Leaked music dates back to when digital music first became available. Peer to peer sharing through Napster was one of the first examples of pirating, leaked music, and a breach of trust between artists and fans. A lot has changed since the Napster days, but leaks still affect artists and fans in major ways.
Demand from fans pushes artists to their creative limits from consuming songs that were meant to be on the album. Artists are going back in the studio to record new music to replace what has been leaked. This is the age of impatience.
Almost every day, I see people talking about leaked songs on my Twitter timeline. Before even opening the link, I can almost guarantee it’s going to be a Playboi Carti or Travis Scott song. As of right now, these two artists are constantly having their old and new singles leaked across the internet. It wasn’t too long after Carti and Young Nudy’s “Pissy Pamper/Kid Cudi” became one of the most talked about rap tracks of the summer, and even Genius made a video about the track.
The artists who have tracks leaked online often have extremely loyal fan bases. LEAKTHIS and Reddit are hubs in the realm of unofficially released tracks. Fan forums on Reddit spread the initial word of the leaked track, and things spirals from there. Artists’ iClouds, or wherever they store their files, are hacked and sold online to fans who kick in on a GoFundMe to get these unreleased tracks either before they come out, or older songs and demos. These GoFundMe accounts are spread in these fan groups so that the song will be released as soon as possible.
It’s almost too easy for fans to get their hands on this unreleased music. For example, when you Google “Baby Choppa 21 Savage”, you are linked to the track on Spotify under a fake name. These songs exist on Spotify under pseudonyms so that they won’t get taken down immediately. Last week, a fan uploaded a handful of Travis Scott leaks to Spotify and Apple Music under the name “RAGER UNIVERSE”, but the account was nonexistent hours later. These tracks also exist on SoundCloud, but again, are taken down quickly.
Playboi Carti’s Discord has 10,000 members, and a poll on his Reddit thread says that there are 64.1K fans waiting for his next album: Whole Lotta Red. The record’s release is being constantly pushed back due to songs that were going to be on the album leaking. Carti also had so many of his songs leaked off of his 2018 album, Die Lit, that he panic dropped the album in fear that every song would soon be heard.
The average artist used to turn out albums on a biyearly basis, with some on the yearly status. Now, if an artist doesn’t put out an album per year fans get extremely antsy. Artists like Frank Ocean and Lorde are notorious for taking their time, and they both receive fan messages constantly yearning for a new project. These artists are also MIA on social media. If they were actively interacting with fans, would there be less of a demand for new music? Frank and Lorde specifically have set their boundaries and the ambiguity of when they will appear online might give fans something to look forward to. Someone like Lil Nas X has saturated the internet with content, and does not seem to have fans tugging on his sleeves for more, at least not yet.
BROCKHAMPTON changed the face of the typical album release cycle with their Saturation series, three albums dropped in the span of seven months. They self admitted that their work ethic was unhealthy, and took a terrible toll on their mental and physical health, yet listeners looked past all of that and still expect more artists to follow in that path.
Travis Scott fulfilled his fan requests by dropping “HIGHEST IN THE ROOM” on October 4, and the song reached #1 within a few days. The track was just the beginning: he released the music video, a merch line specifically for the song, three different single covers and a free T-shirt to thank his fans for their support. After all of this, fans are still after him for his next album.
The question for the music business is how to navigate the current fan culture while giving artists time to craft an album that they are proud of. The demand for constant new music even in the age of low cost streaming does not look like it is slowing down. Will artists lose fans if they take too long? Will artists lose fans if they make something quickly and it’s bad? This is the current challenge for artists and their labels at the moment.