Insight: How classical artists boost their social media fans

Insight: How classical artists boost their social media fans


norman lebrecht

August 11, 2016

We have long suspected that the number of fans claimed by many stars are, somehow, not truly reflective of the real state of their popular base.

Now, there is a device that shows which artists are buying likes by bulk, and where these phantom fans come from.

Here are a few examples, taken at random, discovered by entering the artist’s ID into

julian rachlin

The violinist Julian Rachlin boasts 47,533 ‘likes’ on his Facebook page.

Using the checker device, we can ascertain that his largest group of fans – 12.7% – are in Bangladesh, his second largest – 11.9% – in Afghanistan and the third largest in Libya.

In other words, most of Julian’s page fans are phoney. He may be unaware of this deceit; it may have been an innocent mistake on his part or his agent’s. But the stats are incontrovertible.

Take the relatively unstarry German pianist Valentina Babor. Her page has 63,243 likes. The highest proportion – 57% – come from Iraq.


valentina babor

The young Austrian pianist Ingolf Wunder, 22,000 likes, has his largest group of fans in the Philippines, his second largest in Mexico. *See update below

And so on …. and on.

What is happening here is a double-blind – the public are being deceived and the musicians are being ripped off.

Anybody who comes along offering a miracle boost to your social media profile, just press delete. Don’t pay.

*UPDATE From Ingolf Wunder:

Neither myself, nor my management has ever bought any “likes”, followers or anything else of that kind. Being mentioned in connection to such a topic is insulting and damages my reputation. I insist that the responsible person has enough dignity to make a corrective statement immediately. I established my FB Page in 2009, before virtually everybody jumped with full force on that train and long before the older generation was probably even aware of it. My wife is doing my social media in close connection with myself and I’m personally behind all of my posts. All the posts get a lot of organically generated traffic, which is not the case if one buys “pages likes”. The organic reach (not boosted or promoted posts) of each post is approx. 5.000 – 762.000(!).
We have never used any artificial methods (buying likes, bots etc.) to enhance the “page like counter” artificially, which does not serve any purpose.



  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Are they aware of their social media pages? Who manages their pages? Those would be my first questions.

  • Daniil Auner says:

    Norman, this is not as simple.
    Quick explanation.

    Facebook offers, if you own a page (I own classical music humor, Auner Quartett, Daniil Auner and my festival Sommerkonzerte Wienerwald) to promote. You pay Facebook to show your page to people that are not your “fans” and ask them to like your page. Facebook offers a filter, you can show the advertisement just to people that are interested in Chamber Music, Johannes Brahms etc. so the people that might be interested in you as a musician will look at it. And Facebook promises f. Ex. At least “25 likes per day” if you pay 7€ every day. Depending on the size of the page it is not eexpensive. The problem is, that Facebook cannot guarantee that from all the users that saw your ad really 25 like your page. So Facebook contracts click-farms. India, Bangladesh, Irak etc. host click-farms where millions of fake Facebook profiles like whatever they are being told to. If you analyze some of these “fans” you can see that their profile consists just of their likes, no pictures, posts etc.
    But the artist did not agree to it. And Facebook doesn’t confess that they do this, although it’s clearly visible.

    The next problem. If you pay f. Ex. 150€ on a Facebook advertising campaign and in the end her 2000 fake likes, your posts afterwards will actually reach less of your actual fans. Why. Facebook created an algorithm that filters out what people interests. So as no one from your fans in Bangladesh will ever like one of your posts afterwards, f. Ex. A video of a concert, the algorithm will it show it to anyone. Because your fans are not interested.
    I used this Facebook tool on my Daniil Auner Site. I have around 10.000 fans, 20% through this campain and they are all from India !! And I cannot get rid of them. A new post in my site now just reaches almost no one of my 8.000 “real fans” EXCEPT I PROMOTE MY POST and pay again for Facebook. So that the people that know me, heard me and added me on Facebook see what I share I have to pay for it.
    Classical music humor on the other side has around 400.000 REAL likes. And one posting from us reaches up to over 10.000.000 users. People share. I am being offered to promote a post, starting at 37.000€.

    It’s not as simple and for sure not the artist is to blame.

  • Paulina Wunder says:

    Dear Mr. Lebrecht,

    My husband has never bought any likes on any social media platform.
    This is an insult.

    Best regards,

    Paulina Wunder

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Dear Mrs Wunder

      Thank you for the assurance, which is duly accepted.
      How do you explain your husband’s disproportionate popularity in the Philippines?
      best wishes, NL

      • Paulina Wunder says:

        Dear Mr. Lebrecht,

        I cannot explain, I don’t work for Facebook.
        Marc Zuckerberg is the person to ask this question.

        Best regards,

        Paulina Wunder

        • Assimilate This says:

          @ Ms. Wunder. I’m trying to help you here. You can be assured that Mark Suckerborg is selling every single entry made by you in Farcebook to commercial and political institutions including the security agencies, for inclusion in their databases. It would be better to make a decent website of your own, security-harden it and use that for your publicity.

