Music going online, whether singers put it there themselves or leaked, is the new way music gets an audience.

Earlier this month, Canadian rapper Drake set the internet abuzz with the release of an unexpected new album via SoundClound, complete with free unlimited streaming. The move echoes the surprise release of Beyoncé's self-titled record in 2013. Both artists are among those turning to unconventional methods to face the upheaval digital technology has brought to the music industry.

The transition to digital distribution has led to something of a plague in the record industry: leaks. The latest victims are of course Björk and Madonna, whose respective albums were recently leaked to the Internet ahead of their official release dates. Madonna reacted by officially releasing six tracks from Rebel Heart three months ahead of the album's planned launch. For her part, Björk decided to advance the release date of Vulnicura, sharing the album in its entirety on iTunes.

Björk's latest album Vulnicura was leaked to the web ahead of its scheduled release. Photo: Wellhart / One little Indiac

Significantly, both of these leaks involved albums that had already been announced and were highly anticipated.

Drake, on the other hand, seems to have found a way to avoid this pitfall. Forgoing the usual anticipation-building announcements and pre-release advertising, he chose to surprise fans with If You're Reading This It's Too Late and to let them listen to all of the tracks online for free. Counterintuitive though it may seem, the strategy proved successful from a commercial standpoint. The unexpected album hit number one with half a million copies sold, claiming the strongest launch since Taylor Swift's 1989.

Madonna's initial reaction when she found out that her music was leaked. She later released a few tracks from the album officially. Photo: Instagram

The only clue that the album was on the way was a short film, Jungle, which Drake had released just hours earlier.

The importance of the viral video

If the moving image first became essential to the music industry in the 1980s, it has become much more so in the age of the viral video. Beyoncé leveraged this fact in 2013 with her self-titled record, described as a “visual album.” Uploaded unannounced to iTunes, the album consisted of 14 tracks, each accompanied by its own video. In another original twist, the tracks were available only as an album – not individually – during the first week following the surprise release.

The effectiveness of videos when it comes to building buzz and a fan base has since been confirmed by countless productions, including Pharrell Williams' 24-hour Happy video and interactive formats such as Jack White's latest video, That Black Bat Licorice.

Another original approach, though a somewhat baffling one, is that of Taylor Swift, who decided to take all of her music off of the streaming platform Spotify last November. – AFP Relaxnews