The Shins Hit The Fans, Sub Pop Calls In The Sheriff

wincing.jpgThe Shins’ new album, Wincing the Night Away, leaked last week, and this weekend was all about the Internet going nuts about it. Wincing, which comes out in late January, is a huge release for Sub Pop–with the Postal Service going dormant, the Shins are the label’s biggest active band. So review copies were kept to a minimum, and for the first time, Sub Pop watermarked the promotional CDs it did sent out.

Yet despite Sub Pop’s efforts, the album–in the form of low-bitrate MP3s–made its way around peer-to-peer sites and MP3 blogs.

The leak puts Sub Pop in an admittedly awkward position–how can it stoke the hype for Wincing while still clamping down on MP3-swapping? First, they put the Web Sheriff, a UK-based company that touts itself as “Europe’s leading Internet policing specialist,” on the case. Web Sheriff serves as an intermediary between copyright holders and copyright-busters, and it also cracks down on paparazzi shots and nasty rumors. (Thepunkguy posted the pre-emptive missive sent to bloggers by Web Sheriff, and it looks like pretty standard stuff, if a little laden with thanks and regards.)

The watermarked advances also help explain the leak’s subpar audio quality. The files are likely transcodes–the digital equivalent of recording a file, then recording that recording, in an attempt to strip any identifying details, like a watermark. So the MP3s that did get out were grainy–and we suspect that most Shins fans are rabid enough that they’ll hold out for higher-bitrate versions of the tracks. This could be, in a way, a case for watermarking records–although betting that all fans of every band are FLAC devotees seems like a bit of a large bet to make, and watermarking-gone-wrong can result in a reviewer’s CD only being playable on a boom box from 1991.

The most obvious way that Sub Pop can minimize the leak’s effect is also the least practical one, at least from a financial standpoint–closing the window between promo-dissemination and retail availability by moving up the album’s release date. Since Wincing is coming out in the first quarter of 2007, and that begins in January, rearranging the label’s schedule to release it earlier would be a pain in the ass. But as we watch more and more pre-releases make their way into the BitTorrent netherworld, we’re starting to wonder if the whole promo-release cycle shouldn’t be shortened considerably–even if it means that magazines, which have much longer lead times than, say, Pitchfork, get the shorter end of the stick. Whether or not 150 words and a few stars from Blender are too much of a sacrifice for labels to make, though, may prove to be the sticking point that keeps leaks like this sprouting for a while.

Wincing The Night Away Watercooler [Stereogum]
Previously: The Shins Hit The Fans…Sort Of

  • joe bananas

    man, critics who leak promos get the endless fucking gas face from me. be professional or leave the job to people that will.

  • Catbirdseat

    I’ve been publicly advocating that “shorten the cycle/release to iTunes the same day the promos go out” for a long time now, and I’ve been told it’s not the magazines that are potential problems in changing it up, it’s the big-box retailers like Best Buy & etc. who would likely flex their muscles against it.

  • mreasy

    Best Buy requires up to 16 weeks lead time for new releases. Shortening this time puts a title at risk of not being in Best Buy for street date, which would entail a huge first-week sales loss. However, even a crossover indie success like the Shins won’t sell enough at BB chainwide to get them to expedite their processes for the title… so there aren’t a lot of options.

  • coolfer

    Moving up a release date is a HUGE ordeal, and given the scheduled release date it would be even more difficult. Marketing an album during the Christmas season is (a) more expensive than other times of the year and (b) dangerous because an album can get lost among the high number of priority releases. Indies would be wise to steer clear of the late fourth quarter (which is usually the case).

    Delaying the first promo mailing is an option. A few thoughts on that. First, there are a lot of people in the industry who act like it’s their God-given right to get an early advance of every album that comes out. Second, there are key people who need to hear the album well before it’s released, if at all possible. Labels try to accomodate both groups. Any way to you slice it, there has got to be a CD of an album floating around somewhere before its release date. If there’s a copy out there, there’s a chance it could end up on file-sharing networks.

    For the band, the worst part of getting tracks out this early is that it ruins the timing involved in promoting a record. Buzz is all about timing. When somebody leaks an album, it hurts the band/label’s ability to properly promote it.

