Jay-Z And Kanye West Go To Ridiculous Efforts To Stop Album From Leaking

from the for-how-much-benefit? dept

One of our usual critics pointed us to a recent article at Billboard about the insane lengths that Jay-Z, Kanye West and the producers of their joint album went through to keep the album from leaking early. The whole thing sounds pretty extreme. They recorded in “pop up” studios they set up in hotel rooms, rather than at real recording studios. Then there were three key engineers who turned off all computer WiFi in the rooms. Collaborators were not allowed to hear tracks outside of the room (so no emailing around tracks for ideas). Everything had to happen in person. Meanwhile, all the work was saved on hard drives locked up in a briefcase. The drives apparently had biometric security, in that you could only access them with a fingerswipe matching fingerprints.

And, amazingly, all of this “worked.” The album apparently was released on time without any leaks. Our critic said this proves that I’m a liar when I say “musicians don’t care about piracy.” Of course, I’ve never said nor implied any such thing. I know that plenty of musicians “care” about piracy. But this story first of all wasn’t about “piracy” so much as it was about leaks. It’s clear from the article that it wasn’t about the economic threat of a pre-release, but how it fit into the marketing strategy. Jay-Z wanted to try to get people to listen to the whole album.

On top of that, all the crazy “CIA” stuff isn’t what stopped the album from leaking. For all the talk of “hackers” breaking into computers and grabbing copies of tracks early, most tracks leak because of one thing: someone in the final processing chain gets the master early and leaks the tracks. The reason this album didn’t leak early was because they delivered the masters as close to the release as possible. Any artist who wants to avoid leaks really just needs to do something like that, and ignore the Mission Impossible crap.

But the larger point is… is something like this even worth it? The article also notes that others may follow suit. But I’m curious if the “cost” really is worth it. It limits the creative freedom (such as emailing back and forth tracks). It does little to nothing to stop actual infringement. All it does is make sure the marketing plan goes down without anyone being able to listen to it early or help promote it on blogs and such when it comes out. If anything it seems to ignore the modern marketing strategy, where new tracks are purposely leaked to get the buzz going. I’m sure the album will do fine, given the two names attached to it. But I don’t’ see how this has anything to do with “piracy,” and I can’t see how any “benefit” outweighs the cost. I have to imagine that if other artists go down this same path, they’re going to discover it’s a waste of time and money for almost no benefit.

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Comments on “Jay-Z And Kanye West Go To Ridiculous Efforts To Stop Album From Leaking”

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Planespotter (profile) says:

What’s funny is that this has been available on Usenet for the last 9-10 days… so all that to stop it leaking early may have prevented the initial leak but did nothing to stop it being ripped once it became available. I’d imagine it is available on p2p networks as well so would be interesting to see how many it sells given the availability from “illegal” sources.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Well, there is this…

“While the official weekly sales data is still out, one record has been announced.
Jay-Z and Kanye West set a new iTunes one-week sales record with ?Watch The Throne?, selling nearly 290,000 downloads through Sunday night (Aug. 14). The previous one-week iTunes record was set in 2008 with Coldplay?s album ?Viva La Vida Or Death and All His Friends?.”

So I would say ripped or not, the indication is that Mr. West and Mr. Carter’s bank accounts will be fine.

PaulT (profile) says:

I didn’t even know this album was coming out until I saw it pop up on Spotify today. I might give it a listen.

“Jay-Z wanted to try to get people to listen to the whole album.”

I’ll do what I’ve always done – I’ll listen to the whole album once in the “correct” order then if I think it’s worth buying I’ll only buy the ones I actually want if the price/# of wanted tracks doesn’t make it worth buying the full thing. Even if I do, I’ll order the tracks in the way I please, as I have done ever since cassette made it possible to record vinyl & radio to skip the crap. Some people won’t do that, and will wait for a free pirated or streamed version before they make that decision anyway.

In trying to “protect” his art, all Jay-Z’s really doing is stopping people from doing what they want. It will ultimately fail – even those people buying CDs will just rip them and play the tracks they want as they want, and there’s nothing he can do to stop them. As for “piracy”, well this won’t stop a single download. Delay them, maybe, but not one person is going to part with money they wouldn’t have spent just because the leak was delayed.

All that effort for literally nothing. Sad, really.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

As a hip hop producer specifically and just a musician (albeit far far far far less successful than the two named here) in general, I have to say that I completely understand the reason for protecting the product against leaks prior to release date. It has nothing to do with piracy protection and despite what Jay Z says, it also has nothing to do with making you listen to the whole album.

