Sajaegi in the Music Industry

Rachel Park, Writer

Sajaegi, a Korean term to describe chart manipulation through buying hordes of albums and continuous streaming, has been a huge issue in the music industry. In the 90s, it was suspected that agencies made mass purchases of CD, in the 2000s, with background music and phone ringtones, and recently, with hacking IDs and continuously streaming music on music sites.


Suspicions about Sajaegi have been going around for many years. When Nilo, a South Korean singer, got first place on Melon, a Korean music streaming app, beating Exo, Twice, and many other famous Korean idol groups in 2018, many accused him of being guilty of Sajaegi. The issue was soon forgotten, as there was no evidence that Nilo had indulged in this practice. However, Park Kyung, a member of Block B, recently posted on social media saying “I want to do Sajaegi like Vibe, like Song Ha Yea, like Lim Jae Hyun” and listed many more artists, leading to more debate on the existence of Sajaegi.


Typically, songs by lesser known artists move up the chart after gaining popularity in noraebangs (karaoke), according to a noraebang owner. However, most songs that have been suspected of Sajaegi gained popularity first in the charts of Melon or Genie music, before gaining popularity in noraebangs. Also, they moved up the chart rapidly in the middle of the night around 1 to 2AM.


Despite these suspicious occurrences, companies and artists that have been suspected of Sajaegi have all replied that their success was due to viral marketing. According to Song Ha Yea’s agency, Song’s music gained popularity due to aggressive advertising on social media, such as uploading numerous music covers.


Artists that have received Sajaegi offers say that it is possible to become first place on music charts as long as you have the money. Reportedly, Sajaegi agencies told these artists that they needed to release a ballad or mid tempo song that has so-called “relatable” lyrics. Malvo, a lesser known artist who received a Sajegi offer, was told that it was possible for him to gain more popularity, and the artists that the agencies talked about actually made it to the exact position in the chart a few days later. 


Brokers, who work in between the agencies and Sajaegi industries, confirm the reality of Sajaegi. Sajaegi agencies premake covers and post them on various social media platforms a few hours after the song is released. However, brokers say that Facebook and Youtube covers are mere excuses and facades for what they actually do behind the scenes–macro programming. Macro programming is a way to run several independent computers in one single computer. Marketing industries buy ten thousands of IDs and IP addresses and continuously stream the artist’s music in one computer. That one computer holds several other independent computers, increasing the number of streaming exponentially. In addition, Sajaegi industries stream other random songs that are similar to the song of the artist’s competitor, ultimately pushing them down the music chart.


The brokers’ explanation of how Sajaegi is done aligns with people’s experience. There have been several reports that people’s accounts would randomly start streaming music or buy a song from a specific artist multiple times. 


Sajaegi is easily overlooked because it is hard to prove and highly profitable to the artist committing it. Officials say that they cannot investigate an agency or artist because they showed “unusual” paths of going up the chart. Also, brokers are used in between agencies and Sajaegi industries, making it harder to identify the Sajaegi industry. Furthermore, Sajaegi can be done with a few computers or electronic devices, making it almost impossible to locate where this fraud is happening. In addition to this secrecy, Sajaegi’s profits are massive. It is common for users to listen to the top 100 on the list of their music apps. More listeners and streaming implies more profits from copyright.


Sajaegi has ultimately made music into a product rather than an art, and an online world that we have long trusted has turned into a scene of fraud. Artists are not sure whether their music is accepted due to their lack of artistic talent or money. The myths and rumours around Sajaegi must be cleared so that music can once again be appreciated as music and not a profitable industry.