Uprooting the Industry Plants

Illustration by Olivia Madrzyk | The Signal

Legitimacy is an important quality within the music industry. The idea of a completely organic rise to fame in the industry is often a key part of establishing an artist’s narrative. Everyone loves a good underdog story. Of course, with an inherent value placed on legitimacy within music circles, it should not be surprising that certain labels have tried to take advantage of this phenomenon.  This concept of fabricated legitimacy has become central to the idea of an industry plant.

A commonly accepted definition in online music spheres is that industry plants refer to people who market themselves as organic while backed by a label that influences their sound, image or direction. The key aspect to this common definition is the implied deception of the advertising of the artists. A recent example of such a fiasco is the story of the Tramp Stamps.

The Tramp Stamps are a pop-punk band that gained traction on TikTok, but this traction soon turned into infamy after some concerning lyrics in their debut single and then the revelations that all the members had jobs in the music industry despite them creating a narrative of all having met in a bar once.

The phrase, industry plant, itself is subject to a lot of general debate. An article done by Complex asked 12 different individuals in the music industry about their opinions on what the phrase means. Generally, the claim industry plant refers to an artist that is touted as having organic growth but is actually backed by a label behind the scenes. The varying definitions mean that the term gets thrown around rather frequently whenever an artist unexpectedly gets popular. These accusations range from musicians who got their fame from anywhere outside of the industry, such as Olivia Rodrigo, to artists such as Chance the Rapper who is not affiliated with any record label.

Where the term gets thrown around the most varies from genre to genre. For example, with pop music, where the industry is constantly attempting to cultivate music for broad consumer tastes, the idea of an industry plant will matter much less. This is in contrast with genres such as rap, where the idea of a legitimate “come up” is a part of many artists’ narratives.

Giving a concrete example of an industry plant is a challenge. By virtue of the negative press that comes with the title, it would be rare to see an artist proudly claim the title of “industry plant” However, it is also easy to see the appeal of why labels might create industry plants. A label can effectively create a mythos around a rising artist that will engage fans.  At the end of the day, what matters most to the average listener will always be how good the music sounds.