LCD Soundsystem played a secret gig in New York the other day, and the band used the event as an opportunity to make an unusual plea, direct to their fans: Please don't leak our upcoming album on the Web. It fell on deaf ears.
After playing some old favorites, dancepunk act LCD Soundsystem launched into a few new numbers to promote their upcoming This is Happening album, due out on May 17th. And then the band's frontman, James Murphy made his request, in honest terms. "We spent two years making this record and we want to put it out when we want to put it out" he begged. Then he claimed he wasn't worried about losing sales: "I don't care about money." Instead it really seems that James and his band are thinking more about the event, the excitement, the moment in the sun that accompanies a new album's launch—particularly one that's been so long in creation. Once May 17th comes around, the band doesn't care: "After it comes out, give it to whoever you want for free but until then, keep it to yourself" is how Murphy concluded, with a frank acceptance that piracy is inevitable.
This is a refreshingly forward-thinking approach to digital music, and it stands in conflict with the overly aggressive stance that the larger recording industry itself is adopting (notionally in "defense" of bands like LCD...ironically). The band even lets you stream samples of the tracks direct from their Web site. But Murphy was making his request to 1,500 fans at the secret event, and pleading to their better sides to accept his request. That was entirely the wrong audience, it seems: As Web site TorrentFreak notes, a peer-to-peer torrent share of the new album is already popping up on the Web at private trackers (a file sharing system that's closed to all-comers, unless you have permission to access it) and it's only a matter of time until it gets shared to the greater Interwebs... from where the pirated files will probably spread at viral rates. The finger of suspicion is pointing at an insider—perhaps a disgruntled or even overly enthusiastic sound engineer involved in the new album's production at some point.
How could Murphy and his colleagues have managed this better? There's one sneaky tactic that might have served them well. Since the band seems at least calmly accepting of the new status quo in terms of piracy of MP3 tracks, they could have stemmed the flow of the album leak by playing the torrenting game themselves. All it would involve is a bait-and-switch trick: Simply upload a bunch of files to a public torrent system that looks just like the "stolen" album. But instead, drop inside a treat—a specially mixed version of a track, or perhaps a video unreleased elsewhere—and a video message, MP3 track, and text-based letter explaining why LCD Soundsystem would like you to stop pirating their music just for a month or so.
It's an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" maneuver. And you never know—people tend to grab music from P2P sites because they deem the real price too expensive...or they want to get their ears around an upcoming album well ahead of its release date, as in this case. A good chunk of the latter folks may well be swayed by a personal "pirated" message from Murphy. As more and more media goes digital, we kinda hope that content creators use tactics like this to dissuade some pirates: It's a far more human approach than suing everybody you can get your legal mitts on.
To keep up with this news in a more real-time setting, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter. That QR code on the left will take you to my Twitter feed too. (And if you've no idea what that spotty-looking thing is, then find out here.)