Fake views, fake plays, fake fans, fake followers and fake friends – the mainstream music industry has always been about “buzz” over achievement, fame over success, the mere appearance being everyone’s favorite artist over being the favorite artist of anyone.
Social media marketing has taken the chase for that socialgrand to another measure of bullshit. After washing through the commercial EDM scene (artists buying Facebook fans was exposed by a few outfits last summer), faking your popularity for (presumed) profit has become firmly ensconsced inside the underground House Music scene.
Here is the story of the among dance music’s fake hit tracks appears to be, just how much it costs, and why an artist in the tiny community of underground House Music can be happy to juice their numbers from the beginning (spoiler: it’s money).
During early January, I received an email from your head of the digital label. In adorably broken English, “Louie” (roughly we’ll call him, for reasons which will become apparent) asked how he could submit promos for review by 5 Magazine.
I directed him to our music submission guidelines. We have somewhere within five and six billion promos per month. Nothing about this encounter was extraordinary.
Several hours later, I received his first promo. We didn’t review it. It had been, to not put too fine a point into it, disposable: a bland, mediocre Deep House track. These things certainly are a dime a dozen today – again, everything about this encounter was boringly ordinary.
I’d caught him red-handed committing the worst sin one could be responsible for within the underground: Louie was faking it.
Having Said That I noticed something strange when I Googled the track name. And That I bet you’ve noticed this too. Hitting the label’s SoundCloud page, I discovered that this barely average track – remarkable only in being utterly unremarkable – had somehow gotten a lot more than 37,000 plays on SoundCloud in under per week. Ignoring the poor expertise of the track, this really is a staggering number for someone of little reputation. Most of his other tracks had significantly less than one thousand plays.
Stranger still, a lot of the comments – insipid and stupid even by social websites standards – has come from those who usually do not appear to exist.
You’ve seen this before: a track with acclaim far beyond any apparent worth. You’ve followed a web link to your stream and thought, “How is it even possible? Am I missing something? Did I jump the gun? How can so many individuals like something so ordinary?”
Louie, I believed, was purchasing plays, to gin up some coverage and purchase his distance to overnight success. He’s not alone. Desperate to make an impression inside an environment by which hundreds of digital EPs are released every week, labels are increasingly turning toward any method offered to make themselves heard over the racket – including the skeezy, slimey, spammy world of buying plays and comments.
I’m not really a naif about things like this – I’ve watched several artists (and one artist’s mate) take advantage of massive but temporary spikes in their Facebook and twitter followers inside a very compressed timeframe. “Buying” the look of popularity is now something of your low-key epidemic in dance music, much like the mysterious appearance and equally sudden disappearance of Uggs as well as the word “Hella” through the American vocabulary.
But (and here’s where I am naive), I didn’t think this might extend beyond the reaches of EDM madness to the underground. Nor did We have any idea exactly what a “fake” hit song would appear to be. Now I actually do.
Looking through the tabs of the 30k play track, the very first thing I noticed was the entire anonymity of those who had favorited it. They already have made-up names and stolen pictures, but they rarely match. These are what SoundCloud bots appear to be:
The usernames and “real names” don’t make sense, but at first glance they seem so ordinary that you wouldn’t notice anything amiss had you been casually skimming down a summary of them. “Annie French” carries a username of “Max-Sherrill”. “Bruce-Horne” is “Tracy Lane”. A pyromaniac named “Lillian” is better referred to as “Bernard Harper” to her friends. There are actually thousands of such. Plus they all like exactly the same tracks (none of the “likes” inside the picture are for that track Louie sent me, having said that i don’t feel much need to go out of my strategy to protect them than with over a really slight blur):
Many of them are similar to this. (Louie deleted this track after I contacted him concerning this story, therefore the comments are common gone; all of these were preserved via screenshots. He also renamed his account.)
It’s pretty obvious what Louie was doing: he’d bought fake plays and fake followers. But why would someone accomplish this? After leafing through a huge selection of followers and compiling these screenshots, I contacted Louie by email with my evidence.
