Fake views, fake plays, fake fans, fake followers and fake friends – the mainstream music industry has 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 is taking the chase for the how to get more soundcloud plays to another level 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 from 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 in the tiny community of underground House Music would be prepared to juice their numbers to begin with (spoiler: it’s money).
In early January, I received an e-mail from your 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 anywhere between 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 absolutely was, not to put too fine a point into it, disposable: a bland, mediocre Deep House track. These items are a dime twelve nowadays – again, everything about this encounter was boringly ordinary.
I’d caught him red-handed committing the worst sin anybody can be liable for from the underground: Louie was faking it.
However I noticed something strange as i Googled up the track name. And That I bet you’ve noticed this too. Hitting the label’s SoundCloud page, I came across that it barely average track – remarkable only in being utterly unremarkable – had somehow gotten over 37,000 plays on SoundCloud in just weekly. Ignoring the poor expertise of the track, it is a staggering number for somebody of little reputation. Most of his other tracks had significantly less than one thousand plays.
Stranger still, most of the comments – insipid and stupid even by social media standards – has come from people who tend not to seem to exist.
You’ve seen this before: a track with acclaim beyond any apparent worth. You’ve followed a web link into a stream and thought, “How is it even possible? Am I missing something? Did I jump the gun? How could more and more 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 one of many. Desperate to create an effect in an environment in which countless digital EPs are released per week, labels are increasingly turning toward any method available to make themselves heard above the racket – the skeezy, slimey, spammy field of buying plays and comments.
I’m not much of a naif about things like this – I’ve watched several artists (and something artist’s significant other) take advantage of massive but temporary spikes in their Twitter and Facebook followers in a very compressed time frame. “Buying” the look of popularity is becoming something of the low-key epidemic in dance music, such as the mysterious appearance and equally sudden disappearance of Uggs along with the word “Hella” from the American vocabulary.
But (and here’s where I am just naive), I didn’t think this could extend beyond the reaches of EDM madness in the underground. Nor did I actually have any idea what a “fake” hit song would seem like. Now I really do.
Looking with the tabs from the 30k play track, the initial thing I noticed was the total anonymity of people who had favorited it. They already have made-up names and stolen pictures, nonetheless they rarely match. These are typically what SoundCloud bots seem like:
The usernames and “real names” don’t appear sensible, but on the surface they appear so ordinary that you just wouldn’t notice anything amiss had you been 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 preferable generally known as “Bernard Harper” to her friends. There are actually huge amounts of the. And so they all like exactly the same tracks (none of the “likes” in the picture are to the track Louie sent me, nevertheless i don’t feel much need to go out of my method to protect them than with over an extremely slight blur):
Most of them are similar to this. (Louie deleted this track after I contacted him concerning this story, so the comments are gone; every one 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 try this? After leafing through hundreds of followers and compiling these screenshots, I contacted Louie by email with my evidence.
His first reply contained a sheaf of screenshots of his very own – his tracks prominently shown on the front side page of Beatport, Traxsource as well as other sites, in addition to charts and reviews. It seemed irrelevant for me at the time – but give consideration. Louie’s scrapbook of press clippings is more relevant than you know.
After reiterating my questions, I was surprised when Louie brazenly admitted that everything implied above is, actually, true. He is paying for plays. His fans are imaginary. Sadly, he is not really a god.
You might have observed that I’m not revealing Louie’s real name. I’m fairly certain you’ve never read about him. I’m hopeful, based upon playing his music, which you never will. In return for omitting all reference to his name and label with this story, he consented to talk in detail about his strategy of gaming SoundCloud, after which 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 early draft with this story (seen by my partner as well as 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” compared to a single SoundCloud Superstar or perhaps a Beatport 1 Week Wonder named Louie. Although the story are at least different, along with Louie’s cooperation, I managed to affix hard numbers from what these kinds of ephemeral (but, he would argue, very effective) fake popularity costs.
Louie explained to me which he artificially generated “20,000 plays” (I believe it absolutely was more) if you are paying for any service that he identifies as Cloud-Dominator. This provides him his alloted quantity of fake plays and “automatic follow/unfollow” from the bots, thereby inflating his number of followers.
Louie paid $45 for those 20,000 plays; to the comments (purchased separately to make the whole thing look legit towards the un-jaundiced eye), Louie paid €40, which can be approximately $53.
This puts the buying price of SoundCloud Deep House dominance with a scant $100 per track.
