such as Lil Uzi Vert and Kanye West have crowdfunded money, sometimes totaling thousands of dollars, to pay for hackers to acquire and release confidential content to their ravenous audiences. The result? Two songs off Uzi’s often-delayed project “Eternal Atake” arose on SoundCloud in April, forcing him to officially release the tracks afterward as ‘loosies’. Fingers can be pointed at those involved in the production of an artist’s music as well, from the engineer down to the A&R, who may be offered money to unleash these tracks to the far corners of the Internet. This art slipping through the cracks can have major negative consequences on the construction and marketing aspects of an album rollout.
The practice may be even more damaging to smaller, independent artists who don’t house the fame and fortune to fall back on in the wake of a music leak. The margin of error between a musician achieving their dreams and becoming wasted talent is razor-thin, so a bevy of unreleased tracks suddenly showing up on streaming services unannounced can be catastrophic. Many songs that release prematurely are shells of their future self, sounding under-developed — like a collection of ideas that haven’t fully materialized into a quality finished product yet. Supporters in the infant stages of their fandom may hear these tracks and acquire an unjust, negative perception of the content you have to offer, affecting whether they return for future releases.
Although leak listeners may come back to stream an album on release day if the artist has enough publicity and fanfare to make it a mandatory listening event, independent artists normally have only one shot to make an impactful impression.
All it takes is one leak link to an incomplete project that could mean the difference between a dedicated fan leaving a spot open in their music library when the album actually comes out — and being forgotten when that day comes.
For a new musician trying to make ends meet while pursuing a self-sustaining music career, this decrease in streams could lead to a ripple effect of financial repercussions that are tough to bounce back from. Essential studio time is cut. Crucial tours are shortened. And your overall development as an aspiring artist becomes stunted in its growth.
Music leaks can also cripple the delicate album rollout process of an up-and-coming artist. Months of hard work could be scrapped if a single meant to headline a project falls into the wrong hands. While leaks can conceivably drive up hype for certain musicians, the polar opposite has the potential to occur as well, forcing an overhaul of the entire project and creative process behind it. Independent artists need to take every precaution to lower their chances of a detrimental leak hurting their music career.
Here are 3 ways to help prevent music leaks:
1. Be careful where you distribute your music
Oftentimes, independent artists will send copies of an upcoming album to bloggers or journalists of publications so their music can reach a wider platform upon release day. In the Internet era, all it takes is one bad egg in the email chain before your art is plastered all over SoundCloud. Make sure to do background research on any website specializing in reviews or artist exposure before handing over your product. Some smaller publications, while welcoming on the surface, could have sneaky intentions with your unreleased music. In a world with hundreds of websites seemingly dedicated to your best interests, it’s always smart to do your homework and find a trustworthy platform that suits your needs without compromising your content.
2. Share studio sessions with people you trust
“Keep your circle tight” is a phrase that especially rings true for independent artists when concerning the music recording and mixing process. While you don’t have to go overboard like Frank Ocean and carry the only copies of your project around with you at all times in the form of a secret hard drive, being mindful of who is involved and granted behind-the-scenes access to your work doesn’t hurt. Many times the source of the leak comes from those closest to the operation, so patching that up and running a tight ship in the studio can prevent your music from leaving those four walls. Ban phones. Keep a limit on the number of people allowed in during recording. Anything to control your surroundings and keep the secrecy of the album intact.
3. Release digitally before physically
While releasing a project physically at the same time as digitally may seem old school, some independent artists still rely on CDs to garner local, organic growth in their communities. Distributing your project in this fashion runs a high risk of your project being uploaded to the Internet sooner than expected, due to the number of unknown hands handling the product. Only allow trusted folk the opportunity to access the physical copies of the album before release day. Make sure the digital release of the project goes smoothly and wait a few weeks before kicking off the physical launch process.