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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Speaking of 2010, it was the year of the leaked song. 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. But as NPR's Frannie Kelley reports, this year, the man won.

FRANNIE KELLEY: These days, when you get something for free on the Internet, you were probably supposed to. But even though you might've become part of somebody's marketing plan, in 2010 you could still get a lot of brand new music for free.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLEY: Leaks have become part of the release of an album. 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 you usually can't pay money for it even if you want to.

(Soundbite of song, "Apple Bomb")

DEERHOOF (Band): (Singing) Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Atomic bombs are going to explode. Warning to you. Warning to you...

KELLEY: Keep in mind these are finished, mastered songs that bands and their labels could sell. But they give them away for free, usually until their full albums hit stores. Rock bands, electronic musicians, a few Indie classical groups, everybody is doing it.

(Soundbite of song, "Power")

Mr. KANYE WEST (Singer-songwriter): (Singing) I'm living in the 21st century, doing something mean to it. Do it better than anybody ya' ever seen do it. Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it. I guess every superhero need his theme music. No one man should have all that power...

KELLEY: 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.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Woke up this morning hoping it was all a lie. Yeah. You are gone...

KELLEY: This year, musicians didn't only use leaks for promotion. Atlanta rapper Big Boi, one half of the group OutKast, used leaks to call his label's bluff. For three years, Jive Records refused to put out his solo album, "Sir Lucious Leftfoot." So at the end of last year, Big Boi began giving away songs from it to hip-hop blogs and then to people who follow him on Twitter.

(Soundbite of song, "Sir Lucious Leftfoot")

BIG BOI (Rapper): (Rapping) One star. Sir Lucious Leftfoot is on fire, trying to block my shine just ain't going to happen. So don't try...

KELLEY: Eventually, Jive Records 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 personally given away more than a third of it.

(Soundbite of song, "Sir Lucious Leftfoot")

BIG BOI: (Rapping) They tried but we shall overcome and succeed, indeed. But success that comes at what responsibility? We chose to lead not follow. It's a hard pill to swallow. Better get prescriptions filled 'cause there might not be tomorrow...

KELLEY: 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.

(Soundbite of song "Lookin' 4 Ya")

MONTAGNE: NPR's Frannie Kelley looked at song leaks in 2010. Tomorrow: The year in dance music.

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