That Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch The Throne didn’t leak until about half an hour before its iTunes release is a noteworthy story in this age of Rapidshare and Megaupload being as stuffed with digital versions of new releases as iTunes and Amazon. And it turns out that the business decisions that led to it happening were rooted in sentiment: “It was really important to [Jay] that people experienced this album in its entirety when they first listened to it,” an anonymous Roc Nation executive told Billboard‘s Steven J. Horowitz, who examined the non-leak in depth. “That was really the driving force of it, to create that nostalgic moment of unwrapping the CD and listening to it for the first time.” But to create nostalgia for the CD era (miss you, 1998), some 21st-century precautions were taken.
As Andy Hutchins noted last week, emailed songs were a no-no during Watch The Throne‘s production process—loose inboxes sink ships and all that. But there were also biometrics involved!
Due to compromising hacker attempts for West’s 2010 release My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, outside producers such as the RZA and Swizz Beatz were asked to appear in-person for works-in-progress — no emailed song drafts were allowed.
To combat pre-release piracy, [engineer Anthony] Kilhoffer, Grammy Award-winner for West’s Graduation and John Legend’s Get Lifted, claims that all sessions were saved offsite to hard drives in Goldstein’s locked Pelican briefcase over the course of nine months. “Everywhere we went in hotels, we were locking hard drives and Noah took them with him,” says Kilhoffer, who now travels with external memory units that can only be accessed by biometric fingerprints.
The technology, which Kilhoffer implements while traveling on West’s current European tour, takes a live scan of one’s finger to serve as key to access protected material. For less than $100, devices such as the Eikon Digital Privacy Manager and Zvetco Fingerprint Reader measure the finger’s ridges and valleys with conductor plates, transmitting imprints through a USB cord to safeguard hard drive contents. While on the road, Kilhoffer and Dean are the sole gatekeepers to unlock the digital safes.
Seemingly cheap, no? Although a lot of hassle (not to mention the cost of the extra plane tickets for the briefcase-toters). Did the lack of an early—or even a weekend-before—leak help keep Watch The Throne‘s sales, which are estimated by Billboard to have topped the gold-in-a-week mark, afloat? It’s possible, although certainly the combination of Jay (whose Blueprint 3 moved 476,000 units during its first week out in 2009) and Kanye (whose My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sold 496,000 first-week copies last November) and the immense amount of hype surrounding their collaboration might have helped soften any blow a, say, one-month-out leak would have. The biometrics and leak-prevention systems will probably be used by other artists down the road. But Throne also had an immense amount of press tracking its every bump down the road, and in this moment of awareness about records even being available for purchase being, shall we say, lacking on a lot of fronts, it’s going to take more than a fingerprint-reader to get more albums to pass the 500,000-sold mark seven days out.