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Behind the Beats: Music Leaks

Music leaks are unauthorized releases of songs and albums. But how and why do they happen?

From left to right: Playboi Carti, Ariana Grande, and Kevin Abstract of BROCKHAMPTON.
Credit: YouTube / Playboi Carti, Ariana Grande, and BROCKHAMPTON

Music can sometimes leak and circulate on the internet for millions to listen to. But how and why does this happen?

Almost all musicians have songs and albums that they have yet to release publicly, both complete and incomplete. Some of that music they may never even want to see the light of day. Sometimes, those very songs circulate on the internet for everyone to tune in to. Major artists like SZA and Tyler, the Creator have publicly shown their disdain for such music leaks in the past through social media. 

The burning question is: how and why do these leaks even happen in the first place?

Hackers, Impersonators, and Colleagues

Most leaked music circulating throughout the internet is a result of hacking. The main reason for music leaking is simple: to make money off of it.

Hackers often gain access to unreleased music through comprising e-mails and cloud storage. Individuals often recklessly attach the songs and albums gained through these means to strings of email conversations between important individuals. As for cloud-based storage, hackers break the encryption they have to offer and gain access to all files within the database. 

Another method that hackers and people alike utilize is impersonation. There have been instances in which individuals have acted as part of an artist’s management (or even the artist themselves) to gain access to unreleased music. 

For example, a Korean resident impersonated a member of the South Korean boyband, BTS, to access unreleased music. Approaching a producer for Big Hit, the label under which BTS releases music and is managed, the impersonator successfully gained access to not only music but also promotional activities, which he leaked on Instagram and KakaoTalk, a messaging application primarily utilized in Korea. 

Communities and Groupbuys

There are several communities dedicated to leaked music of specific artists, primarily lying within social media platforms Reddit and Discord. Some of the more prominent leak communities include those dedicated to musicians Playboi Carti, Kanye West, and Lil Uzi Vert

Within Discord, a popular messaging application, users create servers in which people can join and discuss leaks of these artists. The moderators of these servers often get into contact with leakers, who then conduct “groupbuys” for the server members to participate in.

Groupbuys are essentially events in which a song (or multiple) or album is being sold to the public. All of them have a set price, with songs and albums that are in high demand having higher prices. These take place within servers created specifically for these events, in which members of the initial leak community can join and pay any amount to work toward the goal. 

Just recently, a groupbuy for broken-up hip-hop boyband Brockhampton’s scrapped album “Puppy” was conducted. For a total of $4,000, the album in its entirety (although unfinished and comprised of demos) would be leaked to the public. As the album was highly anticipated around the band’s peak popularity in 2018, the groupbuy was quick to finish and the album was leaked, with some members of the band acknowledging its release as well as the established music critic Anthony Fantano.

The most expensive groupbuy to ever be conducted is for the deceased rapper Juice Wrld’s “Live or Die”, which went for $30,000. It is one of the last songs he ever recorded before passing away in 2019. 

Viral Leaked Songs You May Recognize

Numerous leaked songs have made their rounds throughout social media platforms, namely TikTok. 

Rapper Playboi Carti is no stranger to his music being leaked. Young Nudy, another rapper, made a song with Carti which was under wraps, titled “Pissy Pamper”. Due to sample clearance issues, the song would not be officially released. Once it leaked, it was plastered all over social media.

The song, featuring Carti’s iconic “baby voice”, ended up being unofficially uploaded to Spotify various times, almost always climbing the Spotify US Viral 50 chart every time. Within days of the upload date, one of these unofficial uploads garnered 2 million streams before being taken down.

Another viral leaked song that was all over the internet, namely TikTok, is “New Body”. The Kanye West song, featuring Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign, was slated to be on his scrapped album “Yandhi”, which is close to being leaked in its entirety.

Amongst the song’s success, West plans to include it in ¥$’s “Vultures” trilogy without Minaj’s verse due to her denial of being included in its release.

“Fantasize” by Ariana Grande is a more recent viral TikTok hit that is a leaked song.

Users have posted about 440,000 videos across three sounds on the application utilizing the leaked song. The leaked song’s success led to the formulation of the song “The Boy Is Mine,” off of her most recent release, “Eternal Sunshine.” She displayed shock towards both leakers and listeners in an interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music, which leads to the next category.

How Leaks Affect Artists

Leaks almost always negatively impact artists. In another interview with Zach Sang for the Zach Sang Show, Grande cited “Fantasize” leakers as “thieves, pirates, crooks, illegal”. Grande’s frustration is understandable as leaks can lead to a loss of revenue and streams for the musician affected. They may feel that the months, hours and days they put into creating the leaked work have gone to waste. 

Musicians can delay their albums as a result of leaks as well. R&B musician SZA has notably delayed the release of various projects due to leaks. Most recently, she delayed both the release of the deluxe version of “SOS”, along with her upcoming album, “Lana”. Through various posts on X, formerly known as Twitter, she has expressed her anger toward leaks and leakers.

Other artists, although a small majority, don’t care so much about leaks. Some musicians have even leaked their own music, mainly due to clashes with labels. 

One instance of artists leaking their own music includes the English rock band Radiohead. In 2019, leakers threatened to release hours of demos from the band, wanting to blackmail them for $150,000. In response, the band released said demos on the audio distribution platform Bandcamp for free. The demos consist of 18 hours worth of outtakes from the recordings of the album “OK Computer”.

Conclusion

While listening to leaks isn’t illegal, artists opposed to them frown upon the practice.

You’ll get to listen to the next best song by your favorite artist on repeat, while they sit in the studio reminiscing about the time they could have back from working on the art that has leaked.

The choice is up to you whether you want to continue listening to the latest Kanye West leak or listen to legally released projects; either way, unreleased music will never stop circulating throughout the internet.

Written By

California State University Long Beach undergraduate studying journalism with a special interest in music journalism. Guinea pigs and music are some of my favorite things.

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