to out, or not to out?

There’s been a lot of conversation over the last couple of weeks about the nature of promotional copies.

For those of you unaware, record companies large and small need to earmark a certain amount of the records they manufacture as promo copies.  These copies are regular CDs (or vinyl records) that the record labels send out to magazines, fanzines, blogs, journalists, radio stations, record stores, etc., in hopes of receiving airplay, reviews, interviews, features, whatever.  They’re marketing tools.

When MP3s became viable, a lot of record companies tried to “service” people with their promotional copies via email, but many still insist on (or prefer to receive) physical, tangible products.

So, at some point in advance of a record’s actual release date (the day that normal guys like you and me can buy the record in stores or online), the labels send out their promo copies.

A few months ago, I chronicled the travels of one of those promo copies in this blog entry.  The CD, Finest Specimens by The Mommyheads, traveled from the manufacturer to me.  Then, I sent it to the PR company that I worked with to help me promote that album.  They, in turn, sent it to a blog, a music journalist, or some other such place, in hopes of getting a review.

That person, who receives free music from PR companies to listen to, in hopes they’ll write a review, listed the record on eBay.  Well in advance of the release date.

So, to keep the record out of the hands of someone who I’d rather purchase a real, legitimate copy of the record so that the band (and label, of course) could make a little money on it, I won the eBay auction and paid for the record. Then, the CD came back to me.

Why do I mention this now?

Because in December, I broke down and purchased a CD duplicating machine.  I decided that I wasn’t going to use “real” CDs as promo copies anymore, instead opting to make cheaper CD-Rs on my home duping machine.  It produces 20 CDs an hour, and prints beautifully, right on the disc.  Then, I’d print tiny sleeves using the actual album art, fold them in half and put them inside a mylar “baggie.”  They look pretty cool – like a miniature version of the way many 7″ records are packaged.  But they’re also cheaper-looking than the actual CD.  They play just fine, they contain the actual album art, so they should suffice when it comes to promotional copies, right?

So for the upcoming CD Vessels & Veins by Penguins Kill Polar Bears, that’s precisely what I did.  Our PR firm and retail distributor sent out these CD-Rs instead of actual CDs, and I’ve scanned eBay religiously, and happily, there hasn’t been a copy that’s surfaced yet.

However, as we usually do, we also serviced people with digital copies – MP3s, served up via download or email, to those blogs and such that will accept music that way.

I like blogs.  I was a huge fan of zines and zine culture in the 90s, and I think that, by and large, music blogs have taken the place of zines.  So it’s really important to me to support the blogs – obviously it benefits Dromedary and our bands, but I also think it’s pretty cool to put new music into these folks’ hands, to help them achieve their goal of writing about music and simply existing, in a world dominated by corporate rock.

So where you have to pay for your music (and so do I, usually), the blogger gets a free copy.

And, of course, last week, an unnamed blogger write a very nice review of Penguins Kill Polar Bears, stating something to the effect of “I love this band!  They’re going to be HUGE – mark my words!”  It was flattering.

Until I saw the link underneath the review.  The one that said Mediafire.

Hmm, what’s that? I wondered.  So, of course, I clicked the link.

And the entire album began to download on my computer.

That’s right.  The asshole blogger took it upon herself to give away free copies of our record.  We were kind enough to give her a free copy to listen to, and she decided that she’d like everyone she knows to have a free copy as well.  Fuck the band, they don’t need the money.  Fuck the label, they don’t either.

Our PR firm reached out to her immediately, and she took down the link – apologizing to her readers for no longer being able to offer the album for free.

But three days later, the Mediafire URL still worked, and you could still download the album.

I mentioned it on Facebook and a friend suggested that I “out” the blogger.  Which, of course, I could do.  But then this blogger, who has a blog (duh), could write whatever she wanted about us, and could also decide to just put the Penguins record back up there for free download, just because I was mean to her.

We’re a tiny label.  I don’t have money to pay our lawyer to chase after people like this.

Which is why it pissed me off doubly so to read another glowing review today, this time of The Mommyheads’ Finest Specimens CD, only to find another link underneath the review (this one was really well-written, too).  Again, to download the record in its entirety – for free.

Obviously I am not giving these records away.

I understand the whole “Hey, free music on the internet, let me grab a pirated copy!” thing.  I understand how, when presented with the option of A) buying a legitimate copy, or B) illegally downloading a pirated copy, many consumers will choose the latter.  Hell, I actually had a conversation with a musician recently – one who’s looking for a record deal – where he flat-out told me that he downloads music illegally.

What I can’t understand is how a music blogger or journalist would overtly violate the trust a record label shows in them by sending them free stuff. They should know better.  They write about music, ostensibly because they love music and want to expose people to the music they like.  They have a passion for it.  They should know better, so it still boggles my mind that some don’t.

