Leaking Lineups: Whetting appetites or raining on parades?

Published in The Music Network


When is a leak a good leak? Well, if you’re running a record label, the typical response is “never”. But in the world of festivals, the answer is a little more convoluted. Lineup leaks are becoming commonplace and they can generate more buzz than buzz- kill. TMN investigates.

When Splendour in the Grass revealed its bill last Wednesday, there were few real surprises. That’s because the news was already out there. A leak the previous week spilt the beans on the bill, which will feature headliners Kanye West, Coldplay and Pulp, alongside the likes of Jane’s Addiction, The Hives, Regina Spektor, The Mars Volta and Mogwai.

Earlier, Splendour had been the subject of a rumour, masquerading as a leak when a fake Splendour poster showed up on the web. Splendour’s co-founders Paul Piticco and Jess Ducrou declined to comment for this article. But they wouldn’t have been laughing at how control was yanked from their release process.

“I don’t think anyone will tell you an inadvertent leak where someone photographed an ad or artwork is a positive,” says Richard Moffat, Manager of Melbourne-based Way Over There, an independent company which programs a string of venues and events including Falls Festival and Sunset Sounds. “There’s no doubt that it’s a negative for everyone, everytime.”

Splendour is the latest in a growing list of festivals to spring a leak, joining the likes of Soundwave, Vivid Live Festival and America’s Vans Warped tour. Indeed, the event can wear its spoiler as a badge of honour. The more celebrated the show, the more desire to bust its big announcement.

For promoters, leaks fall somewhere between a nuisance, and a handy nudge for its publicity machine. The Splendour spoiler won’t harm the show. Splendour 2011 will sell out, and the official website generated more than 1.8 million page hits in 15 minutes following the announce. Jumping the gun on a line-up, however, can cause a right sting up and down the foodchain, particularly with media partners and the featured artists. Triple J would have lost considerable impact when they “exclusively” announced the line-up last Wednesday.

“Leaks are inevitable,” notes Meagan Loader, Triple J‘s Program Director, “but this all adds to the excitement.” Falls Festival’s 2009 line-up was leaked a day early. “It was completely frustrating and we were tearing our hair out when it happened,” Falls Festival founder Simon Daly told TMN at the time. “We’d put so much work into it and worked so closely with so many stakeholders for the announcement.”

Live events strike “program announce” contracts with their artists, an assurance that everyone enjoys the big release at the same time. Not surprisingly, artists also like to control the flow of their own news. These artist contracts were at risk of being compromised when this year’s May 27-June 13 Vivid Festival at the Sydney Opera House, which will feature the likes of Spiritualized, Chris Cunningham and Bat For Lashes. Hackers pulled the line-up from the Opera House website and exposed the news a day early.

The 2011 event’s curator and Modular founder Steve “Pav” Pavlovic brushes it off, describing the scenario as “hours of enjoyment watching people scrambling to try and decipher the line- up.” Sydney Opera House Head of Contemporary Music Fergus Linehan admits, “We should have had it covered, quite frankly.” Website security has since been tightened, but Linehan says it’s an impossible call to say a leak won’t happen again. “If you’ve got a couple of thousand fanatical kids who want to know what’s going on in the back-room of your website, they’ll find a way.”

Publicists play a role in locking- down leaks. A journalist who breaks an embargo will earn a black mark, and can generally kiss goodbye (for a while, anyway) any special favours. Any publication whose staff prematurely discloses a line-up stands to lose future ad-income.

“There’s been many incidents where we’ve been the ones to spring the leak,” admits Tim Hardaker, Partnerships Director at Sound Alliance, parent company of inthemix, FasterLouder, Mess+Noise and SameSame. “Initially it got some noses out of joint. We got a few baseless legal threats, a mountain of abusive emails and some very angry phonecalls. We weren’t even publishing anything that a savvy Internet user wouldn’t be able to find out for themselves. It was the fact we were giving the information a national platform for exposure that caused some concern.”

Hardaker says event partners will sometimes enforce an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) to tighten leaks. “There’s so many external and internal stakeholders involved in a large-scale festival announcement or album release. It’s go to be almost impossible to avoid leaks.”

As the northern festivals season kicks into gear, speculation on the line-up for the big shows is heating up. The Vans Warped tour press conference lost some of its gleam when the lineup – which includes Gym Class Heroes and 3Oh!3 — recently slipped onto the net. Several eager fans spotted the news and promptly spread the word. “I really am seeing the power [of Facebook and Twitter] right now,” Warped founder Kevin Lyman told Billboard Magazine.

