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Joined: 25 Feb 2004 02:18
Posts: 191
Location: austin, tx
I think I'm among friends here, so we can talk about this...

What do you guys think about album leaks? It seems like something that's taken for granted these days, with any release of any size at all, and I'm told that in some cases they're actually "helpful", in terms of getting people to hear your music who might not otherwise.

But you can't help having a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize that something you worked on for a really long time, into which you poured every bit of your financial and emotional resources, and on the commercial success of which your artistic future depends, has just been served up to the internet for free to everyone, and that the actual "release date" has become a sort of abstraction or fiction in which only labels and (some) media choose to believe.

Maybe it's better to think of a release date as a feast day, a day on which we agree to celebrate a record's existence, or its entry into the 'real' world...

I realize there's no real "debate" to be had here, that the dam burst years ago.

But I can't help the nagging feeling that it makes music seem cheap and disposable. And anyone who's dedicated a largeish swath of their lives to a band (or any art project) can tell you that art doesn't come cheap for the people who make it.

Does it feel that way to you? If so, how can we counter this cheapness, this flimsiness? We've tried to do it partly through the dossier project and the book that comes with the physical version of the record...but I'm always open to ideas.

25 Jan 2010 16:24
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Joined: 03 Jun 2008 12:01
Posts: 199
Location: windsor, on
I was wondering if this would come up, and I'm sure others have had similar thoughts. I suppose the fact that I was listening to The Golden Archipelago as I read this was an appropriate coincidence.

You're right that leaks are taken for granted, to the point where it's a surprise and source of frustration for many music listeners (myself included) when they're not listening to something at least a week or two in advance of "release". In some circumstances, I think leaks can be helpful in building hype and facilitating grassroots promotion. They may reduce the excitement of release dates, but I don't imagine they cause too much of a drop in sales, as I suspect the people who download leaks without buying the album are the same ones who would download the album after release date without buying if it didn't leak.

I sometimes feel guilty about downloading leaked music (or free music in general), especially when I consider how the artists themselves may view things, but I make sure to buy albums and merch when I truly enjoy a band or record, and I attend every show I can. While I admittedly don't purchase as many albums as I should, that's partially a function of being a poor graduate student with little shelf space at present. When (if) I'm a successful professional in the future, I'm sure I'll more than make up for it. In the meantime, I feel that paying for tickets and t-shirts gives more money to the artists anyway.

On the other hand, even though there are a fair number of albums that I download and never pay for, I still spend far more money on music now that I have access to "samples" of all sorts of things on the internet. I may be in the minority, but if I had to rely on the radio to find new music and only had one or two songs to go on before buying a record, I would not be buying nearly as many of them.

I think the dossier project is a wonderful idea, and the fact that a physical product such as that can't "leak" makes the release date exciting again. Having optional stuff like that is good, because it allows the people who really want to pay for extras to do so, but doesn't prohibit others from just buying (or downloading) the album. It's a shame that value-added bonuses are becoming necessary to sell albums, but I suppose it's the reality of the current situation. Sadly I can't offer any other insights that might help boost record sales. Just keep on putting out high quality music, and hopefully people will care enough to pay for it.

Barring that, set up another Kickstarter account for the next album and I'm sure the board members alone would provide adequate funding.

