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How Man Overboard Made Their Record Leak Turn Into A Good Thing

If you read my blog, you know that we believe the way record companies handle leaks is one of the many holdovers of a bunch of Luddites refusing to adapt to the times. We write constantly about their refusal to figure out a way to take a leak and turn it into a good thing. As circumstance would have it, I had the chance to put my money where my mouth is when one of the groups I manage, Man Overboard, had their record leak 28 days before the intended release date. After the jump we will discuss how we made this become another thing that won us both new fans and the loyalty of the ones we already had. 

Man Overboard is a pop punk band out of New Jersey that have a decent following and a VERY devoted fanbase. Despite the fact that we are no household name, we have a committed following in our scene across the country that has been eagerly looking forward to the release of our debut LP Real Talk. In addition to managing the band, I also produced, engineered and mixed the record and consider it one of the strongest achievements in my long discography. Obviously, with all of these ties, I have a lot invested in this release. We knew the potential for it to leak was huge, since this is a scene of kids who sit on the Internet all day sending files to one another and we had a lot of people lighting up Twitter and Tumblr looking for it from the day we finished recording. We decided to keep it very secure, even the members of the band were only given a single track Mp3.

How The Leak Happened

Part of the plan for keeping the record on tight lock-down was to send it only seven key writers from websites and publications with great reputations who would never allow it to leak. So we thought. Unfortunately, one writer who was the most over-zealous of them all to get it, gave it out to some friends (The label figured out who it was by searching through Last.FM scrobbles, Facebook friends, Twitter followers and then finding a leaked copy where we looked at the watermark - the leaker then admitted it). We started to see songs on the record get shared on Tumblr and numerous tweets about it (which thankfully were very favorable). I ended up spending two hours while I was out on a Friday night begging a 16 year old girl from Canada to not leak any more of the record (not the type of thing they tell you about when you go to music business school) after she posted a song on her Tumblr. At this point we realized the record would inevitably leak early.

I approached the band and their awesome label Run For Cover with the idea of leaking the record early. Both were immediately on board (it rules to work with smart and open people) and Jeff at Run For Cover approached his digital distributor about getting it on iTunes ASAP (took about 48 hours). A few days later we saw enough tumbles and tweets that we knew it was time to put the record up. We got it up within 30 minutes of the record hitting two of the biggest leak sites on the net.
There was a lot of discussion as to whether we should get out ahead of the leak. While this seemed like it may help sales, we also worried if perhaps we were just paranoid and opted to wait. The band has long been a big fan of Bandcamp and has always had the philosophy that we should direct our fans to buy records from them rather than other retailers since we can get their emails, stay in touch with them and also steer them toward the large amount of free music we offer (as well we get a much bigger profit share than iTunes sales). Since Bandcamp allows you to hide releases, we decided to upload the record so that we could simply unhide it once the record leaked, to ensure we could get it up as fast as possible. We were happy that iTunes was a little slow to put the record up since it meant fans came to the Bandcamp and we got their emails and they could easily find more of our free music and get hooked on the band.

Before we recorded the record we had recorded a track we decided would be exclusive to Bandcamp in order to drive sales there instead of iTunes. This ended up working out in our favor since this track did not leak with the record and gave our fans a reason to buy this version rather than the leaked version of the record. We also added physical packages to the pre-order so fans could buy the CD or LP and get an immediate download to tide them over. Run For Cover also employed Bandcamp download codes to send to all of our fans who pre-ordered the record.

We crafted a press release for our website, other blogs/websites and our mailing list that explained why we did this. It is an awful feeling when you want to support a group by buying their music, but have to stare down a link to a record you really want. You would love to give the group the money but because they won’t be proactive and offer it for sale, you download the record and forget to buy it when it comes out since two months later you aren’t as enthusiastic towards the record or you may find yourself broke. 

We linked everyone to our website where we had up the Musformation widget that allows you to trade emails or tweets for a track (it will offer Facebook shares and likes for a track as of next week as well!) so that fans could get a taste of the record. By linking everyone to the website they could also see what else we had going on as well as follow our social networks. It was very important to us that if this record was going to leak we could use it to build more fans by having them spread the word through tweets and getting them into our mailing list.

