Is the Right Hand Talking to the Left? The OnSmash Situation

(#musicindustry, #rap) Dozens of pirate and counterfeit sites were yanked down over the Thanksgiving holiday by the US Government, and most were asking for trouble.

But serious questions now surround a number of hip-hop sites caught in the mix, particularly

According to several sources to Digital Music News, those inside the rap industry hardly regarded OnSmash as a pirate.  Instead, OnSmash was treated as a critical promotional and tastemaker vehicle.  In fact, prior to the shutdown, a large number of rap labels and

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 divisions were prioritizing OnSmash for leaks, premieres, mixtapes, and other buzz-generators.  “They have [founder] Kevin [Hofman]’s number on speed dial,” one major label executive relayed.  “OnSmash was in marketing meetings, marketing plans – it’s not considered a dark or rogue site at all.”

This is part of how hip-hop marketing works.  Pre-release, free tracks are always leaked to the ‘street,’ and the most successful rappers – starting at the top with heavyweights like Rick Ross and T.I. – understand that gratis is a critical part of the success equation.  “The label guy is there to break artist careers – and the way you do that is by giving music away for free,” another source described.

So why the yankdown?  This is painfully reminiscent of a misguided RIAA-directed raid on DJ Drama’s offices in early 2007, and the result of what appears to be a disturbing lack of intra-industry communication.  “The RIAA and the majors see anything free as illegal, while the rap community knows that you have to give stuff away to develop an artist,” another executive relayed.

Exactly how OnSmash got on the s-list remains unclear, though Hofman was apparently cooperative when anyone asked for content removal.  Futhermore, these requests were typically direct calls, not DMCA notices, often coming from the same person that asked for placement in the first place.

So what next?  At best, the shutdown has created marketing headaches for a number of labels, though Hofman may find it incredibly difficult to stage a recovery.  And a federally-shuttered site is hardly the best starting point for a negotiation.

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OnSmash founder Kevin Hofman – ie, ‘Hof’ – is featured in this Def Jam Recordings promotional video for Ne-Yo’s latest.


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Def Jam Recording artist Rick Ross gives OnSmash ‘Special Thanks’ in the liner notes for Teflon Don.


Report by publisher Paul Resnikoff.

11 Responses

  1. @UncommonRecords

    Nasa/Adam Warlock
    I’ve read from their own people that they had un-maintained Wild West style forums on their site. Do some reseach!

  2. streetz-iz-watchin

    A forum>? PLEASE. Who cares about a damn forum. if that was a problem then how come top labels was leaking to them non stop?

  3. @zbeat

    Zack Beatty
    Press assumes OnSMASH is rogue; Digital Music News digs deeper

  4. @zbeat

    Zack Beatty
    Forums? The point is that major labels consider @OnSMASH a LEGIT promo partner, & send mp3s regularly.

  5. wallow-T

    “The future of music is all pirate, all criminal, all the time.” We are well on the way to establishing a general principle that music fans are criminals.

  6. UltraViolet

    The labels are going about this all wrong – they’re attacking something that they should be trying to work with. OnSmash got plenty of views, labels and the blog could of monetized that… if all the major labels and the little guy (indie labels, unsigned/indie artists) were all okay in giving music to blogs, the blogs could then have the song stream on the website and then charge a small fee for downloading the song (less than $.50 could work). If that were to happen, then not only labels/artists make their money, but blogs make their money (and in some cases, begin to make money). Essentially, blogs/music websites can be channels of digital music distribution along w/ online media press.

    What the RIAA and the government should be doing is going after the file-sharing services like zshare, usershare, limelinx, etc. Many blogs tend to use those services. If those services are gone, then people would have no real choice but to pay that small fee for downloading the song.

    This system could probably raise record sales and revenue significantly and in a way, provide more jobs (in the music industry, and in online journalism).

    However, if this were to work, it would be a problem about how much attention major label artists receive from the blog vs. the little guy (indie labels and unsigned/indie artists). Radio stations are already run by major labels. The online world is where indie/unsigned artists can get a footing in today’s industry (and amongst the consumers). If this idea were to be implemented, procedures should be taken to protect the little guy.

  7. Jim Breadbone

    Their forums were unregulated. I’m sure the labels didn’t mind and furthermore understood that the site was a valid promotional tool and service. However, that goes out the window when a user in a forum is posting a full album leak to an album the labels want the consumers to buy. Not too complicated.

  8. Anonymous OnSMASH Forums Admin

    OnSMASH’s forums have a strict copyright policy in place. Anyone posting or requesting links to copywritten material is banned. It’s referred to as the “wild west” because nobody is banned for trash talking other members(including the admins & mods) unless they are stalking someone thread to thread and running threads off topic. I’d say it’s 70% comedy, 30% seriousness and 0% copyright infringement.