His first reply was made up of a sheaf of screenshots of their own – his tracks prominently displayed on the front page of Beatport, Traxsource as well as other sites, together with charts and reviews. It seemed irrelevant for me at the time – but pay attention. Louie’s scrapbook of press clippings is more relevant than you already know.
After reiterating my questions, I was surprised when Louie brazenly admitted that everything implied above is, in fact, true. He is investing in plays. His fans are imaginary. Sadly, he or she is not really a god.
You possess observed that I’m not revealing Louie’s real name. I’m fairly certain you’ve never read about him. I’m hopeful, based on listening to his music, which you never will. To acquire omitting all reference to his name and label out of this story, he agreed to talk at length about his technique of gaming SoundCloud, then manipulating others – digital stores, DJs, even simple fans – together with his fake popularity.
Don’t misunderstand me: the temptation to “name and shame” was strong. An earlier draft of this story (seen by my partner plus some other folks) excoriated the label and ripped its fame-hungry owner “Louie” to pieces. I’d caught him red-handed committing the worst sin one can be guilty of within the underground: Louie was faking it.
However, when every early reader’s response was, “Wait, that is this guy again?” – well, that lets you know something. I don’t determine if the story’s “bigger” than the usual single SoundCloud Superstar or even a Beatport 1 Week Wonder named Louie. But the story is at least different, along with Louie’s cooperation, I could affix hard numbers to what this kind of ephemeral (but, he would argue, extremely effective) fake popularity will definitely cost.
Louie informed me that he or she artificially generated “20,000 plays” (I think it was actually more) if you are paying for any service that he identifies as Cloud-Dominator. This provides him his alloted variety of fake plays and “automatic follow/unfollow” from your bots, thereby inflating his quantity of followers.
Louie paid $45 for all those 20,000 plays; for the comments (purchased separately to help make the whole thing look legit towards the un-jaundiced eye), Louie paid €40, which is approximately $53.
This puts the buying price of SoundCloud Deep House dominance at the scant $100 per track.
Why? I am talking about, I’m sure that’s impressive to his mom, but who really cares about Louie and 30,000 fake plays of the track that even real individuals who hear it, much like me, will immediately overlook? Kristina Weise from SoundCloud informed me by email how the company believes that “Illegitimately boosting one’s follower numbers offers no long term benefits.”
Here is where Louie was most helpful. The very first effect of juicing his stats, he claims, nets him approximately “10 [to] 20 real people” daily that begin following his SoundCloud page due to artificially inflating his playcount to this sort of grotesque level.
These are individuals who view the demand for his tracks, glance at the same process I did so in wondering how such a thing was possible, but inevitably shrug and sign on as a follower of Louie, assuming that where there’s light, there has to be heat too.
But – and this is basically the most interesting element of his strategy, for you will find a technique to his madness – Louie also claims there’s an economic dimension. “The track with 37,000 plays today [is] inside the Top 100 [on] Beatport” he says, as well as being in “the Top 100 Beatport deep house tracks at #11.”
As well as, a lot of the tracks that he or she juiced with fake SoundCloud plays were later featured prominently in the front pages of both Beatport and Traxsource – a very coveted way to obtain promotion for a digital label.
They’ve also been reviewed and given notice by multiple websites and publications (hence his fondness for his scrapbook of press clippings he showed me after our initial contact).
Louie didn’t pay Traxsource, or Beatport, or some of those blogs or magazines for coverage. He paid Cloud-Dominator. Many of these knock-on, indirect benefits likely soon add up to way over $100 worth of free advertising – a good return on his paid-for SoundCloud dominance.
Louie’s records on the front page of comment youtube, that he attributes to getting bought tens of thousands of SoundCloud plays.
So it’s exactly about that mythical social websites “magic”. People see you’re popular, they feel you’re popular, and eager as we all are to prop up a winner, you therefore BECOME popular. Louie’s $100 for pumping within the stats on his underground House track often will be scaled up to the thousands or tens of thousands for EDM and other music genres (a few of the bots following Louie also follow dubstep as well as jazz musicians. Eclectic tastes, these bots have.)
