This is going to sound a little crazy at first, but the availability of your material online is just as important to curving piracy in 2016 as the need to actively combat the proliferation of links through DCMA Takedown Notices. That may seem counter-intuitive, as the spread of your unreleased material is typically not something you want easily available to anonymous people online, but there comes a point in every album promotion cycle where the exact opposite becomes true. Allow me to explain…
Let’s pretend for a moment that we are all in the same band. Our new album, which we have been working on for the past several months, is due out in the near future. Pre-orders have been going strong for a while now, but with a new tour starting 10 days before the album’s release we’ve decided that we will have copies of the record available for sale at every date of the run. This means that, for about a week and a half, anyone who attends a concert of ours will be able to purchase our new album early, which on paper seems like a good deal for everyone involved: Fans get music early, and we begin seeing an early return on our creative efforts.
There is a catch, however, and that is the fact that anyone with early access to our album also has the ability to leak that record online. 10 days may not seem like a long time when you step back and think about a career in music as a whole, but in the world of piracy it’s equal to a lifetime. Kanye West’s latest album The Life of Pablo, for example, leaked online before many people even knew where to find the record’s official Tidal stream. Within 24 hours more than 100,000 people had downloaded the original leak, and countless more had shared their download with family/friends. By Friday of that same week more than half a million people had illegally downloaded the record, with tens of thousands more following suit the next day.
Our band might not have the same size audience as Kanye West, but our album could suffer a similar fate if we do not take steps to curve the proliferation of illegal downloads online. The first round of defense is, of course, asking fans to wait and purchase the album. The second, and honestly – most important of all – is that we MAKE THE ALBUM AVAILABLE ONLINE.
The key to winning the battle against piracy, especially over the longterm, is taking whatever steps you can to make your music available to fans. This includes, but is not limited to: Soundcloud album stream, Spotify stream, Rdio, Pandora, and Bandcamp. As soon as a physical version of your album is available for sale you need to have a digital stream available and ready to be shared with press and fans alike. By offering a free and completely legal way to access music fans have less reason to even look for leaks, let alone download them. Why should they? Streaming is the number one way people experience music today, so if streaming is an option for your fans they won’t feel the need to engage in piracy. Everything they want is already available, it’s free as well.
A recent report showed that almost ¼ of an album’s total sales happen BEFORE the scheduled release date. Leaks can help sales, but more often than not they have the opposite effect. Streams on the other hand, can encourage consumers to purchase the album, as well as aide in promoting tours and other upcoming events. By hosting the stream yourself the power is entirely in your hands, which is something most artists rarely experience in the modern business.