There isn’t a person in the music industry who doesn’t have an opinion on how download culture has affected artists’ careers. While everybody in the biz knows it’s hard for a $10 retail CD to beat the lure of a free download, the internet poses additional challenges for bands, managers and labels. The recent controversy surrounding the blog site PropertyOfZack’s decision to leak information regarding Fall Out Boy’s reunion plans—significantly ahead of the band’s intended rollout—brings a whole new consideration of how premature details on a band’s activities can impact a band’s trajectory.
There are many hypothetical situations that bear out the adage “loose lips sink ships.” Say a band loses a member and begins rehearsals with a replacement who is a member of another band that’s signed to another label. If that information were prematurely made public, the new member’s old label could demand certain terms from the existing band and their label. Consider a band trying to excise themselves from their current record deal: If it was reported that they were in the studio recording, the label the band are fighting with may have exclusive rights to those recordings, as they were made while under the existing contract. Even the premature announcement of tour dates may seem innocuous at first, until other logistical moves get screwed up.
“There have been instances where a smaller band has been added to a tour and have leaked the info about the tour before the headline act has been able to do so,” recalls Amy Welch of Charm School PR, who has worked closely with many of the artists on the Vagrant Records roster. “Although no monetary harm came from such a leak, it does sour relationships. You can get a reputation as someone who is not trustworthy with information. It’s not the end of the world, but it does make things difficult. Then, there are situations where bands have dates they are unable to announce: Like if a band are playing a city twice, they can’t announce the second show until the first one has sold out. If that second date is leaked prematurely, the promoter will be livid because they may lose money on tickets, because fans know there’s a second show.”
Hopeless Records’ vice president of marketing and creative Ian Harrison was pleased that news of the All Time Low/Pierce The Veil headlining tour was kept under wraps significantly, until two days before the intended rollout when a promoter casually put the date up on his website. “Promoters are the worst [at keeping secrets],” he says. “Their interests are very different than ours. Even if we still said, ‘Hey, don’t say anything,’ it’s hard to control it. It’s better when [the activity] is far away: When there are shows happening a month-and-a-half away, you can’t stop leaks. We are able to keep records secret two-and-a-half months before they come out. If we don’t announce it by then, someone will announce it for us.” Harrison says those details end up in record distributors new-release pitch books and the backend of digital sites like iTunes and other streaming services. “Enough people have access to those things that the information will get out there.”
Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman (pictured, right) takes a different turn. He’s well aware of the propensity for information to get leaked. He’s more concerned when fallacies and plain old lies are being perceived as gospel truths. “That’s the big thing,” he says. “In a lot of leaks, there aren’t any fact-checking to them. Misinformation is the biggest problem. There’s no repercussion if someone is passing conjecture as truth on the internet. My attitude is there are no secrets anymore.” Lyman wanted to announce specific information about Warped 2013 during the Friday episodes of Fuse TV’s reality show Warped Roadies, but found it patently impossible. “People can’t seem to hold anything anymore. You can put it in 20 different spots of the press release, ‘Please do not release until 6 p.m. tonight,’ send it to 40 different sources, and all it takes is three of them not to hold back. It’s been built into our culture now that you have to put it out there first.”
The promotional rollout has always been part and parcel of the music business. However, some longtime industry veterans are of the opinion that concept is as outmoded as the proliferation of brick-and-mortar record stores or a new album you can’t download off the internet. “I think it does matter,” says Welch. “There are so many bands and so many releases. You need to have something to break past all the hubbub going on. So if you have news to announce every few weeks up to the release date, it’s very helpful. And when you see some kid on Twitter blow your entire campaign, it can be very irritating.”
“I think every piece of information is like food; it’s all perishable,” says Harrison. “Some stuff can sit for a while and stay good, and some stuff must be exploited immediately or it’s going to go bad. Some things aren’t worth keeping a secret because it’s so hard to do that. So many people are involved, from band members to managers to agents—even crew guys! I can’t control that stuff, but I can control who gets the first interview, who will be linked to the definitive word about a project.”
“There’s so much information that rolls across the screen, most of it stays relevant for 10 minutes, then it’s already off all the feeds and everyone’s moved on,” says Mike Kaminsky, whose management company KMGMT represents the Summer Set, 3OH!3 and Tonight Alive. “The rollout of information is one of the hardest things to control. As an artist, you could be doing the coolest thing in the world, and it could be relevant for literally 10 or 20 minutes and gone. How you take the information and make it exciting is what matters. Just saying, ‘Hey, I’m going on tour’ really doesn’t mean anything.”
Zack Zarrillo started the scene-centric blog site PropertyOfZack three years ago. “I can’t say I’m necessarily a journalist,” he offers when asked to describe his role in the scene he, the rest of the Absolute Voices cabal and Alternative Press cover, “because I have no true training to be a journalist. I am not a great writer whatsoever, and my grammar is probably the worst out of all our contributors on the site. I don’t take any offense to the term ‘blogger,’ because my team and I have accomplished a really shocking great amount of things in the past three years. I have messed up more than my fair share of times. I definitely don’t play by the same rules everyone does—that’s good in some cases and not good in others. I think my role is to be the quickest and the most accurate we can be with sort of a different spark that others don’t necessarily have.”
