Pointy-eared, ivory-tower webternet theorists and starched-collar marketing gurus love to talk about the power of social networking. And major record labels have spent millions combatting internet music piracy. But today they all should be taking a lesson from Boston hardcore heroes CONVERGE.
Two days ago, when Converge's new album Axe To Fall leaked to the internet (its official release date is October 20), the band did something that appears to be unprecedented: they publicly shamed the leaker.
As the technology for watermarking has gotten better, labels are getting smarter about determining the source of album leaks. But for a variety of reasons -- say, you're the most influential indie music website in the business -- they've been reluctant to identify the leakers, even if they know who they are. Earlier this year, when the Alaska indie-rock band Portugal. The Man's new album leaked, their publicist issued a press release blaming the leak on an unidentified "national journalist." The Phoenix subsequently asked the publicist to identify the leaker, but she declined. "The journalist forwarded the link to two writers at the same publication, and
one of those writers either posted the music or forwarded the link onto someone
else who did," the publicist elaborated, adding, "He's VERY upset about it, I doubt it will ever happen again."
Converge, however, cut right to the chase. They posted a Twitter update alleging that the source of the leak had been Shaun Hand, a staff writer for the popular hesher portal metalsucks.net. They also asked their fan base to re-tweet the message -- which their fans did several hunderd times over the next day. In the course of re-tweeting those messages, some fans also took pleasure in calling Hand an "idiot" and a "bottom-feeder." Other bands, including Every Time I Die and Hatebreed frontman/MTV host Jamey Jasta, chimed in on Twitter by calling for "street justice" -- jokingly, perhaps, but echoed by enough users that if we were Shaun Hand, we wouldn't want to show up within several miles of the Converge tour this fall. (Scroll down for a timeline of selected Tweets from the fracas.)
There's an awful lot to like about Converge's approach. They didn't file a lawsuit -- which would've been costly and pointless, since the plaintiffs (the writer, potentially the website) clearly are not billionaires. They didn't write a long-winded, whiny treatise attempting to outline a philosophical framework for Why It Sucks That Now Everyone Can Steal Our Music. They didn't bother asking their fans not to download it -- also pointless. (Some fans responded by Tweeting how much they love the new album; others promised to wait until the record's official release. Regardless, by this morning, punk and metal messageboards were on fire with in-depth, close-read discussions of most of the album's tracks.)
So Converge got it right: they simply called bullshit, let the offender knew that they knew who he was, and let the rest take care of itself.
The result? Converge fans think Shaun Hand is a douchebag, and that opinion is likely to rub off a little on the site he writes for. (Wrote for?) Metalsucks.net, for its part, quickly Tweeted back that they were "horrified" by the leak, and that if Hand was indeed the source of the leak, he would be "dealt with swiftly." By yesterday afternoon, the site posted a lengthy apology in which they accepted "full responsibility" for the leak and proclaimed themselves "deeply embarrassed and regretful." "We obviously can’t 'undo' the leak," it said, "but are currently working with the
label to see if there’s anything we can do to try and make it up to the
band." (Whether the apology has been accepted is another matter -- we're sure it's coincidental, but metalsucks.net has been down all afternoon.)
At the end of the day, Converge have three things that most bands/record labels cannot claim at the end of a protracted leak crisis. By framing the leak as the hostile act of an outside insurgent, they further bonded with their audience and increased the loyalty of their fans. They turned a potential enemy -- metalsucks.net -- into an ally, one that is now contrite and probably incapable, for the next several months at least, of uttering anything less than godlike worship for Converge. And -- this is probably the most important -- they demonstrated, better than any band I can think of, a practical deterrent to leaking Converge's music. If there's anything all potential leakers learned in the past 48 hours, it's that You Don't Want To Be That Fucking Guy.
For further discussion: does shaming work?
VIDEO: Converge at ICC Church
Convergecult BTW: Special thanks to SHAUN HAND at Metal Sucks for leaking our album... #musicmonday #converge #axetofall PLEASE RETWEET #fb 05 Oct 2009 from web therealetid STREET JUSTICE!! RT @Convergecult: BTW: Special thanks to SHAUN HAND at Metal Sucks for leaking our album... PLEASE RETWEET #fb 05 Oct 2009 from Echofon metalsucks @Convergecult We are HORRIFIED and are investigating right now. If Shaun is really responsible, he will be dealt with swiftly. 05 Oct 2009 from TweetDeck Convergecult @metalsucks Have fun with that. 05 Oct 2009 from web in reply to metalsucks jameyjasta @convergecult STREET JUSTICE! 05 Oct 2009 from TweetDeck shastabeast @convergecult @therealetid @metalsucks @jameyjasta since when did HC become all about the money?our album got leaked wahhhhhh :''( 05 Oct 2009 from web metalsucks @shastabeast @convergecult @therealetid @jameyjasta It's not just about the $. They have every right to be pissed. I know I am. 05 Oct 2009 from TweetDeck in reply to shastabeast Convergecult @metalsucks Ha we thanked the guy. Nothing negative was said by us. Thanks everyone. 05 Oct 2009 from Echofon in reply to metalsucks