25 Jan 2010 17:00
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Joined: 08 Sep 2008 19:25
Posts: 201
Location: Geneseo
I think I can see two sides to this (though there are clearly more). One would be that downloading music opens up its potential audience, and I think this is a very compelling one. Many tiny little bands (Caspian comes to mind) became (relatively) big, have their (admittedly limited) pressings of vinyl sell out, and tour other countries, because people heard their music for free, or had it recommended to them. Because of the relatively limited means of many indie companies don't possess the distribution or advertising to really sell a product the world over, but if the album is good enough, and it gets suggested enough on the internet, people really listen to it, the bands become more popular. This would not have been possible without the relatively open internet community. I know that, just for TGA, there's a 9 page thread on, something which is at least partly due to people who decided to try the leak out for the first time.
Of course, this leads into my second point, which I believe has to do with the cheapening of art by making it simply some mp3s on a computer. Some albums at least leak in high-quality rips, but it must be awful for an artist when the first impression many people get of their work is of some sub 128 rip that ruins the music. And while the music might be opened up to people, the entire 'album' is not, as the entire physical part of the package is lost. And I know, as someone who grew up buying cds, and still buys cds and vinyl, that the physical package was as much a part of the experience as the music. I guess the best that can be done is to make the physical package as appealing as possible. Every Shearwater record I own fulfills this, as the vinyl sounds great, and the packaging is wonderful. The Golden Dossier is an even better step in that direction! And some labels like The Mylene Sheath (probably my favorite at the moment, with artists like Junius, Caspian, and Gifts from Enola, and it's run by two of the nicest, most sincere (and now engaged) people I've ever had the pleasure of ordering from and corresponding worth) put out lovely looking colored vinyl in great packages, and will give the mp3s out for free if asked, so long as one orders. I know that Magic Bullet does some interesting stuff with packaging and packages. Some artists choose to do their own thing, as Kylesa did with the woodbox vinyl version of Static Tensions. These things make the physical product worth owning.
That said, I do download leaks, and the first thing I did when I saw the TGA leak was to pounce upon it, but I do try to put back in what I can when I can. I ordered the Dossier, I really need to just buckle down and order the vinyl (and some other stuff while I'm at it), and I'll be seeing you guys on tour, and shaking your hands and buying your merch! Granted, I'm still younger than most of the people on here, and certainly than the talented people in the band, but I'm just trying to put my foot forward. I guess I couldn't really understand how you'd react to something like this, because while it might be some sort of dream of mine to play music for a living, it's certainly something I've never had real contact with, and something I probably never will.
But those are just my thoughts.


25 Jan 2010 20:28
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Joined: 27 Nov 2008 07:52
Posts: 42
Location: Stratford upon Avon, England
To be honest, as a musician myself, this issue blows my mind. EVERYONE has shared music on some level. So is it the modern day equivalent of tape trading, the genuine and exciting thrill of sharing a love for a particular artist or large scale criminal conspiracy that steals from everyone in the music industry food chain? Well, it’s all of those things which is why it is so confusing and complicated.

I've sought out illegal downloads in the past and my early curiosity resulted in me now being a total Shearwater convert. I've bought all the albums over the years, I'm looking forward to my second SW show (in Leeds), I'm one of the people who has pre-ordered the new album, I've pledged towards the Golden Dossier and even though I've downloaded the two free SW tracks I just can't bring myself to listen to them in isolation. I'm waiting to savour The Golden Archipelago Album Experience.

But I do know there's a flip side. I've seen the horrifying stats on some of these torrent sites which indicate tens of thousands of illegal downloads for the major label acts. So for every one of me who appreciate the art of music, there’s many thousands of people who just take without a single blot on their conscience.

Thankfully most of those people are into the Black Eyed Peas.

26 Jan 2010 05:32
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Joined: 03 Jun 2008 12:01
Posts: 199
Location: windsor, on
I think that Bandstocks is a novel idea as far as music production in the digital age goes. However, there pretty much has to be some degree of previous exposure or cult status for that sort of thing to work out - unless you've got a small enough budget to rely on friends and family members.

26 Jan 2010 07:50
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Joined: 20 Sep 2006 10:48
Posts: 48
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
I was thinking about this the other day. In years past, I would anxiously await a release date. I'd wonder what the music would sound like, since I could never know until I had it. When I got the CD, I usually couldn't listen to it for a few hours, so I'd read all the notes and lyrics in the packaging, then I'd be excited when I got home and could finally listen to it.

Now, I tend to download stuff as soon as I can. I feel that I loose some of the anticipation, but I also feel like I get more time to enjoy the music.

I can see how leaks can help build awareness of bands. I've found quite a few bands I enjoy due to leaks. But I do see leaks making music seem more disposable. There's always another album to download, and it's easy to just listen to something once and then move on to the next album. I've got a friend who sort of does that. He buys the CDs, but it's basically the same thing, always moving on to the next piece of music, rarely revisiting stuff that he got more than a few months ago. Several years ago, I noticed myself doing the same thing and forced myself to slow down. I did it because I remembered my teen years where I didn't make much money, so I couldn't get new music every week. I had to give new releases time to sink in since I couldn't get something new for another few weeks. I felt that I had lost something by viewing music as something to consume, so I made a change in my listening and buying habits. If somebody is growing up now, they might have a different view of things and might not feel a need to slow down.

26 Jan 2010 10:15
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Joined: 28 Dec 2009 14:18
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Location: South Dakota
Bands have finally started to learn how to work with the reality of the Internet, and that's good for musicians and listeners in that we get things like The Dossier, the beautiful packaging and quality of vinyl but with enclosed digital download codes, and Internet-only EPs. I really feel like part of an elite club to be a part of things like this Kickstarter project, and it makes me happy to know that creative people I respect are getting to do something they want to do with the money for it going straight to their pockets, no middle man. That's something that couldn't have been done before the Internet, and, really, that the potential of the online community realized.

