Hello, the last few weeks I’ve been getting some fairly nice emails from people and wanted to formalize that a bit. I wanna do a mailbag newsletter devoted to reader questions. If you’d like to ask me something then just put “Q & A” in the subject line and ask away. I’ll follow-up if you’d like your name or rather would be anonymous. If no one replies then I won’t do it, but I do think it could be rather fun. Either way, as always thank you for reading, it’s much appreciated.
SoundCloud is broken. Last Thursday, I got a Twitter DM alerting me to the fact the #1 song on the SoundCloud charts was “Bands” by relatively obscure rapper named Comethazine, who currently is signed to Alamo Records run by Todd Moscowitz. My first reply was “this must be fake.” I check the SoundCloud charts daily and knew the previous top song on the charts was YBN Nahmir’s “Bounce That” and he recently posted a now deleted Instagram about it. The further my DMs continued, it was suddenly clear what happened here, but let’s step back a second.
One of the first newsletter I wrote was on SoundCloud rap’s shadow repost economy. The simple gist is that a couple years ago producers started selling reposts, the ability to post another person’s music on your page, to go along with their beats; rappers, who are often more popular than producers, realized they were missing out on free money and offered the same service: “$25 for a repost,” “$100 for a repost, only doing this for 4 hours,” etc.
If one followed accounts engaging in this behavior, one’s feed quickly devolved into a cesspool of reposts of dubious music being pushed by a rapper you might’ve not even liked that much in the first place. A similar action occurs within EDM, where producers and managers trade reposts among accounts: For example, if you have 100,000 followers you might trade reposts with a manager, who has three artists with 30,000 followers. The end result is the same of a clogged up SoundCloud feed. No music platform isn’t immune to such chicanery, but SoundCloud’s is so directly baked into the one’s music feed, even casual users can feel it even if they don’t know it. Now back to Comethazine.
The Instagram screenshot that YBN Nahmir posted caught my eye, because his appeared multiple times on the chart, but that top song wasn’t his account, but a fan page. The page uploaded four YBN Nahmir songs, spammed each posts with tags of major SoundCloud rappers. That practice of spamming tag is fairly common, but it’s rare that such an account who engages in that behavior makes into SoundCloud’s Top 20, let alone the top slot.
Over the afternoon, the former YBN Nahmir fan account was being reskinned into an account called SoundClout, so not only was “Bounce That” replaced with “Bands,” but YBN Nahmir’s “Bail Out” was replaced with “Piped” by Comethazine. You can check out the screencaps below of this happening.
Once it was fairly clear what was going on, I started sending some emails. I contacted SoundCloud to point out what was happening and was informed they were going to look into it. I reached out to Alamo Records and was met with “no comment.” I reached out to the SoundClout page via email and even I contacted Billboard’s official people to ask what implications this might have for their charts, but sadly didn’t hear back from either.
(On Friday, I noticed I was being followed by an account called SoundClout, so I sent them a quick Twitter DM. The SoundClout owner didn’t know about what happened the previous day with Comethazine and SoundClout. Then it dawned on me: Not only did Alamo Records swap out the songs and reskin the account, but they also used an employee’s own knock-off SoundCloud logo for this account.)
I again on Friday reach out to Alamo Records to try and get a comment on this matter, but still “no comment.” Fair. By this point I’ve talked to enough people who are obsessed with SoundCloud as myself to realize that while this isn’t a new practice—kids on SoundCloud try and buy and sell account explicitly for this purpose—but doing it for the top slot was rather bold. I say this, because as I type of the #22 song on SoundCloud is poorly typed fan song (“Migos - Ice Tray (Ft. Lil Yatchy)| Culture 2 | Tay K After You | XXXTentacion Sauce | Plug Walk”), if Comethazine was slotted right here instead of no. 1, it could’ve potentially passed under people’s radars.
By, the time Friday afternoon came around I was in a number of meetings, so when I returned to my desk I got multiple messages letting me know that Comethazine “Bands” was no longer on the chart, and in fact the entire account was deleted. So what happened with the original Comethazine account, he’s still plugging away currently at around 24,000 followers, so what did this scheme get him? Well, last Thursday he had 21,200 followers, so I get it netted him potentially a thousand new followers. Huge success, I guess.
