Are Your Favorite Artists Really Industry Plants?

You see a “struggling artist” playing a song on social media that magically goes viral and next thing you know they’re releasing the song to radio and announcing an album and you think “good for them! What a success!”.

Then you find out that artist signed with an agent, a label, and a lawyer almost a year ago, the song was part of a co-write with today’s top writers, the first 300k “followers” on their socials are bots, and their views are inflated numbers as well just to trick the social algorithm into distributing the snippet further than it would have gone organically. It’s all part of the bait and switch that record labels are using as a launch strategy for young talent. Package them pretty and sell them as an earnest diy success story on the front while carefully curating and promoting their work on the back end.

That’s a plant.

Whiskeychick Country Music Blogger

If you’ve spent any time in the music scene, you’ve probably heard the term “industry plant” thrown around. It’s a hot topic, and for good reason. An “industry plant” is an artist who seems to have been created, groomed, or heavily promoted by major music industry players like record labels, producers, or management companies, but presented to us as if they emerged organically from the grassroots scene. It’s a term that’s almost always dripping with negativity, suggesting that the artist’s success is more about behind-the-scenes manipulation than genuine talent or fan support.

Spotting an Industry Plant

So, how can you tell if an artist is an industry plant? Here are some key characteristics:

  1. Sudden Popularity: These artists often explode onto the scene with a big splash, despite having a relatively unknown background.
  2. Major Label Backing: They might look like indie darlings, but they usually have serious financial and promotional muscle from major labels or industry moguls.
  3. Media Push: From high-profile collaborations to radio play and media coverage, these artists get a lot of attention early in their careers.
  4. Marketing Strategy: Everything from their image to their sound seems meticulously crafted to fit current trends.
  5. Lack of Authenticity: Critics say these artists don’t have the organic growth or authenticity that truly independent musicians usually exhibit.

Notable Examples

1. Walker Hayes

Walker Hayes is a name that pops up when talking about potential industry plants in country music. He had a modest career for years, but his song “Fancy Like” catapulted him into the spotlight overnight. Critics point out several factors:

  • Sudden Popularity: “Fancy Like” became a viral sensation, especially with its TikTok dance challenge, which seemed to come out of nowhere.
  • Major Label Support: Hayes is signed with Monument Records, a division of Sony Music, which provided significant promotional resources.
  • Media Push: His sudden media presence, including high-profile TV appearances and interviews, has led some to question the organic nature of his rise.

2. Gabby Barrett

Gabby Barrett, who gained fame as a finalist on “American Idol,” has also been called an industry plant. Her quick transition from a TV talent show contestant to a country music star has raised eyebrows:

  • Sudden Popularity: Her debut single, “I Hope,” became a massive hit almost immediately, crossing over to pop radio and topping charts.
  • Major Label Support: Barrett signed with Warner Music Nashville, which gave her significant backing and promotional support right from the start.
  • Media Push: She received extensive media coverage and high-profile performance slots early in her career, which some see as disproportionate for a newcomer.

While these artists have undoubtedly worked hard and possess undeniable talent, the speed and scale of their success, combined with substantial industry support, have led to accusations of being industry plants.

Why Should We Care?

Why does the term “industry plant” matter? Here are a few reasons:

  • Authenticity Concerns: Fans and critics cherish authenticity and organic growth. Being labeled an industry plant can seriously dent an artist’s credibility and loyalty among fans. What did the artist give up in order to take the fast-track to fame, and was it worth it?
  • Skipping the Line: There’s a sense of paying dues or slugging through the trenches that we inherently expect artists to go through before getting their big break. Stories of an artists’ struggle to the top help shape the way fans perceive them, and help fans to invest in that artists’ long-term success.
  • Industry Transparency: The term sheds light on how the music industry operates and how success can sometimes be more about who you know than what you can do. I’ve been to many showcases where a new artist is paraded around like the latest product in a constantly evolving line-up of cookie cutter cowboys and it’s honestly so off-putting I stopped going to showcases.
  • Artist Development: It brings into focus the difference between nurturing genuine talent and crafting a star from the top down. I can guarantee you can tell the difference in depth and career longevity between a plant and the real deal.

The Other Side of the Coin

But let’s not get too carried away. There are some solid reasons a newcomer might consider entering the music machine instead of building their own:

  • Support and Investment: Just because an artist has industry backing doesn’t mean they aren’t talented or hardworking. Sometimes, that support is what allows their talent to shine.
  • Changing Industry Norms: The music industry is constantly evolving. Today, strategic promotion and savvy branding are required and part and parcel of an artist’s journey, even for those with genuine talent. Not every great singer or songwriter can manage social media, appearance booking, and getting in the right rooms to make the connections needed to succeed. Is it wrong to take a helping hand when they can?

In summary, calling someone an “industry plant” is a pretty heavy accusation. It suggests that their success is manufactured rather than earned. By this definition, most of today’s artists could be considered “plants” though. The music industry is a complex beast, and success can come from a mix of genuine talent, hard work, and, yes, sometimes a little help from powerful friends. While it’s the music that matters most, would you discount an artists’ success if it came as the result of a bait & switch like this? And who do you think skipped paying their dues and is instead a plant in today’s country music scene?

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