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Discrepency surrounding leaked music serves as a source of controversy for DJs and casual listeners alike. ORANGE MEDIA NETWORK ARCHIVES Leaked music: Allegory of the cracked pot The station manager’s defense of listening to leaked music BY AMEER T. FOFANAH KBVR-FM Station Manager In the modern first world our patterns of media consumption orbit vastly around the concept of the “release date”. The next season of that show you’ve been binging on Netflix, the newest episode of your favorite podcast, maybe even some content your own friends create. This makes sense; in an age defined by the importance of information we live lives that are greatly dictated by when said information will be released for us to mindlessly gobble. This holds particularly strong implications for the producers, those who make their livings creating the media that we so deeply covet. These people, the gatekeepers of our media consumption habits, depend on the demand for their content as not only a source of notoriety but sometimes as their entire means of survival. This will be a big factor later in our discussion. Speaking on music in particular, this cycle of release dates is a vital aspect of how the music industry functions. Media and blog coverage surrounding artists spikes greatly during periods of newly released music (rivaled only by periods of controversy: Kanye West is great at doing both at the same time) which naturally causes increases in engagement for the artists. On top of this, the industry relies greatly on “charts” as a metric of success, aggregations of popular music detailing which songs are being played most within a given period of time. These charts are then published by big names in the music coverage world (think Billlboard or Spotify). Charts then further inform the music distribution sector (radio, YouTube channels, etc.) about what people are currently listening to, further reinforcing these listening habits. On top of this, music record labels intentionally release music on dates that coincide with cultural events such as seasons, award shows, and holidays to attain marketing advantages when they advertise. So yeah, releases dates are a big deal. This all sets us up to delve into the meat of our discussion: a well documented phenomena known as a “leak”. One might wonder, what is a leak? A leak is when information that is intended to be confidential is compromised, either internally or externally, and released to public. In the music industry, music leaks disturb the delicate balance of calculated musical release dates. Not only does this make the music available early but also allows for music that was intended for consumption via either subscription or sale to be consumed illicitly for free, usually on the internet. Being as though the music has essentially been stolen and released against the will of the people producing it, it raises an interesting question to be addressed by us listeners: is it okay for us to listen? Does listening to this music contribute harmfully to the artists career? What about their creative process? To illustrate the scenario, I would like to use a sim- ple analogy: So let’s imagine we have a small village. In this small village there is a doctor who runs an apothecary where they make medicines and store them in pots. Naturally, they want to contain this medicine because resources in the village are scarce and exposure to the elements might disturb the substances being stored. But let’s say that one day someone makes a tiny crack in a pot that contains a highly coveted medicine. Different villagers eventually catch wind of this and continually come and take small amounts of the potion that is leaking from the crack. Is this okay? The answer may seem like an obvious “no”. After all, they are not only damaging the doctor by taking from them without compensation, but also stealing leaves less for the good villagers who actually pay for their medicinal needs. Because there is only so much that can be made, you are not just stealing from the doctor but stealing from everyone. Stealing is wrong; it disrespects the doctor, the time the doctor spent making the elixir, and the apothecary as an establishment. And music does not function like this at all. The argument that listening to leaked music is akin the theft of a physical object at best slightly off-base and at worst borderline absurd. Let us not forget that one of the fundamental concepts that allots value to an object is scarcity; how much is available? In our little analogy the medicine is finite as it is created from scarce resources. This makes the medicine extremely valuable to the people of the village. In the modern day, however, recorded music is most often accessed via mp3 files i.e. information. Information may be the least scarce resource known to man today. It can be created, replicated, and stored at virtually no cost. This tackles the assumption that the listener of leaked music is somehow doing a disservice to society as a whole. The next factor to take into account is the notion that you are stealing from the artist. Make no mistake, you definitely are. But at such a small cost to the artist themself that it hardly seems to matter. This is due to how the industry functions. In the realm of streaming (Apple Music, Spotify, etc.) the holders of the “rights to the music” (which may be some mixture of the artist, songwriter(s), record label, and producer) make fractions of a cent per stream. What little is made through streams usually doesn’t even touch the artist’s hands for the most part. Artists also usually only make around 10%-15% of album sales. If you want to support an artist financially your best best bet is to buy their merchandise and/ or see them in concert. Let us not forget that by playing an artists leaked music you are still, in fact, playing and enjoying their music. This on some level is boosting their exposure, doing them a tiny service. Finally we have the third, and possibly the most valid, argument: that you are damaging their creative process. Sometimes music is leaked before the project is deemed finished by the artist. For perfectionists, this is as damning as anything could be; their own work is being shown to the world before it is ready. I believe that this is absolutely terrible, a great reason why you should not leak people’s music. But once it is already leaked I see no problem. Just as seeing trailers for half-finished films serves as a tantalizer for the finished product, leaked unfinished music makes us covet the whole thing. Lil Wayne’s “Carter III” is a famous example of an album that is considered to have benefited from having had leaked prior to its release. In summation, please do not take this as a manifesto explaining why it is okay to leak other people’s art. It is after all, theft; illegal and unethical. This, instead, is meant to serve as something of sobering wake-up call for those of us who do partake in the listenership of music that has already been leaked previously and had some preconceived notions that this should be a source of guilt. In the internet age information flows freely, not online droplets in the ocean. With so much water around, I simply find that there should be no shame taken in taking a drink.* *ocean water is high in salt and should not be consumed for hydration purposes.