If you search the word “gatekeep” on Spotify, you might be surprised to see a number of playlists more or less saying the same thing: “Gatekeep kahit wala nang makain yung artist.” These playlists have amassed over thousands of followers each and usually feature indie artists that are either unsigned or signed to a small label.

In the world of music, gatekeeping refers to the act of intentionally refusing to reveal details regarding an artist or a song in order to prevent them from becoming mainstream. Aside from Spotify, gatekeeping also persists on TikTok, where people make videos about how they don’t want a certain artist or song to become mainstream. 

“The thing about the gatekeeping culture is that it’s not new,” shares indie musician and Underdog Music’s President and Chief Marketing Officer Martti Franca. “If we go back as early as the 90s, we used to [zone in on] one genre. During the emo phase, we were all listening to emo and the emo kids were different from the hip hop kids. There was that sense of community.”

He goes on to talk about how it’s easy to fall into the trap of gatekeeping. People tend to associate gatekeeping with selfishness, assuming that fans want to withhold an artist’s music under the impression that it makes themselves feel unique or cool. “Just because mayroong tendency ang tao to find that individuality in this cookie cutter industry doesn’t mean that that’s the mentality that [these fans] are coming from.”

For Franca, why they feel this way may actually come from a deeper place. 

“As an artist, I’ve come to learn over the years that once you release music into the world, it’s not yours anymore. You’ve given it to people. You may have written the song with your personal experiences, but once you put it out into the world and someone listens to it, they now connect to that song with their own experiences and their own meaning.”

This emotional connection may be the reason why fans become overprotective of these songs, and by extension, the artist. In fact, Franca is one of these artists that constantly gets this treatment, appearing on multiple posts, videos, and playlists that aim to gatekeep music. It’s flattering, Franca muses, however there’s a bigger picture that fans seem to overlook.

“It’s also a job,” he emphasizes. “We’re coming to this point where we’re starting to see art and creativity as a real [career]. From a business perspective, if I’m being completely objective about it, it’s all about the numbers. It’s opportunity cost…I currently have around 300,000 monthly listeners, and that’s a lot. Pero, kung sa 300,000 na ‘yon, I’m still gatekept, how many more people could I, or other artists, be reaching if [we] had a fanbase that was actively spreading your name?”

Franca explains that if from the 300,000 listeners, 1,000 actively share his music with just 500 people, then you have another 500,000 listeners. Because a music career relies on numbers, musicians can develop a blind spot when it comes to figuring out how to grow their audience. They don’t exactly know the full potential of their music. Unfortunately, this effect can make artists question themselves and their current musical direction. If they feel like their music isn’t growing — especially if it’s a result of gatekeeping — Franca says that it may push artists to change genres or their music, even if their audience became fans because of their current sound. If musicians want to continue pursuing a music career, they have to make a living off of it. 

However, this isn’t always the case. There are some artists who spin around gatekeeping culture by seeing it as an opportunity to build a closer, more personal relationship with their fans. He cites how a number of musicians have started Discord channels to build a tight-knit community of fans. Some have made Patreons — a subscription-style platform for content creators — to create exclusive content for their audience.

Franca says that eventually, when fans see the effort that musicians give to their community, they can’t help but share those experiences with others. Beyond just trying to make music that will trend, a dedicated fanbase is how artists can continue growing their career beyond individual hits.

When Franca’s breakout song “Spaces” started gaining traction, he was afraid that his career would only be defined by that song. By developing a closer relationship with his fans — actively engaging with them on social media, especially through a Facebook group and Discord channel for his “Marttiniz” — he’s grateful that his community continues to actively share his other songs, and more people are able to appreciate his discography as a whole.

“There’s a theory that people only need 1,000 fans. If you have 1,000 solid fans who will go to your shows, buy your merch, listen to your music regularly — you’ll have enough to make a living,” he says. 

On top of that, many TikToks or playlists that try to gatekeep artists actually go viral most of the time. Instead of hiding an artist from the mainstream, this type of content makes the artist more popular. When these become viral, Franca notices that a song’s streams skyrocket or the musician spins the narrative around with videos like, “POV: you found a new artist to gatekeep.”

“Fans have to understand that it really is a job, it’s not just a hobby,” Franca says to end the conversation. “By supporting artists in any way that you can, they will have more opportunity to create better music so that they don’t have to do the other stuff.”

“It takes so much off our plate to not think about the business or marketing side. Overall, it helps the community and [ensures] that there will always be good art coming out.”