We’ve long known that influencers buy fake subscribers to inflate their visibility, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that artists are doing the same thing by cheating their listenership on streaming (streaming) platforms. In Quebec, as elsewhere, the phenomenon would be particularly widespread in the world of rap, the most popular genre on the internet. Which calls into question the popularity of certain artists of the hour.
Buying YouTube views is very easy. A simple search on the Internet will allow you, in less than two clicks, to reach a large number of websites where we are offered to artificially increase the number of views of the video of our choice. Le Devoir attempted the experiment. For $15 we could add 1000 views to each video. Buying 25,000 would have cost $140 plus a bit. The same offering for the Spotify platform has been detailed at around the same price.
“There are far too many songs being uploaded to the platforms, so fake streaming is a way to differentiate yourself. For an artist just starting out, it allows you to get your head above water and hit a threshold of visibility. It exists in all styles, but it’s evident in rap,” summarizes Suzanne Lortie, a professor in UQAM’s School of Media who studies these listening platforms.
Artists who build their fan base don’t do it to make more money, at least not in the short term. Whether an artist has 10,000, 100,000, or a million streams, they’re just collecting crumbs from those platforms. “The idea is more like having industry recognition. Record labels, festival promoters and radio programmers are all looking for that rare gem in a young artist. […] But it’s also a way of being noticed by the algorithms [des plateformes] and increase their chances of being featured,” says Professor Lortie.
Monstrous or illusory success?
In the world of rap – let alone gangsta rap – there’s a whole war of egos where everyone prides themselves on being the one who draws the most views. On YouTube, it’s not uncommon for clips of sulphurous Quebec rappers who have no media exposure and who have never been programmed at festivals to garner hundreds of thousands of views. It is often much more than, for example, the videos of Hubert Lenoir, one of the most publicized artists in Quebec.
A distortion that might be suspect to Mr. and Mrs. Allen, who aren’t exactly familiar with “Queb Rap.” But for Ariel Block Brisebois, one of the bosses of the record company Joy Ride Records, this should not be proof that the numbers are completely wrong: “The media has no connection to reality. And even if they were, it wouldn’t do any good. We can talk about Hubert Lenoir on TV, but people who watch TV are 60 years old and don’t care about Hubert Lenoir. And if we were talking about rap, they wouldn’t care either. The reality is that everything happens on the internet. This is where people go to discover new artists. It’s no longer on TV or radio. »
However, Ariel Block Brisebois acknowledges that buying fake tunes is commonplace in the Quebec rap world. Joy Ride Records, which notably represents rappers Loud and White-B, claims it never endorsed the practice; Rather, we’re pointing the finger at the big record companies “who have unlimited funds” and who wouldn’t hesitate to give their flight-weary colts a boost.
Difficult to see
A study published in France on Monday by the National Center for Music (CNM) confirms that just over 1% of tracks on Spotify in France in 2021 were found fraudulent and subsequently corrected by the platform. However, the CNM warns that this rate may be grossly underestimated and that buying fake listening devices could allow laundering of “proceeds from illegal or even criminal activities”.
One thing is for sure, the practice mostly affects hip-hop. Of the top 10,000 most popular songs on Spotify in France, almost 85% of the wrong tracks were listed in this category, while rap accounts for just over 50% of the music consumed on the platform.
In Quebec, too, rap is a hit on streaming music platforms. According to the Observatoire de la Culture, four of the ten most-listened-to Quebec artists perform in this style. In 2022, the controversial Enima was the third most popular Quebec artist there, behind Cowboys Fringants and Charlotte Cardin. According to our information, players in the Quebec music industry then questioned the veracity of this success, especially since Enima has never benefited from a real platform due to its many problems with the law.
We can talk about Hubert Lenoir on TV, people who watch TV are 60 years old and don’t care about Hubert Lenoir
Rapolitik podcast host Kevin Calixte has no doubts about the authenticity of Enima’s triumph or that of other popular Quebec rappers. “The fake stream does not affect the top rappers like Enima, Souldia or Loud, but rather those in between. There are people who already have 600,000 views and want to hit the million, so they buy the rest. Does that mean their success is completely fake? no But is it believable? Not anymore,” illustrates the man who calls himself “Keke” in the rap scene.
Live streaming disqualified?
The festival organizers are suspicious in view of the partially fake audience figures (even from established foreign rappers). “We don’t look at the streams at all when we’re programming an artist. We look at his ticket sales, his social media, but not that,” reports Olivier Primeau, promoter of hip-hop festival Metro Metro.
For its part, ADISQ currently does not see the purchase of games on Quebec platforms as a problem: no such situation has been reported to it so far.
“So it’s hard to say if that’s the case here, too. But if that’s the case, the phenomenon shouldn’t be widespread, because listening to Quebec music online is hungry,” notes General Manager Ève Paré.