But why? I mean, I’m sure that’s impressive to his mom, but who really cares about Louie and 30,000 fake plays of a track that even real people that hear it, as i am, will immediately ignore? Kristina Weise from SoundCloud told me by email that this 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” every day that begin following his SoundCloud page as a result of artificially inflating his playcount to this kind of grotesque level.
These are generally those who see the interest in his tracks, go through the same process I have done 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 too.
But – and this is actually the most interesting part of his strategy, for you will find a technique to his madness – Louie also claims there’s a monetary 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 indeed, lots of the tracks that he juiced with fake SoundCloud plays were later featured prominently on the front pages of both Beatport and Traxsource – a very coveted supply of promotion for any 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 amount to way over $100 amount of free advertising – an optimistic return on his paid-for SoundCloud dominance.
Louie’s records around the front page of socialgrand, which he attributes to getting bought thousands of SoundCloud plays.
So it’s all about that mythical social networking “magic”. People see you’re popular, they think you’re popular, and eager as we are all to prop up a winner, you therefore BECOME popular. Louie’s $100 for pumping in the stats on his underground House track can probably be scaled up to the thousands or tens of thousands for EDM and other music genres (several of the bots following Louie also follow dubstep and even jazz musicians. Eclectic tastes, these bots have.)
Pay $100 on one end, get $100 (or maybe more) back on the other, and hopefully build toward the biggest payoff of all – your day as soon as your legitimate fans outweigh the legion of robots following you.
This entire technique was manipulated in the early days of MySpace and YouTube, but it also existed just before the dawn in the internet. In the past it was referred to as the Emperor’s New Clothes.
SoundCloud claimed 18 million registered users in Forbes in August 2012. While bots and also the sleazy services that sell entry to them plague every online service, a lot of people will view this concern as you which happens to be SoundCloud’s responsibility. Plus they will have a healthy self-curiosity about making sure that the little numbers near the “play”, “heart” and “quotebubble” icons mean what exactly they are saying they mean.
This article is a sterling endorsement for a lot of the services brokering fake plays and fake followers. They are doing precisely what they are saying they will: 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 an issue for SoundCloud and for those who work in the tunes industry who ascribe any integrity to individuals little numbers: it’s cheap, and whenever you can afford it, or expect to make a return on your own investment around the backend, as Louie does, there doesn’t seem to be any risk to it by any means.
But it’s been over 90 days since I first stumbled across Louie’s tracks. Not one of the incredibly obvious bots I identify here happen to be deleted. The truth is, all of them are already 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, these appear prominently in the search engines searches for related keywords. They’re not difficult to find.)
And must SoundCloud create a more potent counter against botting and whatever we might at the same time 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 makes up about promoting like this. The visibility inside the web jungle is extremely difficult.”
For Louie, this is merely an advertising and marketing plan. And truthfully, they have history on his side, though this individual not realize it. For a lot of the final sixty years, in form or even procedure, this is precisely how records were promoted. Labels inside the mainstream music industry bribed program directors at American radio stations to “break” songs with their choosing. They called it “payola“. In the 1950s, there was Congressional hearings; radio DJs found responsible for accepting cash for play were ruined.
Payola was banned although the practice continued to flourish into the last decade. Read for instance, Eric Boehlert’s excellent series about the more elegant system of payoffs that flourished once the famous payola hearings from the ’50s. Most of Boehlert’s allegations about “independent record promoters” were proven true, again attracting the attention of Congress.
Payola includes giving money or benefits to mediators to make songs appear most popular compared to 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 make you assume that 58dexppky “boringly ordinary” track is surely an underground clubland sensation – and thereby ensure it is 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 even the Swedish House Mafia. It’s just Louie, a reasonably average producer making fairly average underground House Music which probably sells typically 100 or so copies per release.
It’s sad that folks would visit 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 that he feels certain that most of them are deploying a similar sleazy “marketing” tactics I caught him using. There’s no chance of knowing, needless to say, how many artists are juicing up their stats the way in which Louie is, but I’m less considering verification than I am just in understanding. It provides some form of creepy parallel to Lance Armstrong and the steroid debate plaguing cycling and also other sports: if you’re certain everyone else is doing it, you’d be considered 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 enter the absurd sales charts at digital stores that emphasize chart position across the pathetic variety of units sold (all things considered, “#1 Track!” sounds much better than “100 Copies Sold Worldwide!”), he feels vindicated. It’s worthwhile.