Pay $100 on one end, get $100 (or even more) back around the other, and hopefully build toward the most significant payoff of most – the time once your legitimate fans outweigh the legion of robots following you.
This entire technique was manipulated in the past of MySpace and YouTube, but it additionally existed before the dawn in the internet. In the past it was actually referred to as Emperor’s New Clothes.
SoundCloud claimed 18 million registered users back Forbes in August 2012. While bots and also the sleazy services that sell usage of them plague every online service, many people will view this matter as you which happens to be SoundCloud’s responsibility. And they also do have a proper self-fascination with ensuring that the tiny numbers next to the “play”, “heart” and “quotebubble” icons mean just what people say they mean.
This post is a sterling endorsement for a lot of the services brokering fake plays and fake followers. They generally do precisely what people say they may: inflate plays and gain followers inside an a minimum of somewhat under-the-radar manner. I’ve seen it. I’ve just showed it for you. And that’s a difficulty for SoundCloud and also for those who work in the tunes industry who ascribe any integrity to the people little numbers: it’s cheap, and whenever you can afford it, or expect to create a return on your investment on the backend, as Louie does, there doesn’t are any risk with it at all.
But it’s been over 3 months since i have first came across Louie’s tracks. Not one of the incredibly obvious bots I identify here happen to be deleted. In fact, all of them are already used several more times to leave inane comments and favorite tracks by Louie’s fellow clients. (Some may worry that I’m listing the names of said shady services here. Be confident, them all appear prominently in the search engines searches for related keywords. They’re not difficult to find.)
And really should SoundCloud build a more potent counter against botting and everything we might also coin as “playcount fraud”, they’d come with an unusual ally.
“SoundCloud should close many accounts,” Louie says, including “top DJs and producers [with] premium accounts for promoting similar to this. The visibility inside the web jungle is extremely difficult.”
For Louie, this is merely an advertising and marketing plan. And truthfully, he has history on his side, though he might not be aware of it. For much of the very last sixty years, in form otherwise procedure, this really is just how records were promoted. Labels from the mainstream music industry bribed program directors at American radio stations to “break” songs in their choosing. They called it “payola“. In the 1950s, there were Congressional hearings; radio DJs found accountable for accepting cash for play were ruined.
Payola was banned although the practice continued to flourish into the last decade. Read for example, Eric Boehlert’s excellent series in the more elegant system of payoffs that flourished after the famous payola hearings in the ’50s. All of Boehlert’s allegations about “independent record promoters” were proven true, again attracting the attention of Congress.
Payola contains giving money or benefits to mediators to help make songs appear most popular than they are. The songs then become popular through radio’s free exposure. Louie’s ultra-modern type of payola eliminates any advantage to the operator (in this instance, SoundCloud), but the effect is the same: to help you be think that 58dexppky “boringly ordinary” track is an underground clubland sensation – and thereby help it become one.
The acts that benefited from payola in Boehlert’s exposé were multiplatinum groups like U2 and Destiny’s Child. This isn’t Lady Gaga or maybe the Swedish House Mafia. It’s just Louie, a fairly average producer making fairly average underground House Music which probably sells typically one hundred or so copies per release.
It’s sad that men and women would visit such lengths over this sort of tiny sip of success. But Louie feels they have little choice. Weekly, countless EPs flood digital stores, and that he feels sure that the majority of them are deploying the identical sleazy “marketing” tactics I caught him using. There’s absolutely no way of knowing, obviously, the amount of artists are juicing up their stats the way in which Louie is, but I’m less thinking about verification than I am just in understanding. It provides some form of creepy parallel to Lance Armstrong and the steroid debate plaguing cycling along with other sports: if you’re certain everyone else has been doing it, you’d be a fool not to.
I posed that metaphor to Louie, but he didn’t seem to have it. Language problems. But I’m pretty sure that he’d agree. As his legitimate SoundCloud followers inch upward, as his tracks enter the absurd sales charts at digital stores that emphasize chart position across the pathetic variety of units sold (after all, “#1 Track!” sounds far better than “100 Copies Sold Worldwide!”), he feels vindicated. It’s worthwhile.