Should artists pay to play? Two new music discovery app services are calling for artists to pay to upload their music for a chance to be discovered. Popular Chicago music blogs Fake Shore Drive (FSD) and What’s The Word TV have teamed up with xwave and Breakr, respectively, to solicit new content through two music contests. 

Named “Full Service Sessions with Fake Shore Drive” and “What’s the Buzz Live Contest!,” both contests offer marketing and other types of exposure to the winning artist at a time when Chicago’s hip-hop landscape is seemingly growing rapidly. But knowing the history of the music industry and its exploitation of artists, we had to ask: is it safe for them to upload their music to these platforms? 

On Jan. 26, we hit up Barber to discuss his announcement of the “Full Service Sessions with Fake Shore Drive” contest in partnership with xwave. According to the contest rules, the winning artist will receive a music project mentorship with Barber, who will help the artist put their project together from “A to Z.”

Asked if artists uploading their music to xwave was a good idea, FSD founder Andrew Barber said, “Yeah, why not?” Artists upload their music submissions directly through xwave, a music discovery app that connects artists with tastemakers and new fans. The submission fee is $20.

 

“This is just strictly something I thought would be good. In a time like this, it’s never been easier to write and record music,” Barber said. “It’s harder to get noticed because there’s so much noise out there. So I thought it would be cool. We kind of help mentor an artist, and just explain how the business works.”

On Jan. 25, media platform What’s the Word TV announced a similar contest, called “What’s the Buzz Live Contest!” Founded by Cordaro Mckee (a.k.a. Cody Mack), who also works at radio station Power 92, What’s the Word TV is a Chicago destination for hip-hop and culture news. On Jan. 27, we spoke to Mack about the contest, which has a $50 submission fee.

“What we’re gonna do outside of us rating the music and talking and critiquing the music, we are going to be giving gems about the music industry. So this is not just going to be a one-time contest,” said Mack. “The goal for this is to keep this going, and to be able to keep funding it.”

Mack noted that many independent artists fall prey to being taken advantage of and said that’s not his intention with creating this contest. “When artists come to me for promotion or anything I always want to be able to get [them] something tangible, just listening to music is not it,” he said. 

However, the moment an artist uploads their music to xwave or Breakr, they are agreeing to a broad set of legal terms with those streaming apps. Because artists typically don’t read the fine print, we spoke with Edward Wimp, an Orlando-based attorney and Chicago native who specializes in entertainment and civil rights. 

Both deals are not in the best interest of artists, said Wimp. After reading the fine print for both streaming partners, he said the deals in both contests could “leave the artist very vulnerable to being taken advantage of and having their work stolen.”

Wimp believes that both contests are risky propositions for artists to become involved. 

“Generally, somebody pays the artist to use the song. But in this scenario, you’re paying somebody to let them use the song,” he said. “What they’re giving in consideration, you know, for that is the exposure that may or may not come with it.”

Artists who submit to “What’s the Buzz Live Contest!” would retain ownership of the work they’re licensing, Wimp said. However, the monies made from that license would not be in the hands of the artist; it would remain in the hands of Breakr. 

“Breakr has the right to sublicense the work, meaning, you know, let’s say there’s a third party. Breakr can then [use] the license they have over the music. They can then sublicense to another party,” Wimp said. “So there’s no telling how many times your music can get sublicensed and spread around.”

As for the Fake Shore Drive contest, Wimp noted that Barber will have to narrow down dozens — if not hundreds or thousands — of submissions to one winner. For the artists who weren’t chosen, the streaming site will keep their submission fee, which becomes a significant profit at $20 per submission. 

“Once you agree to this, that music is in their hands,” said Wimp in reference to Fake Shore Drive’s contest, where xwave would have the licensing rights to the music submission. “They can reproduce that [music], modify, transmit or distribute [it]. They can basically broker your music for you or use a substantial chunk of your music and remix it into something that you don’t like.”

Full Service Sessions with Fake Shore Drive is a Fake Shore Drive contest in partnership with xwave. Click the image to read the contest rules on licensing.
More language found in the Artist Terms of Use for Heir. Xwave is the latest tech venture from Heir. Click the image to read more.

Could this be a new form of payola, the illegal practice of paying to get your music on the radio? Both Breakr and xwave are new music discovery platforms, with the former launching in September 2020. According to Barber, xwave is the latest tech venture from Heir, an app co-founded by G.O.O.D. Music president and rapper Pusha-T in 2018 that allows users to act as tastemakers and vote for their favorite tracks. 

While their contest submission fees are pretty affordable, Wimp said this practice isn’t a new trend.

“This isn’t really that much different [than payola]. Only, this is legal. This is paying to have your song on a streaming platform,” Wimp explained. “So when you ask if it’s a rising trend, I don’t think this is a new concept. I think people have been doing this for a while. It’s just legal now, and people aren’t hiding it, and people are talking about it. And people are soliciting it, you know, these companies are…posting for people to pay and submit their music for [it] to be listened to,” Wimp explained.

When we spoke to Barber about “Full Service Sessions with Fake Shore Drive,” he said the goal of the contest is to help mentor an artist in how to navigate the music business. 

“I think a lot of people think people come in the business and understand everything, and they may not know that they can do cover art this way or they need to get their songs mixed or they can work with different people and there’s different opportunities for distribution and exposure,” Barber said. “So it’s really just kind of to teach them and help welcome people into the music business.”

Barber founded Fake Shore Drive back in 2007. Since then, it has become a major media outlet for Chicago and Midwest music. Barber also started managing Chicago rapper Valee after the success of his 2016 track, “Shell,” which was later re-released in 2018 on his Good Job, You Found Me EP after signing with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music label. 

With the “Full Service Sessions with Fake Shore Drive” contest, he’ll narrow down the submissions to 20 contestants and then “pick the artist that I like the best or maybe catches me the most.” Barber said he has no plans of starting his own music label or managing the winner of the contest. 

“I don’t necessarily plan on distributing their music or anything like that,” Barber said. “I would just be promoting them via my, like, social media and things like that.” He declined to disclose whether he was being paid for this partnership. 

 

A flyer for What's the Word TV's submission contest.

For “What’s the Buzz Live Contest!,” artists who submit their work will be judged by CodyMack, What’s the Word Hip-Hop News host Corli Jay and Power 92’s BreeSpecific.  

Although their contest surfaced around the same time as Fake Shore Drive’s, Mack said their contest idea came about last summer. 

“And I just put it into motion,” Mack said. “Recently, we got approved to do it with our partners. So it was good to put it out now. And then, at the time, it was right because Breakr had just launched so that was good.”

The “What’s the Buzz Live Contest!” is geared more towards artist promotion, giving the winner a $5,000 digital and radio marketing campaign that includes single promotion on the radio and a guest appearance on What’s the Word Live.

“DTLR Radio is gonna blast the record, [and] possibly do an interview as well. What’s the Word will do a special interview. [For] Power 92, we’re gonna purchase advertising so that you can get your record promoted.”

Asked about the $50 submission fee, Mack said, “One reason why we’re charging $50 bucks [is] because everything that’s being funded to this is coming out of our pocket. So for the radio promotion, like, it’s illegal to pay someone to [play your music]. But for us to pay for radio advertisement, it’s not illegal.”

When it boils down to it, Wimp said he wouldn’t advise a client to submit to the contest. 

“I wouldn’t personally do it. I wouldn’t advise a client to do it,” he said. “Do I think that nobody should do it? You know, I think that with any deal, there’s a potential benefit. It could work out a tastemaker, so to speak, on this platform, could pick a song up and the song could get huge.”

is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.
is the host of "We Real Chicago" on TRiiBE TV.