The new documentary “How Music Got Free”, produced by Eminem and LeBron James, dives deep into the infamous leak of “The Eminem Show.” To get the whole story, we hear from Em himself, his team at Interscope, and even music pirates.

Director Alexandria Stapleton combines interviews, archive footage, and video testimonies like jigsaw puzzle pieces to paint a colourful and complex picture.

Eminem’s initial reaction to the leak was raw. He explained the impact on the people behind the music, from engineers to label employees, all depending on album sales. He grappled with how to move forward, worried about repeating himself if he tried to recapture the leaked tracks’ sound.

Now, these songs leak. And I’m like, fuck! It was like, music should be free! And then it’s like, okay, this is what you don’t understand if music should be free. I have an engineer to pay. There is an entire army of people that work at Interscope that need their paycheck.
What do I do? Do I try to make songs like those that leaked? But then people go, “Oh, we’ve already heard that from you”.

Interscope was in chaos. Jimmy Iovine describes the leak as “bizarre” and disruptive to Eminem’s creative process and the planned rollout. Label execs reveal the forced early release of the album and the scrambling to salvage the marketing campaign. Leaks meant lost sales by the hour.

We just found out today that we had no choice but to push the new Eminem album, “The Eminem Show,” up to May 28 rather than June 4 because of demand, piracy, and everything else that’s going on out there.
The whole marketing plan went out the window. Every hour that the record was out, you lost sales.

A contrasting view comes from music pirates, who see themselves as giving free exposure to the artist. They can’t understand why Eminem complains about his music being shared for free.

Us ripping a record that was actually good for the artist. It was free exposure.
We just shrugged that off and figured like, they don’t get it. As an artist, you want to make something for the world to have, and now you’re complaining that it’s being distributed? Come on!

In archival footage of an original album promo for MTV, Eminem urges fans to buy the album, highlighting the bonus content and superior quality compared to the leaks.

What do I want people at home to know about this record? It’s out today! Your copy off the Internet sounds like shit. And then there’s lyrics in it. And there’s a DVD that comes with it. A lot of cool stuff! Extra bonus stuff that you can get if you go out and buy a CD.

For Interscope, it was a revolutionary campaign and certainly the first of a kind for Eminem. However, the leak pushed the production process to a backbreaking pace.

This is the first time that Eminem has put lyrics on the album so people can read the album. It has a free DVD on the first two million copies. And we have no choice but to stop everything else we were doing and get this record out.

The leak has lasting effects. Eminem reportedly rescheduled tours due to the leak, and the experience left him feeling like his work was devalued.

That was my first album that suffered. It was devastating to me in the sense of like, oh, I just did all that for nothing.

There is even a record of an old phonecall where Eminem threatens a leaker with physical violence:

Whoever put my shit on the Internet, I want to meet that motherfucker and beat the shit out of him.

Paul Rosenberg, Eminem’s manager, details the paranoia surrounding unreleased music. They resorted to physical deliveries, with Eminem disguising CDs in elaborate ways.

Marshall was very hesitant to ever let his music that was unreleased leave the studio. When he had new music that he wanted me to check out, he would send a physical CD to me. He was worried that people would know that it was Eminem sending a CD to Paul Rosenberg, so they would try to disguise what they were sending. Cans of soda, magazines, and a basketball. I’d come to the office or my house and see this big box. And be like, oh, what’s that? And then I’d look at where it came from, and I was like, oh, that’s the CD that Marshall was gonna send me.

Eminem confirms every word:

We had to send the music, and I wasn’t going to send it over the Internet. I was mailing shit to Paul so he can hear it. I’d put it in a big box, and it would be wrapped ten different times, and there would be one CD. Or put it in a tampon box and send it to Paul. Who’s gonna look in a tampon box?

As we know, Eminem can find a funny side in the darkest corners of life. Now, he hilariously refers to his experience as “post-traumatic leak disorder”. The leak undoubtedly affected him deeply, but “The Eminem Show” still achieved massive success, becoming the best-selling album of 2002.

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