Audio Spoilers (“Watermark”)

Personally I have many reservations about adding watermark / spoilers to tracks, though there are a few situations where such techniques may be useful. The basic idea of adding a spoiler to a song is to incorporate additional audio so that the track cannot be easily distributed or used without authorisation, but remains sufficiently intact to still provide a useful preview of the audio. Typically this is done by mixing in other sounds, such as the words “Demo version”, or just a “beep”, periodically through the track.

Why would I NOT want to add a spoiler?

Before diving in and adding spoilers to all of your demo tracks, let’s look at a few reasons why doing so might be a bad idea.

  • Hearing a spoiler watermark is distracting for the listener. If you want the listener to love the recording, then the addition of spoilers will work against you.
  • Be realistic; how much do you actually lose if a few people make unauthorised copies of your work? Major publishers are unlikely to steal your work because it’s much easier for them to use only recordings that they own the rights for, then to risk the hassle and expense of a legal dispute. Also, unless you are part of a very small minority, it is very likely that major publishers have no interest in you or your recordings.
  • What if a million people download or otherwise share your recording without paying for it? In this case, well done, you are well on the way to becoming famous. Would there have been so many (or any) paid downloads? The value of exposure will frequently outweigh theoretical losses from unauthorised copies.
  • Many people hate demos with spoilers, and will simply not bother to listen to your recording at all.

Why would I want to add spoilers?

Probably the most common reason is to prevent unauthorised commercial use of tracks while still allowing public access to those tracks. If you have an extensive on-line catalogue of original recordings, you may decide to add spoilers to discourage piracy.

Types of spoiler / watermarks

Spoilers / watermarks may be as simple as a “beep” mixed into the recording, or a complex cryptographic code hidden within the audio spectrum. In most cases, simple watermarks are sufficient, but the spoiler should not be so simple that it can be easily removed. If the spoiler is an intermittent pure tone at a single frequency, then it is hardly worth bothering with as it is a trivial task to filter out a single tone.

Alternatives

Some simple alternatives that may be worth considering:

  • Rather than a full length demo, use a shortened version that leaves the listener wanting more.
  • If you have a high quality version for sale, consider offering a lower quality MP3 version for free.
  • Rather than watermarking all of the tracks of a sample CD demo version, consider providing just one or two tracks as the demo.

Summary

In many cases, adding spoilers / watermarks to recordings is simply not worth the effort. In some cases it may even be counterproductive and work against you. However, if you decide that you really do need to restrict commercial use, then choose a method that will be least annoying for your listeners / audience, and mark in a way that cannot be removed too easily.

If you have decided that adding spoilers is right for you, a spoiler plug-in is available HERE.

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