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 for being everyone’s favorite artist over being the favorite artist of anyone.
Social media marketing is taking the chase for your free soundcloud plays 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 now firmly ensconsced in the underground House Music scene.
This is basically the story of the one of dance music’s fake hit tracks appears like, exactly how much it costs, and why an artist inside the tiny community of underground House Music would be willing to juice their numbers from the beginning (spoiler: it’s money).
During the early January, I received a message in the head of the digital label. In adorably broken English, “Louie” (approximately we’ll call him, for reasons that will become apparent) asked how he could submit promos for review by 5 Magazine.
I directed him to our own music submission guidelines. We obtain anywhere between five and six billion promos per month. Nothing relating to this encounter was extraordinary.
A couple of hours later, I received his first promo. We didn’t review it. It was actually, to never put too fine a point on it, disposable: a bland, mediocre Deep House track. These matters really 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 accountable for inside the underground: Louie was faking it.
However I noticed something strange once i Googled in the track name. And I Also bet you’ve noticed this too. Showing up in the label’s SoundCloud page, I found 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 every week. Ignoring the poor expertise of the track, this is a staggering number for someone of little reputation. Almost all of his other tracks had significantly fewer than one thousand plays.
Stranger still, most of the comments – insipid and stupid even by social media standards – came from people who will not appear 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 could this be even possible? Am I missing something? Did I jump the gun? How do more and more people like something so ordinary?”
Louie, I believed, was purchasing plays, to gin up some coverage and get his distance to overnight success. He’s not by yourself. Desperate to produce an impression in a environment in which hundreds of digital EPs are released per week, labels are increasingly turning toward any method accessible to make themselves heard over the racket – the skeezy, slimey, spammy world of buying plays and comments.
I’m not really a naif about similar things – I’ve watched several artists (and one artist’s spouse) take advantage of massive but temporary spikes inside their Facebook and twitter followers inside a very compressed timeframe. “Buying” the appearance of popularity is becoming something of your low-key epidemic in dance music, such as the mysterious appearance and equally sudden disappearance of Uggs and the word “Hella” from your American vocabulary.
But (and here’s where I am naive), I didn’t think this will extend beyond the reaches of EDM madness in the underground. Nor did I have got any idea such a “fake” hit song would appear to be. Now I do.
Looking from the tabs of your 30k play track, the first thing I noticed was the complete anonymity of individuals who had favorited it. They have got made-up names and stolen pictures, nevertheless they rarely match up. These are typically what SoundCloud bots appear to be:
The usernames and “real names” don’t sound right, but on the outside they appear so ordinary which you wouldn’t notice anything amiss should you be casually skimming down a listing of them. “Annie French” features a username of “Max-Sherrill”. “Bruce-Horne” is “Tracy Lane”. A pyromaniac named “Lillian” is way better called “Bernard Harper” to her friends. There are literally thousands of the. Plus they all like the exact same tracks (no “likes” inside the picture are for the track Louie sent me, having said that i don’t feel much have to go out from my approach 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 concerning this story, therefore the comments are gone; many 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 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 – his tracks prominently shown on the front side page of Beatport, Traxsource and other sites, in addition to charts and reviews. It seemed irrelevant to me at the time – but be aware. Louie’s scrapbook of press clippings is far more relevant than you already know.
After reiterating my questions, I found myself surprised when Louie brazenly admitted that everything implied above is, in reality, true. He is paying for plays. His fans are imaginary. Sadly, he is not much of a god.
You have observed that I’m not revealing Louie’s real name. I’m fairly certain you’ve never heard of him. I’m hopeful, in relation to hearing his music, that you just never will. In exchange for omitting all reference to his name and label with this story, he agreed to talk at length about his strategy 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 a few others) excoriated the label and ripped its fame-hungry owner “Louie” to pieces. I’d caught him red-handed committing the worst sin you can be guilty of from the underground: Louie was faking it.
However when every early reader’s response was, “Wait, that is this guy again?” – well, that informs you something. I don’t know if the story’s “bigger” than the usual single SoundCloud Superstar or even a Beatport 1 Week Wonder named Louie. However the story are at least different, and with Louie’s cooperation, I managed to affix hard numbers from what these kinds of ephemeral (but, he would argue, extremely effective) fake popularity will definitely cost.
Louie told me he artificially generated “20,000 plays” (In my opinion it was more) if you are paying to get a service which he identifies as Cloud-Dominator. This will give him his alloted amount of fake plays and “automatic follow/unfollow” in the bots, thereby inflating his amount of followers.
Louie paid $45 for people 20,000 plays; for the comments (purchased separately to create the full thing look legit to the un-jaundiced eye), Louie paid €40, which happens to be approximately $53.
This puts the 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 tune in to it, as i am, will immediately forget about? Kristina Weise from SoundCloud explained to 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” per day that begin following his SoundCloud page on account of artificially inflating his playcount to this sort of grotesque level.
