Year-End 2010

The Year In Music: In 2010, Labels Got Leaky

Big Boi

hide captionFor Your Sorrows: Big Boi's label balked at releasing his album, so he leaked tracks via his own Twitter feed.

Don Arnold/Getty Images

2010 was the year the song leak was co-opted. Finding — or being sent — a song that hadn't been officially released and listening to it before the general public could — used to be thrilling. It used to mean you were bucking the system, fighting the man. This year, the man won. It wasn't the way we expected him to.

Rather than keeping all their songs under lock and key until the intended release date, major labels and independents alike now give out a taste of their product, almost as a matter of course. These days, when you get something for free on the Internet, you were probably supposed to. But even though you might have become part of somebody's marketing plan, in 2010 you could still get a lot of brand new music for free.

There's something called a buzz single that publicists offer blogs and websites to post months before an album is actually in stores. It's not the official single, and until the full album is released you usually can't pay money for it even if you want to.

Keep in mind, these are finished, mastered songs. That bands and their labels could sell.

Ever Kipp, who's worked on publicity campaigns for the group Phantogram and the label Barsuk Records this year, says the industry knows it has to change its ways if it wants the public to open their wallets. "It's become standard practice — and more important than ever — to distribute content strategically in advance of a record release or run of tour dates," Kipp says. "It takes a lot to capture and hold consumers attention."

Rock bands, electronic musicians, a few indie classical groups, the jazz trumpeter Christian Scott — everybody's doing it.

Starting this summer rap fans celebrated G.O.O.D. Fridays, when Kanye West released songs, videos and Twitter dispatches meant to dominate the conversation leading up to last month's official release of his album. By the fall we had Monster Mondays, thanks to a weekly download from producer Swizz Beatz, and Wu-Tang Wednesdays.

It feels like labels have whole-heartedly embraced leaks, but some musicians have still found ways to stretch against the boundaries of acceptable behavior.

Atlanta rapper Big Boi, one half of the group OutKast, used leaks to call his label's bluff and to prove he had an audience. For three years Jive Records refused to put out his solo album, Sir Lucious Leftfoot, so at the end of last year Big Boi personally began giving away songs from it to rap blogs and then to people that follow him on Twitter.

Big Boi tells the saga of his album release to CNN.

YouTube

Eventually Jive let him take the album to Def Jam. When that label looked like it might not hold to a promised summer release date, Big Boi started leaking tracks again. The full album hit stores on July 6th, after the rapper had given away more than a third of it.

The one concession he couldn't wring out of either label was the release of a song featuring his once and — fans hope — future partner Andre 3000.

So he leaked that one too.

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