Fake views, fake plays, fake fans, fake followers and fake friends – the mainstream music industry has long been about “buzz” over achievement, fame over success, the mere appearance to be everyone’s favorite artist over being the favorite artist of anyone.
Social media has brought the chase for that soundcloud promotion to a completely new level of bullshit. After washing with the commercial EDM scene (artists buying Facebook fans was exposed by a few outfits last summer), faking your popularity for (presumed) profit is already firmly ensconsced inside the underground House Music scene.
Here is the story of the one of dance music’s fake hit tracks appears to be, exactly how much it costs, and why an artist in the tiny community of underground House Music can be prepared to juice their numbers from the beginning (spoiler: it’s money).
In early January, I received a message from your head of the digital label. In adorably broken English, “Louie” (or so we’ll call him, for reasons that can become apparent) asked me how he could submit promos for review by 5 Magazine.
I directed him to your music submission guidelines. We receive anywhere between five and six billion promos on a monthly basis. Nothing regarding this encounter was extraordinary.
A few hours later, I received his first promo. We didn’t evaluate it. It absolutely was, to never put too fine a point upon it, disposable: a bland, mediocre Deep House track. These items are a dime twelve today – again, everything regarding this encounter was boringly ordinary.
I’d caught him red-handed committing the worst sin one can be liable for in the underground: Louie was faking it.
Nevertheless I noticed something strange when I Googled up the track name. And So I bet you’ve noticed this too. Showing up in the label’s SoundCloud page, I stumbled upon that it barely average track – remarkable only in being utterly unremarkable – had somehow gotten a lot more than 37,000 plays on SoundCloud in less than per week. Ignoring the poor excellence of the track, this really is a staggering number for somebody of little reputation. The majority of his other tracks had significantly less than one thousand plays.
Stranger still, most of the comments – insipid and stupid even by social media marketing standards – came from people that do not seem to exist.
You’ve seen this before: a track with acclaim beyond any apparent worth. You’ve followed the link to a stream and thought, “How is this even possible? Am I missing something? Did I jump the gun? How could 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 alone. Desperate to make an impact in an environment through which hundreds of digital EPs are released every week, labels are increasingly turning toward any method open to make themselves heard over the racket – even skeezy, slimey, spammy realm of buying plays and comments.
I’m not much of a naif about things like this – I’ve watched several artists (then one artist’s significant other) make use of massive but temporary spikes inside their Twitter and Facebook followers in a very compressed time frame. “Buying” the appearance of popularity is now something of any low-key epidemic in dance music, like the mysterious appearance and equally sudden disappearance of Uggs along with the word “Hella” in the American vocabulary.
But (and here’s where I am naive), I didn’t think this could extend past the reaches of EDM madness in to the underground. Nor did I actually have any idea such a “fake” hit song would seem like. Now I truly do.
Looking through the tabs from the 30k play track, the initial thing I noticed was the entire anonymity of individuals who had favorited it. They may have made-up names and stolen pictures, nevertheless they rarely match. These are what SoundCloud bots look like:
The usernames and “real names” don’t make sense, but at first glance they seem so ordinary that you just wouldn’t notice anything amiss should you be casually skimming down a summary of them. “Annie French” includes 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 literally thousands of these. And they all like the exact same tracks (not one of the “likes” from the picture are for that track Louie sent me, but I don’t feel much will need to go out of my way to protect them than exceeding a really slight blur):
A lot of them are like this. (Louie deleted this track after I contacted him relating to this story, so the comments are typical 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. 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 contained a sheaf of screenshots of his own – his tracks prominently displayed on the top page of Beatport, Traxsource and also other sites, together with charts and reviews. It seemed irrelevant if you ask me back then – but be aware. Louie’s scrapbook of press clippings is more relevant than you know.
After reiterating my questions, I found myself surprised when Louie brazenly admitted that everything implied above is, in reality, true. He or she is spending money on plays. His fans are imaginary. Sadly, he or she is not just a god.
You may have seen that I’m not revealing Louie’s real name. I’m fairly certain you’ve never been aware of him. I’m hopeful, in relation to playing his music, that you just never will. In return for omitting all reference to his name and label from this story, he consented 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 early draft with this story (seen by my partner plus some other individuals) 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 liable for in the underground: Louie was faking it.
But once every early reader’s response was, “Wait, that is this guy again?” – well, that notifys you something. I don’t know if the story’s “bigger” when compared to a single SoundCloud Superstar or even a Beatport 1 Week Wonder named Louie. But the story is at least different, together with Louie’s cooperation, I surely could affix hard numbers as to what this sort of ephemeral (but, he would argue, quite effective) fake popularity will definitely cost.
Louie explained he artificially generated “20,000 plays” (I believe it absolutely was more) by paying for a service which he identifies as Cloud-Dominator. This offers him his alloted quantity of fake plays and “automatic follow/unfollow” from your bots, thereby inflating his number of followers.
Louie paid $45 for people 20,000 plays; for the comments (purchased separately to 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 a scant $100 per track.
But why? After all, I’m sure that’s impressive to his mom, but who really cares about Louie and 30,000 fake plays of your track that even real people that listen to it, as i am, will immediately overlook? Kristina Weise from SoundCloud told me by email the company believes that “Illegitimately boosting one’s follower numbers offers no long term benefits.”
