You Can’t Buy Fans (So Why Do Musicians Keep Trying?)

September 26, 2013{ 12 Comments }

Paying for SoundCloud Listens

Don’t pay for fake plays, fake friends, or fake followers

No, I’m not talking about some bad MySpace flashback; people are STILL trying to buy their way to stardom — one click at a time.

A recent article from Digital Music News called “$10 = 100,000 Fake SoundCloud Plays…” illustrates just how easy it is to pay someone to listen to your music, view your videos, favorite your content, comment on your media, and follow/subscribe to your various channels (SoundCloud, YouTube, Twitter, etc.)

But all those listens, clicks, and views don’t equal FANS, so why do musicians keep trying this tactic? 

Simple: they believe inflated numbers will impress people. Which people? Well, I guess that’s where artists’ motives differ. It could be labels, bookers, managers, fellow musicians, friends,… even themselves (yes, it’s a more common delusion than you might imagine).

But whether they’re driven by insecurity, ambition, or something else — paying for fans strikes me as a desperate move born out of a misunderstanding of how bands succeed in today’s post-label landscape.

When a band creates something of value (music, videos, community, connection), you can see how their buzz builds alongside their increasing social media stats. It’s a logical trajectory. The more actual connections you forge with listeners, the more chances you find along the way to continue that trend: blog coverage, exclusive giveaways, better touring/gigging opportunities, plus real music sales and YouTube revenue to help you make your career sustainable in the long-term.

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Fake fans don’t fool anyone

Now let’s look at the opposite scenario: you’ve bought 5 million listens on SoundCloud. Well, why haven’t I ever heard of you? Why aren’t you performing on a late night TV show or at least touring outside of your home state?

How is it that your YouTube video has been viewed 700,000 times but I’ve never once seen any of my friends (most of whom are music-lovers) share it on Facebook or Twitter?

The moral to this story is obvious: invest your time and marketing money in something that will help you find your real fans. For example, if you were going to spend $100 boosting your SoundCloud listens, use that same money to print nice one-sheets/press releases and mail out 10 CDs to 10 music bloggers in your genre that you think will dig your songs.

You might see a smaller return in terms of your tallies, but you’ll have a chance to make real fans — the kind that tell other real people about your music, and who’ll pay real money to see you live, buy your merch, and support your crowdfunding campaigns.

What do you think of buying clicks, views, and listens? Have you been guilty of it in the past (tell the truth!)? What made you feel the need to do it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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  • I see those as separate things. With RadioAirplay, you're getting actual targeted listens — where a real human being has the opportunity to respond to your music. Yes, you're still paying for it, so there are budgeting concerns, and you have to look at the numbers after the first campaign to see what you're getting in return for that cost. But with fake SoundCloud plays, no one is listening — it's just… empty numbers.


    • Lincoln

      I agree it feels better that real people are listening (RadioAirplay) and it feels even better when some click the 'like' button and even better still if they post a positive comment … but from my experience so far very, very few actually buy a download or CD and of course that's the best feeling without a shadow of a
      doubt :o)

  • Mike

    Established marketing companies offer SOME of these services for SEO purposes.

    Like Virool…. You pay for 20,000 high retention views, your record is now indexed by external site running algorithms that index & post popular genre specific records. Now, you start to get organic views….. will start to promote popular records & users that have a lot of listens….

    Whoever wrote this article doesn't understand the science behind promotion.

  • Ha. Yeah, that's a great quote.


  • Sync and live-streaming concerts from home?


  • Glenn G

    Sounds like wise words to me.

  • Glenn G

    Wow…good point!

  • Glenn G

    Good thoughts, David!

  • The way I see it, paying for fake views and fake plays is one thing. Paying for actual targeted advertising is another. With the first, you’re boosting your numbers, but without ANYONE actually interfacing with your music, brand, image, content, etc. It’s an empty effort. When you pay for targeted advertising, you get to put your music (or at least a message ABOUT your music) in front of the folks who are most likely to become fans — on the websites that they’re already visiting (Rolling Stone, Pandora, etc.). So you’re paying for the chance to make REAL fans.

    @ Chris Robley

    • Richard McCargar

      I doubt many people buy ads from those companies with the knowledge that any of them are fake views.

  • SickMewsick!

    I agree with most comments here. The cold truth is that even popular artists have done this. The cold truth is that there could be excellent-yet-undiscovered music out there just because the artist won’t “get in the game”. Numbers do matter.

    Numbers are making new artists everyday while you sit and wait for everyone to take notice and change.

    But then again, nothing can help bad talent. Fake plays will bring you audience, not talent. If you think you’re good, don’t waste anymore time.

    The offers out there are incredible!
    This is the best one I could find.

  • Great info. Thanks!