Meet the Guy Who Gives You the Heads Up If an Album Leaks

Stanley Widianto noisey.vice.com/blog

Staffan Ulmert will let you know if and when an album has leaked.

His site Has It Leaked is like the Neighborhood Watch of musical leaks which, according to the official website, aims to mediate between fans and labels.

While it won’t provide direct links, Steffan says that the site acts as a platform for music fans to discuss leaks (and presuamably do a few quick searches and find them).

Ulmert, who has run the site from Sweden since 2012, is a music producer and podcast host, and fully understands the financial and creative harm of uploading records before their intended releases.

But digital music leaks have been a part of the way people listen to music since almost as long as the internet itself. Way back in 1993 a leak of Depeche Mode’s Songs of Faith and Devotion hit internet chat rooms in all it’s pre-mp3, pre-ADSL glory; and music fans have been clamoring for that early listen ever since.

Despite what major labels will have you think, leaks aren’t necessary a wholly negative thing for artists, and can also be used as a powerful tool in the right hands. Wilco’s classic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot started it’s life as a leak, after Warner refused to release it, and it was that buzz generated that secured the album an official release.

Leak culture is fuelled by enthusiasm. Labels can try and lock the recordings down and control the release, but if there’s music there and people want to hear it, then they will always find a way.

Noisey: Hey Staffan, how did the site start?
Staffan Ulmert: I was working as an artist and was disappointed in how the labels treated the promotional campaign. I was surprised at how non-creative the whole thing was. I figured that I should build my own platform where I could promote my own music. I started Has It Leaked because there was a lot of albums that I wanted to talk about and I wanted to know if they had leaked, so I wanted a forum for that to happen. And I didn’t need to figure out how to make that legal; I’m not for torrents, I’m not advocating [illegal] downloads. So that’s how I started Has It Leaked: just a way to promote my music, but that never really happened. It grew too big too quickly.

Are leaks here to stay?
Yes. Unfortunately, they’re a big part of the industry. Labels haven’t really figured out ways to prevent leaks from happening. I think some of the major publishers have begun to be better at surprise albums, but still, Beach House’s Depression Cherry leaked two months in advance and Sub Pop is a big label. I asked them to clarify but they didn’t want to draw attention to the leaks so they declined.

You interviewed Slade, a leaker who says that leaks can be beneficial to artists.
Sort of. In rare cases, I think a leak can be beneficial to artists. But in the end, let’s say you have a single coming up which is tied to Pitchfork and then suddenly your album leaks. And Pitchfork or other outlets will treat the campaign as if the album hasn’t leaked, but from a fan standpoint, it’s pretty much ruined. I think Slade is wrong about that. I mean Kanye leaked his second album and he created this major buzz. But you have to understand that there are PR companies behind that; that’s a calculated move. But, you know, leaks are bad for artists.

Is a leaker always to blame for the culture of album leaks or the eager fans downloading also have a part?
I think the leaker is to blame, definitely. I’m a fan myself, I downloaded albums illegally before. It’s very, very tricky to say no to a free album. Like you respect someone’s art, but you’re also a super fan. You want to hear that album. And I think the artist would understand that, but I don’t think they would understand the leaker.

What’s in it for leakers?
There’s an incentive for a leaker to brag about having an album and they want the attention. I had another interview on the site with a leaker and he said that he only wanted the five seconds of fame.

So it’s vanity rather than business?
There’s no money to be made from leaks. Slade’s getting some ad money, but it’s not much.

Has the site run into any any legal issues?
Around the time of JustinTimberlake’s 20/20 Experience release I got an email telling me that I should remove the post. I said no, because there were no download links. They threatened me with legal stuff because I was using the album covers. I removed the album cover, and that’s it.

Did you see it coming?
No, I’ve been surprised by how little legal action there’s been. Again, I don’t think this is illegal, but there are grey areas.

Is spreading word of a leak as bad as the actual leak?
I don’t feel that I promote leaks or help leaks gain attention. I don’t want piracy to grow, that’s not my thing. There’s not a lot of money in the site. I do it because it’s fun and I like to promote friends or stuff I believe in. I’m just a fan. If you search for an album leak before it’s leaked, there’s a lot of fake sites out there who want your credit numbers, make you take surveys and make a lot of money off of that. I don’t want them to make any money. So it’s better to have Has It Leaked say that, “no, it hasn’t leaked.”

What has the response to the site been?
Very few people are negative, which surprises me. I’ve had maybe 10 angry emails from artists, labels, people in general who don’t like the site. You can say that I’m promoting leaks. That’s the worst thing you can say about the site. I would say that I’m not making leaks a bigger thing than they already are.

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