Holy watermark, Batman!

I wonder what makes record companies watermark certain advance CDs and not others. Does it make an artist feel second-rate if his CD doesn’t have a watermark while his labelmate does.

Nowadays if you’re a music critic it’s not unusual to receive, unsolicited, an advance CD with a watermark that enables the record company to determine the source of any unauthorized MP3s circulating on the internet. Recently this has led to several embarrassing incidents involving the record companies and the music critics they depend on to get the word out about their new releases.

Take, for example, this email which was sent around by Animal Collective's publicist regarding the leak of some songs off its client's upcoming album.

Hello friends -

Sorry to write this one....but.....

Last week three tracks from Animal Collective's new album leaked. Within minutes we were able to track the leak to an writer's CD. That person got in more trouble than you care to hear about and was almost fired. The person was also forced to write an apology letter to an entire staff of people and the head of Domino Records along with other penance.

The watermarking of these CDs should be noted as anyone you loan it too or any MP3's you make will have YOUR NAME embedded in it. I would think twice before doing anything with this CD. Also I betcha didn't know each CD costs 4.00 to watermark and is done for a reason. Please let us keep trusting you.

I love the part of writing an apology letter. Reminds me of the forced confessions in China. The fact that record companies now have legal departments going around threatening writers on a presumption of guilt is quite galling. If you’ve ever been on the wrong end of a conversation with one of these bully lawyers you know what I mean. The writers are the bands and the record companies’ best friends. If the labels don’t know who their entrusting these sacred discs to, then they shouldn’t send it to them. Demanding that critics not share their music with other writers and editors goes against the grain of what critics do. Should a band emerge from the daunting stack of CDs that awaits perusing each day, you would think the labels would want us to tell the world. In fact, they support a small army whose job is to to just that.

Thankfully, the smarter artists are aware of this. Here’s the response of Animal Collective drummer Panda Bear:

The only thing we're really upset about with the leak is that it's only parts of it. I think there are six songs out there now. People aren't even able to get the full experience of the album, which bums us all out quite a bit. So if you're listening leakers [speaking directly into the tape recorder], put up those other three songs, man, pronto.