Drama. Yesterday an obviously early leak, "Lost in the World", off Kanye's upcoming album leaked, and the man was obviously not happy about it. So unhappy, in fact, that he demanded links be taken down, sending some of my fellow bloggers into spasms of self-justification (cough, cough) and then canceled his heralded "Good Fridays' series for the foreseeable future. While Kanye has every right to stop and start "Good Fridays" as he sees fit, it's unfortunately yet another naive and ultimately Sisyphusian (I know that's not a word), it's yet more proof that many artists don't truly understand the digital world they're now forced to live in.
In other words, everyone's not playing nice anymore so Ye's going to take his ball and go home. I completely understand that position, I can only imagine how frustrating it would be if, say, a rough draft of one of my album reviews was leaked, but for better or worse, that's the age we now live in. The internet game is a double-edged sword. It gives artists a previously unimaginable ability to distribute their music and directly interact with fans, but it's ultimately a game that, no matter how hard they try, they have to realize they can't control if they're going to play.
I would compare it most closely to the paparazzi, a field Kanye's also more than familiar with. Actresses, musicians and wanna-bes need the paparazzi to keep themselves in the news, and more often than not, it's themselves or their reps that tip off photographers, but that kind of attention can't just be turned off. You can't beg the paparazzi to snap your picture one minute and then expect them to ignore you when you're grocery shopping or a drunk mess at the club. It's the price of fame.
Posted music is really no different, which makes Kanye's "I though you wouldn't post leaks because I was giving you free music" play almost cutely naive. Sorry Yeezy, that's just not how it works. You can't create an enormous demand for your music, and then get mad when people, and the sites that supply those people, eagerly distribute the music you've got them clamoring for, whether it's "authorized" or not.
To be clear, leaks have existed. What's changed is scale. Twenty years ago a random studio engineer would swipe a copy of an album, maybe make some tapes and then sell them on the streets to the handful of people they knew. Artists and labels weren't happy about it, but the effect was so minimal they didn't really care. Unfortunately for them, there's now no difference between a leak and a flood. That same studio engineer can put that song or album into the hands of literally billions of people, and no amount of confiscation or cease and desist orders can ever take it back.
To return to our paparazzi analogy, that also means that by the same logic bloggers, like myself, have to also take the good with the bad. Come on people, like you didn't know it was "wrong" to post "Lost in the World" before Kanye got pissed? Of course you did, but now you're being called out by an artist you respect and backpedaling faster than Darrell Revis on a fly route.
We (meaning bloggers) are often more like paparazzi than we might like to admit - it's a symbolically parasitic relationship. They need us just as much as we need them, and we can't stop looking in the mirror just because things got ugly for a minute. I try to keep my hands as clean as possible, but I'm not going to pretend like there's not at least some dirt under my nails, and I can only hope other bloggers have the cojones to admit the same to themselves.
So do I have a solution. Actually, I do. Here's what I would say to Kanye:
Ye, can I call you Ye? I'm sure it f**king sucks that this song you put so much time, energy and faith into leaked, but what's done is done. Unfortunately, nearly every song you do from now on will leak, and trying to stick your finger in the dam will inevitably lead to you simply stopping making music (see also, Lupe Fiasco).
What you can do, however, is capitalize on what's happened as much as possible. "Lost in the World" is out and it's not coming back, so why not just say, "Yo, if you like this just wait until I drop the finished version"? Pick a date. Announce you'll be releasing the CD quality version. I guarantee the release will be talked about for weeks leading up to the grand unveiling, and I also guarantee you everyone would immediately delete the tagged version and replace it with the version you wanted them to listen to in the first place. Hell, a bunch of folks will probably even buy it.
By the same token you can also cancel "Good Fridays", a series that exemplifies how an artist can control and capitalize on digital releases, and watch all the work you've done to make yourself the biggest name in hip-hop, disappear. Or you can do everything possible to limit leaks, admit they'll still happen, capitalize on them when they do, and continue to be the superstar you really want to be.
Sorry Kanye. Live by the sword. Die by the sword.