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.
The 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.
We 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!