I can't speak to the financial cost of leaks; I can only agree that without having spent more of the first three years of college than I care to admit downloading over that high-speed dorm access, I wouldn't know about half of my favorite bands now. I, too, justify my quasi-legal downloading by gesturing toward my collection of t-shirts, ticket stubs, and Japanese imports, but I think the more compelling (and difficult...) argument is on the creative toll of leaks. If you'll forgive the crass metaphor, leak vs. release is like the difference between a burlesque show and a strip club. A proper release has a build-up: you hear a song on a bootleg introduced with "This is a new one" and you start to imagine if it's typical of the forthcoming album and if it hints at a theme. You see the cover art online; you hear the first single and get a sense of the production values. You get in on a pre-order and wait at your mailbox the morning it's supposed to arrive. From opening the package, to smelling the "new album" smell, to sliding out the big black disc (too overtly sexual? Then I retract it...), to finally hearing the thing as a whole, well... perhaps it's my Catholic upbringing, but I really like denying myself an album until it's in my hands, simply because of that slow reveal, the ritual of it. With a leak, it's like a ripped Hooter's tank top and humping the pole to a Powerman 5000 song.

When leaks can literally take minutes from discovery to in your ears, the question is whether the music listening public is collectively losing their patience with the fan dance of album releases. I'm not judging anyone for downloading, and I'm not saying that any specific eager fan will appreciate an album less because they're hearing it right now and not in two weeks, but as a whole, are listeners processing things too quickly for the full effect of the album to sink in? When an album is a physical thing that's in your home, it's something you've decided to invite into your life. But when it's the idea of music encrypted in bytes on your hard drive, and it's so easy to find more of, is there enough contact to really forge a connection with it? If not and that's where the buying public is "telling" the music industry that's where they want to go, then that would be very sad to me. I have and still do download lots, but I've stopped looking for "major" releases, i.e. things that I could buy at record store, because it's not a challenge. It's exciting to hunt a .rar file of an out-of-print compilation, something I'd never be able to hear otherwise, but if I were to have downloaded, say, the leak of the new Final Fantasy album, yes, it would have a satisfied a desire, it might have been a little exciting at first, but, ultimately, it's just another file on my desktop to trash or save with fifteen more unlistened-to ideas waiting at the end of it.

That's just too close to masturbating in the toilet stall at Club Mercury for my tastes.

26 Jan 2010 10:56

Joined: 09 Nov 2008 13:14
Posts: 157
Location: San Diego, CA
I am in almost the exactly situation that Daylight is in, I'm a college student, living off of my parents income, and so try not to spend too much on anything. I also download a lot of music, be it leaks or albums that I've heard recommended etc. I can't begin to count how many of my favorite bands I've found from spending a few minutes to google/download/unzip/play an album on a whim. Then, I either discard it, or give it more listens, and ultimately put as much money toward the band as possible.

In the case of SW, I've gone a step further (because I feel it really truly is deserving) and supported TGD project, preordered TGA on vinyl, and will do my best to get to your show in LA!

As far as leaks go, I personally don't have much use for them. I appreciate some delayed-gratification and the build-up of anticipation waiting for a record release (at least of my few favorite bands). This is exactly why I haven't seeked out TGA leak, and why I can't bring myself to listen to the two released songs much yet (although they do serve as a nice tantalizer much like a radio single would, and are much appreciated). I'm looking forward to the whole experience of listening to TGA and flipping through the artwork and the perfect bound book. I can also feel the cheapening of the experience of album releases due to sharing, but I personally think its pretty invaluable to the spread of music nowadays. I did, after all, find Okkervil River through an Atease discussion, thus leading me to SW and this wonderful board :mrgreen:

So to answer JM directly, I can't fully understand how that must feel to see (or know of) your work being thrown around and sampled, but I think it is very valuable. As far as countering the cheapening of albums I feel TGD project was hugely successful; as well as the reordering of the tracks on the vinyl.

