Before getting to the task at hand, I want to take a second to bow and applaud 5 Magazine for their investigative piece on paying for boosted SoundCloud plays. This article goes into detail (with an unnamed artist that we kind of wish they had the balls to name), and breaks down how the system works, why it works, and why one would attempt to cheat the system. It’s a great read, and incredibly thorough reporting.
But it makes us think deeper. The answer we normally get when we question these issues is “well, that’s just how it is." Popular music is built on a network of connections. Platforms, blogs, PR firms, venues, and booking agents look at factors that almost never have anything to do with music when deciding whether or not you’re of value. The only thing that anybody uses now to gauge your worth is the social media numbers you have. And those numbers can be boosted if you have the budget to reach out to a company that specializes in pumping fake numbers for you. The pay-to-play system in undeniably the largest contributing factor to the fall of hip-hop, and it’s saddening to see this happening to electronic dance music. We’re lucky enough here to have our funders trust that we know what we’re doing and let us report on the things that should be reported on. Most sites on our level aren’t that fortunate.
And a lot of these numbers are bullshit. People look to Beatport charts as some sort of standard. If they sold the company for $50 million, their true value in the industry is suspect. If you can “chart” selling a few dozen records, the system is swayed. And that charting has nothing to do with the QUALITY of the song. It has everything to do with the connections you’ve made and the fans that actually buy the record. That’s IF it’s actually the fans that are buying your record.
A few years ago, Tommy Boy’s Tommy Silverman explained how record companies buying their own product benefits them. As more money is invested and spent in electronic dance music, we will undoubtedly see more and more of this. You can buy your position, and have been able to for years. And it’s not fair in keeping a level playing field. You might say “it’s just how business works." I say it’s fraudulent, and hope more people get called out for this.
This isn’t to say that all avenues are evil. Platforms aren’t the problem if they are selecting records based on quality. If they aren’t taking payment from the artists they place, they are doing nothing but helping artists get exposure that they normally wouldn’t get. We look at White Folks Get Crunk, The Dankles, Walmer Convenience, and tons of other respectable sites that (to the best of our knowledge) don’t take a dime in exchange for track placement, and boost exposure for the artists that they think should have exposure. And sites like ours that cover releases are just as important. If we don’t have an opinion, we are failing the fans and the musicians that deserve coverage. If our opinion is swayed by connections or currency, we become part of the problem.
We are one of several platforms that puts forth a conscious effort to please all angles of the music industry. We cover everything we think is worth covering, no matter how big or small. We are also well aware that SoundCloud plays, Facebook likes, and Twitter followers can all be purchased. But the difference between us and a lot of these people that can have a huge impact on whether or not someone can make a comfortable living playing music is that we actually know what’s good. We don’t need numbers or presskits to have an opinion. Sure, getting paid $100 an article would be nice. But if you are an advocate for the scene, pride and respect and fairness shouldn’t have a price tag. And we have an incredible amount of respect for anyone who can speak openly and candidly on this funny business, and how it affects the music.