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 to be everyone’s favorite artist over being the favorite artist of anyone.
Social media marketing has gotten the chase to the buy soundcloud listens to a new level of bullshit. After washing throughout the commercial EDM scene (artists buying Facebook fans was exposed by several outfits last summer), faking your popularity for (presumed) profit is now firmly ensconsced in the underground House Music scene.
This is basically the story of the things one of dance music’s fake hit tracks seems like, just how much it costs, and why an artist in the tiny community of underground House Music would be prepared to juice their numbers in the first place (spoiler: it’s money).
In early January, I received a message from the head of your digital label. In adorably broken English, “Louie” (roughly we’ll call him, for reasons that will become apparent) asked me how he could submit promos for review by 5 Magazine.
I directed him to the music submission guidelines. We get somewhere within five and six billion promos monthly. Nothing relating to this encounter was extraordinary.
A couple of hours later, I received his first promo. We didn’t review it. It had been, to not put too fine a point upon it, disposable: a bland, mediocre Deep House track. These items are a dime a dozen currently – again, everything about this encounter was boringly ordinary.
I’d caught him red-handed committing the worst sin one can be liable for within the underground: Louie was faking it.
Having Said That I noticed something strange as i Googled the track name. And That I bet you’ve noticed this too. Striking the label’s SoundCloud page, I stumbled upon that the barely average track – remarkable only in being utterly unremarkable – had somehow gotten more than 37,000 plays on SoundCloud in just every week. Ignoring the poor excellence of the track, this really is a staggering number for someone of little reputation. Nearly all of his other tracks had significantly fewer than one thousand plays.
Stranger still, a lot of the comments – insipid and stupid even by social media marketing standards – has come from people that do not seem to exist.
You’ve seen this before: a track with acclaim beyond any apparent worth. You’ve followed a hyperlink to a stream and thought, “How could this be even possible? Am I missing something? Did I jump the gun? Just how can a lot of people like something so ordinary?”
Louie, I believed, was purchasing plays, to gin up some coverage and buy his distance to overnight success. He’s not by yourself. Desperate to help make an effect in an environment in which hundreds of digital EPs are released per week, labels are increasingly turning toward any method open to make themselves heard above the racket – the skeezy, slimey, spammy arena of buying plays and comments.
I’m not much of a naif about similar things – I’ve watched several artists (then one artist’s spouse) make use of massive but temporary spikes inside their Twitter and Facebook followers inside a very compressed time period. “Buying” the appearance of popularity is becoming something of a low-key epidemic in dance music, much 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 might extend past the reaches of EDM madness into the underground. Nor did We have any idea exactly what a “fake” hit song would appear like. Now I do.
Looking from the tabs of the 30k play track, the very first thing I noticed was the complete anonymity of those who had favorited it. They may have made-up names and stolen pictures, however they rarely match. They are what SoundCloud bots appear like:
The usernames and “real names” don’t make sense, but on the surface they appear so ordinary that you just wouldn’t notice anything amiss had you been casually skimming down a list of them. “Annie French” has a username of “Max-Sherrill”. “Bruce-Horne” is “Tracy Lane”. A pyromaniac named “Lillian” is way better called “Bernard Harper” to her friends. You will find thousands of such. And they also all like precisely the same tracks (none of the “likes” within the picture are to the track Louie sent me, having said that i don’t feel much have to go away from my strategy to protect them than with more than an extremely slight blur):
Most of them are similar to this. (Louie deleted this track after I contacted him relating to this story, and so the comments are all gone; all 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 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 leading page of Beatport, Traxsource as well as other sites, along with charts and reviews. It seemed irrelevant in my opinion back then – but be aware. Louie’s scrapbook of press clippings is much more relevant than you understand.
After reiterating my questions, I had been surprised when Louie brazenly admitted that everything implied above is, in reality, true. He or she is paying for plays. His fans are imaginary. Sadly, he is not really a god.
You may have noticed that I’m not revealing Louie’s real name. I’m fairly certain you’ve never heard about him. I’m hopeful, based on listening to his music, that you never will. To acquire omitting all reference to his name and label with this story, he agreed to talk in detail about his technique of gaming SoundCloud, and 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 on 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 could be guilty of in the underground: Louie was faking it.
However when every early reader’s response was, “Wait, who seems to be this guy again?” – well, that informs you something. I don’t determine if the story’s “bigger” when compared to a single SoundCloud Superstar or a Beatport One Week Wonder named Louie. But the story is at least different, along with Louie’s cooperation, I managed to affix hard numbers from what this sort of ephemeral (but, he would argue, very efficient) fake popularity will surely cost.
Louie explained that he artificially generated “20,000 plays” (I believe it absolutely was more) by paying for a service which he identifies as Cloud-Dominator. This provides him his alloted variety of fake plays and “automatic follow/unfollow” in the bots, thereby inflating his quantity of followers.
Louie paid $45 for all those 20,000 plays; to the comments (purchased separately to make the whole thing look legit on the un-jaundiced eye), Louie paid €40, that is approximately $53.
