We’ve all been there. You’re on Spotify looking for a song. You type in the title, or what you think is the title, see something pop up and hit play, only to realize that the song you’re listening to, isn’t the song you wanted to hear. As it turns out, this is completely and totally by design. In an authoritative new report, Vulture has run down all the ways that Spotify and scammers who upload music to Spotify game the userbase and line their pockets in the process.
On Spotify’s end, the playlists the service puts together are everything. According to the piece, more than half of the service’s listeners are consuming music through a playlist. Spotify knows this of course, and instead of populating those lists entirely with music from legitimate artists, the company pays producers to create brand new music under fake aliases. These upfront payments prevent them from having to cut even fatter royalty checks to hitmakers later on.
Take Ambient Chill, which has 406,000 followers and is grouped with other instrumental playlists as “Focus” music. The first song on the playlist is by composer Max Richter. The second is by an unknown band called Deep Watch, which has two songs on Spotify, each with more than a million streams. The first song on Sleep, a playlist of calming, instrumental tracks with 1.5 million followers, is by Enno Aare, a band with three songs on Spotify and no footprint outside of the streaming service. The band Evolution of the Stars has only two songs on Spotify, but both are on the Deep Focus playlist and they have a combined 15 million streams.
As for so-called artists, there are a number of tricks they employ to get you to click on their “music” and earn royalties off the work of others. Some will record songs that have a similar title to a big hit like Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble.” Others will upload entirely silent albums, like the band Vulfpeck, who implored their fans to hit play while they slept to rack up streaming numbers. Then there are those who fill the void left by prominent artists like Tool who aren’t on the service to record and release sound-alike tracks.
As long as the music industry has existed, there’ve always been companies and low-level schemers doing what they can to try and earn more than their fair share of the pie. As innovative as these new tricks are, their roots are as old as recorded sound itself.