        • Jimmythechoo says:

          Dear Ms. Wunder,
          please correct me if I am wrong. Your husband was born in Austria, he has studied in Austria, he lived or even lives in Austria and well – he is Austrian! He performs regularly in Austria and its out of question, that Austria is one of the leading markets of classical music.
          Considering all these facts, how can your husband have only 450 fans from Austria but 2.891 from Philippines? Austria is on 13th place in his stats. Before Austria you have countries such Mexico, Morocco, Chile, Peru etc. It is ridiculous to blame Mark Zuckerberg or whatsoever.
          There were also some comments stating, that this could happen through advertisement. Thats wrong. You would never promote your husbands fanpage in the Philippines, Mexico, Chile or Peru instead of in the important European and Asian markets.
          Well, this is just my opinion and I am aware of the fact that you will not share my thoughts… But that´s ok 😉

          • Paulina Wunder says:

            Dear Jimmythechoo,

            Do you know what’s the population of Austria? 8 millions.
            Do you know what’s the population of Mexico? 122 millions.
            Do the maths and also take into consideration that Austria perhaps generates more money than Mexico in classical music (has more money so invites bigger artists, pays more, has many wonderful concert halls and concert series), but this is not equal with loving classical music. Austria has a great musical history but it has nothing to do with the quantity of people who simply listen to classical music. Think about it.

            As a side note, because your conviction amazed me: who said one is always popular the most in his own country? If you are really convinced about it, it – I’m very sorry to write that – means that either you are very young or naive… or you just want to make your point. Fine.

            I will repeat once again, although for people like you it probably doesn’t make sense (you may think whatever you want, that’s your right):
            We have never bought any fake followers on any social media platform.

            Please, make me a favour: if you decide to imply somebody did something, have the courage to give your real credentials.
            You see, it’s very easy to make assumptions, to put blame on somebody, to ridicule things or people – especially when does that anonymously.

            Best regards,

            Paulina Wunder

          • Jimmythechoo says:

            @Paulina Wunder
            Ok, lets do some math 🙂
            Russia has more population than Mexico and for sure a larger tradition in classical music. Am I correct? But there is not even ONE like form Russia coming on Mr. Wunders fanpage but 2.891 from Mexico. How does that work with your math?
            Btw, only 50% of people are having internet access in Mexico which is not the case in Austria.
            And if your explanation is that most fans come from Mexico because its just bigger then Austria then any fanpage should have most fans coming from India, Russia and the USA…

      • Robert Douglass says:

        Norman, I think the tone of your rhetorical question to Mrs. Wunder would be insulting to classical music lovers in the Philippines, for example, the members of the Manila Symphony Orchestra. or faculty and students studying at music conservatories in the Philippines, including pianist who are very likely fans of Ingolf Wunder.

        Whether it is intentional or not, this discussion has a very strong undertone of “people in Europe are legitimate fans, the rest are not”.

        Click farms exist. Artists may or may not have done something to trigger these, and it is safe to assume that every artist who is active on Facebook (or any other social media site, eg. Tumblr or Instagram) is going to have a proportion of fans who are non legitimate. I’m also certain that some artists have been preyed upon by offers to boost their likes with traffic from worthless profiles.

        However, it is not fair to say that an audience from non European countries is a bad thing, or illegitimate. It’s not true, and it’s belittling to classical music lovers in those countries.

  • jk96 says:

    Oh Boy guys. All modern day internet usage is bought. All major classical music institutions and artists ‘boost’ their posts and buy support. Just as your local symphony orchestra buys their lists for mailouts. Go with the times. What did you think the internet was? A free space?

    • V.Lind says:

      Wasn’t it supposed to be?

      Anyway, given the limited restrictions at least in the democracies, so that people can express unlovable views with impunity, is it too much to ask that social media at least try to be honest?

      And what does it say that “likes” HAVE to be bought for these people? I know PR types will spin anything and make stuff up, but this is extremely distasteful.

    • Robert Holmén says:

      The fact that two different things can be purchased doesn’t make them the same.

      The names you get on a mailing list are not names you will instantly turn around and claim are supporters in your public promotions.

      The fact that some practice may be current doesn’t overrule our right to say it shouldn’t be.

  • Oscar says:

    No surprise here. This all is simply a “normal” day in doing business U.S. style. Manipulating the facts, creating any image, buying your fame, bending the truth and painting illusions is the modus operandi and backbone of the American system. Most major American business personalities and politicians do it or have it done on their behalf all of the time. How do you think that the likes of a Donald Trump could ever have been able to reach becoming a presidential nominee? The American system is today based on a “pay to play” culture and it is no surprise that this form of deceit and painting illusions has now permeated the world of classical music. Great to hear, however, that Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Libya have all become big fiddle fans and eagerly await the newest version of the Sibelius Concerto. Wake up!

    • Cyril Blair says:

      You think Trump somehow bought all his political support? We wish that were the case; it would make it easier to dismiss his rise. Unfortunately, all his support is organic, bubbling up from the people. Some of the people. Enough of the people to make him the nominee of one of the parties.