When asked if there was anything he wouldn’t leak—from a respected band signing a new record deal before the contract was signed or a band member’s impending trip to rehab—Zarrillo was pragmatic. “I look at it like a burning/not burning bridges scenario. Years ago, we leaked that Saves The Day signed to Razor & Tie. That was maybe the biggest exclusive we ever had at the time: The site was around for a year at that point, so I just went for it. If I knew what I knew now, I could have went to [the label] and said, ‘I know this, I’m going to run this, maybe you should help me run it together.’ I wouldn’t necessarily leak a band signing, but if it was something like a drug thing, we did have one of the bigger pieces on Jonny Craig last spring that people didn’t have yet. I think it’s more about whether [a piece of information] is going to be a flash in the pan or if it’s going to be something more to chew on, like someone having a drug problem or someone stealing money from fans or one of the biggest bands of our scene coming back for a reunion. I think it’s a judgment call. Though sometimes I do get carried away and say ‘fuck it’ and go for it.”
But can someone go too far in search of page views? Zarrillo contends that deciding what news to pull the upload trigger on is based on a sliding scale, at best. “Something that’s too far to me would be if I got the entire Warped Tour lineup on November 15. Leaking that whole lineup is way too far. That serves no one any good. [That information] would get any site a crazy amount of views. But you’re burning your relationship with Warped Tour; bands are going to get pissed off at you, management, labels, publicists—that’s just stupid. Is it worth it, long-term? No. You lose your content providers in bands and then you lose your audience.” >>
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“Everybody has a different opinion about leaks,” says Hopeless’ Harrison. “I have a lot of respect for the media’s right to do whatever they want to. Trying to hide information is futile. We’ve encountered that situation in the past of ‘This person leaked the news. Demand they take it down.’ Now if Alternative Press started doing that, I wouldn’t have any problem with that—but you would never get any information from me. Say we had a band with a similar situation like Fall Out Boy, and we gave you the information and you ran with it immediately online. You could run with it, but we’d have a hard time doing something with you for the record release because of the feelings coming out of it. It’s not just me—it’s management, band members, and agents. All it takes is one person to get butt-hurt about something.”
Zarrillo says he considered the leaking of Fall Out Boy’s reconvening, dealing with two straight months of stress and panic attacks before he actually posted the information onto his site. Years ago, he interned at Crush, the management company that represents Fall Out Boy, Cobra Starship and Gym Class Heroes. Now Zarrillo describes any relationship with that organization as “bridges that I was comfortable torching to the ground,” because he knew of the band’s resonance as “the second biggest band in our scene of all time—next to Blink or Green Day—are coming back for a reunion, and they’ve sold 10 million albums. It’s not like an Armor For Sleep reunion. At the end of the day it was, ‘Do I want to burn these bridges with the management company that manages bands I’m not going to do a lot of work with in the first place because I’m not Access Hollywood?’ Because when you sell millions of singles, you don’t necessarily need to do press with a website like Property Of Zack or Absolute Punk.”
When Zarrillo posted the information ahead of the official announcement on Fall Out Boy’s site, he says he got a healthy amount of backlash from visitors who “doubted the site and said they’d never come back. Which I expected: I expected the band to deny it, I expected countless fans to not believe it.” But he had also received a significant number of new visitors, as well as a wave of apology posts from detractors, “who trust the site now because we told them their favorite band of all time [are] coming back.” FOB’s complete rollout ended up being divulged online the night before by Philip Obenschain over at the No Country For New Nashville blog. Zarrillo says he knew all the exact information Obenschain did, as well as other elements to their rollout that have yet to be made public. “I was interested in ruining [the announcement],” he says. “I wasn’t interested in saying Fall Out Boy are going on tour or that they have a new album ready to go. I was just interested in letting people know they were coming back. Part of me working with people who trusted me enough for them to be my source was not ruining everything.”
All of the people interviewed for this story shared feelings of resignation, futility and gamesmanship strategy regarding the way information is disseminated. But the culture of needing to know first is part and parcel of this scene of loud-music-played-really-quickly-on-guitars (which kind of encapsulates nearly every subgenre in our Warped Tour nation community). You have to wonder if similar music cultures are as passionate. Would the internet fall apart over the leaking of premature reunion news of, say, Sugar Ray?
“I’m very happy when kids are trying to ruin the surprise,” says KMGMT’s Kaminsky. “It means they’re engaged. If nobody’s hungry for it, it’s going to come out and not make a dent. There have been times when leaks have spoiled a project we’ve been working on. But you know what? That means we need to step up our game. If you’re not thinking three steps ahead, you’re going to fall behind.”
“Does it ruin things?” ponders Hopeless’ Harrison about info leaks. “All you gotta know is these things are going to happen and plan around them. It ruins things if your whole plan hinges on it being kept secret.”
“You can’t get real upset about these things,” says Charm School’s Welch. “Does it matter? Are we curing cancer by doing this?”
“Is the big rollout important?” asks Lyman. “Absolutely not. I think we hold on to those old models of doing things. When the information is ready, you need to put it out. You want information to come from the source, but people still feel this need to get it out first—even when you ask them not to.”
The way Zarrillo sees it, the future of music journalism is all about speed first—with reflection to follow. “[Writers] need to be quicker. I understand that someone is going to get pissed when something leaks. But you can’t hold grudges anymore as much as you need to fucking go for it. AltPress isn’t going to leak ‘Fall Out Boy are coming back’ for a whole lot of reasons. But I’m always going to be doing this. I’m not scared of burning a bridge if the benefit is much better than the cost.”
Zarrillo did get to see Fall Out Boy’s recent New York City reunion show. But to the surprise of no one, he wasn’t on a guest list. “I did pay for a ticket,” he says. “It was an incredible show. I did not get a chance to see them in Philly though, because it sold out in 20 seconds.” alt