When I started as LA Weekly music editor last summer, I was fairly committed to not covering Insane Clown Posse. After all, we'd put them on the cover earlier that year and the duo's not from here. But more than that they're disgustingly overexposed. It took them a while to break through to the mainstream media, but in recent years they're everywhere. Our sister paper Village Voice is at the front of the pack, and they've done a great job with their coverage, so I didn't see a reason for us to stay on the beat.
But it was difficult. Over cover story did huge pageviews, and it seems that the hipster demographic we cater to has an endless capacity for information about the group and their inability to understand magnets. But is that actually the case? I began to wonder why there are so many ICP stories, and why they do so well. Because, to be honest, the group's fan base is not that huge, at least when it comes to traditional measures.
Sure, the Juggalos flex their numbers at their annual Cave-In-Rock, Illinois Gatherings, but ICP's Twitter feed has a relatively paltry 72,000 followers, and their Facebook page has just shy of a million likes. (Compare that to Eminem, who's got 60 million.) As for album sales? Not really so huge either. ICP's got two (single) platinum albums and three gold albums. Not bad, but we write about artists every week with much bigger followings.
But here's the rub: Most of those acts don't do nearly the web traffic, or get nearly so much ink. Why is that?
The answer arrived in my inbox in June. To advance their latest album The Mighty Death Pop ICP came to us; their publicist Benjamin Farber said they'd like to come to our offices for an interview. This is not an offer we regularly receive, and it wasn't like they were offering a couple of cast-offs from their Psychopathic Records roster. No, the act's two main guys Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J were asking to sit in my damn office. Again, this was extremely hard to resist, both because of their ability to generate big traffic and because we had a sexual harassment seminar planned for that same day.
In the end they couldn't come because their tour bus wouldn't fit in our garage, but I sent our writer K.C. Libman to meet them in Hollywood. The story did predictably gangbusters business, and also gave me a clear view inside the ICP media machine.
It's sort of genius. First of all, their operation is more professional than one might expect of a group known for spraying cheap soda at their fans. As Gustavo Turner wrote in his cover story from March last year:
The Weekly interviewed them at their headquarters just south of 9 Mile, a merchandise warehouse/recording studio/video operation/office suite where [Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J] supervise the entire Psychopathic Records empire. It's an operation set up with the same kind of assembly-line efficiency that entrepreneurs like Henry Ford and Berry Gordy conjured from Detroit's bleak landscape.
Anyone can have an office, but the thing about ICP is that they're savvy self-promoters. Their “digital publicist” Benjamin Farber promised that upon the story's publication they would seed it well:
We control all of the bands social networks so we will be able to promote it like crazy on our end and be able to push their loyal fanbase over to LA Weekly.
And once the story dropped they did exactly that, employing their social media networks more effectively than any artist I've encountered. (Of course, they only pulled the trigger after we had given it a good push from social networks of our own.)
The story has been one of West Coast Sound's five most trafficked so far this month. As much as I'd like to think it succeeded because it was well-written (it was) or because the group was in the news (for the whole suing the FBI thing), most likely those weren't the reasons. Nor were vast bunches of smirking hipsters reading the piece and delightedly guffawing.
No, the traffic was almost entirely from the duo's own fans, who apparently don't mind (or are used to) some gentle mocking. The post's Chartbeat action really took off after it was posted on their Facebook page. And again, even though their fan base is not gigantic, they are extra devoted, and seem to consume most any ICP material put in front of them.
So, in the end, ICP gets a lot of media because they can guarantee good ratings. They've got both the product and the consumers; we in the media are simply the bemused middle men. Which is why, when I heard the group discussed yet again on Madeleine Brand's show earlier this week I was no longer befuddled. Brand, just like the rest of us suckers, knows which side her bread is buttered on, even if she probably doesn't know how magnets work either.