Album Leak Preventative Concept: AdvanceMix℠

It should come as no surprise to anyone that most albums coming out are leaked prior to their release. Some are leaked well prior to their release. Labels claim money is flying out the door when this happens, yet none really do anything to try to mitigate it. Of those that do, they don’t do it very well. In a TuneLab blog called “Stopping Pre-Release Album Leaks” I went over much of the same, and pointed out that the only two places leaks come from are the label itself and the “media” that get advances for review.

In that same post, I pointed out that if it’s an internal leak, it should be easy to find the culprit and prevent it from happening again. However, stopping the leaks that come from the review or promo advances is really hard to do. The standard now is to send out digital albums through a web-based secure system that lets you stream the music only, with watermark applied. There is only two layers of “security” keeping this album from spreading all over the Internet:

  1. Website that allows streaming only and no downloading.
  2. Digital watermarking that allegedly could identify me.

Well, number one obviously is not security at all, because there are a number of plugins where with two clicks, the source mp3 is downloaded. Even better ones that use php to serve the file, with free software, if I can hear it, I can rip it. In that case, it takes a little more effort, but still…

Number two is the problem we have here… watermarks are used as supposedly a way to trace a leak back to the source. The idea is that it can be traced back to me, but really it can’t. Now, if I were to upload it somewhere as-is it could, but there are a number of things that could prevent identification, or more importantly to the issue at hand, cast reasonable doubt should any legal proceedings arise from it.

…if I can hear it, I can manipulate it or remove it

The Universal eFolio delivery method (just one example and it happened to be the most recent I encountered) places an audible digital watermark over the file, just like every other one I’ve encountered. In this case, it resembles a static warbling noise that somewhat disrupts the track itself. If I were to throw this into any number of audio-processing programs like Garageband, I could do noise-reduction and change the “watermark” quite a bit, if not remove it completely. By doing that and re-encoding it even just once, I could probably that easily make it so the tracks couldn’t be traced back to me. Even if I wanted to take it further, I could alter the static, I could place more in other spots in the track, and I could manipulate it any number of ways. The bottomline is that if I can hear it, I can manipulate it or remove it—and on studio monitor headphones I’ve never not heard the watermark’s influence.

What it boils down to is that I can take a “secure” delivery of music, and in under 20 minutes have it downloaded, any identifying info removed, and re-uploaded to a sharing site without the risk of it being traced back to me. Unlike other bloggers and music industry participants though, I’m not only pointing out a problem, I have a solution for it. The solution is AdvanceMix.

AdvanceMix is a service we’re offering to labels who want an actionable loss-prevention method, with the safety net of being able to definitively prove in a court of law any potential source of an album leak, enabling the label to recoup any losses. Rather than watermarking a file, AdvanceMix actually creates a separate mix of a track specifically for reviewers that is non-detectable to anyone listening, but as definitive as DNA when it comes to matching up a leaked file with the source.

AdvanceMix works by changing an element of the song itself, such as an extra tone on one note of the guitar or turning one half of a drum beat into a different frequency. These are things that would only be noticeable to the potential leaker if they had the original to compare it to, and they won’t. If the music is re-encoded, the changed elements remain, and again, they don’t know what to change to eliminate incriminating evidence. In any one song, you can create hundreds of different AdvanceMixes of it without fundamentally changing the song, keeping reviews accurate and keeping the music off the Internet. A log is kept to determine which mix went to whom, and if something leaks, the two are easily cross-referenced and matched.

The entire process is handled by us: creating the multiple AdvanceMixes, maintaining careful logs with secure storage, and digital or physical distribution of the AdvanceMixes.

At the worst, using AdvanceMix and somebody leaking music anyway give you iron-clad proof of the infringement and nets you an easy payday in court, with the maximum penalty being far more than most labels can hope to earn through normal sales anyway. However, the spirit and design of AdvanceMix is intended to be a deterrent, not an enforcement. The idea is that there will be no leak prior to release, but should it happen, there is a profitable recourse.

If you’re interested in learning more about AdvanceMix or signing up, email SideStageFM/atgmail/dotcom