26 Jan 2010 12:29
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Joined: 22 Sep 2006 19:49
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I never saw an album before a release date until I started shopping at used record stores that actually sold promotional copies of records, usually for a big discount, often weeks before the official release. I have bought these "leaks" though usually picked up the regular issue either when it came out or shortly thereafter either because I wanted what most promos don't have: lyric book, nicer artwork, an actual jewel case or digipak. Usually promos that come in a cardboard sleeve become scratched before the release date and have to be replaced.
I likely would not pass up a leak, if offered, through some Internet means but digital downloads (even legit ones made available through record companies and band sites) often are lossy MP3s that are less than half the sonic quality of a CD.
If I were a recording musician with an album on the way, I'd be pretty upset if I saw leaked, crappy MP3s of the record floating out there. There's also the question of whether an artist or someone associated with the recording actually leaked the album on purpose, perhaps to generate excitement.
Either way, scoring a leaked copy is never as good as getting the real thing once it's released to the masses.
But if I was dying of thirst and I could either wait for a cold drink or take a swig from a warm, flat beverage, I think I'd have to take the nasty one with the full knowledge that bliss lies not much further.

26 Jan 2010 19:29

Joined: 31 Dec 2008 18:18
Posts: 23
As a music journalist, I get advances of new albums all the time. I also have never and will never share or upload those promo copies. I can't fathom why others violate the trust of publicists and record companies by putting albums onto P2P sites. Sadly, these genies seldom stay bottled too long.

The British band Marillion was so angry about how their albums were available on P2P sites before the release date that they resorted to a radical experiment, which you can read about here: ... its-albums

26 Jan 2010 20:43

Joined: 08 Apr 2004 07:52
Posts: 26
Location: Berlin, Germany
Jonathan wrote:
But you can't help having a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize that something you worked on for a really long time, into which you poured every bit of your financial and emotional resources, and on the commercial success of which your artistic future depends, has just been served up to the internet for free to everyone, and that the actual "release date" has become a sort of abstraction or fiction in which only labels and (some) media choose to believe.

Maybe it's better to think of a release date as a feast day, a day on which we agree to celebrate a record's existence, or its entry into the 'real' world...

For me street dates are a thing that is tied to the one medium release model. Through living in europe, I already had a different view on that because it often took month to get a US album here. Today we have albums with four or five release dates for the US, europe, CD, download, itunes advance release, LP and whatever else there may be. So if I want to buy an album on CD, I may have to wait while everyone else is enjoying there mp3s. Considering that, a leak to me is just one more bullet point on that list. This doesn't say anything about the problem of having your music available for free on the internet. But, unfortunate as that may be, that is a given in our time.

What makes me angry or sad about the situation now is that the people who get to listen to the music first are the ones who probably care the least about it (though I'm not saying they don't come to like it in the process). So while I love the idea of waiting for the full package, I also have to dodge forums or blogs with people talking about the album since reading that would change the way I'd first listen to the album as much or more as having the right surroundings and a CD with a booklet or even a dossier.

Having said that, I preordered more than one version of TGA and am still not sure whether I will listen to the leak. In the past, I already made arrangements with my conscience, preordering the album, downloading the leak and than waiting for what I thought was the right moment to listen to it first. Be that the day that I actually got the physical copy or before. And that led to some very intimate moments, which for me had not been possible without the leak because I would have just listened to the CD the day I got it.

Jonathan wrote:
But I can't help the nagging feeling that it makes music seem cheap and disposable. And anyone who's dedicated a largeish swath of their lives to a band (or any art project) can tell you that art doesn't come cheap for the people who make it.

Does it feel that way to you? If so, how can we counter this cheapness, this flimsiness? We've tried to do it partly through the dossier project and the book that comes with the physical version of the record...but I'm always open to ideas.

I don't think that this feeling will ever get away. But I also don't think that this comes only through having your work available for free. To me it is the vastness of the internet that makes any effort by any individual seem minute and cheap in comparison and that's not only true for music but all we "publish" in any way. By default, wherever you create something, there is a seemingly infinite number of comparable work done already. What makes this worse is that there is no such thing as scarcity on the net. Everything can be reproduced infinitely with little to no cost. That seems a concept that everyone has a hard time to grasp as it contradicts everything we learned before. Attaching a price point to digital media seemed to be our last resort to make a connection to our "meatspace", to make it scarce and thus valuable. But unfortunately the net doesn't support that. And for that a leak is just the most obvious sign.

I hope I'm not coming off as a cynic here, because I do think that you should be able to make a living with creating art. But we have created this complex new digital world that doesn't seem to support the way we handled things before. There may never be one true answer to this problem. But I do believe that there are a lot of opportunities overlooked so far. For everything we lose their might be something to be gained here. Music on the internet isn't only readily available and easy to copy. It is also easy to change and to reassemble. For listeners that means they can not only pass along music they like but also add their own interpretation (the simplest version of that being mixtapes) or even create their own works of art (with electronical music being the best example for that). For artists this could mean adding something individual to each download or physical copy like pictures from a dossier, a demo version of a song, a free wish at the next concert they attend, etc. that makes the p2p copy look stale in comparison. And that is an idea I actually got from your kickstarter project. Sure, that's a lot of more work to do and there may just as well be someone else collecting everything and making a new p2p package but that kind of individualization could be a step to work against the randomness that is the internet.