  • Matthew Perpetua

    On the bright side for Sub Pop, it’s always better for a low quality rip to leak rather than something very close to the sound of the finish album — it allows the fans to get a taste of the record, but still have a strong incentive to buy the high quality version.

  • katie_a_princess

    man, critics who leak promos get the endless fucking gas face from me. be professional or leave the job to people that will.


  • anonymouslabelowner

    As an anonymous label owner, I’ll say that my least favorite part of putting out a release is having to deal with the promotional materials. It would seem in this day and age (yousendit, bittorrent, soulseek, etc.) that a good amount of the indie journalists have no problems with passing around a promotional copy of a record. I only say this because I regularly see our records get leaked.

    We have the previously mentioned problem of having to get copies of the records out VERY early to print mags. That’s not always so simple for a small label. I want a print mag to have a finalized version with all the proper packaging and liner notes. Tough to make that happen.

    I’ve considered looking into digital forms of distribution…but who is going to pay attention to us? We’re smaller and are spending a lot more time and money to get noticed. The idea of a release date in a lot of ways is just sort of ridiculous for us anyway. It’s not like we’re paying for SoundScan.

    I’m into the idea of having our records available through digital shops at the same time the promos go out. I’m curious how that would affect hype…”oh that record? yeah i bought it on iTunes 5 months ago.” Yes, there are print mags who are planning for their March issues right now.

    But did I mention that I don’t necessarily mind the record being leaked? Trying to get people to take notice is hard. I’ll worry about actually selling the things later. Thievery/sharing is the sincerest form of flattery…or something like that. I understand people wanting to play something they like for someone else. I understand them wanting to put it on the other person’s iPod. The guy from Mastodon recently said after their album got leaked (the leaker was later fired thanks to digital watermarking), that he didn’t mind if people download their record. That the people that really are trying to track down the album early are going to be the same people who line up on release day to buy the record. I don’t know if it’s quite that simple, but I’d like to think it is. It only takes one journalist to send an album around the world…

    I’d love to hear any other suggestions by other label-owners, or from press people as to what you think would work for smaller labels. Sorry if this was long, sorry I cheated on my chemistry tests in 11th grade. The promotional process is definitely one I wish I could ignore.

  • Brian Raftery

    I also think that the Shins’ core fanbase–the people who spent all weekend seeking out the record online–are going to buy it when it comes out anyway. Probably not a huge comfort to Sub Pop, but that and the low-quality rip will ensure that their first-week sales among the indie kids will be alright. I hope.

  • Catbirdseat

    Perpetua is onto something there, in that if the only leak that gets out is, say, a 128k rip, that at least guarantees it will stay off of OINKS and IT, since they are nazis about bitrate/quality.

    Still, it only delays the inevitable, as someone will, of course, *eventually* upload a higher-quality version (as many users are nazis about bitrate/quality too).

  • Catbirdseat

    And by the way, can ‘watermarking’ stuff even be considered legally viable? Let’s say I’m pulling my daily 1,389 promos out of my post office box, and I drop that watermarked CD on the ground and don’t notice. 2 days later, “my” watermarked version shows up online. Am I supposed to take the heat for that?

  • mackro

    Why does Best Buy need four months lead time for a new release? So they can spend that much more time misfiling it when it comes out?

  • Brian Raftery

    I’ve always wondered about that, which is why I’m getting a CD shredder for Christmas.

  • Bob Loblaw

    Everyone knows that “I dropped my watermarked CD on the ground next to my PO Box and didn’t notice until 2 days later when it appeared online” is the oldest excuse in the book, Catbirdseat.

  • thepunkguy

    You really love me, you really do!!!!

  • thepunkguy

    well, honestly, I am the one who posted the email online and I probably wouldn’t have posted the songs anyway, but I think it’s pretty cool they asked and reached out to us. i mean my rule is, download the cd and then buy the vinyl. I know this isn’t everyone’s intention but it should be. or at least support artists like the shins. I mean if it was metallica… things might be a little different.

  • Cheap Shot

    I used to work at Blender magazine and unless the editor locks his demos somewhere, someone will find it and rip it.