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 for being everyone’s favorite artist over being the favorite artist of anyone.
Social media marketing has taken the chase to the get soundcloud plays to a completely new 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 is currently firmly ensconsced from the underground House Music scene.
This is the story of what one of dance music’s fake hit tracks appears like, exactly how much it costs, and why an artist in the tiny community of underground House Music can be happy to juice their numbers to begin with (spoiler: it’s money).
During early January, I received an e-mail from the head of the digital label. In adorably broken English, “Louie” (approximately 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 our own music submission guidelines. We get approximately five and six billion promos per month. Nothing relating to this encounter was extraordinary.
A few hours later, I received his first promo. We didn’t evaluate it. It was actually, to never put too fine a point into it, disposable: a bland, mediocre Deep House track. These matters are a dime twelve nowadays – again, everything regarding 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 I Also bet you’ve noticed this too. Showing up in the label’s SoundCloud page, I came across that it barely average track – remarkable only in being utterly unremarkable – had somehow gotten more than 37,000 plays on SoundCloud in just a week. Ignoring the poor expertise of the track, it is a staggering number for an individual of little reputation. The majority of his other tracks had significantly less than 1,000 plays.
Stranger still, a lot of the comments – insipid and stupid even by social networking standards – originated from those who do not appear to exist.
You’ve seen this before: a track with acclaim far beyond any apparent worth. You’ve followed a link to some stream and thought, “How is that this even possible? Am I missing something? Did I jump the gun? Just how can so many people like something so ordinary?”
Louie, I believed, was purchasing plays, to gin up some coverage and purchase his distance to overnight success. He’s not alone. Desperate to help make an effect within an environment in which numerous digital EPs are released every week, labels are increasingly turning toward any method open to make themselves heard on top of 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 (and another artist’s spouse) benefit from massive but temporary spikes within their Facebook and twitter followers in a very compressed timeframe. “Buying” the appearance of popularity is now something of the low-key epidemic in dance music, such as the mysterious appearance and equally sudden disappearance of Uggs and the word “Hella” through the American vocabulary.
But (and here’s where I am naive), I didn’t think this could extend past the reaches of EDM madness to the underground. Nor did We have any idea what a “fake” hit song would seem like. Now I do.
Looking from the tabs from the 30k play track, the initial thing I noticed was the complete anonymity of individuals who had favorited it. They already have made-up names and stolen pictures, however they rarely match up. These are generally what SoundCloud bots appear like:
The usernames and “real names” don’t seem sensible, but at first glance they seem so ordinary that you just wouldn’t notice anything amiss if you were casually skimming down a long list of them. “Annie French” carries a username of “Max-Sherrill”. “Bruce-Horne” is “Tracy Lane”. A pyromaniac named “Lillian” is better generally known as “Bernard Harper” to her friends. There are thousands of the. And they also all like the identical tracks (none of the “likes” inside the picture are for your track Louie sent me, having said that i don’t feel much have to go out from my strategy to protect them than with more than a very slight blur):
A lot of them are similar to this. (Louie deleted this track after I contacted him concerning this story, hence the comments are all 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 do this? After leafing through a huge selection of followers and compiling these screenshots, I contacted Louie by email with my evidence.
His first reply consisted of a sheaf of screenshots of his – his tracks prominently shown on the leading page of Beatport, Traxsource along with other sites, along with charts and reviews. It seemed irrelevant in my opinion at that time – but give consideration. Louie’s scrapbook of press clippings is much more relevant than you understand.
After reiterating my questions, I found myself surprised when Louie brazenly admitted that everything implied above is, the truth is, true. He or she is paying for plays. His fans are imaginary. Sadly, he is not really a god.
You have realized that I’m not revealing Louie’s real name. I’m fairly certain you’ve never been aware of him. I’m hopeful, based upon listening to his music, which you never will. In return for omitting all reference to his name and label from this story, he decided to talk in detail about his strategy of gaming SoundCloud, and after that 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 of the 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 accountable for within the underground: Louie was faking it.
But once every early reader’s response was, “Wait, who may be this guy again?” – well, that lets you know something. I don’t determine if the story’s “bigger” than the usual single SoundCloud Superstar or a Beatport One Week Wonder named Louie. Nevertheless the story reaches least different, with Louie’s cooperation, I was able to affix hard numbers as to what these kinds of ephemeral (but, he would argue, very efficient) fake popularity will definitely cost.
Louie told me that he artificially generated “20,000 plays” (I really believe it was more) if you are paying for a service that he identifies as Cloud-Dominator. This will give him his alloted quantity of fake plays and “automatic follow/unfollow” in the bots, thereby inflating his quantity of followers.
Louie paid $45 for anyone 20,000 plays; for the comments (purchased separately to help make the whole thing look legit for the un-jaundiced eye), Louie paid €40, which can be approximately $53.
This puts the price tag on 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 a track that even real people that pay attention to it, much like me, will immediately overlook? Kristina Weise from SoundCloud explained by email that the company believes that “Illegitimately boosting one’s follower numbers offers no long term benefits.”
