08/29/2013 05:25 EDT | Updated 10/29/2013 05:12 EDT

When Bands Fake Their Online Popularity

Recently, a company hired me to book a headlining band for an event. I really enjoy booking bands. When I'm left to my own discretion about which band to book, the process is a lot of fun. However, when I'm told by the company to ask a booking agency or third party for buzzworthy band recommendations, the process becomes complicated.

There is a new, young, buzzworthy band at least once a week. With a buzzworthy band, seldom does anyone know what track record they have, what sort of marketing support they need to make a gig successful or what target market to aim promotion efforts at.

A lot of speculation takes place and booking can come with a hefty price tag.

It's naïve to expect an honest opinion about a band from a person who represents the band in a third party capacity, especially when the third party will profit from the transaction. That makes me wonder: what information or data can you rely on?

When I negotiate with booking agents, they are quick to show me a band's social media popularity. For example, how many Facebook page "likes" or Soundcloud "plays" a band has. To the unknowing person, social media activity is extremely appealing.

However is social media activity an accurate reflection of a band's popularity?


Everyday I am followed by 10+ phony Instagram followers. The sham followers have a profile icon of a real person and a generic description. When I view their profile, there is information on how I can buy "followers." The purpose of the sham follower is to entice me to spend money to inflate my popularity.

Not only can I buy followers on Instagram, I can also buy followers on Twitter and even likes, comments, and plays on my Soundcloud account.

Websites boast a "safe" and "easy" increase in followers by providing "quality" packages ranging from just $3 for 1,000 followers to $279 for 50,000 followers.

It's shocking isn't it? Especially to bands who literally slave away for a "like."

The scheme of buying popularity is not new. Cheating the system has existed since the (old) days of Myspace. At the time, you could purchase a program called Spyder. Spyder would add people to your Myspace profile automatically and boosted your song plays exponentially. You could even message groups of people on Myspace based on their age, gender or location. Falkor, the company that created Spyder, still advertises a "Song Play Increaser" and a program called Flirt that increases your Facebook likes.

To the untrained eye, social media numbers are important. However, if you delve, you'll notice inconsistencies. For example, a band may have a ton of "followers," but few likes on their photos. Alternately, a band may have lots of Soundcloud plays on a particular song, but few comments.

The music market is a brutal one. Any advantage, even an inflated or false one, could result in an opportunity not otherwise had. However, at some point, if you cheat, it will all fall apart for you. Potentially, in a very embarrassing way, like at a gig. Not only is cheating unfair to other bands, but funding endeavours that enable you to cheat causes a complex problem in the music market.

I am an advocate of any media that attempts to create a new stream of income for musicians, especially after the destruction of the CD market. Radio-like streaming services such as Spotify, Rdio and so on, hold a lot of promise; they compensate artists per song play. Some argue that they don't compensate artists enough. However, these services represent the promise of a new way for musicians to make money.

My fear is: will schemes that allow people to buy popularity proliferated into other areas of the market? Could they destroy promise of new income streams for musicians?

I don't know.

I've attempted to contact Spotify's legal department to ask if they have encountered people using software to increase their plays or popularity status on the Spotify system. My second question was: how would Spotify deal with the use of software to cheat the system from an administrative and legal standpoint?

I've received no reply.

As musicians and music professionals you have a responsibility to take progressive steps to move the industry forward or there will be no industry.

Do not let buying popularity become the new form of radio DJ payola.