This puts the cost of SoundCloud Deep House dominance with 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 any track that even real people that hear it, as i am, will immediately just forget about? Kristina Weise from SoundCloud informed 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 first effect of juicing his stats, he claims, nets him approximately “10 [to] 20 real people” every day that begin following his SoundCloud page due to artificially inflating his playcount to this type of grotesque level.
They are those who begin to see the rise in popularity of his tracks, check out the same process I did 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 as well.
But – and this is actually the most interesting component 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] inside the Top 100 [on] Beatport” he says, in addition to being in “the Top 100 Beatport deep house tracks at #11.”
And indeed, most of the tracks that he or she juiced with fake SoundCloud plays were later featured prominently on the front pages of both Beatport and Traxsource – a highly coveted supply of promotion to get a 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 some of those blogs or magazines for coverage. He paid Cloud-Dominator. Every one 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 in the first page of buy youtube comments, that he attributes to having bought thousands of SoundCloud plays.
So it’s all about that mythical social media marketing “magic”. People see you’re popular, they presume you’re popular, and eager since we they all are to prop up a winner, you therefore BECOME popular. Louie’s $100 for pumping in the stats on his underground House track often will be scaled approximately the thousands or tens of thousands for EDM and also other music genres (a number 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 higher) back on the other, and hopefully build toward the biggest payoff of all – the morning 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, it also existed before the dawn from the internet. In those days it had been called The Emperor’s New Clothes.
SoundCloud claimed 18 million registered users way back in Forbes in August 2012. While bots and the sleazy services that sell entry to them plague every online service, some individuals will view this concern as you which happens to be SoundCloud’s responsibility. And they also will have a wholesome self-fascination with making certain the little numbers next to the “play”, “heart” and “quotebubble” icons mean just what they are saying they mean.
This article is a sterling endorsement for a lot of the services brokering fake plays and fake followers. They actually do exactly what they are saying they will: inflate plays and gain followers within an a minimum of somewhat under-the-radar manner. I’ve seen it. I’ve just showed it to you personally. And that’s an issue for SoundCloud and also for those in the background music industry who ascribe any integrity to individuals little numbers: it’s cheap, and when you can afford it, or expect to make a return on your investment on the backend, as Louie does, there doesn’t are most often any risk to it by any means.
continually focusing on the reduction and also the detection of fake accounts. Whenever we are already made aware of certain illegitimate pursuits like fake accounts or purchasing followers, we deal with this according to our Relation to Use. Offering and ultizing paid promotion services or any other means to artificially increase play-count, add followers or perhaps to misrepresent the buzz of content in the platform, is unlike our TOS. Any user found being using or offering these 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 been deleted. The truth is, all of them have been 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. Rest assured, them all appear prominently in Google searches for related keywords. They’re not hard to find.)
And should SoundCloud establish a more efficient counter against botting and everything we might at the same time coin as “playcount fraud”, they’d have 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 within the web jungle is very difficult.”
For Louie, this is just a marketing and advertising plan. And truthfully, he has history on his side, though he may not know it. For a great deal of the last sixty years, in form if not procedure, this can be precisely 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“. Within the 1950s, there were Congressional hearings; radio DJs found liable for accepting cash for play were ruined.
Payola was banned nevertheless the practice continued to flourish into the last decade. Read as an example, Eric Boehlert’s excellent series around the more elegant system of payoffs that flourished after the famous payola hearings in the ’50s. Most of Boehlert’s allegations about “independent record promoters” were proven true, again attracting the eye of Congress.
Payola is made up of giving money or advantages to mediators to help make songs appear more popular than they are. The songs then become popular through radio’s free exposure. Louie’s ultra-modern method of payola eliminates any help to the operator (in cases like this, SoundCloud), however the effect is the same: to help you be feel that 58dexppky “boringly ordinary” track is definitely an underground clubland sensation – and thereby ensure it is one.
The acts that taken 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 rather average producer making fairly average underground House Music which probably sells an average of 100 or so copies per release.
It’s sad that individuals would head to such lengths over this type of tiny sip of success. But Louie feels he has little choice. Per week, hundreds of EPs flood digital stores, and that he feels confident that a lot of them are deploying a similar sleazy “marketing” tactics I caught him using. There’s not a way of knowing, needless to say, how many artists are juicing up their stats just how Louie is, but I’m less considering verification than I am just in understanding. It provides some kind of creepy parallel to Lance Armstrong and the steroid debate plaguing cycling and also other sports: if you’re certain everyone else does it, you’d be considered a fool never to.
I posed that metaphor to Louie, but he didn’t seem to get it. Language problems. But I’m fairly certain that he’d agree. As his legitimate SoundCloud followers inch upward, as his tracks break into the absurd sales charts at digital stores that emphasize chart position across the pathetic variety of units sold (in fact, “#1 Track!” sounds much better than “100 Copies Sold Worldwide!”), he feels vindicated. It’s worth every penny.