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Opinion: Pop A Wheelie On The Zeitgeist: Why Release Dates Still Matter

Vampire Weekend's latest album leaked weeks ahead of its official release.

“Oh yeah, I heard that last week.”
“Yeah I already kinda played that out.”

Do these statements sound familiar to you? If you are someone who stays reasonably up to date with music, the odds are you hear statements like these all the time regarding album leaks. The leak has become such a ubiquity in modern listening that it’s a much bigger story when an album doesn’t leak than when it does. It wasn’t always like this. Album “leaking” is an issue that goes back to the cassette tape era, when record stores would get a rush shipment of a new release, and clerks would stay up all night bootlegging a smuggled copy and selling it to eager fans days before the official release. However, with the advent of the internet and file sharing, an anticipated album leaking weeks, or even months before it’s published drop date has become commonplace.

There are two recent releases that highlight the two sides of the leak dilemma. One was Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires In The City. The other was Kanye West’s Yeezus. Both records were very well received, and will no doubt appear on many year end lists come December. The difference between the two albums (aside from the obvious stylistic diversions) was that Modern Vampires leaked weeks ahead of it’s scheduled release, while Yeezus snuck onto the internet a scant 3 days before it’s scheduled drop date.

Being someone who enjoys Vampire Weekend without being obsessive, I, like many people, figured out the album had leaked when the band announced it would be streaming the new record for free online, a tell tale sign that an album is “out there” for those inclined to go find it. I gave it a listen, enjoyed it, and asked a friend what she thought of it. She said she enjoyed it as well, but had been listening to it for a while now. I then checked a forum I frequent, and to little surprise found the Modern Vampires thread was already weeks old, with people now discussing the more minute elements of production credits and physical release details.

"Yeezus" leaked just a few days before its June 18th release date.

On the other end of the spectrum, Yeezus leaking the Friday before it’s release date was treated as something of a major event. News sources were commenting on it, and everyone, everywhere who had a slight interest in hearing it was listening to it at the same time. What some dubbed “Yeezter weekend” unfolded as the collective music listening public listened to and discussed the new Kanye record.

Now, the popularity gap between Kanye West and Vampire Weekend factors in here, but other big name artists like J Cole have had the same leak fatigue issues as Vampire Weekend, and it will be interesting to see what happens if Jay-Z’s new record leaks well ahead of it’s release date. What I think Kanye proved is that there is a cultural significance in capturing the zeitgeist, having that moment when everyone, everywhere is talking about your record, and the only way to accomplish that is to avoid leaks at all cost.

Unfortunately, this is almost completely out of the artists hands, as advances, promos, and a million other outlets lead to records leaking early. But there are measures artists can take to help keep their material under wraps. Jack White has been known to only press vinyl copies of his initial advances, and Kanye keeps demo’s on external hard drives under literal lock and key. Ultimately, even in our fractured modern culture, the “be here now” of a record release is still a thrilling experience, and one that artists should continue to preserve by any means necessary.

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1 Legacy Comment

  • Comment by JazzzGuy36 posted June 28, 2013 at 11:21

    Fascinating piece – an underappreciated nuance!