Here is where Louie was most helpful. The first effect of juicing his stats, he claims, nets him approximately “10 [to] 20 real people” daily that begin following his SoundCloud page as a result of artificially inflating his playcount to such a grotesque level.
These are typically people who view the popularity of his tracks, glance at the same process I did so in wondering how this was possible, but inevitably shrug and sign on like a follower of Louie, assuming that where there’s light, there should be heat at the same time.
But – and this is the most interesting component of his strategy, for there is a method 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, in addition to being in “the Top 100 Beatport deep house tracks at #11.”
And even, most of the tracks which he juiced with fake SoundCloud plays were later featured prominently in the front pages of both Beatport and Traxsource – a highly coveted way to obtain 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 one 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 amount of free advertising – a confident return on his paid-for SoundCloud dominance.
Louie’s records in the first page of socialgrand, which he attributes to getting bought tens of thousands of SoundCloud plays.
So it’s exactly about that mythical social media marketing “magic”. People see you’re popular, they believe you’re popular, and eager since we each one is to prop up a winner, you therefore BECOME popular. Louie’s $100 for pumping the stats on his underground House track often will be scaled as much as the thousands or tens of thousands for EDM and other music genres (some of the bots following Louie also follow dubstep and in many cases jazz musicians. Eclectic tastes, these bots have.)
Pay $100 using one end, get $100 (or even more) back in the other, and hopefully build toward the greatest payoff of all the – your day when 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 just before the dawn in the internet. Back then it was actually known as the Emperor’s New Clothing.
SoundCloud claimed 18 million registered users back in Forbes in August 2012. While bots and the sleazy services that sell access to them plague every online service, some people will view this concern as one which can be SoundCloud’s responsibility. And they have a healthy self-curiosity about making sure that the little numbers next to the “play”, “heart” and “quotebubble” icons mean just what people say they mean.
This post is a sterling endorsement for most of the services brokering fake plays and fake followers. They do what exactly they claim they are going to: inflate plays and gain followers in an at the very least somewhat under-the-radar manner. I’ve seen it. I’ve just showed it to you. And that’s a problem for SoundCloud and for those who work in the music industry who ascribe any integrity to people little numbers: it’s cheap, and when you can afford it, or expect to make a return on the investment around the backend, as Louie does, there doesn’t seem to be any risk with it in any way.
continually concentrating on the reduction and also the detection of fake accounts. When we are already made mindful of certain illegitimate pursuits like fake accounts or purchasing followers, we take care of this as outlined by our Regards to Use. Offering and making use of paid promotion services or other means to artificially increase play-count, add followers or perhaps to misrepresent the popularity of content about the platform, is in contrast to our TOS. Any user found to be using or offering these types of services risks having his/her account terminated.
But it’s been over three months since I first came across Louie’s tracks. No incredibly obvious bots I identify here have already been deleted. The truth is, all of them happen to be used several more times to depart 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 assured, them all appear prominently in Google searches for related keywords. They’re not difficult to find.)
And really should SoundCloud build a far better counter against botting and what 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 like this. The visibility in the web jungle is incredibly difficult.”
For Louie, this is simply a marketing plan. And truthfully, they have history on his side, though he might not know it. For much of the very last sixty years, in form otherwise procedure, this can be the best way records were promoted. Labels in the mainstream music industry bribed program directors at American radio stations to “break” songs of the choosing. They called it “payola“. Within the 1950s, there were Congressional hearings; radio DJs found responsible for accepting cash for play were ruined.
Payola was banned although the practice continued to flourish to the last decade. Read for example, Eric Boehlert’s excellent series in the more elegant system of payoffs that flourished once the famous payola hearings in the ’50s. All of Boehlert’s allegations about “independent record promoters” were proven true, again attracting the eye of Congress.
Payola consists of giving money or benefits to mediators to create songs appear popular compared to what they are. The songs then become popular through radio’s free exposure. Louie’s ultra-modern kind of payola eliminates any advantage of the operator (in this case, SoundCloud), although the effect is the same: to help you become believe that 58dexppky “boringly ordinary” track is an underground clubland sensation – and thereby help it become 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 or maybe the Swedish House Mafia. It’s just Louie, a relatively average producer making fairly average underground House Music which probably sells typically one hundred or more copies per release.
It’s sad that men and women would head to such lengths over this kind of tiny sip of success. But Louie feels they have little choice. Every week, a huge selection of EPs flood digital stores, and then he feels certain that most of them are deploying the identical sleazy “marketing” tactics I caught him using. There’s not a way of knowing, obviously, just how many artists are juicing up their stats the way in which Louie is, but I’m less interested in verification than I am in understanding. They have some form of creepy parallel to Lance Armstrong as well as the steroid debate plaguing cycling and also other sports: if you’re certain all the others is performing it, you’d be described as a fool to never.
I posed that metaphor to Louie, but he didn’t seem to have it. Language problems. But I’m sure 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 across the pathetic number of units sold (after all, “#1 Track!” sounds superior to “100 Copies Sold Worldwide!”), he feels vindicated. It’s worth it.