Who leaks music albums and why?

Formerly, we used to wait for albums so long that our calendars would be marked with a red-letter day if one of our divas was to deliver a disc that day. There was a glory behind the boxed delivery, the opening and the scrutinizing of the artwork and sleeve. “That back cover should have been in the front,” you would hear us complain about Madonna’s Erotica.

Enter – the phenomenon of the music leak. Albums for a decade now started hitting the internet a couple of days, sometimes weeks, before the release date. As music-heads, we can’t help but wait for it to hit the iTunes store or another download site. The unboxing of the album has vanished and now we wouldn’t know who artists thanked in their album notes if our lives depended on it.

In fact, we have become so accustomed to the online version that sometimes we pass by a record store and an album catches our eye – “Wow, that’s how the final package turned out” or “I didn’t know it came in a jewel case and the actual CD was that color” you’d hear us say.

It’s a new world and almost every album now is guaranteed to leak before it makes it to the stores or your online music provider. Well, allegedly there are several reasons why this happens and they are:

  • A stolen leak: This leak is what it says. Someone decides to steal a computer or from a database (through a hack) and share it with the world either to get hits on their site, seek revenge or, in some people’s cases, boast about it to fellow fans. This is case with a leak from Madonna’s MDNA album ways before its time. Of course, Madge had to call the cops to get the guys.
  • A record label leak: The record labels send it out to undisclosed recipients or a random bloggers in order to give it a marketing boost. Of course, the record label would not confess to this, but it does generate great buzz especially when the songs leak individually over a span of time. This way people would continuously be talking about it until it comes out. This recently happened with Christina Aguilera’s Lotus.
  • The factory leak: Before the album comes out it must be manufactured and packaged. Some of the those pesky handlers could / would drag one of these copies and hand them to a fan or an interested person for a much-coveted price. Not sure if this happened on record, but it has to be in existence. You’d know what we mean if you have visited the piracy stalls in the Far East where we found a copy of Victoria Beckham’s second album, Open Your Eyes,  which has yet to see the light of day.
  • A journalist leak: This one is the oldest form of the leak phenomenon. A copy of the album is sent to a newspaper, magazine or radio station for review purposes or to hold until the album comes out. The journalist would send it to a fan of the band or artist and it would spread from there. This happens less these days, but was detrimental on Mariah Carey’s Glitter sales.
  • An official leak: This is when a record label or an artist knowingly leaks an album online and everyone is happy with the decision. This is very prevalent with EPs and Mixtapes like M.I.A.’s Vicki Leekx.
  • The iTunes leak: iTunes accidentally registers an album with the wrong release date and it comes out that day on their servers. This rarely happens but it has in Ani DiFranco’s Reprieve case.

There you have it – the reasons why albums leak. To tell you the truth, it’s hard to imagine the world without the music leak. It gives you what you want, before you want it. In fact, most best selling albums these days perform better on the charts if the music was leaked prior to its availability.


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  1. DavidSask says:

    Great informative article!