MOBleak1.pngThe response could not have been better. Many fans praised us for being “adults” about the situation and countless fans were thankful they got a record they had been waiting for a month early. Other said they would buy the record just to support a group behaving in this fashion. On messageboards and blog comments we could not have gotten a better response,with at least two dozen compliments on how cool it was for us to release the record to our fans early instead of inflicting the usual torture of waiting upon our fans.

We earned loyalty from our fans and made them into evangelists by doing them right, which coincidentally also did us right. A win-win situation that most labels turn into a lose-lose situation. We could not be more thankful to have a smart label and team that made us able to benefit from something that is usually thought of as a catastophe.

MOBleak 2.pngWe were also rewarded in sales. The record sold better than we expected! Of the 6 reviews we got so far, all of them are raving with most awarding us perfect scores and record of the year accolades. We had numerous sites interview us specifically to talk about how well we handled the leak and got tons of write-ups on sites that never wrote about us before, but were now interested after seeing the huge reaction to this situation. We hope the rest of the industry can learn from what this situation taught us!

Jesse Cannon is the editor of the blog Musformation, manager of Man Overboard and Repeater and the owner of Cannon Found Soundation Recording Studios.

Reader Comments (10)

How on earth did you manage to get it up on iTunes in 48 hours? My experience is that there's a lead-in time of at least 4 weeks before it appears on there?

July 26 | Unregistered Commenterliquidcow

Most of the aggregators now allow you to upload to iTunes in less than 24 hours. It's definitelyu a new thing.

July 26 | Unregistered CommenterJesse Cannon

Good example of how to capitalize on everything your band does by re-purposing and re-packaging press release content into something more useful and relevant. Meta meta meta!!

July 26 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Nice one Jesse. Dude, that's the big difference between the winners and the losers in the tech age man. I reckon the labels and artists who are happy to embrace change, and willing to deal with a little uncertainty and flexibility, they're gonna kill it. We respect them and support them. We have to be as creative in our marketing as we are in our music now if we expect to make it.


___ Free Music Marketing Info

July 26 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cox

The release I did from Aarktica last fall got leaked prior to us even receiving the copies from the manufacturer (we know who did it, but that's a whole other story). So it was hard to decide what to do. It was up on Rapidshare, MegaUpload, & all the regular culprits (one of them, I can't remember which one, listed how many times the file was downloaded & it was 1400 times in the 48 hours between when it was posted & finally taken down). I have to say all of the "reputable" sites did get the files down pretty quickly & I did opt to contact a couple host providers to get some people kicked off their servers for sending me nasty notes for requesting them to take our content down (wait, I'm a "Nazi" for thinking I have the right to control the distribution of something I invested a few thousand dollars in? Capitalist, sure, but "Nazi"?). Did the leak cost sales, well it is the lowest selling Aarktica album despite having the most reviews. It's hard to know what to do when it happens, because like pretty much everyone that an early leak happens too, we weren't ready & didn't have anything in place to fix it.

Jesse, didn't know you were doing management now. That is awesome and thank you for sharing this extremely valuable information!

July 27 | Registered CommenterKurt Zikaras

I am in total agreement about this being a great example of who will win and who will lose as the structure of the music industry shape-shifts into a new creature. Congratulations. Make independent decisions, know your fanbase and deal directly with them, and react to paradigm shifts by adapting! The rules are changing and independent musicians can take it upon themselves (and their team) to get creative, reaping more lasting benefit than any Major label has in its bleak future. Radiohead knew "In Rainbows" would leak, so they leaked it themselves! and we all know how that worked out. Music fans support groups like yours who prove themselves to be real bands, not helpless puppets of the music industry.
Christian Blunda, Music Director
profits to the people

This is now on where you get great praise. Going to check out the band, never heard of them, and will buy a copy if I like it.

July 30 | Unregistered CommenterPaperbag

Nice to see someone capitalize on an unfortunate situation. Nice job. I look forward to hearing Man Overboards' stuff.

July 30 | Unregistered Commenterweneedhelp

Awesome job! I like how you also took full advantage of bundling physical artifacts (cd / lp)

...most importantly you had the key piece: great music.

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