Q-Tip said it best back in 1991, “Industry Rule # 4080, record company people are shady!” Starting in the early days of the music business with Blues and Rock & Roll, payola was once the most popular underhand practice. Record companies and managers would bribe radio DJ’s to give their artists radio play. Although illegal, this practice has never stopped and continues to be used today, albeit in more subtle forms. Rule # 4080 still applies and the methods industry execs use have evolved over time. With the rise in new technology and the dominance of the internet threatening the music industry’s outdated business model, new “questionable” tactics have been developed to help labels stay afloat.
Views, Likes, and Followers: Have you ever checked out a YouTube video only because it had a lot of views and you were curious to see why? Are you more likely to follow an artist on Twitter who has 324,687 followers rather than one who has 54? Are you the type of person to be first to “Like” an artist on Facebook or would you check to see that this artist already has a lot of “Likes” before you join in? While you may think that looking at numbers is a ridiculous way to evaluate an artist’s worth (and it is!), millions around the world feel otherwise. Sad as it may be, high numbers often propel artists to celebrity status. Young and impressionable minds, which the industry targets since they’re the largest consumer base, often assume that if a video has millions of views, it must be good.
And even if they don’t really like the video, they support it anyway because everyone else seems to. But here’s the dirty secret: YouTube views, Facebook “Likes”, and Twitter followers can be bought for a moderate fee. There are now dozens of companies who specialize in increasing numbers. Some companies use special technology to achieve their goals while others claim to be able to get thousands of “real” followers. If that weren’t crazy enough, “positive” YouTube comments supposedly written by real people can also be purchased! This kind of practice is deceptive as hell and makes it difficult for aspiring artists who have to compete against those who have the means to buy such services. I guess quality doesn’t matter when you can just buy your way to popularity.
Buying the # 1 Spot: Once YouTube Views, Facebook “Likes”, and Twitter followers have been bought, it’s time for the label to really go all out and buy thousands of CD’s and downloads to help the artist get to # 1 within the first couple of weeks of release. Since sales have been declining due to free and illegal downloads, it’s become more and more challenging for artists to hit the top of the charts.
This is why some labels are buying their own products (often with the artist’s money), in hope that achieving # 1 will generate publicity and result in more sales and touring opportunities. The idea is that the average fan is more likely to support an artist who appears to have a large following. It’s all about image and perception, and for today’s mainstream music fan, this counts more than talent.
Professional Reviewers: Ever read customer reviews on Amazon or iTunes? Some are brief, misspelled, and poorly thought out while others are thorough and clearly expressed, almost as if a “professional” had written it. Shockingly, that’s exactly what’s happening! Writers are paid to act like customers and write positive reviews. Sometimes, these writers are simply part of the artist’s team, other times, they’re professional writers who get hired for their review services. Companies have gotten in trouble for this kind of practice but this hasn’t stopped it from happening. Again, this makes it difficult for new artists who don’t have the means to compete against this kind of deception.
Fake Beef, Phony Stories, and Controversy: Nude pics, sex videos, fake beef, phony stories, and controversy and the result is the same: free publicity. When an artist, or an assistant pretending to be them, tweets something weird, crazy, unusual, or controversial, they know that it’ll spread in a matter of hours and eventually make the top blogs and gossip sites who welcome this kind of foolishness. And again, everyone seems to get something out of it. There was a time when this type of nonsense would have hurt an artist’s career. Now, it sustains it…and that’s pitiful.
There are many more industry secrets. Some of the ones discussed here are well documented. I also know that some of you are sharp enough to see through the hype and didn’t need anyone to fill you in on what’s going on behind closed doors. As well, I know that quite a few artists become successful without using these tactics. Still, you can bet that the more resources an artist has access to, the greater the chances are that at least one of these methods has been utilized. Do your own research and you’ll probably discover many more shocking methods.
Sebastien Elkouby is a Hip Hop Culture historian, freelance writer, consultant, and award-winning educator. Check out his educational program, Global Awareness Through Hip Hop Culture and his blog, SebIsHipHop.wordpress.com. For more info about his services, contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @SebIsHipHop (Although he rarely uses it!)