Fake views, fake plays, fake fans, fake followers and fake friends – the mainstream music industry is definitely 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 brought the chase for that socialgrand to a whole new amount 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 in the underground House Music scene.
This is the story of what one among dance music’s fake hit tracks appears to be, just how much it costs, and why an artist within the tiny community of underground House Music would be happy to juice their numbers to start with (spoiler: it’s money).
At the begining of January, I received an e-mail from the head of your digital label. In adorably broken English, “Louie” (or more we’ll call him, for reasons that may become apparent) asked how he could submit promos for review by 5 Magazine.
I directed him to the music submission guidelines. We obtain somewhere within five and six billion promos on a monthly basis. Nothing about this encounter was extraordinary.
Several hours later, I received his first promo. We didn’t review it. It was actually, to not put too fine a point into it, disposable: a bland, mediocre Deep House track. This stuff certainly are a dime twelve these days – again, everything relating to this encounter was boringly ordinary.
I’d caught him red-handed committing the worst sin anybody can be guilty of inside the underground: Louie was faking it.
However I noticed something strange after i Googled up the track name. And That I bet you’ve noticed this too. Striking the label’s SoundCloud page, I stumbled upon that this barely average track – remarkable only in being utterly unremarkable – had somehow gotten a lot more than 37,000 plays on SoundCloud in just weekly. Ignoring the poor quality of the track, this really is a staggering number for a person of little reputation. Almost all of his other tracks had significantly fewer than 1,000 plays.
Stranger still, the majority of the comments – insipid and stupid even by social networking standards – came from people that usually do not seem to exist.
You’ve seen this before: a track with acclaim far beyond any apparent worth. You’ve followed the link to some stream and thought, “How is that this even possible? Am I missing something? Did I jump the gun? How do so many people like something so ordinary?”
Louie, I believed, was purchasing plays, to gin up some coverage and buy his way into overnight success. He’s not by yourself. Desperate to help make an effect inside an environment in which numerous digital EPs are released each week, labels are increasingly turning toward any method available to make themselves heard on top of the racket – even skeezy, slimey, spammy world of buying plays and comments.
I’m not a naif about such things – I’ve watched several artists (then one artist’s mate) reap the benefits of massive but temporary spikes in their Facebook and twitter followers in just a very compressed period of time. “Buying” the look of popularity has become something of your low-key epidemic in dance music, like the mysterious appearance and equally sudden disappearance of Uggs and the word “Hella” from your American vocabulary.
But (and here’s where I am just naive), I didn’t think this will extend beyond the reaches of EDM madness in the underground. Nor did I have any idea such a “fake” hit song would seem like. Now I do.
Looking from the tabs from the 30k play track, one thing I noticed was the total anonymity of people who had favorited it. They may have made-up names and stolen pictures, nevertheless they rarely match. They are what SoundCloud bots appear like:
The usernames and “real names” don’t seem sensible, but on the outside they seem so ordinary which you wouldn’t notice anything amiss if you are casually skimming down a listing of them. “Annie French” includes a username of “Max-Sherrill”. “Bruce-Horne” is “Tracy Lane”. A pyromaniac named “Lillian” is way better called “Bernard Harper” to her friends. You can find huge amounts of such. And so they all like exactly the same tracks (not one of the “likes” within the picture are for the track Louie sent me, having said that i don’t feel much need to go from my strategy to protect them than with more than an incredibly slight blur):
Many of them are like this. (Louie deleted this track after I contacted him relating to this story, and so the comments are typical gone; most of these were preserved via screenshots. Also, he renamed his account.)
It’s pretty obvious what Louie was doing: he’d bought fake plays and fake followers. Why would someone try this? After leafing through a huge selection of followers and compiling these screenshots, I contacted Louie by email with my evidence.
His first reply consisted of a sheaf of screenshots of their own – his tracks prominently shown on the front side page of Beatport, Traxsource and other sites, along with charts and reviews. It seemed irrelevant to me at that time – but give consideration. Louie’s scrapbook of press clippings is a lot 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 or she is paying for plays. His fans are imaginary. Sadly, he or she is not a god.
You may have observed that I’m not revealing Louie’s real name. I’m fairly certain you’ve never heard of him. I’m hopeful, based on listening to his music, which you never will. In exchange for omitting all reference to his name and label using this story, he agreed to talk in depth about his technique of gaming SoundCloud, and then manipulating others – digital stores, DJs, even simple fans – 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 and some other people) excoriated the label and ripped its fame-hungry owner “Louie” to pieces. I’d caught him red-handed committing the worst sin anybody can be liable for within the underground: Louie was faking it.
However, when every early reader’s response was, “Wait, who is this guy again?” – well, that lets you know something. I don’t know if the story’s “bigger” than the usual single SoundCloud Superstar or perhaps a Beatport 1 Week Wonder named Louie. Although the story reaches least different, along with Louie’s cooperation, I was able to affix hard numbers from what this kind of ephemeral (but, he would argue, extremely effective) fake popularity will surely cost.
Louie told me which he artificially generated “20,000 plays” (In my opinion it was actually more) by paying for the service that he identifies as Cloud-Dominator. This gives him his alloted number of fake plays and “automatic follow/unfollow” from the bots, thereby inflating his number of followers.
Louie paid $45 for anyone 20,000 plays; for your comments (purchased separately to produce the entire thing look legit on the un-jaundiced eye), Louie paid €40, that is approximately $53.