  • Walter says:

    It’s quite possible that these musicians and others are simply advertising their pages to low-cost countries and not “buying” fans. You should have more proof before you level such an explosive charge.

  • May says:

    Oscar Wilde:

    The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

  • Hugh G. Reggshone says:

    Anyone who wastes time signing in to Farcebook or even using it to peddle business deserves all that they get.
    If a product is free — then *you* are the product.
    Buying likes is standard operating procedure on Farcebook exactly as it is on Twatter and Youtube. To imagine otherwise is to be either naive or uninformed.

  • Mike says:

    Would this be a good moment to mention Valentina Lisitsa’s facebook fans, numerous followers of her twitter ramblings as well as youtube clics?

    • Cyril Blair says:

      Yes. They are in our thoughts.

    • Anon says:

      Probably not, no.
      If you use the tool linked to in the post with Ms. Lisitsa’s FaceBook page, you will find a very wide range of fans from many countries. There’s nothing which stands out as looking suspicious, I don’t think.
      (In order to gain context you might also look through the comments left on her YouTube videos, where you will find strong fan-base from less-expected parts of the world, particularly the South Americas. Unlike ‘click-farms’, you can see that these are genuine users by the comments they leave and the discussion they involve themselves in, both on those posts and elsewhere.)

  • Jeremy Cullen says:

    I experimented with Facebook advertising on my Facebook composer page. As a test run I set up the ad to advertise to a very specific niche market who I thought might possibly be interested – Germans who liked similar pianist-composers to myself. The next day I had a torrent of “Likes” from people residing in Afghanistan! I looked at the profiles of these people and the other artists listed as their musical “Likes” were nothing like my music. I have no issue with people in Afghanistan liking my music – of course I would welcome it! – but it was obvious that these were not genuine and their was some sort of “click-farm” going on. I did some more research and found similar stories so promptly cancelled the advertising. In no way was I intending to “Pay for Likes”, I simply wished to be visible to a suitable market if they were interested, something I naively expected would be possible in this age of Facebook and “The Long Tail” and all that…

  • Yi-Peng Li says:

    This looks like another variation on the theme of Payola.

    I’m wondering if classical labels have adopted pay to play practices to boost sales of recordings? I’m wondering if recordings like the Solti Ring or the du Pre Elgar concerto could have gained circulation because of these dirty practices? If so, then canonical recordings might be dodgy…

  • Robert Douglass says:

    I too have experimented with, and continue to use Facebook advertising tools. When my artist plays a concert in a city or region, I regularly engage in targeted advertising of the concert. Note that the action which I am paying to boost in these cases is a click to the ticket sales website, not a like on the page. I am satisfied with the results of these campaigns and don’t consider the results dodgy. Twitter, Google, LinkedIn and dozens of other sites offer similar services which I have also experimented with. Facebook is the best tool I’m familiar with for this type of campaign.

    I also promote other activities of my artist, such as fundraising campaigns, new videos, and the available of recordings on other sites. One thing that Facebook does exceptionally well is language based targeting. There are many audiences that are reachable at lower cost than the English speaking audience. So, for example, I tend to get a better return on investment from a Spanish advert than an English advert, when the action I’m promoting is a visit to a video or downloading a recording. There are many Spanish speaking countries, for example most of South America, which have very strong classical music traditions and where the advertising costs are a fraction of a cost lower than targeting, say London.

    The fact is, and we should take reassurance in this fact, that there are actual legitimate classical music fans all around the world, including in India, the Philippines, Indonesia, and other countries that are not automatically associated with the Bach-Beethoven-Brahms heritage. It is also true that there are click farms that artificially boost the results of advertising campaigns. Inflation of this sort is part of the advertising game, and has always been so. If you buy advertising, you have to pay attention to what you’re paying for.

    For the record, I see no shame in advertising. Artists are advertising themselves constantly, whether it is directly paid, or through PR campaigns, or YouTube videos. How else is an audience going to even know of the existence of an artist, after all?

  • Una says:

    47,000 friends and you never meet them!! How lonely is that! Thank God I only have 27 but at least had 11 real friends with real names for lunch yesterday, and six on Sunday, none of whom do FB.

  • Itsjtime says:

    This is utter douchebagery. No matter how many likes you have or even YouTube clicks you have it doesn’t rally mean jack sh-t. Except for you mom who gets all stirred about how many people love their “Bubbila”
    Can you make a living selling tickets? Can you sell a couple of Cd’s? Or do you have to make money on the side? Either way does not ensure a nice listening experience for anyone,.
    Probably the only business’ that don’t need to buy clicks ar port and sports. No$25M Vesting Option, $5M Buyout 2017 salary guaranteed if he 1) does not end 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury, 2) does not spend more than 45 days in 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury or 3) does not make more than six relief appearances in 2016 because of a left shoulder injury there is a duo we can and most likely do support.

    LIGHT BULB MOMENT!!! Classical soundtracks to porn!!! There would be a lot of likes

  • Itsjtime says:

    Btw…Norman have you sold our emails?????