In actuality, the hip hop scene is notorious for leaks. The mix tape scene and the underground scene are ravenous for new product. So if someone can get their hands on a new Jay Z and Kanye West track (or tracks) before anyone else and leak that to the internet or a radio station or club DJ it is HUGE!!!!!! This is what they wanted to prevent. Alot of artists have fallen victim to the creative theft of their material prior to its release and its not that the music is leaked that hurts but its that as an artist (especially in hip hop) having something new that noone else has heard and being able to control how the public hears it for that first time is artistically and egotistically critical. When a song or two from an album gets leaked, in many cases the artist will remove that song from the album and replace it with something different. Case in point is Dr. Dre – His upcoming album Detox which is the most anticipated and delayed album in hip hop history is expected to be the hottest commodity the genre has seen in its history. Yet, several tracks have been leaked to the internet and the perfectionist that Dre is, he has responded by either scrapping those songs or as in the case of the two latest leaks (Kush and I Need A Doctor) marketing them as pre-Detox releases that may or may not end up on the official album. It is this need to have the new music presented to his fans the way he wants to showcase it that drives the need to go to extreme lengths to prevent it from leaking.

No artist with half a brain should think that any leak protection they do will prevent piracy. That’s just crazy talk. The music business is all about timing and building up hype around a release and when new music is leaked before the release it can (and has) had a detrimental affect on the success of the overall album for many artist. Again, not because of piracy but because that “new” factor is loss. Fans will get the album and depending on when the leak of the song or album occurred, could be already thinking in terms of “Oh that song is old now or I am so sick of hearing yada yada yada…..etc…” That is what the artist is trying to protect against. Having their new product already be dated and old (and copied by other rival artists) before it hits the streets.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:


Now, explain which part of that has to do with the extraordinary lengths gone to stop the album “leaking”, and how much has to do with the large fanbases both rapper already had before recording the album. I think one greatly outweighs the other somehow…

It seems to me their victory is some combination of both. You’ll never be able to quantify it with any exactitude as you are asking for. We can sit around and make wild ass guesses all we want, but nothing will change the fact that what they did, in combination, got them the No. 1 album.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“You’ll never be able to quantify it with any exactitude as you are asking for.”

Indeed. Which is why it should stop being claimed that it did have any measurable positive effect.

“that what they did, in combination, got them the No. 1 album”

Fair enough. If you don’t pretend that one side of the equation is the most important, I won’t pretend the reverse. Although, a #1 album from either artist without such secrecy is hardly unprecedented, so I fail to see how such secrecy was necessary for sales here.

The Incoherent One (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Your point? Lady Gaga’s latest release “Born This Way” was available for download long before its May 23rd release date, and guess what:

“Upon release, Born This Way sold 1.108 million copies in its first week in the United States, debuting atop the Billboard 200, and topping the charts in more than 10 other countries.”


Certified Platinum its first week WITH piracy.

Planespotter (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And this album “Watch The Throne” broke the iTunes opening week record with 290,000 digital sales doubling the previous record and is on sale for about $15, so yes selling at a $1 is going to boost sales significantly but even at $15 with large scale infringement artists can still sell large quantities as long as the album is worth the purchase.

Todd (profile) says:

Great Idea

This does seem like an idea that could get some uptake. It probably doesn’t have much to do with financial results or stopping piracy. It strikes me as the new version of “no brown m&m’s in our dressing room”. Artists LOVE to think that every single word that slips from their lips is complete gold – lightning in a bottle. If it requires a triple-secret handshake and a press pass just to hear me fart, well, I must be really important.

Expect more of the same. You can’t make much better of a bet than to guess that famous people will spend money on anything that boosts their ego.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Correct Title:

“Jay-Z And Kanye West Go To Ridiculous Efforts To Stop Fans From Hearing New Album Before its Completed Thus Ensuring the Album Fans Hear is the Album They Intended”

I mean really nothing they did to protect their music has prevented legal sales, piracy, #1 album and record iTunes sales etc etc etc.

Griffalo (profile) says:

To be fair...

They leaked several songs from these sessions ahead of time but then didn’t put them on the album (though they are on the ‘deluxe edition’).

Both artists make extensive use of free mixtapes, both to leak parts of this album and their own work more widely – this was really just a fun little exercise from two of the richest people in hip-hop (numbers 1 and 3 according to Forbes) to make something feel ‘special’.

Whether it’s a success or not is another discussion but I don’t think this provides any evidence that artists hate piracy or anything – they just tried to keep this as secret as they could, mainly to see if they could.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: To be fair...

