Know the story about the boy who cried wolf?
So it seems Marina and The Diamonds is the latest victim that sees her music being leaked months before its official release.
I woke up this morning to a series of heart-felt Social posts from Marina’s Facebook and Twitter accounts in which she calls on her fans to ignore the leaked music and instead pre-order her upcoming album FROOT scheduled for worldwide release in early April.
“There will always be cheap people around. As long as you’re not hanging out with them, who cares? We’re on this FROOT journey together, and regardless of today’s events, nothing’s going to stop it. I am going my own way.
One thing I’d like to ask you for: If you choose to listen and you really like it, please support me by pre-ordering the album.
I’ve written the whole record myself. I’m incredibly proud of it. It’s an important record for me. Pre-order your freshly homegrown organic delicious no-fucking-GM bollocks ‘FROOT’ here.”
Post by MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS.
Let me be clear, I massively rate Marina and The Diamonds as songwriter and performer and consider her one of the brightest current pop talents around. Her officially pre-released singles off the upcoming albums on iTunes and Spotify are all stunning.
The same applies to Madonna, despite her rather insensitive timing and wording of her outburst.
But let’s move on.
Record labels: Plain dumb or pretty witty? Dishonest!
Now, think what you want but I simply don’t get any of this anger and surprise about leaked music and how it damages a release. Ok, I might get the anger from the artist’s perspective, they worked hard for it – it’s their ‘baby’, but the industry has nothing to complain about. They’re to blame if leaked music affects a release’s sales.
Shouldn’t they have been prepared for this to happen?
There are clauses and strategies how to deal with all sort of scenarios, like what steps to take in the accidental death of an artist – where are the clauses and strategies of music potentially leaking pre-release?
I ask, how come those major labels don’t add Plan B’s and C’s into their record release launches and prepare that music might leak? At least that’s what it looks like from an outsider perspective. The industry seems stifled and perplexed each time music gets traded illegally pre-release (… and post release but let’s not go there now).
In a time where album leaks are common practice and the major labels (apparently) require every penny from lost revenue (read: lost money from missing the progress train speeding away) this surely must be one of the top points in a release document?
Madonna’s label seemed prepared as hasitleaked.com reports:
Madonna’s camp made the songs available through digital stores once the leak happened. This is a new tactic in order to deal with the leaks as labels usually combat leaks by offering free, advance streams.
Way to go but that’s not a proactive strategy. The industry is rush-releasing leaked music for some time. The real deal would be to play with the leaking, make it something exciting, adding a degree of drama and X-Files type mystery to the equation. That, without making the fan feel they’re supporting illegal activities.
Leaked music is to record labels. what science is to religions: A threat to one’s own mistakes
The fans are the hands that feed and if you, Mr Industry Professional, can’t get a grip on technology, please don’t let the fans bleed. They want your client’s music. That’s emotionally driven, not a criminal mind. Also, avoid the petty side stories about the leak. Nothing destroys the mystery of an artist that you have built meticulously quicker than petty, real life soap. Deal with this offline, backstage, out of sight.
There is no educational purpose to the fan discussing the legal and financial implication of leaked music, no one cares who leaked the music and worse, keep your sobbing or raging artists from the media and their twitter accounts.
That is, unless you have been prepared and you can turn this predicament of the leak into a really cool story that makes the fan interested in the music and artist beyond the early listening chance. Why not get the artist premier the leaked tracks live in a global webcast or if it’s a really cool 007-type story, get this out ASAP – or make one up (more of that to come further down in this article). There are content marketeers who would be delighted to jump on such an opportunity.
In any case, take a leak like a well-played foul in sport: Get up and on with the game.
Let’s be realistic about leaks: If you’re part of an industry and assuming you are not working on the release of a newbie artist (most newbie music wouldn’t likely leak anyway), you know the game plan. You must be aware of the opportunities and threats. In marketing there is the SWOT analysis to determine the good, the bad and the ugly before doing anything, while PR has emergency plans ready to pull out to swiftly counteract the unexpected, accidents, mistakes and threats – I wonder if record labels have ever heard of these most basic practices. Or let me rephrase, I wonder why for the most part the record industry doesn’t have these in place! Or allow me to rephrase one more time, why does the music industry pretend not to have prepared for such scenarios?
Unless the brains of those record label strategists’ work like that of Homer Simpson (The want to win = success, but overlook working on the journey between the dots) you have to assume the leaks are part of their well-calculated marketing strategy and release machinery. If not that would leave only three possible answers: They’re lazy, lack basic strategic skills or are just plain dumb.
Because I’m a positive thinking individual, I add a fourth option, I’d like to believe the music industry is simply dishonest.