I could go on for hours but try to shorten this a bit. One last thing that I want to add is that when I encounter a new band that is usually through free songs on their homepage. So for a band with such an emphasis on albums, giving people the possibility to listen to the whole album on their first encounter seems to me like a good idea. And in a way leaks actually do that.

27 Jan 2010 08:05
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Joined: 20 Sep 2006 10:48
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Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Stephen brought up Marillion, and I think they are a great example of a band embracing the changes in music distribution and production. One example is they had fans pre-order an album before they started recording it. If you pre-ordered by a specific date, they would send you a special version of the album with the name of every contributor in the credits. They raised enough to completely finance the recording. I also remember them asking fans in the UK to buy their single on a specific day, they managed to get into the top-10 charts that week due to the fan involvement.

The dossier strikes me as similar. We put up some money in order to get something special along with the music. I personally prefer the dossier to seeing my name in a thanks list.

27 Jan 2010 09:33

Joined: 27 Jan 2010 10:32
Posts: 4
To be honest, i've been waiting/looking for the 'leak' since i heared of the new album (and downloaded it as soon as possible). My music taste has grown mostly by being able to 'download' music to try, thats the way for the lazy people who don't want/have time to spend a lot of time in record shops.

It's the way i got introduced to Okkervil River and later Shearwater. Although i'm not an artist myself and therefor easy to say, i think you should make peace with the fact that it's never gonna change again...

To give this story a bit of a happy ending, i pre-ordered it as soon as it was available (i gues you'll have tot take my word for this...)

27 Jan 2010 10:41

Joined: 27 Jan 2010 12:44
Posts: 1
As a professional marketer with a sideline in music fandom - I've given this issue quite some thought and discussion. I hope I can summarise well enough here.

Fundamentally the world is moving toward a state of free-conomics (you can blame Google) whereby people don't expect to pay for things anymore. Attempts to protect products such as music are doomed to failure because they alienate the customers of the product.

What this requires is a different way of thinking about what the product is. We're tied to the idea of a physical product and that having some value. E.g.: A CD. This doesn't translate to an environment which is just binary code. The product therefore is not simply the 'music' but the whole package. It's more than sound - it's experiential. In this sense the experiential elements (Golden Dossiers, live shows, insight into the recordings, connection with the band etc.) will be where people will derive value. You can still however sell 'products' especially utilising people's desire to join communities, e.g.: T-shirts (value) or impulse purchases (sales at gigs).

My personal thought on the issue of leaks specifically is that if you are going to send out copies to the press, why not send out copies to fans and bloggers too? We're probably a better vehicle for spreading the information anyway. Ask us to contribute $5 as a pre-subscription and we'll tell everyone we know.

My personal story: copied Palo Santo. Bought all other albums. Donated to Golden Dossier. And now paid for 2 tickets to see you in London (taking along someone who has never heard of you). I also tell everyone about my favourite band, tweet obsessively whenever you put anything out and contribute at least one Shearwater track on every compilation I make.

Essentially my view is that if the music is good then it will turn people from casual listeners to ambassadors (and they'll be like people on this board). We know bands struggle, as they and other artists have always done, but I personally feel that there are more opportunities now than there ever has been to make money through music. I'm not sure the situation of 15 years ago of indie bands being snapped up by big labels and saddled with debt was better for listeners or bands.

Last edited by sturulez on 27 Jan 2010 13:12, edited 1 time in total.

27 Jan 2010 13:00

Joined: 13 May 2004 21:00
Posts: 12
I think I've mentioned this here before, but my first exposure to Shearwater was downloading The Left Side and Not Tonight as featured downloads on AudioGalaxy (remember AudioGalaxy?!??) in late 2001.

I immediately got every track from The Dissolving Room that I could find, even though other than those two, the downloads were unauthorized by the band. In fact for weeks and weeks I thought Mulholland started cold with "You stopped coughing..." due to a corrupt or incomplete MP3. When I finally found a way to buy the CD online the real version sounded wrong to me.

I've never downloaded a Shearwater album before release since, but I don't blame those who want the preview. I still cherish release dates, though.

27 Jan 2010 13:03
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