Our regular feature for beginners. This month: Harold Heath says you can take 'fake it till you make it' too far
It used to be that the only reason a DJ needed a fan was to cool down (no doubt because their mixtape was fire). Fast forward to today, and it's a very different matter indeed. Look at a mailer from a DJ agency and you'll see SoundCloud, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter numbers, and Spotify and YouTube plays. 'Fans' are becoming the de facto currency among promoters and agencies, a short-hand measure of popularity and thus a major factor in booking decisions.
This has led to some DJs buying fake fans, with the specific intention of deceiving potential employers. Because let's be clear: paid for fans are literally only good for one thing. They're not going to share your new release or tell others what a great DJ you are. Their sole purpose is to trick promoters into believing that you are more successful than you actually are. It's a calculated con, a fraud to fool people into booking you.
Clubbers, producers, DJs, bloggers, reviewers, journalists, editors, promoters, PR, bookers and agents are all subject to this bizarre false layer of bullshit draped over the reality of the industry. It's a veneer of lazy subterfuge that distorts the view and makes us doubt our own judgement. So here are some reasons not to do it.
1. It's dishonest, and no one likes a liar.
2. By dishonestly inflating your social media numbers, you're giving the next generation of DJs a false idea of what success might look like. This can lead to disillusionment among many young DJs, as well as encouraging more fake-fan buying.
3. We can all see that you're doing it. It's tragic, it's such a transparent technique and more and more people are buying fake fans in plain sight. Scroll down their Twitter followers and you come across huge gluts of non-existent people, with no picture and no biogs, who've never tweeted. The simplest of investigations reveals sudden surges of Mexican likes for a techno artist trying to make a comeback or a sudden increase in Turkish SoundCloud 'fans' who have no discernible interest in dance music.
4. When you buy fake fans, you're contributing to an atmosphere where lying and dishonesty become normalised. And if we let lies like this slide, then we set new low standards of what might be acceptable behaviour in other parts of the industry, too.
But wasn't it always this way?
It has been argued that this situation is the same as it ever was, that the music industry has always used smoke and mirrors. To a degree, this is true. Record companies used to pay middle-aged ladies to bulk buy seven-inch singles into the charts. Management companies bought their artist's digital release into the Beatport Top 10. The difference is that it used to only be the industry who did this, but now, it's an option open to anyone - or at least, to anyone who can afford it.
And that factor - being able to afford to buy fake fans - is the worst part of it all. To manipulate social media figures enough to catch the eye of a promotor or agency, you're going to need to invest a few thousand pounds, perhaps more - which the majority of young and up-and-coming DJs don't have. What this means is that we're in danger of slipping into a culture where many ‘top' DJs are those who've had the money to inflate their fan numbers. Where does this leave the club scene - traditionally a site of opposition to the broader culture - if we're going to allow people to rise simply because they, or their parents, have plenty of disposable income?
For the DJ starting out, working out how best to promote yourself on social media can be a baffling experience. But when it comes to the fake fans question, we'd like to point out a few things. Firstly, remember that many of the numbers you see on your favourite DJs' socials are fake. Secondly, not all promotors look at the numbers: there are still plenty of promotors who book DJs simply because they think they're good DJs. Thirdly, you don't need to get huge numbers of followers and ‘fans'. One genuine engaged fan is worth a thousand fake fans.
Above all, you need to conduct yourself with integrity because - well, mainly so that you can sleep at night. But also, more prosaically, because ours is a tightly knit industry and everyone talks to everyone else. As we've seen this week, the fate of being swiftly hung out to dry on social media awaits anyone who gets busted acting unreasonably - so imagine what would happen to you if you get caught out being dishonest about your fanbase?
As tempting as it may seem to make yourself look more successful, I would strongly advise that you don't waste your time and money.
Words: Harold Heath