This is when Louie was most helpful. The initial effect of juicing his stats, he claims, nets him approximately “10 [to] 20 real people” every day that begin following his SoundCloud page because of artificially inflating his playcount to this kind of grotesque level.
These are people who begin to see the rise in popularity of his tracks, go through the same process I did in wondering how this was possible, but inevitably shrug and sign on being a follower of Louie, assuming that where there’s light, there should be heat also.
But – and this is the most interesting part 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] within the Top 100 [on] Beatport” he says, in addition to being in “the Top 100 Beatport deep house tracks at #11.”
As well as, lots of the tracks that he or she juiced with fake SoundCloud plays were later featured prominently around the front pages of both Beatport and Traxsource – an extremely coveted method to obtain promotion for a 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 one of those blogs or magazines for coverage. He paid Cloud-Dominator. Many of these knock-on, indirect benefits likely soon add up to far more than $100 worth of free advertising – an optimistic return on his paid-for SoundCloud dominance.
Louie’s records around the front page of comment youtube, which he attributes to getting bought tens of thousands of SoundCloud plays.
So it’s about that mythical social networking “magic”. People see you’re popular, they think you’re popular, and eager when we all are to prop up a success, you therefore BECOME popular. Louie’s $100 for pumping up the stats on his underground House track often will be scaled as much as the thousands or tens of thousands for EDM as well as other music genres (several of the bots following Louie also follow dubstep and even jazz musicians. Eclectic tastes, these bots have.)
Pay $100 on a single end, get $100 (or maybe more) back on the other, and hopefully build toward the largest payoff of all – the time 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 prior to the dawn in the internet. In those days it was actually called The Emperor’s New Clothing.
SoundCloud claimed 18 million registered users back in Forbes in August 2012. While bots along with the sleazy services that sell entry to them plague every online service, some individuals will view this matter as you that is SoundCloud’s responsibility. And they also have a wholesome self-interest in making sure that the tiny numbers next to the “play”, “heart” and “quotebubble” icons mean what exactly people say they mean.
This information is a sterling endorsement for many of the services brokering fake plays and fake followers. They are doing what exactly people say they are going to: inflate plays and gain followers within an a minimum of somewhat under-the-radar manner. I’ve seen it. I’ve just showed it for your needs. And that’s a difficulty for SoundCloud and for those who work in the tunes industry who ascribe any integrity to those little numbers: it’s cheap, and if you can afford it, or expect to produce a return on your investment on the backend, as Louie does, there doesn’t are any risk into it in any way.
continually working on the reduction and the detection of fake accounts. If we have already been made aware of certain illegitimate pursuits like fake accounts or purchasing followers, we deal with this in accordance with our Regards to Use. Offering and using paid promotion services or other way to artificially increase play-count, add followers or perhaps to misrepresent the excitement of content in the platform, is in contrast to our TOS. Any user found to be 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. Not one of the incredibly obvious bots I identify here have already been deleted. In fact, every one 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 assured, them all appear prominently in the search engines searches for related keywords. They’re not hard to find.)
And must SoundCloud build a more effective counter against botting and what we might as well coin as “playcount fraud”, they’d offer 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 inside the web jungle is quite difficult.”
For Louie, this is simply a marketing and advertising plan. And truthfully, he has history on his side, though he may not know it. For most of the last sixty years, in form if not procedure, this can be the best way records were promoted. Labels within the mainstream music industry bribed program directors at American radio stations to “break” songs of 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 but the practice continued to flourish in the last decade. Read for instance, Eric Boehlert’s excellent series in the more elegant system of payoffs that flourished right after the famous payola hearings from the ’50s. Most of Boehlert’s allegations about “independent record promoters” were proven true, again attracting the interest of Congress.
Payola includes giving money or advantages to mediators to create songs appear very popular compared to they are. The songs then become popular through radio’s free exposure. Louie’s ultra-modern kind of payola eliminates any benefit to the operator (in this instance, SoundCloud), although the effect is the same: to help you become believe that 58dexppky “boringly ordinary” track is definitely 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 maybe the Swedish House Mafia. It’s just Louie, a rather average producer making fairly average underground House Music which probably sells around 100 or so copies per release.
It’s sad that individuals would visit such lengths over this kind of tiny sip of success. But Louie feels they have little choice. Every week, numerous EPs flood digital stores, and he feels confident that the majority of them are deploying the identical sleazy “marketing” tactics I caught him using. There’s no chance of knowing, obviously, how many artists are juicing up their stats how Louie is, but I’m less enthusiastic about verification than I am in understanding. It offers some form of creepy parallel to Lance Armstrong and also the steroid debate plaguing cycling as well as other sports: if you’re certain everybody 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 confident 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 (in the end, “#1 Track!” sounds far better than “100 Copies Sold Worldwide!”), he feels vindicated. It’s worth the cost.