Tyler Krug, who writes and records post-rock music out of his Columbus State dorm in Georgia, is huge in Costa Rica right now—and all it took was for another artist to plagiarize his music.
When you start to backtrack, the story only gets weirder.
In December of 2012, Krug released the Foreign Territory EP on his Bandcamp page. The 21-year-old musician describes the effort as nothing more than “a chance for me to share my music.” It’s a well-crafted, sonically diverse 35 minutes, and Krug’s modesty about it only makes you think that the injustice that came next couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
Until about a week ago, Krug was on a month-long stay in Italy. During that time, away from the distractions of constant internet connection, he pored back over the six songs on Foreign Territory, each a product of his last three years at Columbus State, to remix them for a reissue of the EP. Just before returning Stateside, he posted on the Post-Rock subreddit to inform fans about the new mixes, and got a confusing reply:
“Hey man this record is great – but is it true about this ‘Enthralled’ shit that I’ve read about?”
Long before Krug was aware of even the slightest hint of the situation, Costa Rican post-rock project Enthralled had downloaded and re-published some of his songs, along with tracks from another group named Solus, under their own name in an EP entitled The Dance of Lost Souls. The group had even gone so far as to begin pressing physical copies of the release for sale. Slated to be their first ever, the EP made its rounds on a few small music blogs—one of which also happened to have featured Foreign Territory not long ago. It didn’t take long for one dedicated fan to put the pieces together, and before Krug had even heard the name of this phony band, all traces of their shamelessly pirated EP had been hastily torn down from the internet.
Krug was dumbfounded.
The following week saw a flurry of traded apologies, desperate explanations, and the rapid spread of the story on several music blogs. “I didn’t know this would blow up as it did,” says Krug.
One afternoon, an email in broken English showed up in his inbox. It was from Jason Bonilla, of the “band” Enthralled. Contained within was the official apology Bonilla had sent to music blog Noted, as well as a more personal show of regret directed at Krug himself. It didn’t take long for him to realize that this wasn’t their first conversation.
The songs featured on Foreign Territory had been posted on Tyler Krug’s YouTube channel as well, where they had attracted the attention of one user in particular. Krug began receiving emails and YouTube messages requesting tablature—like sheet music but with fret numbers replacing notes—of his songs. He told the sender of these messages, “I’ll get around to it.” Apparently, Jason Bonilla couldn’t wait, and took a much more direct route to reproducing the music.
“I had no idea it was him,” says Krug.
If this is true, then it casts some pretty serious doubt on Bonilla’s claim that someone who “will not be named” presented the music to him and he had no idea it was stolen. Of course, Bonilla hasn’t left us much reason to be inspired to trust him in the first place.
Krug demanded that any money made off of the sham record be split evenly and given to him and Solus, the rightful creators of the music. But there was barely a dime to be seen, and all physical copies of the EP had long since been destroyed by the company who pressed them. At the end of his failed caper, Bonilla was left with empty pockets and a mountain of shame.
As for Tyler Krug, the experience left him reasonably shaken. “I felt disillusioned by the art of creating and sharing music,” he says, “I saw what happened and asked myself: ‘Is this what I’m setting myself up for?’”
But the ensuing response changed his mind. Within a week, the total number of likes on his Facebook page doubled from around 200 to over 400. A quick look at his wall shows a wave of comments in imperfect English, bringing warm greetings from Costa Rica and encouraging him to keep making music, some of them even extending eager invitations to perform in the country whose post-rock scene Krug has so unexpectedly been accepted into. Plays and downloads are higher than ever, and for a few days Foreign Territory was displayed on the front page of Bandcamp’s directory of artists tagged as “post-rock.”
Despite the rush, there is a note of caution in Krug’s tale. With the seemingly infinite number of good, yet wholly undiscovered artists floating around sites like Soundcloud and Bandcamp, it’s difficult not to imagine that this hasn’t happened to somebody else.
“It’s hard to be small and not receive attention and be safe in music,” Krug acknowledges. Sharing your under-the-radar tunes now seems to carry with it the risk of having them become fodder for lazy con artists like Enthralled. Will this become the new worry of the day for artists already struggling to be heard as just a small drop in the massive ocean of the internet?
If the baffling quickness with which Krug’s small legion of listeners responded to and helped remedy the situation is the precedent for this kind of scenario, it seems like the very same mechanism which carried the problem also served as its hasty solution. It isn’t easy to keep things hidden on the internet. Apparently nobody told that to Enthralled.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then plagiarism ought to send you straight through the roof. Krug isn’t taking the fact that his music was good enough to be deemed “steal-able” as a very welcome compliment, but he says he can see the value in such a statement. The real silver lining for him is the legion of new fans that have found him through this debacle. “Las cosas pasan por algo,” says 89decibeles writer Mendez CR on Facebook, “Everything happens for a reason.”
“It’s interesting in this day and age that I can be more popular in Costa Rica than in my home country,” Krug reflects, “The response was amazing. It makes me want to write and share more.”
We can only hope that he does.