In the UK, the rampant media speculation about who’ll headline the annual Glastonbury festival is “now so widespread that it’s become something of a national sport,” notes Greg Parmley, editor of British-based live and touring publication IQ. Headline slots at the top-tier UK festivals are now multi-million pound deals, so potential leaks are heavily policed.

“When 5% of the bill sells 85% of the tickets, having that exclusive performance or first announcement can make all the difference,” explains Parmley. The unlikely winner from a leaked program can be the middle and lesser-ranked artists, who would otherwise be lost in the mix when the full bill is revealed. Organisers of Soundwave Revolution are leading the way by drip-feeding names from the line-up into the social networking space. In this case, Soundwave Revolution is in control. They weren’t when the 2011 Soundwave lineup leaked online last August, a situation which didn’t sit well with promoters

Line-up leaks, it would seem, are here to stay. Get used to it and prepare for the unexpected. “The key to successful campaigns is always planning and setup. When you get thrown the curve ball of a leak, it will change the dynamic of the campaign,” explains XYZneworks Music Channels Marketing Director Ben Facey, who joined the broadcaster last year from Warner Music Australia.

“Our industry moves with such pace, you should be able to react accordingly, even though it’s clearly not your initial plan. You also have to look at leaks as nearly part of a campaign these days and having a so called ‘seeding track’ or something that has leaked can work in everyone’s favour as well. It’s how you deal with the leak as a company.” In the current market,” reckons Facey, “you should nearly be looking for [leaks] to happen.”

In the recorded music world, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a major label executive who finds an upside to unauthorised pre-release leaks. A carefully constructed release campaign can be unravelled at an instant by a leak, causing a knee-jerk response where the recording is rush- released through iTunes to stem the haemorrhaging. In the face of a sharply down- turning recording business, the IFPI’s then-CEO John Kennedy in 2007 declared war on pre-release leaks. The international record labels’ association’s new CEO Frances Moore has picked up the cudgel.

“Curbing pre- release piracy is a particular priority for the recording industry,” she says in the IFPI’s latest Digital Music Report, “as it hits albums at the most vulnerable point in their sales cycle.” That cycle is in fast-motion during the four weeks of a release, when an album typically sells over half its copies. The IFPI works with member labels to monitor leaks and, according to the organisation, has seen the typical leak time reduced from a few weeks to a few days before an album goes on sale. Australia’s Music Industry Piracy Investigations unit (MIPI) tackles leaks by issuing takedown notices and letters of demand.

The anti-piracy unit also investigates the source of the leak and may pursue “appropriate enforcement or educative action” explains MIPI General Manager Sabiene Heindl. The majority of pre-release leaks of Australian music have originated through “highly organised and sophisticated release groups,” Heindl notes.

Sometimes the label itself is the unwitting culprit. Universal Music Australia landed itself some unwanted headlines in 2009 when the music major’s Getmusic download service released U2’s album No Line On The Horizon a full two-weeks early. It was through a simple timing glitch on the website. The indiscretion didn’t go unnoticed. Bloggers bought the MP3 files, collected screengrabs, and told the world. The Edge later told London radio station XFM, “The one good thing about that is a lot of our fans have already given us their thumbs up.” U2 can live with album leaks better than most. Their 360 tour was recently declared the biggest money-spinner in history. Box office sales for 360 are expected to climb over US$700 million.

Which is where the grey area lies. Using recorded music as a loss-leader to generate tickets sales doesn’t take a genius to figure out. Gauging the steam coming from a leaked track can give a label the right fuel for a campaign. “Embrace them,” says Pav, of leaks, “and turn it into positive noise.”

Leaks of Note

Technology has given music fans a global platform to share anything from thoughts and photos, to pre- announcement festival artwork and major releases.

• In July 2004, U2’s The Edge lost more than a plastic disc when he left a CD in his personal stereo while on a photo shoot in France. The CD contained a demo version of How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, an album some months away from release. Apparently, French police were immediately called in to question a handful of suspects, including photographers, make-up artists, set builders and stylists. The leak didn’t harm the project. Atomic Bomb has sold more than nine million copies.

• In January 2010, Mumford & Sons’ Little Lion Man was revealed as the winners of Triple J Hottest 100 some days before the Australia Day countdown. The inadvertent exposure came from the ABC Shop’s website, where an ad for the February issue of JMag carried a picture of the “winning” British folk-group. Crikey’s website ran a screen grab, Triple J told listeners to ignore it. And bookies stopped taking bets on the result. The nation tuned in just to make sure.

• In August 2010, a snap from a camera phone hit the web, showing what appeared to be the bill for the 2011 Soundwave festival tour. Iron Maiden, Queens of the Stone Age and Slayer featured on a pirate themed poster complete with a jolly roger in the title. The leak was the real deal, and it undermined a carefully orchestrated announcement campaign.


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