Welcome back y’all. This week I included a killed story I did earlier this year on SoundCloud rap repost culture. This is far more reported, than speculation, so I hope the tonal shift isn't too jarring. Also, as always I’m eager to hear any feedback and recommend the newsletter to a friend if you do like it!
When the Atlanta teenager singer, 6 Dogs, uploaded his music to SoundCloud a few plays on a song was a cause for celebration. A homeschooled teenager, there was little reason for him to think he strike the internet lottery. The next track he uploaded received a few more plays, so to keep up the buzz going he looked into buying a couple reposts.
Unlike Apple Music or Spotify, SoundCloud operates with a chronological feed of music, where one can like and repost songs that catch their attention. 6 Dogs hoping to increase reach bought a repost from Nedarb, a Los Angeles producer that in turn put in front of Adam Grandmaison, am influential vlogger, who runs the site No Jumper. Grandmaison was quickly a fan of the teenager and started posting his music, so now this high school senior sits with millions of SoundCloud plays and a manager with major label connections.
“Soundcloud reposts are completely useless if your music is whatever,” says Grandmaison bluntly over email. “But if your music is good it could be all you need to get you that first push.” What was a niche trend, over the last twenty months matured into an shadow economy for artists to make an easy buck—it takes more clicks to receive a Paypal payment than a SoundCloud repost—and created a fast track path for aspiring rappers to grab the world's attention.
“I started noticing the repost trend around 2014,” said Joey Walker, an A&R at Alamo Records who also runs the Florida rap blog Daily Chiefers. “Blogs like RapxRnb use to offer promotion to some of the artists we covered.” When I reached out to SoundCloud to ask about the practice, SoundCloud’s spokesperson pointed to their Terms of Service, which says: “You must not rent, sell or lease access to the Platform, or any Content on the Platform.” Obviously, no one felt too pressed about those Terms of Usage guidelines.
The lack of oversight by SoundCloud allowed for this prosper and so for fees that range from $10 for smaller rappers to as high $200, at least as stated by the XXXTentacion fan page Bad Vibes Forever. But, as these artists, who came up on SoundCloud started receiving attention from the New York Times and signing major label deals, there started to be more internal questioning over the effectiveness of this practice.
This summer user by the display name To Catch A Rapper started to expose the downside of the repost game. The owner of the account declined to speak, but their Twitter account exposes the stories of young artists promised a SoundCloud reposts, paying money, and receiving nothing in return. Accusations included SoundCloud favorites like Lil Tracy, SupaBwa, and even Lil Pump, who has the #3 song in the nation, got caught last year short-changing someone on a feature. The practice not only damaged the reputation of the artists, but the broader community as well.
“I think it's an easy and cheap way to break on to prospective fans feeds,” said Roger Gengo of the blog Masked Gorilla over email, “[versus] spending more money on a feature or hook.” A blogger, often early on SoundCloud trends, he first noticed as an outgrowth of producers selling beats and a repost of the song they produced. Up-and-coming producers simply removed the beat aspect of the deal and just sold flat reposts. Rappers then quickly followed.
Still, Gengo lamented the widespread nature of the practice, because it significantly degraded his SoundCloud experience as his feed was clogged with bought reposts. The Verge reported a similar parallel trend within the electronic music space of repost degraded the user experience. Even if SoundCloud took some measure to fix repost spamming a couple years ago, when asked if they’d considered a feature to turn off reposts, a spokesperson reiterated that it’s a core feature of the platform with no plans to remove it.
Even if an artist isn’t scammed out of a repost, if one’s feed is being cluttered by users selling reposts by no-name artists; it raises the question of what exactly is someone buying? Earlier this year, Budi Voogt, wrote a paper that sought to answer that question. His research determined around three to four percent of followers press play on an account with medium engagement. Not a terrible number depending on the account, but he observed that accounts who repost frequently can drop the conversion to a single percentage. So a rapper with 20,000 followers, who frequently reposts could only be netting someone a couple hundred plays.
Ever since Soulja Boy started uploading videos of himself to YouTube over a decade there’s been a sense that music fame is an upload away. Except that as platforms come and go the early freedom of YouTube and Myspace is being lost within the internet noise. They’re instead replaced by more professional streaming platforms (Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal) that are less accessible. Even if money must be transacted to get attention, 6 Dogs still sees the practice as a “win-win” for the buyers and sellers, but it offers an easy door for an artists to jump over the clutter of online noise.
That ephemeral product of attention, even more than plays, is what helped 6 Dogs get to the next level of his career. Even if a wannabe rapper bought reposts from every major rapper and producer, if their music was trash, they’d have little to show for their dollars. The frequently in legal turmoil Florida rapper Kodak Black, effectively summed up the entire practice on his 2017 track “Transportin’”: “He dropped a mixtape / thought I was gonna repost it / I ain’t post his mixtape cause I don’t fuck with shorty.”
Links 2 Read
Taylor Swift’s Aggressive Country Move with “New Year’s Day” Poses Many Questions - Saving Country Music
I spent a good part of a lovely weekend lunch waving my arms around frantically about how Taylor Swift is always right about how to navigate the music industry, so this story was really interesting to read. Essentially she’s trying to make “New Year’s Day” a country radio hit, all while her album still isn't on streaming services. Now that might sound backwards, but if one were to correctly assume that for artists as big as Taylor Swift, radio and streaming are ultimately just ad buys for her live show, then why not double down on radio than play the streaming game. If fan needs your music they can illegally download it, cause not like Taylor is missing those pennies anyway. I wrote a bit more about this, but a Billboard piece essentially said all that I eventually said, so lol read that.
This a blow-by-blow account of the shitshow that is SoundCloud. Again, if you think that companies snorting VC money are the future, please invest in this newsletter I only need $10 of round A funding to start scaling.
The Rowdy World of Rap’s New Underground - The New York Times
This is one of the more important scene pieces of 2017. I’ll save a space to talk about this moment in rap and drug usage, but R.I.P Lil Peep.
Every site will be on the other side of an equation, where post-death coverage greatly overshadows when an artist was alive. I say this, because it’ll certainly happen to me in this line of work, but still it’s worth calling out when publications are clearly profiting off of an artist they never supported. Good on Elevator for at least calling out this gross, but routine practice.
“Nielsen Music 360 2017 U.S. Report, also finds that people on average spend $156 annually on music, with live performances snaring the greatest percentage of that. In the prior year, consumers spent on average $153. Of that, live performances accounted for 54 percent; buying CDs, LPs, downloads and music gift cards totaled 29 percent; streaming 9 percent and satellite radio 8 percent.” Two notes: 1. Follow the money. 2. Taylor is always right.