Apparently artists keep on losing money due to a long list of modern-day reasons, primarily a detrimental downward spiral in music sales, let’s not forget being under-paid by unfair streaming royalties shares (technology and progress, aren’t they such a drag? … *Yawn* Just adapt and adjust your royalties share, Mr. Industry Professional!) and then there are some high-profile musicians being ripped off their art and revenue before the music even makes it to a retailer. Piracy!
This is not the debate whether we want to save vinyl, whether we believe steamed music, mp3 or physical formats are the guardians for the songwriters, performers and all other industry professionals wiggling about in the underwood. This is a question of professionalism in your given area of work with a given scenario – let’s say, with leaked music in the digital age.
This is not a new threat that has suddenly popped up. Music piracy has been around for decades, long before Tim Berners-Lee first logged onto his newly built World Wide Web, long before the Napster lot.
Learn from the veterans in that game
On that note, let’s take a little detour. Back in 1990 when I was a young music fan the music world was waiting for a new U2 album (yes, believe it, it was the biggest thing to hit news trending along the fall of the Soviet Union) and there was big news of the band recording in Berlin and the talk of reinvention. Suddenly a mysteriously looking quadruple translucent blue vinyl bootleg album called “The New U2” and a bit later a more regular appearing six-disc CD box version of the same floated about, containing recordings of the band live in the studio. Most of the tunes sounded like they were in the final stages, in fact several of these demos ended on official releases and reworked versions on subsequent studio albums.
The bootleg caused a bit of a hoo-ha. U2’s management apparently called on Interpol to bring the music pirates to justice while lead singer Bono (sans shades back then) claimed the piracy felt like someone reading their personal diaries and dismissed the content as “gobbledygook”.
The pirates turned out to be an innocent cleaning lady who found cassettes in U2’s The Edge’s hotel room’s bin. How she knew of record pressing plants and her contacts in the media will forever remain a mystery. Of course, Interpol never updated us on the manhunt and while this might have been a serious case of piracy, it made the headlines, it sustained the excitement leading to the release of the album half a year later. The album would dominate the charts globally for weeks and months. It certainly hurt less than it aided the release’s success. May I add my apologies to the incarcerated cleaning lady in a cold and dark Berlin prison.
Of course that was when the music industry was in a healthy Capone-like shape.
24 years on and that same band decided to counteract dwindling record sales (assumingly part market trend, part their ageing artistic status), low-paid streaming royalties and that old chestnut music piracy. Their stunt was pretty crazy and has been the most talked about record release stunt in the history of popular music. Their album, Songs of Innocence, suddenly arrived on everyone’s Apple iPhone and blah blah blah – we all know about that.
Interestingly though, the free mass album give-away didn’t seem to deter consumers from also purchasing physical and digital copies of the same album when it went on general release. I bet stats will support my assumption that these buyers were not just mere Android users who missed out on Father Christmas.
The art of Jujitsu
No matter your personal thoughts on this stunt, the band had made another clever move to create attention and the Apple deal secured the U2 empire guaranteed revenue before their album could have been pirated or could have flopped commercially. For the purpose of this article it’s also beside the point whether this tactic could save or threatens the music industry or struggling songwriter further down the food chain for that matter.
Where I’m going with this: What U2 did was to accept a market situation, accept their own value as a band within the industry at this particular point in time and used the threatening forces creatively with technology. It was a disruptive move that changed the game plan and saw the band come out the other end without blemishes.
It’s the art of Jujitsu, and involves redirecting the opponent’s force.
“Ha Ha said the clown!” – Learn from the best and when it comes to business, Bono’s boys, now alongside clever new manager Guy Oseary (who happens to also look after Madonna), know how to play the aces and the joker better than anyone in the game. Don’t be intimidated or angered – take it on board, learn from it!
If it’s not about lack of release strategy skills, it’s about honesty
Anyone, at any stage on the music ladder can apply this. Surely not the same but the train of thought behind it. Know the game you’re in, know the technologies available, be realistic where you are in this and have a well-calculated play with it. More than anything: Be honest about it. Be f***ing honest about your motives! I applaud U2 for being just that. They have been honest in that they make no secret about their goals: Getting paid for their art and their art for reaching as many ears as possible. That’s no crime! I strongly believe that honesty is what has kept that band on success course. Many are lacking this in the business. And may I add, their new album deserves to be heard, but that’s plain arrogant personal preference, of course.
Music piracy, if prepared for or even calculated into a release, will not come as surprise but it simply will be the signal to change tracks from “Launch Strategy A” to “Launch Strategy B”. If that is what the music industry has done all along then please just stop “crying wolf” because everyone knows what happens when the truth comes out and you actually need support. Just sayin’…
I don’t claim to have the high ground but like to stimulate a discussion. The music industry seems to look for sympathy when it seems they only need to get their act together – we’re not even talking technical inventions and legislations to fight their cause, but simple basic project planing, PR and marketing skills to counteract piracy by injecting a bit of creativity and use the leak to your advantage.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please share this article and leave a comment below to get a discussion going.