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How Asthmatic Kitty learned to stop worrying and embrace the leak

By | Published on Wednesday 15 April 2015

Sufjan Stevens

At the end of March, Sufjan Stevens released his seventh studio album, ‘Carrie & Lowell’. But weeks ahead of the release the album leaked onto file-sharing sites. This is a common occurrence for record labels these days, of course, but the way in which Stevens’ label Asthmatic Kitty – of which the musician is a cofounder – responded to the leak seemed very unusual.

Under a post on Reddit alerting users to the leak, a comment from the label appeared. “Let us know what you think!” it began. Links to pre-order the album in physical and digital formats were added too, but the label added: “If you can’t afford it – don’t worry about it! Enjoy the music!”

Coming shortly after Björk’s label One Little Indian rush-released her latest album, ‘Vulnicura’, in the wake of a similar leak, in an interview for the latest CMU Trends Report, Asthmatic Kitty’s Label Manager John Beeler explained how his company’s response over ‘Carrie & Lowell’ was standard procedure for the label.

“We don’t issue takedowns on leaks or shares”, said Beller. “It just doesn’t make sense to us. Why chastise fans of your music? We do visit download sites and usually leave a comment pointing people to a purchase point, and thanking them for listening. We have pre-order links up and ready, and we have those up early. We always have plenty of purchase points well before a record comes out. In some ways a leak can even help move things forward, like ticket sales, or building buzz about a record. People are generally good people and they’ll find a way to support music”.

On the urge to rush-release music that has leaked, he continued: “What I learned from watching Björk’s label One Little Indian is that the story became more about the leak and less about the music. We’ve surprise released music before – we did that in 2010 with Sufjan’s ‘All Delighted People’. But Sufjan wanted the story here to be about the music, so we opted instead for a ‘regular’ album campaign. The leak is a flash in the pan in what will be a long life for this album. There’s no need to respond in a panicked state to something like a leak when you have something as good as this record”.

He added: “Of course, it’s always easier to judge these things from the outside and I can’t say I wouldn’t have made the same decision in One Little Indian’s shoes. No doubt someone is criticising the way we’ve handled this, and I welcome that. That critique is how we as an industry iterate and evolve and it’s a good process”.

To read the full interview check the latest edition of the CMU Trends Report. Get your copy by going premium for just £5 a month here.