Quiet Is the New Loud
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The ‘Fan’ Who Wasn’t There: Why the Strange Case of Threatin Is Not So Unusual
IT is not often you get something lighthearted to report in music…
where you can all get together with the same reaction: This is just plain weird, right?! Maybe it is not such a joke for those who have been scammed and mislead but many might be familiar with the rather odd case of Threatin and the fact they – or ‘he’ – has been touring and promising all these fans, sales and big shows. It was, in fact, an illusion and something that makes one wonder why he went to such lengths. Here are the details regarding the story:
“With hundreds of ticket sales, legions of social media followers and adoring messages posted online from teenage fans, Californian metal band Threatin appeared more than ready to conquer the UK music scene.
Venue managers liaised with an apparent booking agent and record label, gladly signing them up in the hope of sell-out crowds.
The reality was a rather different story. This band was unknown, they had no fans and no management.
They toured the country playing to completely empty gig venues and as they did so last week, their story began to unravel.
The band, and in particular the sole permanent member Jered Threatin, has been accused of creating a fake legion of fans in order to land the UK tour.
Rob Moore, singer and guitarist in hardcore punk band Dogsflesh, which supported Threatin in Newcastle to an audience of four people, said: “The effort that he's gone to to portray himself as a big star is quite phenomenal...
"In all the years I've been involved in music I've never known anything like this.”
The band Kamino, which supported Threatin in Bristol, said they began to do their own digging and allege that the entire tour was based on fabrications stemming from paid social media “likes” for each show.
“Having delved deeper we realised the same practices were in place on his YouTube channel, his Facebook page, even on previous US tour dates listed on his website,” they wrote online.
“And when looking more closely at his website - all the industry contacts listed don't exist. Essentially, the entire history of Threatin is a lie”.
It seems Threatin’s figurehead enjoyed playing to near-empty venues and seemed to get some strange kick off of promulgating this ruse and having barely anyone turn up. Looking at the cover designs for his music and the aesthetics and there is something a bit Spinal Tap about it! If it were a fake Popstar or Folk artist, someone who looked the real deal, then it would be more baffling but, looking at the whole Threatin project, and it does seem like this rather comical and weird conceit. There are tweets and videos going around of this band playing to empty venues and seemingly enjoying themselves. Whilst the saga is over and they cancelled their last couple of dates, one wonders what the impact is on venues.
This is one of those weird-as-crap situations that, like a nuclear disaster, one hopes they do not have to see again! The fact that Threatin successfully managed to dupe venues and purport this rather elaborate hoodwink makes me wonder whether it will start a trend. Maybe the goal was for this grand hoax to generate more publicity and curiosity than the music ever would – which is rather sh*t to be honest – and get some sort of odd ‘curiosity fame’. Like hostages being drawn into this odd and rather interesting situation; one does not hope the band is given any record deals and undue publicity after this. The venues that have been misled have shown anger and relief and, aside from a bit of humour here and there, it has been a bit embarrassing. In cases where the band played in the U.K. and Europe, it seemed like the venues were paid but the fact they reserved an entire evening to this band and had no bar sales and any other revenue means a lot of money has been lost. It seems amusing and bizarre from the outside but it makes me curious as to whether, going forward, venues will need some way of corroborating bands/artists’ stories of fanbases/ticket sales. The vast majority of artists out there are legitimate and do not go to such ridiculous lengths to get gigs but, if there are benefits and profits to be made by Threatin – maybe people will buy their music out of sheer curiosity – then struggling and anonymous bands might try the same thing.
I hope we do not see anything like this again because it looks bad for the venues and they have to lose a night that could have gone to a genuine act. It is embarrassing for the support artists who were hoping for exposure and new fans and the whole charade is a bit mystifying and strange. There was no situation where the band would have got money and positive media attention. They faked ticket sales and fan numbers on social media and there is no way they can come back from it. Threatin are not going to suddenly see those fake numbers replaced by real fans and get gigs off the back of this. Although there has been nothing quite as stupefying and film-worthy as this – maybe that was the plan?! – it is not unusual for artists to exaggerate their worth and popularity. It has been happening for a few years but I wonder why any artist would buy online followers and go to these kinds of lengths. It seems, in the modern market, Facebook and Twitter numbers are more important than the quality of the music. Whereas genuine artists can create great music and get fans that way; there is this whole other world where people are buying followers to boost their numbers; it makes them seem more attractive and huge and, for sites like Spotify that have a bare-minimum membership in terms of followers – this has recently changed – it is a duplicitous and scurvy way of going about things.
It is not just buying followers and that side that bands employ. Some artists publicise hoaxes and use them to gain traction:
“Most people only learned of L.A. band Yacht when its members claimed to be revenge porn victims in May 2016. In a fake effort to get ahead of a leaked sex tape (which later turned out to be a dull music video posted on PornHub), Yacht announced it would be selling copies of it for $5. But Jezebel then revealed the hoax for what it was and the band issued an apology”.
Some say buying followers and taking a rather nasty route in is okay. This article argues some positive aspects:
“When explaining why I believe purchasing social media followers is a good thing, I always use the analogy of a party.