Comments on Twitter and SoundCloud ranged from people being like “the fuck is this shit,” complimenting the marketing maneuver, and even comparing to old school Soulja Boy marketing tactics. The Mississippi-raised teenager did back in the Limewire days would purposefully mistag the most popular songs on the charts with his song “Crank That,” which helped build early buzz for his chart topper. The main difference is that the person that pulled this stunt for Comethazine works at a record label, Soulja Boy was just a kid at his computer figuring out how to game this system. Mixtapes on datpiff are frequently improperly tagged, Spotify’s got plenty of weird sound-a-like that attempt to game their search algorithm, and don’t even get me start on YouTube’s nonsense of pitching songs down to avoid content ID or posting snippets on loop but claiming it’s the real song. Fooling listeners is certainly not a new tactic, but instead it’s just improved and updated for every new platform.
Not to be too meta, but part of the reason I like this newsletter is just trying to inform people about some of the weird shit that does happen on these platforms. This was a fairly clever idea, but I’m not sure it did anything more than net this kid a few thousand followers and connect his name to shady plot to boost his popularity. I don’t work at a label, but part of me imagines there must’ve been a slightly better use of one’s time than trying to scam an artist to the top.
My concern, which may be ill founded, is that this feels like a short term solution that could in the long term hurt an artist’s credibility just for a few extra confused followers. Part of the reason I link out to a lot of stories of digital scams and trolling is that similar tactics occurred in music well before the internet, but the digital world gives new ways for deceitfulness. (Here’s where I'd recommend the Slate's Hit Parade podcast about the history of the American single.)
I don’t want to be a scold, but Comethazine’s 20 hours at the top of the chart doesn’t feel like the type of efforts that point towards providing an artist a sustained career. I’d say feel free to disagree in the comments, but that why I have email: email@example.com.
Links 2 Read
Scammers Are Impersonating Elon Musk And Donald Trump To Take Your Bitcoin - Buzzfeed News
Again I don’t want to blow-up anyone’s spot, but this kind of stuff happens so much within rap digital promotion that honestly at this point I truly don’t trust any “viral” moment. Labels, the shrewd ones at least, are too tapped into Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube networks to aggressively promote their stuff that it’s honestly sort of makes the idea of radio payola seem quaint. Buzzfeed News’ story on digital scamming for cryptocurrency constantly questions if this is indeed working, a question I ask when some of these marketing tactics are used on lesser artists, but I guess in both cases you keep doing until you get caught and just see how many bitcoins or followers/plays you can amass until then.
Russian Trolls Ran Wild On Tumblr And The Company Refuses To Say Anything About It - Buzzfeed News
This story is fairly similar to the one above in simply breaking down spam/troll farms that are spreading racial misinformation on Tumblr.
The Terrifying Future of Fake New - Buzzfeed News
One last post from Buzzfeed News. Just a nice story about our post-truth and mass misinformation future that is certainly going to get much worse before it gets better.
Should YouTube police it's top stars' videos? - Recode Media
The Daily Beast reporter Taylor Lorenz was on Recode Media’s “Too Embarrassed To Ask” podcast, talking about YouTube’s biggest stars. What I’ve found so interesting is in the last year is how much YouTubers do not like YouTube. That isn’t too surprising, who likes their bosses? Still, I find it interesting to see YouTubers detach further from this ecosystem and try to do stuff like merch and Patreons to diversify their revenue streams. Major music labels hold more leverage than a single YouTuber, but when I read Lyor Cohen say how advertising rates will go up despite them going down on competing platforms like Spotify, I just have to shake my head.
Apple Music, Spotify Battle Heats Up Again as Race for US Subscribers Gets Closer - Billboard
I’m only including this, because Billboard includes reported number of Apple Music subscribers (15 million) and Spotify premium subscribers (18.2 million). They also wrestles with explaining how hard it is to really know how many people are actually paying the full amount for either service because of discounts and promotions. Unsurprisingly I think more information out there the better in regards to music and this certainly counts as more information.