It looks like the fake albums of stolen Beyonce and SZA demos uploaded to streaming services last month were traced back to their source, but the problem might not be going away anytime soon. In a new investigation published by Rolling Stone, Soundrop, an independent distribution service, identified the culprits who uploaded the albums and is working with authorities for solutions to the issue, but also pointed out how widespread the problem really is.
According to Zach “Pony” Domer, Soundrop’s brand manager, the distributor has “identified who it is and how they abused our system to get it through,” but cannot reveal further details due to the active investigation. However, he did share that the songs were uploaded via different accounts through Soundrop’s service and “used fake metadata, obscured information, and lied” to get the phony albums online under names that fans would recognize but not the system (Beyonce’s under the “Queen Carter” moniker, SZA’s as the mythical “Sister Solana”). The songs themselves were leaked demos that had been floating around online for a while that the enterprising scammers compiled and uploaded to game the revenue streaming system.
Of course, this type of fraud isn’t a victimless crime. Dae Bogan, the founder of song metadata management platform TuneRegistry, told Rolling Stone that the fake albums also affect “the overall value of other streams that day.” As he elaborated, “Because there’s no per-stream rate in royalties — royalties are based on cumulative performance of total music releases — people could assume Beyoncé has released a new project, flock to her account and dramatically affect the royalties for other people’s streams.”
This means that lesser-known artists on other labels may not receive the appropriate royalty payouts simply because fewer people are listening to their label’s music. It also means that attention is being drawn from Beyonce and SZA’s legitimate streams, which affects their bottom line as well. Fans may want to hear new music from their faves, but they probably don’t want their faves to lose money because of it. While the two superstars probably aren’t too hurt by the loss of revenue, the other artists who may be relying on those streams to build awareness or fill their accounts may not be able to afford those same losses.
Unfortunately, all the experts seem to agree that the problem will get worse before it gets better. Bogan said, “When you have metadata problems coupled with actors in the system that are trying to game the system, these things will continue to happen,” while Domer corroborated, “This is an industry-wide problem that we’re heavily invested in tackling head-on. It requires human beings to figure this stuff out. We have a team of people to help, but not every distributor has those kinds of resources.”
The full article also touches on another problem of click fraud: Streaming farms, which are collections of phones or bot networks set up to stream songs 24/7 to juice their stats. While the story doesn’t go fully in-depth, it highlights some of the back-end challenges facing musicians and recording industry professionals as new technologies like streaming become the standard rather than the exception.