This is one of the most 2022 stories involving the music industry that you’ll find: terrible DJs concoct a scheme to create fake musical careers so random schmoes can get verified on Instagram.

Jewelers, plastic surgeons, reality TV actors and OnlyFans models were allegedly the beneficiaries of a long-running “million dollar instagram verification scheme,” receiving their blue check marks largely by pretending to be house music artists, according to a report.

Craig Silverman and Bianca Fortis have a longform investigation up on ProPublica outlining how “hundreds” of wannabe influencers allegedly faked music careers in order to obtain the coveted checkmark. The scheme, ProPublica found, “exploited music platforms like Spotify and Apple Music, as well as Google search, to create fake musician profiles.”

The music on these profiles were “often nothing more than basic looping beats, or, in at least one case, extended periods of dead air.”

To be clear: none of these people were musicians. They were aspiring reality TV stars, surgeons, jewelers — people united by their craving for fame. It was just easier for the promoters of the scheme to get them verified by crafting fake musical careers than on the merits of what they actually do.

To add substance to their claims of being notable music producers, the promoters of the scheme would instruct them to take selfies in DJ booths and with expensive cars (the patented “Lambo Lean”) and then fork over some cash in the suddenly booming industry of paying for interviews and profiles on supposedly reputable music websites:

The people running the scheme also purchased articles promoting fake artists and their music on websites, including hip-hop publications like The Source and ThisIs50.com, a music and culture site affiliated with rapper 50 Cent. They often bought fake comments and likes for clients’ Instagram posts to make the accounts look popular and purchased fake streams for songs on Spotify, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the operation.

 

After ProPublica began asking questions, Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta began removing the verification badges and confirmed the involvement of Dillon Shamoun, a “Miami-based aspiring DJ and would-be crypto entrepreneur.” Following Meta’s ban, Shamoun denied involvement and told ProPublica the scheme is the work of “Adam Quinn, a prominent Instagram creator who previously worked with mega-influencer and boxer Jake Paul.” Quinn acknowledged his role in the scheme while claiming Shamoun controlled the process in which clients “typically paid $25,000 to verify an account, though Shamoun has a t times charged more than $100,000, according to Quinn.”

The music for the fake musicians was likely purchased on Fiverr. ProPublica’s piece has screenshots of the doctored Spotify pages, the Google Knowledge panels that were generated from them and samples of the music, which sounds like the kind of thing DALL-E would make if you asked for “really fucking awful dance music.”

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ProPublica alleges that Shamoun is from the Detroit area and “has performed as a DJ under the name ‘Not Dillon’ As early as 2020, he began placing paid articles to promote himself and his ambitions in the music industry.” They also found his old SoundCloud account.

“When he spoke to a ProPublica reporter this month, he claimed to have sold a major music festival to Live Nation. He declined to name the festival or provide additional information to back that up.”

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash