“The world rarely sees so much talent wrapped up into one person,” reads LA-based heavy metal outfit Threatin’s bio on Spotify. With a statement as absurd as that, one has to ask if bandleader Jered Threatin is casting himself as some sort of cartoonish musical villain intentionally.
The one-man band has been at the center of a huge amount of negative press coverage this week for tricking European venues into believing he’d sold hundreds of tickets for shows on his tour only to play to completely empty rooms upon arrival. But the deception is said to have gone much further than lying about ticket sales and is reported to involve everything from the musician editing videos to inflate crowd sizes to purchasing positive YouTube comments.
Major press outlets like BBC News and The Guardian alongside tastemaking music blogs have picked up the story, universally portraying Threatin as a hapless narcissist. But with so much international attention being devoted to the previously unknown band, does it mean that the stunt actually worked? Threatin seems to think so.
In a tweeted statement released earlier today through Threatin’s official Twitter account, the controversial musician portrayed himself as being a puppet master of sorts while asking the world to define what fake news is:
“What is Fake News? I turned an empty room into an international headline. If you are reading this, you are part of the illusion.”
The previously hidden fake social media follower economy has been dragged into the light in recent years. A New York Times exposé found that over 200,000 customers including many well-known celebrities, politicians and musicians currently use a company called Devumi to manage their fake social media followings. The company offers fake Twitter followers, YouTube views and even plays on the music-streaming platform Soundcloud.
Procuring a fake social media following isn’t anything new in the music industry, but faking an entire tour is more or less unprecedented. And where buying followers, which is largely frowned upon and typically seen as desperate, usually doesn’t result in many real life consequences, Threatin’s stunt brought a host of negative impacts for everyone involved. Though Threatin paid a “hire fee” to cover venue costs in advance — thus ensuring he’d be allowed to play each show no matter the crowd size — the venues and scheduled opening bands were promised nights with big crowds only to find that virtually no tickets had actually been sold. Word of Threatin’s bizarre antics began circulating when the venues he exploited took to social media to air their grievances.
Added onto the list of offended parties are the backing musicians Threatin hired to accompany him on the tour, who apparently had no idea they were part of a scam until it was well underway. Once the news broke about Threatin’s shady promotional tactics, guitarist Joe Prunera and drummer Dane Davis quit the band mid-tour. As of right now, bassist Gavin Carney has yet to jump ship. The tour dates on Threatin’s website have yet to be canceled, and it’s not clear if — or how — the band will follow through with playing the remaining dates on its tour.
But not everyone is upset. According to BBC News, a promoter working for a London venue where Threatin recently played tried to invite him back to play again only to find that she’d been blocked by him on Twitter. “I don’t know what his point was. I thought he wanted fame and he’s famous now.”
After Threatin’s story went viral, it’s easy for him to claim that the outcome was exactly what he’d wanted all along but much harder to understand what he’d hoped playing a fake tour would achieve in the first place. At the moment, the world seems to love hating Threatin, but that negative attention is still positive as far as the numbers go. At the start of the controversy, Threatin’s top song on Spotify was under 1,000 plays. Now, it’s up to 6,000, a 600% increase in under a week. Because Threatin’s been accused of purchasing YouTube views, it’s not clear how many real views his song “Living Is Dying” has racked up over the platform, but it’s been viewed more than 100,000 times in recent days with comments recently posted that appear genuine.
But between the cost of procuring shows at each venue and the money it took to hire professional musicians and fly them to Europe, it’s not likely Threatin will recoup his sizable investment anytime soon. Did the stunt actually work? Like with the fake news phenomenon Threatin claims to have masterfully leveraged, it all depends on what you choose to believe.