Friday, February 18th, 2005

All Hands On The Bad One

So one of the things causing a bit of an uproar in the indie rock eddys of Lake Blogosphere is this from the ladies of Sleater-Kinney asking folks to not download their new album, The Woods, before it’s officially released on May 24 (the full text of the letter is no longer on their website. Intrepid interneters can no doubt find it, though). Of course, this is like asking a dog not to lick its nuts – simply not going to happen. But still, it raises some interesting questions.

Opinions are like blogs – everyone’s got one, and they’re usually poorly spelled and not updated frequently enough. My personal take on it is that if the artist asks you not to download it, then that should be the final word on the matter. No one is going to die from having to wait a couple months to hear a record. I don’t care how big a fan you are, you are not going to die. Your organs will not be harvested without your consent in the middle of the night. Nothing bad will happen to you. You can wait till it comes out and buy it – because you were intending to pay for it, right? – and there you go. And if you’re eager to get it for “be the first kid on your block” bragging rights… come on. No one cares. Anyway, it seems pretty simple to me, but then I’m one of those folks who still likes the tactile experience of physical media and believes in the album as an artistic entity greater than just the sum of the tracklisting. You know, a freak.

Naturally, there’s been a lot of debate on this – I’ll link to the discussion on the Donewaiting message board which I think is a pretty good micorcosm of the debate. Some think the fanbase should respect the band’s wishes, others are of the mind that once its out of their hands, even unofficially via advance promos, then nature (such as it is) will take its course and the band should appreciate the fact that their fans are so rabid. And then, of course, there are those who have the whole “Music should be free!” angle and are not only about downloading the record, but in distributing it as widely as possible. Don’t ge me started on those people. I want to punch those people in the kidneys.

And from here, I segue into leaks in general. I don’t do leaks. Not because of any particular high moral ground, though that is a consideration, but because I’m too lazy to go looking for them (yes I know how easy it is – I’m THAT lazy) and because I never listen to them. I have a copy of the new Decemberists album on my desktop. Total plays? Zero. Generally speaking I don’t listen to music on my computer – an mp3 or two here and there if I’m too lazy (that again!) to get up and change the CD in my stereo, but the occasions on which I’m willing to listen to a full record on my computer? Very few. My stereo sounds better and I’ve usually got craploads of stuff I’ve actually bought to get through, to say nothing of the promo stuff that’s been showing up in my mailbox with increasing regularity. Usually, stuff that I haven’t made the effort of actually going out and buying, I forget I even have it. This isn’t to say that if I come across a leaked track or two I won’t grab those to whet my appetite, but entire albums? Nah. I like going to the record store on new release days, buying the record, tearing off the cellophane and listening to it proper-like, not piecemeal. Which brings me full circle to the “I’m a freak” observation from earlier.

It’s like they say – you don’t value that which costs you nothing. And if I were to start listening to records that aren’t due out till, say, May (hello Sleater-Kinney, Spoon), when would I find the time to listen to stuff that’s come out in January and February? There’s a never-ending backlog as is, last thing I need is to jump the queue. That would disrupt the natural order of things and I truly believe that if that happened, reality as we know it would cease to exist. I don’t download leaks because it safeguards the universe.

The preceding was probably more meandering than I’d intended. It was profound in my head, really. But then, my grocery lists are profound in my head as well. I thought I had another topic I was going to explore tangential to this one, which is the whole matter of distributing leaked materials over, oh let’s say blogs, but this post is long enough as is. Maybe I’ll get to that another day.

Update: Here’s Colin Meloy of the Decemberists’ letter to folks who had leaked copies of Picaresque last month, courtesy of Brooklynvegan. And this thread on Last Plane To Jakarta is also a very good read on the topic, thanks to Largehearted Boy for the pointer.

On a related note, Prefuse 73 is a little less diplomatic about people downloading his work.

Will Johnson of Centro-Matic keeps a tour diary of their recent stop in Athens for for Flagpole. This would be the same tour that once again, doesn’t cross the 49th parallel (well, technically Toronto is well south of the 49th, but you know what I mean), only coming as close as Buffalo on March 3. Even after I went to Chicago to plead our case… But that’s okay, if the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, then Mohammed will come to the mountain. Centro-Matic is on my must-see list for SxSW.

Lacunae lists off 100 things he loves about comics. Cheers for #9, the “wuffa wuffa wuffa” issue of Cerebus.

