The Definition of an Industry Plant

Is staying an independent artist worth it? Look into the definition of an industry plant to find out.
Oct 23, 2022
5 min
10/20/2020

As time progresses, the transparency behind record labels increases in relation to the average viewer. One topic that surfaces often is the concept of an Industry Plant. While most successful artists are associated with the entertainment industry in some way or form, industry plants are given more — warranted and unwarranted — stigma.

Google’s Definition

This article addresses the concept of an industry plant in relation to the average viewer. It’s important to recognize that each “average viewer” has a varying definition of what an industry plant is. Google describes an “industry plant” as “an artist who appears to have slowly accumulated a loyal fan base over a significant length of time, but upon closer inspection, has no clear origin story”. Examples cited as fitting this example include Chance the Rapper, Post Malone, Lil Yachty, Trinidad James, Lil Pump and Drake. This definition — in relation to the "Average Viewer's Definition" — is partially correct, but lacks clarity.

One issue with Google's Definition is that the concept of an "origin story" is faulty. Origin stories can be many things such as an artist’s previous or current life, their fanbase growth, etc. However, many origin stories are fake, such that the interpretation of origin stories showcases flaws in Google’s Definition. To be specific, Google's Definition states that someone who IS NOT an industry plant HAS gained a loyal fan base over time and has a clear origin story. With this logic, it doesn’t matter if an artist is signed or unsigned, but rather that they grew a loyal fan base over a significant length of time.

Average Viewer's Definition

Times change fast in the Information Age and definitions are no exception. Instead of using Google’s Definition, let's look at the opinion's of media and influencers to create a definition that the "average viewer" tends to adopt. Based on four videos regarding the topic, we can assume that a colloquial industry plant has the following qualities.

  1. Successful due to a label (Industry Plants are a Bad Thing).
  2. Fills a niche or features a gimmick; marketed for business purposes (Industry Plants are Not What You Think).

In these cases, an industry plant DOES entail a connection with a record label; in relation to artistic creation or success. As a result, independent artists are exempt from being “industry plants”. Note that this definition DOES NOT include time as a factor to determining whether an artist is an industry plant. The reality is that artist growth is closer to an exponential model (where smaller fanbase = smaller growth and larger fanbase = larger growth) more than a linear model (where fanbase growth is constant). This is compounded by the era we live in (where market growth is exponential), and the way an artist is paid (months AFTER the stream occurs). Add in psychological concepts such as social proof and you will see why it's uncommon for an artist to experience linear growth. This means that an artist will look like they “blew up” even if it took them years to get to their current level.

An Average Viewer Oversight

Term 2 of the average viewer's definition of an industry plant factors whether an artist fills a niche or features a gimmick. While it may not be obvious to the average viewer, every successful artist fits one of these criteria. In two of the average viewer's videos, Iann Dior was commonly cited as an artist who was NOT an industry plant, since he lacks an obvious gimmick. However, it's clear that he resides in the Emo Hip-hop niche. The reality is that every artist has some sort of “gimmick” (a topic in its own right) and defining industry plants by this standard brings the definition of one down to who YOU think fills a niche; despite every successful artist doing so.

Term 1 essentially categorizes every successful signed artist as an industry plant (which can be true) unless they were successful prior to signing. When it comes to music creation, a misconception is that artists do everything themselves. The truth is most artists (big, small, independent, signed) who make GOOD music have more than one person involved (songwriters, mixing, mastering engineers, executive producers). Just as diverse businesses perform better (from a larger talent pool, more innovation, and better customer service), more people involved in a project make it better. This results in the long line of names in the credits of projects you listen to (such as Beyonce’s Songwriter Army), and is NOT limited to POP. Certain artists don’t even have a hand in the music they release, and are only involved in its delivery (i.e Rihanna).

It could be argued that an artist being assisted in songwriting (for higher quality music) isn’t entirely indicative that their success is solely because of their label. On the contrary, it can also be argued that the creative control and marketing that a label (usually) provides makes them successful.

Is The Stigma Warranted?

Using the "Average Viewer's Definition", most successful artists (that the average viewer listens to) ARE industry plants. In the modern day, the resources required to present your creative ideas and market them effectively are available, but it's not realistic for independent artists to have them. This is why the stigma for an artist being an industry plant is unwarranted on its own. The main issue is that certain industry plants falsely claim independence. This not only misleads those who follow the dreams that the plant has achieved, but also devalues the work of those who AREN’T industry plants.

Does the stigma even matter? Average viewers praise modern technology as the beginning of the end for Record Labels. However, Record Labels won't be phased out by artists that decide not to sign with them. Record Labels will only be phased out when they underperform in relation to other developments and become unprofitable. If anything, the average viewer is contradicting themselves: Independent Artists compete with large teams (covered in this document) to achieve the same amount of success an industry plant does. Since people are uncomfortable investing in artists outside of a record label, most independent artists don’t have the resources to run these bigger operations. As a result, it’s likely that “industry plants” will continue to dominate music consumption.

A World Without Industry Plants

You may oppose the existence of the industry plant if equality in music is your concern. You may even suggest eliminating industry plants altogether. However, this would lower the chance for poor people to be successful. Labels pick artists as an investment — with modern times dictating recurring streaming numbers as a deciding factor — which means that artists who promote themselves better have an advantage. Having more money allows you to promote yourself better. Therefore, a world with no popular industry plants may be replaced by a world full of popular upper-class musicians (which may already be the case). Industry Plants are a product of nepotism which is able to flourish in our current economic ideologies and laws.

The Big Three

One thing people must keep in mind is that major record companies signed 658 acts in 2017 (RIAA). Under the average viewer's definition, any of these acts who become successful are industry plants. When you sign 658 acts annually and market them, there is a high chance that you will own a successful industry-backed artist. To put this — Record Label domination — in perspective, a list of major record companies and the number of FEATURED acts is provided below.

LabelFeatured ActsNotes
Universal Music1,010 (Wikipedia)
Warner Music573 (Script)Some acts are sub-labels which contain more acts.
Sony Music24 (Script) + 118 (Columbia)Let's be honest. This one has way more.
The Big Three Record Companies
LabelFeatured ActsNotes
Atlantic Records190 (Script)
Republic Records118 (Script)
Def Jam46 (Script)
Some more for good measure.

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