A few years ago, the topic of producers buying “likes” on Facebook gained traction with some major dance music media outlets, including Dancing Astronaut and MixMag, reporting on the mostly baseless accusations that Skrillex, Excision, David Guetta, Avicii, Deadmau5, and Steve Aoki were up to some shady follower buying campaigns. An image floated around the Internet that displayed a collage of page insights with Mexico City being the common most popular city for each. This, according to the “smart” person who created the image was irrefutable proof that these artists were buying their likes.
There are two major problems with the evidence presented: first, that DJs logged a high number of Facebook follows during a one week period can be a function of a number of factors including, much to the chagrin of our “smart” friend, that the artists may have played or were scheduled to play in Mexico City on or near the dates displayed. When a DJ rolls through any city, traffic spikes. Also, as Excision pointed out in a Facebook response to the post, “The first obvious thing that nearly everyone has gotten wrong when analyzing this image is that this statistic is showing you where the artist has received the most new likes on a given week.”
He goes on to explain that, when compared against his insights overall, fans from Mexico City comprise only 4% of his entire base. Second, Mexico City has a population of about 12 million people, and a large chunk of that population is young, modern, connected, and party savvy with a voracious appetite for dance music. Excision and company are THE most popular DJs in the world, and their brand awareness machinery is so large that they can be omnipresent in every major city on the planet, including Mexico City. Add these factors together, and it’s not an incredible leap of logic to assume that this type of interest would occur.
I’ve interviewed a number of DJs over the years that count Mexico City as their favorite city to play exactly because of how hard those kids go and how much they care about dance music. Theoretically, a DJ could spend an entire month in Mexico City and never play the same club or festival twice. Anyway, as a result of this, the good people at Dancing Astronaut coined the term “Followergate,” and just like that, the world of dance music was embroiled in a good old fashion corruption scandal.
But please, don’t get the impression that I am unaware or otherwise ignoring the fact that this pernicious activity is happening. It is. Everyday. There are plenty of sites you can explore that offer you all the followers you want for a fee. (It would be counterproductive to list them here). But attempting to call out DJs who have already reached critical mass is not where we should be investing our energies. That conversation is done. It’s a non-starter and is as useless as an asshole on your elbow. The real problems with “like” and “follower” black markets are occurring much closer to home with small market DJs, promoters, and music blogs feeling trapped in a system that is becoming increasing nepotistic, unequal, and dehumanizing.
One of the unintended consequences of the expanding EDM marketplace is that businesses that now employ DJs and related services have become more and more reliant on an easily-digested metric of evaluation. That metric, more often than not, is “likes”, “followers”, and “listens.” This dehumanizes the artist by turning him or her into a number, and his or her art is then valued according to that objective metric rather than the subjective human experience with the music produced or the work created. That is categorically wrong.
Not too long ago, someone I know in the industry—a small market DJ and promoter with a very successful weekly—was called out publicly on Facebook for buying his likes. One look at this DJ’s Facebook metrics confirmed the activity; thousands of followers from Turkey were suddenly extremely fond of this DJ even though he had never played outside of the country, let alone Turkey. This led to a good old-fashioned Facebook witch-hunt McCarthy would be proud of. That the ethics of personal integrity are often thrown out the window if it means the gain of a personal advantage is not a new or shocking concept. At the end of the day, though, it was you, you clever like-buyer, that bought all your “devoted” fans in Turkey.
But it’s also worth exploring the nature of how the game is constructed and how attempting to win at this game can cause what philosopher Alain de Botton calls “Status Anxiety.” When promoters and talent bookers place a higher value, consciously or unconsciously, on artists with larger counts, they are changing how our society awards status to dance music artists. This can determine not only the very fate of a small market DJ’s career, but their own self-conception, which is now so dependent on what others—especially talent bookers—think about them. Real money is on the line, after all, and a solid opening or supporting play at one the nations major clubs can launch careers into the stratosphere. As a result, there is an ungodly amount of anxiety budding DJs and producers experience as they try to gain that currency. That kind of pressure often leads to doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons.
But there is an even bigger corruption in thinking that more means better. More certainly does not mean better. And the fallacy in thinking like that turns something as important, diverse, abstract, personal, and fleeting as talent into a number. That thousands of people like something does not mean it is good or right. At one point in history, thousands of Romans liked watching people be eaten by lions in Coliseums, too. Just saying.
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