Why the hell would a journalist sell a promo copy before the release date?

Why would a blogger post a band’s CD on Mediafire a month before it hit the streets?  Why would they do it at all?

I can tell you two bloggers that will not receive any promotional copies of our records anymore.  And I realize they don’t give a shit, we’re not Merge Records, they can live without the next Stuyvesant record.

If they want it, they’ll just snag it off Mediafire.


~ by Al on March 3, 2011.

3 Responses to “to out, or not to out?”

  1. Hi. I would never have heard about you guys had it not been for that blog. In fact, I would never have heard of any bands I listen to, purchase albums, go to shows, and recommend to others if not for illegal music downloading. I would probably be shelling over money to bands like Nickelback and Sum41 not knowing of the amazing music that exists out there. Anyone I know that does not download music listens to generic radio crap because –people don’t buy music they haven’t heard before–. Before buying an album, they’ve seen a music video on a popular television station, or heard 2 or 3 songs on the radio for -get this- free, or maybe they heard the album at a friends’ house?

    We are a generation that supports bands that we form an emotional connection to. Without the media means and advertising, illegal downloading is the reason we go to shows, buy shirts, albums, vinyls, and tell others about the band who in turn do the same thing!

    I missed the download but saw the post. Otherwise you wouldn’t exist to me like the 5 or so others that I would have told about how awesome you guys are, if in fact you are. By denying myself and others the download means you are sacrificing effective word-of-mouth advertising, which indie music thrives on. If I told someone that told someone who then told someone else about the album, what are the chances that one or a few people would go see you live, buy some merch and some albums? Now there are people who will not hear about you, not go to shows, or buy merch because you do not exist to us.

    Bitching about downloads is not a positive thing for an up and coming band to do.

  2. Thanks for the comments.

    You’re missing the fundamental point of my complaint, however.

    My complaint here has nothing to do with illegal downloading. it has to do with unauthorized posting of our music on the part of bloggers that received promotional copies of our music directly from us.

    Record labels like Dromedary (for the record, we’re not a band, we’re a record label) try really hard to embrace the people who use the internet as a means of hearing music for free. For every release, we give away two or three MP3 singles for free, to anybody who wants them enough to download them from the dozens of blogs where they’re featured. We give away tracks for free just for signing up for our email list, and once you’re on our email list, we give away at least one track with every broadcast email we send. For the last four months, we’ve been giving away a free sampler CD to anyone who buys a regular CD from us through the mail.

    Additionally, we post music to listen to on our Facebook, MySpace, and SoundCloud pages. And more importantly, we post every single album we release for people to listen to IN THEIR ENTIRETY for free, right on our home page. You can stream every song in our catalog, from start to finish, right at I think we go out of our way to give everyone access to our music if they want to listen to it for free. In fact, in the year we’ve been back, we’ve literally given away thousands of free downloads. Hell, in August, we released a Stuyvesant EP that we gave away for free.

    However, the issue I raise in this post is not the issue of illegal downloading. It’s the issue of unauthorized UPLOADING – bloggers taking the promotional records that I send them – for free – and completely disrespecting the wishes of the label and the band, by either posting that album for free download, or by selling it on eBay before the release date. They’re shitting on someone else’s work for their own personal – or worse, commercial – gain.

    That’s unfair, it’s disrespectful, and it completely goes against the covenant that’s supposed to exist between bands/labels and the community of independent music journalists. Many of these blogs sell ad space – so by giving away unauthorized copies of other people’s music, they’re actually making money while exploiting the artists for free, against their wishes.

    When a record label or a band sets up a new release, they work really hard – from writing and recording the songs, to setting up the marketing plan to get that record released. It’s expensive, and its time-consuming. Most of us realize that somebody is going to buy a copy of our record and within half an hour, it’ll wind up all over the torrent sites. There’s no way to stop that. But we still want to expose the music to as many people as possible, and sell as many copies as possible to people who are willing to financially support indie bands and labels.

    What is annoying beyond belief, however, is when some blogger that we’re going out of our way to include in our marketing efforts, decides to shit on our work by giving the entire record away for free. Nowhere did we agree to let them do that. And yet in these two cases, they did it anyway.

    You can still listen to our music for free. But we want you to do it on our terms – not on the terms dictated by some blogger who’s giving away someone else’s art without permission, in an effort to drive people to their website.

  3. Well said Al.. I have been seriously considering starting a record label for some months now,,got 25 years experience in the business as a performer, and currently work at “The Most Famous Club in the World”… some seriously talented bands around at the moment.. I cannot for the life of me see how i can make my money back..and i don’t love any band enough not to be able to afford to eat..You run Dromedary with an obvious passion for music and i can see you’re battling with today’s wonderful cyber opportunities ..but also the downside you described. Best of luck guys. Martin

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