This puts the cost of SoundCloud Deep House dominance at a scant $100 per track.
Why? I mean, I’m sure that’s impressive to his mom, but who really cares about Louie and 30,000 fake plays of any track that even real individuals who listen to it, as i am, will immediately just forget about? Kristina Weise from SoundCloud told me by email how the company believes that “Illegitimately boosting one’s follower numbers offers no long term benefits.”
This is when Louie was most helpful. The very first effect of juicing his stats, he claims, nets him approximately “10 [to] 20 real people” per day that begin following his SoundCloud page as a result of artificially inflating his playcount to such a grotesque level.
These are people who see the rise in popularity of his tracks, go through the same process I did in wondering how this was possible, but inevitably shrug and sign on being a follower of Louie, assuming that where there’s light, there ought to be heat as well.
But – and this is the most interesting part of his strategy, for there is a strategy to his madness – Louie also claims there’s an economic dimension. “The track with 37,000 plays today [is] within 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 which he juiced with fake SoundCloud plays were later featured prominently about the front pages of both Beatport and Traxsource – an incredibly coveted supply of promotion for the digital label.
They’ve 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 any of those blogs or magazines for coverage. He paid Cloud-Dominator. Most of these knock-on, indirect benefits likely add up to far more than $100 worth of free advertising – an optimistic return on his paid-for SoundCloud dominance.
Louie’s records around the first page of socialgrand, which he attributes to having bought hundreds and hundreds of SoundCloud plays.
So it’s about that mythical social websites “magic”. People see you’re popular, they feel you’re popular, and eager while we all are to prop up a winner, you therefore BECOME popular. Louie’s $100 for pumping the stats on his underground House track can probably be scaled up to the thousands or tens of thousands for EDM and also 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 using one end, get $100 (or more) back on the other, and hopefully build toward the greatest payoff of all – your day whenever your legitimate fans outweigh the legion of robots following you.
This whole technique was manipulated in the past of MySpace and YouTube, but it additionally existed before the dawn of your internet. Back then it had been known as the Emperor’s New Clothing.
SoundCloud claimed 18 million registered users in Forbes in August 2012. While bots as well as the sleazy services that sell usage of them plague every online service, some people will view this issue as you that is SoundCloud’s responsibility. And they have a good self-desire for making certain the tiny numbers near the “play”, “heart” and “quotebubble” icons mean what exactly they claim they mean.
This information is a sterling endorsement for a lot of the services brokering fake plays and fake followers. They do what exactly they are saying they will likely: inflate plays and gain followers inside an at least somewhat under-the-radar manner. I’ve seen it. I’ve just showed it to you. And that’s a challenge for SoundCloud and for those who work in the music industry who ascribe any integrity to people little numbers: it’s cheap, and provided you can afford it, or expect to produce a return on the investment in the backend, as Louie does, there doesn’t are most often any risk on it whatsoever.
But it’s been over three months since I first stumbled across Louie’s tracks. No incredibly obvious bots I identify here have already been deleted. The truth is, these have been used several more times to go out of 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 Google searches for related keywords. They’re not difficult to get.)
And ought to SoundCloud create a far better counter against botting and everything we might at the same time coin as “playcount fraud”, they’d provide an unusual ally.
“SoundCloud should close many accounts,” Louie says, including “top DJs and producers [with] premium makes up about promoting this way. The visibility from 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 this individual not know it. For most of the very last sixty years, in form or even procedure, this is exactly how records were promoted. Labels in the mainstream music industry bribed program directors at American radio stations to “break” songs of their choosing. They called it “payola“. Inside the 1950s, there are Congressional hearings; radio DJs found accountable for accepting cash for play were ruined.
Payola was banned nevertheless the practice continued to flourish in to the last decade. Read for instance, Eric Boehlert’s excellent series around the more elegant system of payoffs that flourished right after the famous payola hearings of 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 good things about mediators to produce songs appear very popular compared to they are. The songs then become popular through radio’s free exposure. Louie’s ultra-modern method of payola eliminates any benefit to the operator (in this case, SoundCloud), although the effect is identical: to help you be assume that 58dexppky “boringly ordinary” track is an underground clubland sensation – and thereby make it one.
The acts that took advantage of payola in Boehlert’s exposé were multiplatinum groups like U2 and Destiny’s Child. This isn’t Lady Gaga and even the Swedish House Mafia. It’s just Louie, a relatively average producer making fairly average underground House Music which probably sells around 100 approximately copies per release.
It’s sad that people would head to such lengths over this type of tiny sip of success. But Louie feels they have little choice. Per week, countless EPs flood digital stores, and the man feels sure that most of them are deploying the same sleazy “marketing” tactics I caught him using. There’s not a way of knowing, of course, just how many artists are juicing up their stats how Louie is, but I’m less thinking about verification than I am just in understanding. It provides some sort of creepy parallel to Lance Armstrong along with the steroid debate plaguing cycling along with other sports: if you’re certain all others is performing it, you’d become a fool never to.
I posed that metaphor to Louie, but he didn’t seem to have it. Language problems. But I’m confident that he’d agree. As his legitimate SoundCloud followers inch upward, as his tracks get into the absurd sales charts at digital stores that emphasize chart position over the pathetic quantity of units sold (after all, “#1 Track!” sounds a lot better than “100 Copies Sold Worldwide!”), he feels vindicated. It’s worthwhile.