Buying Beats for Viral Songs Is Becoming a Popular (and Messy) Business

Execs are scooping up the beats behind hits — sometimes without singers’ knowledge. Some see the practice as shrewd business, but others say the murky ethics can turn a breakthrough into “a nightmare”

Caleb Hearn and Jason Messer used to be inseparable. “We did everything together,” says Hearn, a 20-year-old singer from King, North Carolina. But on February 18th, 2017, when Messer asked his friend to go hiking in nearby Hanging Rock State Park, Hearn had to bow out — he had a shift at the local Chick-fil-A. While hiking, Messer slipped, fell at least 40 feet, and later died from his injuries.

“It was a pretty traumatic event that I wasn’t able to process,” Hearn says. “I was numb to everything.” He struggled to talk about the incident. “I didn’t know how to deal with that kind of loss, so I bottled up all of my emotions for three years,” Hearn said in a recent TikTok video.

But the singer had a breakthrough at the end of November, finding a piano instrumental on the internet and composing a plaintive gut punch titled “Always Be.” “It felt like I was finally able to, not get over [the death] because I’m never going to get over it, but express how I was feeling,” Hearn explains. When the singer released “Always Be” on December 4th, strangers started messaging him, sharing their own experiences with loss.