Artists who make it big in pop music break into the industry in different ways. But one increasingly popular way is through social media platforms like YouTube and SoundCloud. Scooter Braun is said to have discovered Justin Bieber accidentally when he clicked on one of his YouTube videos. Other artists build up a following on sites like YouTube or SoundCloud until their growing popularity catches the eye of a music executive who quickly signs them. Post Malone, as an example, was discovered when one of his songs took off on SoundCloud. Singer Conan Gray gained a fanbase vlogging about small-town Texas life on YouTube and used his growing following to launch his music career. He can now boast a few hundred million streams of his songs. Despite her appearance on America's Got Talent in 2010, it was the YouTube channel she started in 2007 that turned Lindsey Stirling into a successful music act.
The rise of Post Malone, Conan Gray, and Lindsey Stirling was organic. They created an online presence, people found them, and through word-of-mouth their popularity spread. However, not everyone who gets their big break on YouTube or SoundCloud is without label backing. Lorde was already signed to Universal Music Group (UMG) when her The Love Club EP was released for free on SoundCloud. Because Lorde was completely unknown, the label was concerned about investing in an official release of the EP. When it was downloaded 60,000 times, the label felt confident pushing ahead with an official release.
What Is an Industry Plant?
An industry plant is someone whose rise appears organic but was actually carefully coordinated by a record label who paid for placement or paid influencers to get the word out. The label's role is hidden from the public. This isn't the case with Lorde. Her connections to UMG weren't hidden from the public, which means she couldn't be labeled an industry plant. Her industry connections were always out in the open.
Khalid is often cited as an example of an industry plant. He got his break on SoundCloud, but there are accusations the buzz around him was orchestrated by his future record label, rather than happening organically. Whether that's true or not is hard to tell. His fans argue that there was organic interest in Khalid before labels took notice. The Kanye To The forum has a post titled "Khalid or Juice WRLD who is a bigger industry plant" that has an interesting discussion around the topic of these artists being industry plants and whether or not it matters.
In 2017, Khalid responded to the accusation of being an industry plant on Twitter.
"Don't be mad at me bc I work hard LMFAO you should work hard too"
Billie Eilish has also been accused of being an industry plant. She first got noticed when her dance teacher asked her and her brother Finneas to record a song for a dance routine. Finneas was already in a band at the time. That song was called Ocean Eyes and it blew up. The manager for Finneas's band then took an interest in Billie. She also had other connections. Both of her parents work in the film industry.
But do these connections really mean she was an industry plant? Not necessarily. Doors opened more easily for her than they would have for most other people because of the connections her parents and brother already had. That doesn't necessarily mean anyone was pulling the strings to create buzz for Ocean Eyes. In fact, connections in and of themselves don't guarantee anything. After all, plenty of kids from similar backgrounds make music (Jaden Smith, as an example.) But they don't blow up and achieve the kinds of success and acclaim that Billie Eilish is enjoying.
Ocean Eyes by Billie Eilish first appeared on SoundCloud
Considering that pop music and pop artists are often manufactured, it may come as a surprise that being labeled an industry plant is an issue for many listeners. In the past, most artists sent out demos to record labels. When they got signed, the labels created buzz to grab the public's attention. Every major artist was an industry creation. The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory is an eye-opening book about how the industry works.
But authenticity becomes an issue when someone is pretending to make it on their own when in reality a record label was behind them all along pulling the strings. People don't like to be lied to. A person who makes it on their own may seem more talented or deserving. An artist who becomes famous without a label's help may seem to be in control of their sound and image. Unlike someone who has been nurtured by a label, the person who made it on their own seems to be coming from a position of strength. They already have power and control over their careers because they have an established fanbase before signing a contract.
However, this may not be completely true. Lorde signed to a label at the age of 12, yet has clearly been in control of her sound and her long drawn out release schedules. And an artist who grew a fanbase organically may feel pressured to change their look or sound when a label comes into the picture. Someone who is desperate for a music career may bend to the will of a label if it guarantees more success, even if they already have a large following.
How a pop star made it may not actually count for much. Ultimately, if you enjoy someone's music, their path into the industry shouldn't blunt the value you get from it.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2020 LT Wright
LT Wright (author) from California on March 07, 2020:
Raymond Philippe. Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it.
Raymond Philippe from The Netherlands on March 07, 2020:
This was an interesting read.