last monday, three months before it was scheduled to be released amidst a tsunami of hype and promotion, the new Oasis album began to circulate on the Internet.What was initially thought to be just a few tracks turned out to be the entire record, and a few thoughtful folks have even begun to pass around suggestions for the disc's cover art.
How the disc itself was leaked is something of a mystery.
The album, titled Heathen Chemistry, was supposed to be a comeback record for the band, a return to the raw rock of their debut (for the record, it's not), and had been cloaked in secrecy.
Live versions of a few songs had been posted on file-sharing systems like Morpheus and Audiogalaxy for months, but the studio versions remained in the vault, at least until Monday.
The most popular rumour -- Oasis label reps aren't talking -- is that the album was leaked on a fan Web site for just a few hours. Oasis lawyers quickly stepped in and pulled the plug, but by that time several hundred CD-quality versions were popping up on the MP3 trading program of your choice and on their way to CD burners around the world.
If free music being traded online is the music industry's worst nightmare, this kind of leak has to run a close second.
High-speed Internet access, virtual non-stop information about a band's every move and slickly run file-sharing sites mean that obsessive fans can piece together an album track listing and bootleg an album months before it's supposed to hit the streets. For the average fan, hearing the music is as easy as plugging the band's name into a search engine and connecting the dots.
While theirs is the highest-profile case, it's not just Oasis who've been bootlegged. Rush's wildly anticipated Vapor Trails album was leaked later in the same week, and MP3 sites also have new, unauthorized material up by artists as disparate as DJ Shadow and Raphael Saadiq (entire albums), Tom Waits and the Flaming Lips (scattered songs).
For record labels, it's a disaster. While digital sharing of music already on store shelves takes money away from labels, the ease with which unreleased music is circulating is an issue of control.
High-quality burns of an album circulating three months before it's scheduled to drop, and negative reviews already popping up on fan sites and in newspapers are throwing multi-million-dollar promotional plans into disarray. They're also dulling the suspense that surrounds the Tuesday morning when new releases appear.
Music fans are also put in a bind. Anticipation for new music by one of your favourite bands can be a great thing, making the most fanatical line up to be the first to hear it. Why wait, though, when you can hear the music now and burn yourself a CD to see if the record's actually worth shelling out for?
Of course, there's always the possibility that the bands and labels themselves engineered these leaks. Promotion, no matter how you get it, is best when it begins early.