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How the Music Industry Learned to Love Leaks

Rapid responses from Björk and Madonna show a new way to recover from piracy

Bjork and Madonna

Mark Horton/Getty; Kevin Mazur/Getty

In 2004, when U2‘s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb leaked online two weeks earlier than planned, the band’s label scrambled to contain the damage by hastily streaming it on MTV’s website. Those weeks are an eternity compared with how Björk and Madonna handled their music’s premature arrivals over the past month: After Björk’s Vulnicura leaked in mid-January, her label rushed it onto iTunes within three days, and Madonna did the same with six Rebel Heart tracks after a December leak. “We were running as fast as we could to get the music ready,” says Guy Oseary, Madonna’s manager. “She had the foresight to say, ‘I don’t care, I’m putting this out now.’ ”

In the old days of CDs, warehouses and record stores, album leaks could be far more destructive. In the age of Spotify and iTunes, though, leaks can help build buzz. Madonna called her leak, traced to a suspected hacker in Israel, “deeply devastating,” but the Rebel Heart tracks sold a solid 146,000 downloads. (Reps for Björk’s label, One Little Indian, had no comment.) “Obviously, it’s not what you want to happen,” says Tom Corson, president of RCA Records, which has dealt with leaks for artists like Kelly Clarkson. “But one of the good byproducts of digital distribution is that, when necessary, you can recover more quickly.”

Almost every star has to deal with leaks these days, from Nicki Minaj to Fall Out Boy, whose American Beauty/American Psycho recently appeared online before its scheduled release. “It’s kind of like if you open the present before Christmas,” says FOB co-manager Jonathan Daniel. “But it’s less of a big deal than ever.”

In This Article: leaked music

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