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 to be everyone’s favorite artist over being the favorite artist of anyone.
Social media is taking the chase for that soundcloud plays to a new measure 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 has become firmly ensconsced inside the underground House Music scene.
This is basically the story of what certainly one of dance music’s fake hit tracks looks like, exactly how much it costs, and why an artist within the tiny community of underground House Music will be willing to juice their numbers from the beginning (spoiler: it’s money).
During the early January, I received an email in the head of your digital label. In adorably broken English, “Louie” (approximately we’ll call him, for reasons that may become apparent) asked me how he could submit promos for review by 5 Magazine.
I directed him to our music submission guidelines. We receive somewhere within five and six billion promos on a monthly basis. Nothing concerning this encounter was extraordinary.
A couple of hours later, I received his first promo. We didn’t evaluate it. It was actually, not to put too fine a point onto it, disposable: a bland, mediocre Deep House track. These items really are a dime a dozen these days – again, everything about this encounter was boringly ordinary.
I’d caught him red-handed committing the worst sin one can be guilty of inside the underground: Louie was faking it.
But I noticed something strange after i Googled up the track name. And That I bet you’ve noticed this too. Showing up in the label’s SoundCloud page, I stumbled upon this barely average track – remarkable only in being utterly unremarkable – had somehow gotten over 37,000 plays on SoundCloud in just per week. Ignoring the poor quality of the track, it is a staggering number for somebody of little reputation. The majority of his other tracks had significantly fewer than 1,000 plays.
Stranger still, most of the comments – insipid and stupid even by social media marketing standards – has come from people who 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 a stream and thought, “How is that this even possible? Am I missing something? Did I jump the gun? How can a lot of people like something so ordinary?”
Louie, I believed, was purchasing plays, to gin up some coverage and acquire his way into overnight success. He’s one of many. Desperate to produce an effect in an environment where numerous digital EPs are released every week, labels are increasingly turning toward any method open to make themselves heard over the racket – the skeezy, slimey, spammy world of buying plays and comments.
I’m not just a naif about things like this – I’ve watched several artists (then one artist’s significant other) benefit from massive but temporary spikes with their Twitter and Facebook followers in a very compressed time frame. “Buying” the look of popularity has become something of the low-key epidemic in dance music, much like the mysterious appearance and equally sudden disappearance of Uggs and the word “Hella” through the American vocabulary.
But (and here’s where I am just naive), I didn’t think this would extend past the reaches of EDM madness in to the underground. Nor did We have any idea just what a “fake” hit song would seem like. Now I do.
Looking throughout the tabs of your 30k play track, one thing I noticed was the whole anonymity of those who had favorited it. They have made-up names and stolen pictures, nonetheless they rarely match up. These are generally what SoundCloud bots seem like:
The usernames and “real names” don’t sound right, but on top they seem so ordinary which you wouldn’t notice anything amiss if you were casually skimming down a list of them. “Annie French” carries a username of “Max-Sherrill”. “Bruce-Horne” is “Tracy Lane”. A pyromaniac named “Lillian” is way better referred to as “Bernard Harper” to her friends. There are huge amounts of such. And they also all like exactly the same tracks (no “likes” inside the picture are for that track Louie sent me, but I don’t feel much need to go out of my way to protect them than with more than an incredibly slight blur):
A lot of them are exactly like this. (Louie deleted this track after I contacted him relating to this story, hence the comments are common gone; many 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. But why would someone do this? After leafing through countless 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 his very own – his tracks prominently displayed on the top page of Beatport, Traxsource as well as other sites, as well as charts and reviews. It seemed irrelevant to me at that time – but take notice. Louie’s scrapbook of press clippings is a lot more relevant than you understand.
After reiterating my questions, I used to be surprised when Louie brazenly admitted that everything implied above is, actually, true. He or she is spending money on plays. His fans are imaginary. Sadly, he is not a god.
You might 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 paying attention to his music, that you never will. To acquire omitting all reference to his name and label out of this story, he consented to talk in more detail about his technique of gaming SoundCloud, after which manipulating others – digital stores, DJs, even simple fans – regarding 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 and some others) 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 accountable for within the underground: Louie was faking it.
However when every early reader’s response was, “Wait, that is this guy again?” – well, that notifys you something. I don’t determine the story’s “bigger” than the usual single SoundCloud Superstar or even a Beatport One Week Wonder named Louie. Although 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, very effective) fake popularity will definitely cost.
Louie told me he artificially generated “20,000 plays” (In my opinion it had been more) by paying for a service which he identifies as Cloud-Dominator. This gives him his alloted amount of fake plays and “automatic follow/unfollow” through the bots, thereby inflating his amount of followers.
