[T]he hip-hop and gossip blogs have a forebear in mixtapes: the R&B and hip-hop music compilations that the record industry has used for decades to create early excitement for music. But mixtapes have faced perennial legal hardships because of crackdowns by the Recording In dustry Association of America. As mixtapes’ popularity wanes, fans have turned to black gossip and hip-hop blogs to find songs by artists such as Kanye West, Beyoncé, Common, and Ne-Yo. The music often arrives on the Web weeks before the official CD is released.
[...] Like the DJs who make mixtapes, bloggers have received a mixed reception in the record industry. Many executives recognize that Internet exposure can create a following for the artists that can translate into record sales. The Game’s CD “Doctor’s Advocate” leaked last year yet still debuted in the No. 1 spot of the Billboard album charts, selling 358,000 copies. A recent Capitol Records press release about J. Holiday’s R&B single “Bed” featured a quote from Concrete Loop’s music editor Brian Davis, as a sign of the single’s growing popularity.
[...] [T]here’s a limit to how much exposure the record companies want to give. Capitol, for instance, prefers handing out streaming audio, because free downloads can curtail single and album sales. Relationships can grow tense when material by a major artist or a potential blockbuster song leaks. The day after Rawlins posted “She Wants It,” from 50’s highly anticipated CD, “Curtis,” he received an e-mail from an executive at 50 Cent’s label, Interscope, asking Rawlins to remove the song from his blog. Bloggers have been sent cease-and-desist letters from the legal departments of record labels or received calls from record executives asking them to remove songs. One recent Concrete Loop post featured five downloads from M.I.A.’s new CD, “Kala”; the next day the links to the downloadable songs were dead. Nah Right featured a yet-to-be-released video for Talib Kweli’s new song “Hot Thing/In the Mood.” Within hours the video window simply read “removed by copyright holder.”
Interscope Records, which represents M.I.A. and 50 Cent, declined to be interviewed for this story. But there’s an increasing realization in the music industry that it needs to adapt to the digital music age. As the number of new media departments at record companies increases, executives are trying to change the way they do business.
“We need business models of our own out there in an offensive way to get people to work with us so we can get paid for our music,” says Christian Jorg, a recently hired senior vice president of new media and commerce at Island Def Jam. “We can’t go back to selling as many CDs as we did five years ago — that’s just unrealistic.”