A little late, but still cute – Rachael Yamagata offers up some advice on how to survive Valentine’s Day. She forgot #11 – “wuffa wuffa wuffa”. Hmm, okay, that probably came out wrong. From Achtung Baby.

Behold – my photos from Wednesday’s Comas show. Please, no comments on how Andy Herrod’s skin is the same colour as his coat. Blame the lights.

So my streetcar hits a car on the way to work this morning, making me 30 minutes late. Newsflash lady – the streetcar couldn’t turn even if it wanted to.

np – Doves / The Last Broadcast

By : Frank Yang at 9:27 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. jack says:

    the notion of people downloading an album by s-k just to "be the first kid on the block" with it is utterly absurd. that may very well be the case for various pop bands, but certainly isn’t for these gals. the bulk of folks that are downloading "the woods" are their fans. though i think the album is very good, they make themselves look ridiculous by posting a "do not download our album" plea on their website. they should be honored that fans are this anxious to hear their music. it’s as if they’re just now being introduced to the internet world where 99.9% of all albums at some point get leaked before release date. i personally think they could learn something from bands like wilco, who seems to be aware of inevitable leakage, and have enough confidence to stream their album with the knowledge that most fans will pick up the album when it’s released. for indie bands like s-k, i think it can even help their sales. if they don’t want people to download their album, they should be aware that it’s just about impossible to prevent it from leaking, and they shouldn’t make fans wait 3 months to hear an alubm that’s already finished. you don’t like hearing albums until they’re officially released. i, on the other hand, like to hear new albums of bands i dig as soon as i can. i’m still going to buy the album, that goes without saying. to each his own, but flaming on those that go about things in a different manner in which you doesn’t really make much sense.

  2. Frank says:

    I don’t think the "me first" aspect of leaks is absurd, if I did, I wouldn’t have said it. I’m not saying it’s the only reason nor was I saying is specifically in regards to Sleater-Kinney, but agree or not, I think it’s part of it. It’s human nature.

    Yeah, leaks are always going to happen, and it seems most bands are silent on the matter since it is out of their hands. I don’t, however, interpret this as approval. If Wilco chooses to stream their new album over their website, good for them. If Sleater-Kinney chooses to ask their fans to not download it, that’s also their choice. The reasons and circumstances of one act do not necessarily apply to another, and I think if an artist comes out publically and takes a stand on an issue, especially one as potentially unpopular as the one SK has, it should be respected. Can it be enforced? Of course not. All they can do is ask politely. I do find it somewhat rude to second-guess the band’s wishes or to say that you’re helping them by downloading and distributing it, implying that you know how to advance their careers and help their sales better than they do. They’ve been at this a while, they know what they’re doing.

    As far as release dates go, they’re set when they’re set for a reason. If a band is unable to properly promote a record until a certain date, then there’s no point in putting out a record and letting it sit without any media or press support for a couple months. When someone like Interpol sends out promos of their album on cassette, it’s not because they’re being playful and coy – it’s cause they don’t want the damn thing all over the internet.

    I just find it interesting that folks will say they love and support an artist, but they won’t respect them.

  3. satellite says:

    Interesting post today. I respect what S/K is trying to do. They know that people will download the album anyway, but they wanted to share their thoughts and give some heartfelt reasons why they feel the way they do. I appreciate that they are starting these conversations.

    I have downloaded leaks from artists that I truly enjoy b/c I’m an impatient person. But there’s nothing wrong with S/K trying to get someone like me to think about what I’m doing.

  4. Herbert K. says:

    Totally agree about listening to music on computers. I mean, wtf? Computers are for computing. I’ve got a kick-ass stereo, and that’s where the magic happens. Kill me now if I ever turn into a "listening-to-music-on-my-computer" kind of geek.

  5. david says:

    There is definitely a "first kid on the block" mentality to new releases. So many people feel the need for "indie cred" (whatever that is) and have to be validated by what they download or the size of their digital music collections. Fortunately, I’m a blogger, and have no need for credibility at all.

    I listen to a vast majority of my music through my iPod (with good headphones and AAC rips). I’m no audiophile, and that proves it, I just love music.