These are those who view the rise in popularity of his tracks, browse through the same process I did in wondering how such a thing was possible, but inevitably shrug and sign on being a follower of Louie, assuming that where there’s light, there must be heat too.
But – and this is basically the most interesting component of his strategy, for there exists a strategy 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.”
And indeed, many of the tracks that he or she juiced with fake SoundCloud plays were later featured prominently about the front pages of both Beatport and Traxsource – an incredibly coveted method to obtain promotion for the digital label.
They’ve already 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 kind of those blogs or magazines for coverage. He paid Cloud-Dominator. All of these knock-on, indirect benefits likely amount to way over $100 amount of free advertising – a positive return on his paid-for SoundCloud dominance.
Louie’s records on the first page of buy youtube comments, that he attributes to owning bought tens of thousands of SoundCloud plays.
So it’s exactly about that mythical social websites “magic”. People see you’re popular, they think you’re popular, and eager when we each one is to prop up a winner, you therefore BECOME popular. Louie’s $100 for pumping within the stats on his underground House track often will be scaled up to the thousands or tens of thousands for EDM and also other music genres (several of the bots following Louie also follow dubstep and in many cases jazz musicians. Eclectic tastes, these bots have.)
Pay $100 on one end, get $100 (or higher) back in the other, and hopefully build toward the biggest payoff of most – 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, but it also existed ahead of the dawn of the internet. In the past it was actually known as the Emperor’s New Clothing.
SoundCloud claimed 18 million registered users way back in Forbes in August 2012. While bots along with the sleazy services that sell usage of them plague every online service, some people will view this concern as one which happens to be SoundCloud’s responsibility. And they have a proper self-interest in making certain the small numbers near the “play”, “heart” and “quotebubble” icons mean exactly what people say they mean.
This information is a sterling endorsement for a lot of the services brokering fake plays and fake followers. They generally do just what they are saying they may: inflate plays and gain followers in a no less than somewhat under-the-radar manner. I’ve seen it. I’ve just showed it for your needs. And that’s an issue for SoundCloud and for those who are in the music industry who ascribe any integrity to people little numbers: it’s cheap, and when you can afford it, or expect to produce a return on your investment about the backend, as Louie does, there doesn’t are most often any risk to it by any means.
continually concentrating on the reduction and the detection of fake accounts. Whenever we have already been made conscious of certain illegitimate pursuits like fake accounts or purchasing followers, we take care of this in accordance with our Regards to Use. Offering and making use of paid promotion services or another ways to artificially increase play-count, add followers or misrepresent the buzz of content around the platform, is in contrast to our TOS. Any user found to become using or offering these services risks having his/her account terminated.
But it’s been over 3 months since i have first stumbled across Louie’s tracks. None of the incredibly obvious bots I identify here are already deleted. In reality, every one of them have already been used several more times to have 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, all of them appear prominently in the search engines searches for related keywords. They’re not hard to find.)
And must SoundCloud develop a far better counter against botting and everything we might too 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 similar to this. The visibility in the web jungle is quite difficult.”
For Louie, this is just a marketing plan. And truthfully, he has history on his side, though this individual not realize it. For most of the last sixty years, in form or even procedure, this is the best way records were promoted. Labels from 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 have been Congressional hearings; radio DJs found responsible for accepting cash for play were ruined.
Payola was banned but the practice continued to flourish in to the last decade. Read for instance, Eric Boehlert’s excellent series on the more elegant system of payoffs that flourished after the famous payola hearings from the ’50s. All Boehlert’s allegations about “independent record promoters” were proven true, again attracting the interest of Congress.
Payola is made up of giving money or good things about mediators to produce songs appear more popular compared to what 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 case, SoundCloud), although the effect is the same: to help you feel that 58dexppky “boringly ordinary” track is undoubtedly an underground clubland sensation – and thereby make it 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 perhaps the Swedish House Mafia. It’s just Louie, a fairly average producer making fairly average underground House Music which probably sells about a hundred approximately copies per release.
It’s sad that folks would head to such lengths over such a tiny sip of success. But Louie feels they have little choice. Per week, hundreds of EPs flood digital stores, and then he feels certain that most of them are deploying exactly the same sleazy “marketing” tactics I caught him using. There’s absolutely no way of knowing, of course, how many artists are juicing up their stats the way in which Louie is, but I’m less interested in verification than I am just in understanding. It provides some sort of creepy parallel to Lance Armstrong along with the steroid debate plaguing cycling as well as other sports: if you’re certain all the others is doing it, you’d be a fool never to.
I posed that metaphor to Louie, but he didn’t seem to have it. Language problems. But I’m pretty sure 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 within the pathetic amount of units sold (after all, “#1 Track!” sounds much better than “100 Copies Sold Worldwide!”), he feels vindicated. It’s worthwhile.