Jay Z is definitely against piracy. In a song entitled The Prelude from his Kingdom Come album he says:

On the internet, they like you should spit it
I’m like you should buy it, n**** that’s good business

referring to how many people think artists should just release their music on the net for free. Jay’s response is hey, I make the music so you can buy it, that’s good business. Very simple and elegant point. Won’t stop piracy but from the artist’s perspective it is the right response. Basically saying this is my product and is what I use to feed my family. Would any of you give away your skills and products to the company you work for freely? Before you say yes,try going a few weeks or months without getting paid for your time and efforts – then speak.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: To be fair...

Sorry Jay, I’m not buying your album before I listen to it. If I have to pay first, I’m not buying it.

“Would any of you give away your skills and products to the company you work for freely?”

You’re donating your time here for free, so why not?

“Before you say yes,try going a few weeks or months without getting paid for your time and efforts – then speak.”

That assumes that you give away everything you get paid for now, and get no new revenue stream in return. That makes you a fool.

Me, I’ll happily give away time and effort in order to promote aspects of my work that make more money. I’ll just be selective and intelligent about how I use those free elements.

Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

All that planning...

and he still can’t figure out fish sticks.

I think everyone else already voiced the thoughts going through my head from how this is useless and pointless to “who gives a damn”. I’m sure the fans will like the new album… I’m sure there’ll be some of those fans who think the M:I shtick is a neat addition; maybe to the point of humming the theme music while inserting the discs and making jokes about how they hope it doesn’t self-destruct after playing. Oh man… I hope Kanye and Jay-Z don’t read this and get more ideas.

Wait… no, I hope they do. That would be entertaining to watch! Old & Busted: Accusing your fans of piracy and treating them all like criminals? New Hotness: blowing their sh*t up!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:


Please. You’d sell your soul to sign a recording contract with a major label affiliated with the RIAA. However, being a failed wannabe has left you embittered and has you decrying those talented musicians who chose to distribute their works through one of the labels. I don’t know why you think talentless musicians are owed solidarity from talented ones.

ExceptionHanderl says:

I disagree with many thing you say Mike, but this is one of those times I do agree: this had nothing to do with piracy.

And to be honest it is a waste of money… it just goes to show you they trust the people they work with very little. At the heart of security is trust… do you trust the systems and people to keep your data secure? Apparently there is very little trust and friendship at the top…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Exactly – they don’t trust the people they work with. Rightfully so. The music business and hip hop especially is filled with cutthroat, sleazy, conniving, backstabbing individuals and I am not even talking about the many who are ex-cons and criminals. Any one of these types of people are just itching to get their hands on one or more of these tracks and post them to the net or exploit them in other ways for various financial and non-financial reasons. I tell you this from 1st hand music business experience. Copyrights, trust and all the lawyers and legal mumbo jumbo in the world can’t protect your music better than a biometric lock and a big dude named brutus holding the briefcase with your encrypted hard drives.

Loki says:

This sounds far more like a Kanye brainchild than a Jay-Z idea. The man’s already proven he on an ultra extreme power trip (and while his music is half decent, I personally don’t think it’s that good to justify such a massive ego).

I seriously doubt this has anywhere as much to do with fighting “piracy” as it does some bizarre marketing strategy (at least that’s the vibe I get from having read several sources). And, personally, I don’t see why this is really an issue for anyone. If they want to hold their music until its release date (as opposed to having it forced on them by an outside entity) they have just as much right as an artist who wants to “leak” their music early (as opposed to being prevented from doing so by an outside entity). Just like it’s Prince’s right to have like a dozen fully recorded albums and several dozen fully shot music videos sitting locked in a vault.

Jay (profile) says:

In other news...

And one question comes to mind. How much money does Jay-Z see from his album versus the money seen from his other endeavors?

Great, he beat the leakers but does the pre buzz matter to him at all? No, he has star power.

Same thing with Kanye. So after the first few months of super high Patriot Act security, and the costs of this, I doubt we’ll hear about it as much as more people go on with their daily lives.

Malak (profile) says:

Radiohead dislike leaks too

I’m trying to find my source to cite (I’m failing) but Radiohead (who I think we can all agree are relativity enlightened in this area) said in an interview that leaks really were bad, even if you give the album away for free, because they prevent you from creating an event that you can monetise.

I have to agree. Once it’s out there there’s no point in trying to control it, but using secrecy to allow you to craft a release event must make sense as a business model.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: I disagree

That’s cool as hell. I’d carry that shit around just to look like Jack Bauer, even if I didn’t need any of it.

Cool sure, but I would be even more impressed if they used all that equipment to download their own songs from the internet without regional restrictions, expiration dates or DRM in a format and quality they desire at a reasonable price.