Louie paid $45 for those 20,000 plays; for the comments (purchased separately to make the entire thing look legit towards the un-jaundiced eye), Louie paid €40, that is approximately $53.
This puts the buying price of SoundCloud Deep House dominance in a scant $100 per track.
But 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 your track that even real people who listen to it, as i am, will immediately ignore? Kristina Weise from SoundCloud told me by email 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 on account of artificially inflating his playcount to this kind of grotesque level.
They are people who begin to see the demand for his tracks, browse through the same process I have done 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 ought to be heat too.
But – and this is the most interesting component of his strategy, for you will find a approach to his madness – Louie also claims there’s a financial dimension. “The track with 37,000 plays today [is] in the Top 100 [on] Beatport” he says, in addition to being in “the Top 100 Beatport deep house tracks at #11.”
As well as, a lot of the tracks that he juiced with fake SoundCloud plays were later featured prominently about the front pages of both Beatport and Traxsource – an incredibly 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 add up to way over $100 worth of free advertising – a confident return on his paid-for SoundCloud dominance.
Louie’s records about the front page of comment youtube, that he attributes to getting bought hundreds and hundreds of SoundCloud plays.
So it’s all about that mythical social media “magic”. People see you’re popular, they presume you’re popular, and eager when we each one is to prop up a success, 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 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 more) back on the other, and hopefully build toward the largest payoff of all – the morning once 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 ahead of the dawn in the internet. In the past it absolutely was referred to as Emperor’s New Clothes.
SoundCloud claimed 18 million registered users back in Forbes in August 2012. While bots as well as the sleazy services that sell entry to them plague every online service, some individuals will view this problem as you which is SoundCloud’s responsibility. And so they will have a good self-interest in making sure the tiny numbers next to the “play”, “heart” and “quotebubble” icons mean just what they claim they mean.
This post is a sterling endorsement for lots of the services brokering fake plays and fake followers. They actually do precisely what they are saying they will: inflate plays and gain followers in a 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 for those who work in the background music industry who ascribe any integrity to individuals little numbers: it’s cheap, and provided you can afford it, or expect to generate a return on your own investment about the backend, as Louie does, there doesn’t seem to be any risk on it in any way.
continually focusing on the reduction and also the detection of fake accounts. When we have already been made mindful of certain illegitimate pursuits like fake accounts or purchasing followers, we cope with this in line with our Relation to Use. Offering and using paid promotion services or any other ways to artificially increase play-count, add followers or even to misrepresent the buzz of content on the platform, is as opposed to our TOS. Any user found to become using or offering these facilities risks having his/her account terminated.
But it’s been over 3 months since i have first came across Louie’s tracks. No incredibly obvious bots I identify here happen to be deleted. The truth is, every one of them happen to be 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, these appear prominently in the search engines searches for related keywords. They’re not difficult to get.)
And really should SoundCloud establish a more potent counter against botting and whatever we might too coin as “playcount fraud”, they’d provide an unusual ally.
“SoundCloud should close many accounts,” Louie says, including “top DJs and producers [with] premium accounts for promoting such as this. The visibility from the web jungle is very difficult.”
For Louie, this is just an advertising and marketing plan. And truthfully, he has history on his side, though he might not know it. For much of the very last sixty years, in form or else procedure, this 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“. Within the 1950s, there was Congressional hearings; radio DJs found liable for accepting cash for play were ruined.
Payola was banned although the practice continued to flourish to the last decade. Read as an example, Eric Boehlert’s excellent series about the more elegant system of payoffs that flourished right after the famous payola hearings from the ’50s. All of Boehlert’s allegations about “independent record promoters” were proven true, again attracting the attention of Congress.
Payola consists of giving money or good things about mediators to help make songs appear popular compared to 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 such a case, SoundCloud), nevertheless the effect is identical: to help you assume that 58dexppky “boringly ordinary” track is surely an underground clubland sensation – and thereby ensure it is 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 reasonably average producer making fairly average underground House Music which probably sells an average of one hundred roughly copies per release.
It’s sad that individuals would check out such lengths over such a tiny sip of success. But Louie feels he has little choice. Weekly, numerous EPs flood digital stores, and he feels certain that many of them are deploying exactly the same sleazy “marketing” tactics I caught him using. There’s no chance of knowing, of course, the number of artists are juicing up their stats the way Louie is, but I’m less enthusiastic about verification than I am in understanding. It has some sort of creepy parallel to Lance Armstrong and the steroid debate plaguing cycling along with other sports: if you’re certain everyone else is performing it, you’d be considered a fool to never.
I posed that metaphor to Louie, but he didn’t seem to obtain it. Language problems. But I’m pretty 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 within the pathetic quantity of units sold (in fact, “#1 Track!” sounds much better than “100 Copies Sold Worldwide!”), he feels vindicated. It’s worth every penny.