Monday, 25 March 2013

Buying your way into the charts

A recent article on the Beeb (that's the BBC for overseas readers) caught my eye the other day, which claimed that chart topping artists had at some point fabricated their successes in order to get noticed by DJs, record labels and other artists. In singles out a company that would arrange for videos on YouTube or tracks on Soundcloud to receive set numbers of hits and accompanying comments to back up the legitimacy of the "traffic". In doing so, this increases the visibility of the work on the site, at which point it starts to pick up organic hits and thus into the headspace of industry professionals.

As a music fan and producer, I can see the attraction of paying relatively small amounts to give your new material a boost and in these days of instant gratification it gives you exactly what you want to see for a small price (money rather than time). Now that record labels are in decline and you can do all your own promotion with free tools and social media sites, everyone is doing it and it can be difficult to differentiate yourself from others without putting in hours of grass roots marketing and promotion - something that is difficult to maintain effectively.

Whether it is necessarily an ethical move to make, well, I'm still divided. In the examples the article mentions, it does indeed seem to achieve the objective it sets out by getting bigger exposure to an artist's output and ultimately getting mainstream visibility. Money aside, customers who buy this service do seem to get what they pay for. And these services are not exactly difficult to come by either.

However, the whole deal smacks of dishonesty on the part of the artist who pays for such a service. On Soundcloud in particular, it has been a regular feature on user forums to see complaints about artists who have very little quality music (if any at all) magically have hundreds of followers - as if the number of profile followers relates directly to the worth or quality of the music. The music has become secondary and the act of being on a music sharing site has become just another popularity contest on a social media site. In the case of Soundcloud, the stats view makes it easy to see who these people are, however this is less apparent with mainstream artists or newcomers such as those mentioned in the article.

As someone who is an active Soundcloud user who also adds a contact email address, my inbox regularly gets these kinds of emails asking if I would like to pay for artist promotion and side-step the hard work. As if I needed a case to back up my point, here's a screenshot of a company who were in touch recently to advertise their wares. There must be something in it for them if they are actively going after people and conversely, people must be using them and their services as well!

Coming back to the subject of the difficulty of getting visibility into the mainstream, I certainly would not have heard of any of the bands that the BBC report mentioned had it not been for their association with these services, but in the majority of cases I can see why they had to resort to fake views to create a somehow illegitimate success story. With real fans, they will end up doing the grass roots activism for you, sharing your works and spreading the word. After all, it's real fans, not fake ones, that end up at your gigs!

However, I do have to stand back from my immediate revulsion of this tactic and think logically. I am sure that plenty of back room deals have been made in clubs and boardrooms to further the careers of aspiring bands and musicians and perhaps this is just the digital, 21st Century extension of a bung or brown paper bag of cash. I just hope that some artists have a bit of integrity to put in the hard work - it makes the rewards all the sweeter.

Original article is available at: