The trials and tribulations of being the anonymous person behind a hit meme account
Let me start off by saying I’m not big into memes.
I’m an unwilling participant in two Instagram meme groups. I have both muted and I periodically check into them when I’m bored out of my mind. But there is one meme account on Instagram that I follow closely — @industry.memes.
@Industry.memes is an account that came to my attention when it had a few hundred followers. The below meme was the first one to really grab my attention:
The part about the black R&B singer not being allocated a big marketing push compared to the white soulful R&B acoustic white bro was just too real. I quickly sent it around to people. It’s currently at over 3,500 followers, including an esteemed list of senior executives in the music industry.
I reached out to the account in an Instagram DM and was able to hop on the phone with the genius behind it. We agreed to keep her anonymous, only identifying herself as an assistant at a management company.
She started the account while she was finishing college, and it’s chronicled her journey from music industry student to music industry graduate to now music industry employee. She endured a summer of unemployment, often poking fun at the fact she didn’t yet have a job in the industry she was roasting.
At a certain point I’ve checked profiles as they come in because I’m interested in seeing who is following this account. There’s so many people that it would be like holy shit if I had this person’s e-mail, oh my god.
Her experience in college at various internships and freelance gigs informed her perspective as a woman in the industry. When she started the Instagram account, she told a bunch of her close friends just to get people to follow it. But since then, she’s done a good job at keeping it secret as the account has grown at a rapid pace.
“The fewer the people who know it is me the funnier it is,” she said of living her double life.
“I think what’s funny is that there are probably a ton of people guessing who it is. The fact of the matter is I’m nobody. I’m a total nobody and that’s part of my perspective that contributes to the humor is that I’m a newcomer relatively speaking and I have that perspective of not necessarily an outsider but someone who is just entering into this crazy world and has the ability to see how insane it is much clearer than someone whose been in the trenches for ten-plus years.”
But how did it all start?
She followed a couple of meme accounts that had similar formats to each other. But the music meme accounts were mostly from a listeners perspective rather than from within the industry. She referenced the popular @agentvspromoter and @musiccitymemes accounts as being funny but not as creative with the format.
But the impetus for starting the account was a specific interaction she had early on.
“The first meme I made I was just coming off a meeting with some dude about some project I was working on and I was feeling the weirdest vibes — he wasn’t taking me seriously,” she said.
“I needed to blow off steam but I can’t just go tweet about it because he’s someone I knew. And I can’t complain about it publicly. But if I make a meme account I can do whatever I want. I can say whatever I want.”
The best part of the account is that it tackles so many aspects of the music industry. Some memes have been about management, some have been about A&R, some have been about specific bands. People find them funny until it’s their job or place of work that’s being referenced. She posted the below meme that seemed to strike a nerve with certain people:
“I posted a meme a week ago that was I’m gonna delay this artist’s album, is this feminism, am I empowered because I can ruin someone else’s life?” she said. “And there were so many people in the comments saying this isn’t funny, what’s the deal? It’s like if you don’t get the joke then you are the joke.”
It’s sort of how South Park was so great at roasting literally everybody — they were equal-opportunity offenders so you couldn’t really accuse them of being for or against any one thing. They crossed lines, but they did it against everybody. Isaac Hayes, the voice of Chef, had no problem being involved with the show until South Park attacked Scientology, which Hayes was a follower of. He quit the show as a result.
As someone in her early twenties, @industry.memes is a person who knows her way around Photoshop. Memes are definitely more her generation than they are mine (I just turned 30), but they’re a universal language that anybody can understand. It’s why you see grayed vice presidents following the account and tagging their poor assistants in the comments when it reflects their realities.
“I can’t complain about it publicly. But if I make a meme account I can do whatever I want. I can say whatever I want.”
The question is — what happens when she gets exposed? It’s happened with these accounts before, sometimes by accident. The @agentvspromoter account ran for years before it was accidentally revealed last year to be Paradigm booking agent Joe Atamian and Scott Leslie of The Majestic Live in Madison, Wisconsin. Luckily, these were two people who were established at their jobs long enough that it didn’t really hurt them. But what about if you’re an assistant?
I spoke to a manager who follows @industry.memes and asked them about it. The person behind the account wants to work in management. So I gave the manager I spoke to a hypothetical — let’s say someone’s resume comes across your desk and they’re qualified for the job but don’t stand out. Then you find out they run the @industry.memes account — does that help or hurt their prospects?
“Definitely hurts them,” I was told. “There really isn’t anything to gain from running it except, ‘Hey look, I’m funny.” The next day, this same person texted me and said, “She’s honestly brilliant. I would definitely interview her.” Then they proceeded to send me a couple of their favorite memes from the account with “Lolol” as an accompanying text.
What is there to gain? The music industry takes itself so seriously that we all need a lighthearted taking the piss out of it every now and then. Someone even reached out to her through Instagram DMs and hooked her up with a general admission pass to the sold-out Camp Flog Gnaw Festival last month. To claim that, she had to provide her name in order to be guest listed. The best part is she ended up roasting the crowd with a meme.
Did she ever expect this to come with any perks?
“At a certain point I’ve checked profiles as they come in because I’m interested in seeing who is following this account. There’s so many people that it would be like holy shit if I had this person’s e-mail, oh my god. If I was connected to this person in real life. At a certain point that will compromise my anonymity. It might come to a point where I have to reveal myself for the good of my own career and to utilize all these connections.”
“A lot of people are people I deeply respect and admire in the industry and would really do anything to sit down with or connect with or have me endorse me on LinkedIn or whatever. It’s funny because it’s anonymous. I can say what I want because it’s anonymous and that’s why the account works the way that it does. But at the same time, I am like any other insane person in this insane industry have some ridiculous fucking career goals and I don’t know when the balance is going to tip where I have to go, ‘OK, I better own up to it so I can make good on these connections.’ It’s really all just a networking ploy basically. I never planned to be but it’s definitely turning out to be that way.
But again, what happens if she’s revealed to be behind the account? She realizes that if too many people realize it’s her at some point, the nature of the account would change. Because the perspective of @industry.memes is so specific, because she’s an assistant watching all of this unfold up close for the first time, it has a certain freshness. She realizes if she gets too deep it might not be funny anymore, so maybe there is a limited shelf life.
I’m hopeful she can keep it a secret for a long time. It certainly is an entertaining part of my day whenever a new meme gets posted. Judging by the engagement each post gets, I’m not alone in that. My last question for her was — are memes art?
“Memes are definitely art,” she said in a serious tone. “Put this shit in museums. If you spend any time on Instagram, the meme account world goes very deep. It’s anything from 13-year-olds making memes about kids in their school to these accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers being really avant garde and making really visually interesting and philosophically interesting memes.”