Contrary to what we all hope for, blogs and music charts aren’t free from corruption and shady behavior. Within the online community, these sources control a large portion of what would determine the readers’ tastes, opinions, and overall outcomes of many artists that can get a spot. While blog and news sites may create the more detailed coverage, music ranking sites like Hype Machine present a tangible, numbered list to judge certain songs’ current “popularity”. By receiving more hearts than the competitors, tracks within the top 10 can blow up overnight. With such a simple and direct system of tracking, it’s easy to see how the system can be manipulated to favor certain contributors.
If an artist’s PR team or managers decide to barrage a group of listeners with pleads to heart a track, it can instantly break the top 10. Subscribers can also create multiple accounts on HypeM to continue feeding support. While the site has cracked down on these users and established a more secure system of monitoring activity, a new trend has arisen that circumvents their efforts. PR teams are now using their blog connections to underhandedly promote their artists, leading to the appearance of “greater exposure” and subsequently more attention directed toward the track in question.
Anthony Volodkin, founder of Hype Machine, had this to say:
A few years have passed since I’ve written about our approach to Hype Machine’s Popular charts.
Since that post, we’ve prevented hundreds of artists and marketing teams from gaining an unfair advantage on our site. It’s disappointing, but it comes with the territory of maintaining a music chart that remains closely watched six years later. This has helped millions of people find some truly incredible music through each of the blogs in our index.
More recently, we’ve become concerned over some new patterns on music blogs themselves.
A handful of labels and PR outlets have focused their efforts on illicitly gaining coverage on Hype Machine-indexed blogs. The most common approach is to become a contributor at an established blog and post their clients (or clients their friends are promoting). For maximum impact, the same person would then get a spot at multiple blogs to create the appearance of broader support for the release. In some cases, the people running these blogs were aware of this, in others these discoveries have come as a surprise.
We have stopped indexing blogs that support such behavior or do not select their writers carefully. There are a few reasons why it’s important for us that this does not continue on Hype Machine:
• You should be able to listen to a track knowing that it was posted because the writer thinks it’s good—not because they’re a client.
• By creating a false sense of popularity for their artists, marketers can manipulate you into liking the music they are paid to promote. For example, if a track has been posted by many blogs, some of which are well-established, it is more likely to be heard and gain momentum through repetition. This encourages more blogs to post these artists, and the cycle repeats.
While blogs are an integral part of music marketing in 2015, we want to support bloggers, labels, and PR agencies that operate with integrity.
From one end of the spectrum, it makes sense that certain bloggers take this route. They aren’t making enough money writing articles for their site, and choose to branch out into areas of promotion, management, and PR in order to pay the bills. They succeed if their artist does, so they use their blog stature to help boost their image. This overly casual manipulation of one’s resources, however, is exactly why we see certain artists getting an unfair advantage in the charts. Pigeons and Planes put it best when they said, “The old rules of journalistic integrity don’t fully apply to kids who consider themselves bloggers and who have no interest in being journalists.” By using blog outlets as another tool for one’s personal gain, it quickly becomes clear that the quality of the music or genuine belief in its potential have nothing to do with its promotion or chart success. It’s about advancing oneself, and wrongfully swaying the public’s eye in a direction you’ve chosen for them.
It’s for this reason that I can’t condemn HypeM for banning such blogs from their index. The site is striving to present a pure, accurate representation of solid, upcoming music, and is deciding to take back control of the system for doing so. As Anthony says, blog writers should only promote the music that they think is good and never favor artists simply because they’re working together. All music bloggers, no matter their later actions, got into the business because they loved the music and hoped to contribute to its spread. When this innocent ideal becomes compromised by shortcuts and money-driven manipulation, we abandon what brought us here in the first place.