Lord binky says:

They just did it for fun. I’m sure they got a rush from being pointlessly covert like a kid. For all the excuses of why they did it, at best it didn’t make the music worse, but it definitely didn’t make it better, and it likely made it worse being that limited to work on it. Maybe, just maybe, because they were being so goofy with it, it held their interest better than their usual way of doing things, but that has little to do with the results of the actual actions themselves.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“It’s clear from the article that it wasn’t about the economic threat of a pre-release, but how it fit into the marketing strategy. Jay-Z wanted to try to get people to listen to the whole album.”

And I think it is all just a ploy, that might work on a portion of their fanbase.

We had to do all of these crazy things so that you can hear our entire vision as we wanted you to hear it.

All of the cloak, all of the dagger, biometrics, etc.

In the end they know that it is going to be all over the net, but that have planted the idea that your going to miss out on “something” if you do not buy the entire album and listen to it in order.

I think this might be more telling about the contracts several of them have in place, and I wonder if the terms really are just that beneficial towards album vs single sales. This would explain the whole “I’m an artiste” and singles ruin my masterwork, I mean really Garth Brooks – iTunes destroys my work.

Most of these artists are in long term contracts and most of them do not remotely consider the internet, and even if there have been internet updates added to them they still suck.

The label shows you this handy report from the RIAA about how much money is being “stolen” by people sharing music, and with all of those “losses” we have to recoup the costs… so that is why your digital single is only worth 3 cents a sale to you. But when they buy the whole album, those terms are better because its treated more like a physical plastic disc sale, with more off the top for breakage. Its guessing on my part, but if I wanted to keep my death grip on my horse and buggy I would do something like that.

Even the most savvy artists are often blind to the tech world, and they have advisers (label approved) and people around them saying how everyone is talking about all the money being stolen from artists by “pirates”.

This was PR to get an outcome, a full album sale.
Lets see how that works out for them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Classic FUD piece. I just checked on iTunes and “Watch the Throne” is the No. 1 album, so obviously these guys know what they’re doing. Mike queries, “for how much benefit?” Um, No. 1 is No. 1. I’d say they’ve got the benefits all locked up nicely. But still, since they cared about piracy at all, they must be doing something wrong. You can just see Mike’s little brain getting all worked up.

For try as he might, Mike “can’t see how any ‘benefit’ outweighs the cost.” Of course you can’t see it when you’re willfully blind, Mike. Scoreboard.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Classic FUD piece”

Classically followed by an AC comment by someone who doesn’t even know what FUD is.

“I just checked on iTunes and “Watch the Throne” is the No. 1 album”

…and this has what to do with the actions taken above?

“Um, No. 1 is No. 1”

Thanks to the fame of the 2 artists, it would almost certainly have been #1 regardless of the actions taken. The question is not how successful it was, but whether the above actions made it more (or less) successful. Mike’s point, which you typically miss, is that the above strategy probably did nothing significant.

besides, #1 is only relative. All #1 really means is that it outsold everything else that week. Was it a strong week for sales, or a weak one? A weak one, and anything new moight have reached #1 with the right couple of names on the cover, regardless of anything they did…

“But still, since they cared about piracy at all, they must be doing something wrong.”

Yep, you still don’t understand a signle word being discussed, but try to act smug anyway. No matter how smug you are, you’re still ignorant.

“Of course you can’t see it when you’re willfully blind, Mike.”

Kettle, stop attacking the pot, please.


I have no idea what this means.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“The reasonable inference is that what they did was beneficial”

..or that the album would have been #1 regardless of the above. Or that they could have sold more in the first week had a leak allowed potential listeners to preview it. Or that the whole this was an ego exercised from a could of well known egotists.

The only nonsense here is insisting that a #1 album means anything concrete, and that your preferred narrative has to be the correct one.

Culturengine (user link) says:

They dropped the album like Apple drop products

I heard that they only announced the release to online retailers 24 hours before the album came out.

This might not stop downloads later on either, but it does give you a window for pure sales without much p2p competition (win) and it does mean that entire departments at big retailers have to think about nothing other than your release to get it out on time (win).

The Incoherent One (profile) says:

Re: They dropped the album like Apple drop products

For the person who would have downloaded and never paid for the album, there is no harm in waiting 1 hour after its official release to get it from a P2P network. This did nothing. It makes for a good story and gives yourself and some of the AC’s something to latch onto, but where in your head could you possible think that this gives them 24 hours on no competition from a P2P network? Do you know how long its takes to download an album and make it available via Bit Torrent? I assure you it is a hell of a lot less than 24 hours.

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