Nobody wants to go to a party until there are plenty of people there and it’s in full force, right? But if that’s the case, how is one supposed to get a party started? The same can be said for your Twitter or Instagram page. Why would anybody want to click the follow button on an account with 25 followers, even if the content seems to be great upon first glance?
Feel free to invite all of your friends and pre-existing fans to join you in these places, and then do a quick Google search to see about upping those numbers. You don’t need many, and in fact, why purchasing, you should do so intelligently. If you are an artist with only a few songs out and yet you have 50,000 followers on Twitter—we’ve all seen these people—nobody is going to believe you, and your efforts will end up backfiring, making you look like a fool in the process...
PHOTO CREDIT: @sharonmccutcheon/Unsplash
Think before you buy.
Will 500 followers make you look appear to be on your way? 1,000? Maybe start with one and eventually spend your way to that second figure? There are many different ways to go about this, but you need to be aware that people are going to quickly glance at your follower counts and judge you instinctively based on them.
Now, you may be thinking that this is all an exercise in vanity, and I’d say you’re right, but only partially. Having a respectable follower count on popular platforms shows that some people have invested in you, if even in some small way (and even if they aren’t real, but that’s just between you and I). It tells those that might be potentially interested in booking you to play a venue, a festival, or even to sign to a label that there are people out there that are interested, and that there might actually be something to the artist in front of them”.
There is this argument – for those who buy followers – that promoters, venues and streaming sites have a minimum number when it comes to followers and fans. It can lead artists to buy these followers and create fake profiles. This article from 2016 brought together Music Consultant and Internet marketing veteran Tony Harris regarding whether musicians should buy followers:
“As Twitter’s dominance as a platform reaches its apex, the phenomenon of fake profiles have emerged, and the tens of millions of bot accounts created by marketers are flooding Twitter with spam and noise. Thousands of fake accounts are created weekly, diluting and distorting the effect of this large community. As auditing tools allow more transparency into the authenticity of accounts, it becomes more and more crucial not just to build numbers, but quality followers – the ones that have true value as influencers, brand ambassadors and people who engage and spread awareness of the brand. The illusion of a massive following is often just that, with the reality being that only a fraction of the perceived audience ever sees content tweeted from the account. There’s usually an even larger number of inactive or low-quality followers, that are real users but not likely to see or share or engage in the content. I was quoted in this Associated Press article about the Fake Follower Industry. (You can find that article here)...
PHOTO CREDIT: @freestocks/Unsplash
It seems like everywhere you turn these days, you need to have a lot of followers on social media in order to get noticed. It’s not just talent scouts who are looking. If you want to get press coverage, there’s no story unless you have a big following. It’s democratized eyeballs. A periodical will not necessarily even write about an artist unless they know the artist retweeting or sharing that interview will bring them a certain number of eyeballs. Press people and journalists, booking agents, A&R people, talent scouts – all these people now need to see a huge following on social media in order to take interest in an artist”.
There are plenty of articles that argue against paying for followers because, in a tough and competitive market, it is unfair for talented artists who cannot afford to buy fans be overtaken by people who take a quicker route:
“To the untrained eye, social media numbers are important. However, if you delve, you'll notice inconsistencies. For example, a band may have a ton of "followers," but few likes on their photos. Alternately, a band may have lots of Soundcloud plays on a particular song, but few comments.
The music market is a brutal one. Any advantage, even an inflated or false one, could result in an opportunity not otherwise had. However, at some point, if you cheat, it will all fall apart for you. Potentially, in a very embarrassing way, like at a gig. Not only is cheating unfair to other bands, but funding endeavours that enable you to cheat causes a complex problem in the music market...
I am an advocate of any media that attempts to create a new stream of income for musicians, especially after the destruction of the CD market. Radio-like streaming services such as Spotify, Rdio and so on, hold a lot of promise; they compensate artists per song play. Some argue that they don't compensate artists enough. However, these services represent the promise of a new way for musicians to make money.
My fear is: will schemes that allow people to buy popularity proliferated into other areas of the market? Could they destroy promise of new income streams for musicians?”.
Whilst this is not quite the same as Threatin and what they did; there is all manner of fakery and exaggerated numbers online. You are never too sure whether the Facebook and Twitter numbers are real and whether we are too dependent on numbers. When all is said and done; campaigns, gigs and promotion should be based around genuinely great music that does not need misleading social media numbers and any sort of paid marketing. I often feel like streaming figures and follower numbers is the exact opposite of truth and appeal. The artists with fairly moderate and realistic follower numbers tend to be the best. These mainstream artists with millions of followers seem, on the surface, to be the best and top of music but their actual sounds are average and overly-commercial. It might be naïve of me but I wonder whether music has become too numbers-driven and business-minded. Given the number of people coming into music; is it possible to have a purely talent-based system where quality gets you where you need to be? The case of Threatin seems weird and a one-off but there are plenty of artists buying their fanbase and paying to make themselves more popular than they really are. I think it all needs to stop and there needs to be some system where bands/artists buying followers needs to be stamped out. Let’s hope the pantomime of Threatin does not lead to impersonators and repeat performances but, if you look close enough, there are plenty of other artists out there who are...
PHOTO CREDIT: @rawpixel/Unsplash
NOT all they seem.