    Here’s an insightful discussion omn the S/K topic at the LPTJ forums (including John darnielle’s take):


  6. jack says:

    thing is, the album has been leaked, and it’s available at the click of a button. as you said, it’s only natural (key word there) for someone that digs their music to desire to hear it. ultimately, in most cases, people are going to download and listen to it, out of anxiousness and excitement. the band comes out and acknowledges that it’s available, but asks people to not download it and instead wait 3 more months. you’re saying that because people use those *natural* instincts and download it, they’re disrespecting the band and/or less of a fan? no offense, but in my opinion, that’s ludicrous. is that same person still disrespectful when they go purchase the album and then hit a few shows? are they still less of a fan when they’re singing along with every lyric at their live shows? i would hope not. i don’t agree with uploading unreleased albums to the masses, nor do i or would i. but once it’s done, why throw rocks at those people that have been aching to hear it? get that? *aching* to hear their new release, as many people i know have been. they should be thankful to have those kind of fans. if downloading their new album before buying it when it comes out means you’re being disrespectful, then i’d guesstimate that 90% of their fans would be labeled disrespectful/disloyal. i think it’s wrong to attach that kind of label to big fans of theirs just for doing something that, as you admit, is only natural. save the stones for those who leak the albums and not for fans that downloaded it.

    regarding knowing what’s best for album sales, in the case of indie bands, i think it can be proven that turning people own to a band that otherwise wouldn’t have heard it, let alone bought it, can significantly increase sales. do you think yankee hotel foxtrot would’ve sold as many albums as it did, without it having been streamed online? of the half dozen or so people that i’ve turned on to this new album, all loved it, and i’m fairly certain all will be buying it when it comes out. bear in mind that most of the friends i let listen to it really only knew of the band because they opened for pearl jam in 2003. therefore, i think it’s provable that exposing their music to various crowds of people that are unfamiliar with it, can have a positive impact on sales.

  7. Frank says:

    Yeah, it’s natural, but the fact that I’m currently wearing pants reminds me of the fact that we don’t always do what’s natural. My point was and is simply that if the artist doesn’t say anything, then the downloading and distribution of leaks is sort of a grey area depending on what side of the debate you sit on. But when Sleater-Kinney or The Decemberists come out and explicitly ask that you respect their wishes to not pass it around, it becomes pretty cut and dried in my eyes at least. I mean, I’ve got a Wedding PResent mp3 up for download right now. I dig the band, I dig the tune, I’d like others to hear it, I think I’m doing them a favour. But if I get an email from Dave Gedge asking me to take it down, I’m going to do it. I’m not going to try and argue the point that I’m helping his career and he should be grateful. It’s his song, he asked nicely, I would respect his wishes. And replace it with another Wedding Present song. But that’s beside the point. It’s not my business as to why he should want it taken down or if I’m doing him a favour.

    Similarly, I found a very rare solo record from Emily Haines of Metric a little while back. I was asked by a number of people if I would make it available for them to hear, seeing as how it was completely out of print and unavailable. I contacted the band and asked if it would be alright, they responded and said they’d rather I didn’t make that stuff available. End of discussion. I have no doubt that the fans who wanted a copy off of me were genuine and die-hard and all that, but if the artist doesn’t want it out there, they don’t want it out there. We may be fans, but that doesn’t mean we’re entitled to anything and everything, even if it is available by some means.

    It took Yankee Hotel Foxtrot almost three years to go gold. I wouldn’t say that streaming the album off their website out them on any sort of fast track for sales. Yes, the tactic probably helped them get an excellent first week Billboard ranking, but the enormous press maelstrom around the record probably helped as well and I do think it would have sold just as well without the preview because it’s a fucking good record. Anyway, word of mouth works just as well after the album is actually released as it does before. It’s not as if these leaks are the only way anyone is going to hear these records – they are going to come out, people are going to hear it, they’ll tell a friend and they’ll tell a friend and they’ll tell a friend. All the band is asking is that you wait.

  8. fink-nottle says:

    i just don’t buy colin meloy’s assertion that an early leak of a record could potentially affect sales…leaked tracks are likely to be downloaded by two types of listeners: decemberists devotees such as myself (who’ll just end up buying picaresque when it’s finally released) and those leeches who’d just rather not pay for their music (and they’re the ones who’ll get the finished album from soulseek et al).

    S-K’s request on the other hand is centered around the claim that their leaked tracks are essentially unfinished, and that’s certainly a legitimate argument…it’s not about to prevent their circulation (what dedicated S-K fan wouldn’t want a copy of this stuff purely as a collectible), but hey, at least they tried.

  9. Erika Herzog says:

    i’m glad there are other freaks around.

    great post today!


