It’s been said before, but will never be said enough: social media stats are not indicative of a song’s quality. This topic has been beaten dead twice over. The most recent article of note on the topic came from DJ Booth. They made an example of Master P, encouraging others not to buy Soundcloud plays.
But the focus of this article is not fake stats. We all know that fake likes offer no real appraisal of a song. That said, we arrive at this conclusion by acknowledging that these fake likes are not real. This leaves the assumption that, if they were real, they would in fact function as a valid appraisal. Such is not the case.
In theory, good music leads to a strong social media presence. We like to imagine anyone with enough talent could get discovered and blow up over night. In reality, those who blow up do so not because of their music, but because of their marketing. Often, quality music is a pre-requisite, but not always. As shown by the rise of artists like Lil Uzi Vert, your music is secondary to your marketability.
The real problems start, however, when we reverse this outdated theory. Not only do we believe quality music guarantees a strong social media presence, we think a strong presence is the result of quality music. We have gone from appraising artists on their music to relying on stats to decide if we should support them.
To a certain extent, this has to do with our pervasive fear of missing out. Small blogs find those with large followings more enticing to write about. Articles about artists with thousands of followers create more site traffic than articles on artists with hundreds. Wanting to get their blog’s name out there, the blogger is more inclined to write about the more popular artist regardless of their music.
The artists then use these smaller blog placements as leverage to subject larger blogs to the fear of missing out. Bigger blogs are inundated with PR emails boasting about how many other blogs have already covered their content. Not wanting to miss out on the next big thing, the blogger is again more inclined to write about this artist regardless of their music.
Then, the song, having gotten all these placements, gains some traction. The stats begin to build and pretty soon listeners flock to the song because of those stats. Because of a fear of missing out. If a million people played a song, it must be something you need to hear too. The artist then uses the stats of that single as leverage in their next press release.
It’s a cycle that feeds itself, driving up the stats with little to no regard for the music itself. Accordingly, a large following is not indicative of good music, it is indicative of good PR. Similarly, a small following is not indicative of bad music, but bad PR.
The example I always go to when making this point is Fringe Character. Fringe character is a self-proclaimed nuelectrosoulhop 10-piece ensemble headed by producer Turrnt Vonnegut. Ask them what nuelectrosoulhop is and you will get an informed retort about the industry’s relentless attempts to confine artists.
Because of how the internet has trained me, I assumed Fringe Character was a new group. With 156 Soundcloud followers, they couldn’t have been making music for too long. Quite the contrary. Fringe Character is the most experienced act I have ever covered. They’re lackluster social media is due to them being the antithesis of artists like Lil Uzi Vert. They make music for music’s sake, not as a stepping stone to iconization.
I could easily see their most recent project Mint getting rave reviews on Pitchfork. It’s all live, all original, and confoundingly unique. Even so, it remains largely unnoticed by the internet, five or so people have supported it on Bandcamp. Meanwhile, your favorite Soundcloud rapper releases a freestyle over the new J. Cole beat and gets fifty retweets. The next day he tweets about how humbled he is to be breaking one-thousand followers.
The path to manufactured fame outlined above is not fool-proof. There is no guarantee that a larger blog will actually bite the “look at all the other blogs that have covered me” bait. Think of this article as a hyperbolic example of how genuine plays can be just as meaningless as those you pay for. Listen to what you like, not what the internet tells you to like.