"My last album leaked too much," says rapper NORE, whose One Fan a Day drops on December 21st and is expected to be a Roc-A-Fella best seller this year. This time around he built his own studio, in Manhattan. "I'm so paranoid about it," he says. "If anyone needs to hear it, they come to me."
The main problem, say label executives, is that once an album is sent to the manufacturing plant, it's out of their control. Sources say that a leak at a pressing plant may have been to blame for tracks from Jay-Z's 2003 The Black Album and Eminem's 2002 The Eminem Show getting into the hands of bootleggers and onto peer-to-peer sites before the release date. In response, both Jay-Z and Eminem rushed their CDs out early. (Eminem's upcoming CD, Encore, will be released November 12th, four days ahead of schedule, and Snoop Dogg's Rhythm & Gangsta: The Masterpiece will come out November 16th, a week ahead of schedule, due to recent leaks).
"Security at the plants gets tighter every year," says one executive. "It's like going to an airport. They'll frisk you when you leave."
Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz's Crunk Juice is expected to be TVT's biggest holiday album. "No one has it besides Jon and [label president] Steve Gottlieb," says TVT publicist Joe Wiggins. "And no one's going to have it until it comes out."
The label will also spend as much as $10,000 per song to deter piracy on P2P networks once the album is out. "If songs leak on the Net, you need to make something happen fast," says Adam Gervin, marketing director for Macrovision, a company that floods P2P services with dud versions of tracks -- some of which may include opportunities to buy the legitimate version. Once a leak is discovered, "we will go to 100 percent of our download-reducing ability within thirty minutes," says Gervin.
Artists know that tight security means better sales, and they are taking it seriously. Late in October, NORE played a date at New York's Webster Hall and realized he was carrying a burned copy of his album, so he smashed it -- onstage. "I don't know what fans were thinking," he says, laughing. "But I was drinking a little that night. I didn't even trust myself."