  10. jack says:

    i agree with you about not publicly hosting music from an artist that made this request. i think it’s wrong and certainly wouldn’t do it. where i disagree with you is, if someone is irresponsibly hosting an album that people have been dying to hear, your anger should be directed towards those that leaked/hosted it and not those that downloaded it off pure and natural excitement.

  11. Frank says:

    I hope I’m not coming across as "angry", because I’m not. What others do or do not do has no impact on me. If everyone in the world downloads a record and I’m the only one who buys it and it has a final sales figure of "1", then all I know is I bought the record. And it’s probably not very good. But you’re right, if I were to direct displeasure at anyone, it would be the reviewers or label reps or whoever that leak the album in the first place. They, more than the "me first" types are the ones who are probably going for some kind of cool cachet. Maybe they’re trying to pick up chicks or something, "hey baby, I work at SubPop. Wanna come back to my pad and hear the new Sleater Kinney?" I dunno. I wouldn’t be surprised if they could trace leaks back to the source, which raises the question of why don’t they handle it there instead of the populace at large? But anyway. There’s no anger here, just observation and opinion.

    fink-nottle – I don’t know Colin Meloy’s business, but if he says that he’s losing money from people downloading the record, I’m certainly not in posession of any sort of data that says he’s wrong and wouldn’t challenge him on it.

  12. david says:

    "Chromewaves Frank… The Angry Music Blogger," the comic coming to newsstands this year. Look for the feature film in 2006.

  13. Quinn says:

    " I like going to the record store on new release days, buying the record, tearing off the cellophane and listening to it proper-like, not piecemeal. Which brings me full circle to the "I’m a freak" observation from earlier."

    That sentence right there is why I’m more choosy about downloading records early. I had Sonic Nurse on my computer for a couple of months, and when it came out I rushed down to the record store like I usually do to pick up a copy… and left it in the package for 2 weeks.

    I actually did download the S-K record before I read the letter, and listened to it once, and have now shelved it. One of the things about this leak is that I’m almost certain that its unmastered. I know they’re going for a fuzzier guitar noise, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t shooting for a fuzzier vocal and drum noise on every single track as well. This isn’t even how the record is supposed to sound. I downloaded the New Year’s Eve show (something the band is cool with) and should have been content with that, cause this really isn’t how I wanted to hear the latest piece of art from one of my favourite bands.

  14. cody says:

    well i’m not going to write an essay or anything, but let’s just say you hit the nail on the head there. i love music, and to me buying an album means something. simple as that. i understand i’m in the minority, but so are democrats and they’re right too.

  15. Andy says:

    "Chromewaves Frank… The Angry Music Blogger," the comic coming to newsstands this year. Look for the feature film in 2006.

    Starring John Cho.

    And Jessica Alba.

  16. DJMonsterMo says:

    Thanks for that rant. Made my day.

  17. Five One Seven says:

    Frank, excellent comments.

    I’ve yet to recieve a single email asking me to take a track down (and I’ve got a few from people thanking me), but it’s because I try and have some sort of standard.

    I never burn a CD in it’s entirety for friends, and have put up with huffy responses due to it.

    Appliying that logic to buying used CDs, on the other hand, can be trickier. If I buy it and I love it, I buy another album by the artist (even if I know it won’t be as good).

    Albums that are out of print are a little trickier… I think bands have to be less worried about what people will think of their out of print material. I don’t expect a cassette recorded on your boombox and released in a series of 30 is going to be any good (unless you’re the Mountain Goats), but in some cases I’d pay to hear it, and I have done. I’d rather give my money to the band then Ebay

  18. Steve says:

    Artists deserve to get paid!

    And the fact that many people download and don’t pay is the *perfect* rationalization for me to spend more money at the record store! MUST buy more to make up for the immoral slackers…

  19. themoonshake says:

    i’m not a SK fan, but this topic is of interest to me. it’s good that SK have a certain stand: most artists are still silent on this matter. that said, i don’t necessarily agree with their approach. they’ve got to get in terms with the fact that the album is out there and if people wanna hear it, of course they will download it. and i don’t think this will affect their sales, people who’d have downladed it three months later are gonna download it now. and there are those who will buy the CD eventually, no matter they download the album now or not.

    it’s a very metallica-ish approach ("if you don’t want to buy our album, you’re not a metallica fan. go away leave me alone."), but at least SK’ve got better choice of words than lars ulrich.

  20. jink says:

    Where can I get Sleater-Kinney’s The Wood? Please e-mail me any info, thanks.