Do Leaked Albums And Songs Hurt Or Help Artists?

Aug 14, 2013
Originally published on August 14, 2013 3:20 pm

Katy Perry‘s new single “Roar” from her upcoming album “Prism” and Lady Gaga’s latest track “Applause” from her new album “ARTPOP,” both were leaked over the weekend. The artists and their labels have very different initial reactions.

Lady Gaga called upon fans to report leaks for removal, while Katy Perry simply tweeted “Looks like there’s a tiger on the loose!!!”

Ultimately, both songs were released early.

Artists and record labels may fear a drop in sales if a song or album is leaked ahead of it’s release date, but that may not be the case.

In a 2012 study, economist Robert Hammond from North Carolina State University looked at the relationship between downloads of leaked tracks and their legitimate sales.

His research suggested that if an album leaks it might benefit the sales of that album later. 


  • Claire Suddath, entertainment reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek. She tweets @clairesuddath.
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Well, sticking with the music industry, let's move to a big story in the world of pop music. If it were up to Lady Gaga, we would not be able to play this song yet.


LADY GAGA: (Singing) I live for the applause, applause, applause. I live for the applause-plause, live for the applause-plause.

HOBSON: That song is called "Applause." It was supposed to be released on Aug. 19th, but it was leaked on the Internet, so Gaga and her record label decided to release it early. That is a common occurrence these days for musicians. And joining us to talk about it from the Bloomberg newsroom in New York is Claire Suddath, an entertainment reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek. Claire, there's an interesting backstory here. Tell us what happened with Lady Gaga's release over the weekend.

CLAIRE SUDDATH: Well, so she has a new album coming out in November, called "ARTPOP." And on Aug. 19th, she was going to release the first single off of it, called "Applause," which you just heard. But it showed up on the Internet over the weekend. And so she tweeted some very angry things. I think her main complaint was that as an artist, she had sort of lost control over her work, and it's not someone else's decision when to release her songs. Then her label decided that they would just push it out early.

HOBSON: How did it leak? How did it get put out on the Internet before she wanted it to be there?

SUDDATH: You know, that is a really good question. The single was supposed to come out pretty soon. And so when you are so close to the release date, at that point, the tracks are everywhere. They're going to be uploaded to iTunes. The CDs are out and being sent to people, and so it's sort of inevitable. I mean, usually, when leaks happen, it's within the two weeks to a month before something comes out.

HOBSON: She is not the only one dealing with this. Katy Perry's new single "Roar" leaked two days before it was supposed to come out, and then the record label also ended up releasing it early. Let's take a listen to that.


KATY PERRY: (Singing) Because I am a champion, and you're gonna hear me roar louder, louder than a lion, because I am a champion.

HOBSON: And when it was posted, Katy Perry tweeted: Looks like there's a tiger on the loose. So what about this strategy of just pushing up the release date?

SUDDATH: You know, it's interesting. I mean, I think that two things are happening, here. One is there's this generally held belief that if a song leaks, then it can be pirated, and that will lead to decrease in sales, because if people can get the song for free, why are they going to bother to wait, you know, two weeks or a month or whatever it is to download it and pay? So they just release it early with the hopes that, well, if you want the real version, here it is. And then there was some speculation that it would actually help boost the songs up the charts, but that does not seem to be the case.

HOBSON: How common is this? I mean, these are two big musicians, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. Does this happen with all kinds of artists?

SUDDATH: Yes. It is generally understood that if you are a relatively famous artist and you have a song or an album coming out anytime soon, it's probably going to get leaked. I think it's rare that it does not get leaked.

HOBSON: Now, there was one that did not leak, famously. This is David Bowie's most recent album, "The Next Day." Let's take a listen to some of that.


DAVID BOWIE: (Singing) They live upon their feet, and they die upon their knees. They can work with Satan while they dress like the saints. They know God exists, for the Devil told them so. They scream my name aloud, down into the well below. Here I am, not quite dying, my body left to rot in a hollow tree. Its branches throwing shadows...

HOBSON: Claire, this is the title track "The Next Day." Why didn't that one leak?

SUDDATH: I think a lot of people didn't know that he was going to release an album...


SUDDATH: ...until right before it came out. So no one was really looking for it. But, interestingly enough, that album is one of the few that iTunes has experimented with streaming online in its entirety. So before it came out, you could listen to the entire thing. In a way, it's almost, like, why would you bother to leak it, then? Because you can listen to it online for free, and then decide to buy it after that.

HOBSON: So maybe the best way to keep your album from leaking is just to keep the entire idea that you're making an album totally secret.

SUDDATH: Yeah, I think so. Another interesting one is the Kanye and Jay-Z album, "Watch the Throne."


SUDDATH: It was one of the first major hip-hop releases in years that did not get leaked. The way they did that was when people would come in to lay down tracks, they would do it in person rather than emailing them back and forth, which is what usually happens. So you can either take the extreme precautionary measures like that, or, you know, with Kanye's most recent album, "Yeezus," he just sort of gave up and said: I'm going to have an outdoor listening party. You can record if you want to, you know, take pictures on your phones, send it to friends. He sort of didn't care that time.

HOBSON: Claire Suddath is an entertainment reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek, talking with us about leaks in pop music. Claire, thank you so much.

SUDDATH: Thank you so much.


KANYE WEST: (Singing) Me and the RZA connect.

RZA: (Singing) Breeze driftin' on by.


And as we listen to Jay-Z, Jeremy, I'm reminded that I think I'm in a little bit of a smack-down with our culture critic, Renee Graham, because I tweeted this weekend's Jay-Z-Justin-Timberlake concert at Fenway was better than the Rolling Stones. And Renee is accusing me of blasphemy.

HOBSON: You know, I'm accusing you of making me jealous...


HOBSON: ...again about the fact that you went to see Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake at Fenway - and apparently, the Rolling Stones, too, Robin.

YOUNG: Well, OK, sorry.


YOUNG: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.

HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.