With school kids burning CDs to sell to friends before the official release date, the threat to the already beleaguered music business is understandable. So record labels are now taking unprecedented steps to protect their merchandise. Perhaps no disc has been more heavily protected than Linkin Park's Meteora due March 25th. None of the copies have left the custody of the band members, management and executives at Warner Bros. When the album was being mastered, the band had security guards on hand in the studio twenty-four hours a day to prevent any leaks. As tracks were finished, all earlier CD versions were destroyed. Press, radio programmers and retailers can only hear the album by going to the company's offices. The same level of security will likely be in place for new albums by Metallica, Limp Bizkit, Madonna and Staind.
Interscope records recently rushed out rapper 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' five days ahead of schedule, after the album was leaked early to the Internet and bootleggers. It doesn't seem to have adversely affected the album's sales (1.7 million in its first two weeks). But one Interscope executive says the rushed release still caused problems. "It throws the whole marketing campaign topsy-turvy," he says.
Korn frontman Jonathan Davis believes significant sales of the band's last album, Untouchables, were lost to piracy, and he vows to do something about it. "We got so fucked on our last one -- it leaked four months early," he says. "[Next] time there will be no CD going out before release. We're not going to give it to the label until a week before it comes out."
Not everyone is so worried. With Kid A, Radiohead loaned journalists digital-music players that were unable to copy the record. But for their next album, due in June, they probably won't take those precautions. The band's publicist believes that past album leaks did nothing to harm sales -- and may have, in fact, helped build the buzz.