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Music leaks are both friend and foe to industry

For years, leaks within the music industry have existed as a way to preview work from upcoming albums.

This year, Drake, Eminem and recently Kid Cudi have been just a few of the major artists subject to early leaks from upcoming albums.

Before the days of rampant file-sharing, leaks were largely confined to members of the music industry and the media.

In 1995, Los Angeles radio station KMEL-FM began regularly playing Michael Jackson’s single “Scream” 13 days before it was scheduled to be released to radio stations.

“The record company was furious, lawyers were involved and the situation got hairy,” KMEL program director Michelle Santosuosso said in an interview with The New York Times. “But on a release as big as Michael Jackson’s, there’s no way we’re going to wait if we receive a leak.”

Back then, the only way to obtain copies for fans was to record them off of the radio. File-sharing has since simplified and amplified this process.  

Today, it is not a matter of whether or not an album or song will leak, but when it will leak.

Leaks come from a variety of places, but are fueled by file-sharing programs such as BitTorrent.

This process has continued to become simpler.

“Would-be downloaders once lurked primarily on peer-to-peer file-sharing programs like LimeWire or BitTorrent,” said Eric Garland, founder and CEO of media-analysis company BigChampagne. “Now they can just Google it.”

Some artists and record companies see this as a problem directly impacting record sales in a negative way. Others have embraced the trend as a way to create buzz.

“We live in a word-of-mouth world, and the unfettered Internet is a platform for evaluation, promotion and marketing,” Garland said.

Any music streamed online on a band’s website or Myspace can then be converted to an MP3 and sent around the internet. In some cases, artists will choose to leak their own music without the consent of their labels.

In July, Antwan “Big Boi” Patton’s first solo album was released, however the entire album had been leaking out slowly for more than a year.

Two of the songs that were supposed to be on the album included Patton’s Outkast band mate, Andre 3000.  

However Outkast is signed to Jive Records and Patton’s album was set to be released under Def Jam. Jive refused to allow the duo to release the songs on a separate label, and the songs then leaked out onto the internet shortly thereafter.

Jive and Def Jam were unavailable for comment for this story.

“The fans’ thirst will be quenched. I’m no stranger to that Internet, baby,” Patton told GQ Magazine in an interview shortly after the leak.

Whether deliberate or unintentional, leaks are a trend within the music industry that artists and labels will seemingly be forced to deal with as file-sharing and leaking becomes amplified and simplified.

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