Major Labels Are Paying for Placement on Top Spotify Playlists


Universal Music Group recently hired Jay Frank as SVP of Global Streaming Marketing. UMG also invested in DigMark, Frank’s digital marketing company. DigMark charges clients to promote their music on streaming service playlists.

Billboard reports that DigMark, the major labels, and other companies are also in the business of directly paying influencers for playlist placement.

Spotify has finally updated their official policy to ban pay for plays. But this might not make a difference, since companies like DigMark pay influencers general consultant fees to place music.

The involvement of major labels isn’t surprising, considering that each major label owns a playlist curation company. Universal owns Digster, Sony owns Filtr, and Warner owns Topsify. Playlists by these companies are listed right next to official Spotify playlists, and there is no indication given that these lists are owned by the majors. They are presented as unbiased mood and genre playlists.

Technology may be leveling the playing field for artists initially, but the major labels always figure out a way to ruin that.

Jay Frank refused Billboard’s request for comment and DigMark did not return our request for comment.


Nina Ulloa covers breaking news, tech, and more: @nine_u

Image by alphabunny_photos, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 (CC by 2.0).  

23 Responses

    • Avatar
      Remi Swierczek

      Just convert this circus to primitive MUSIC STORE.
      They will start play staff that sales and makes INSTANT money for musicians and the NERDS.

      Only money can introduce equal playground for massaged by labels Biber or unknown human from Denver!

  1. Avatar

    So much for the internet leveling the playing field for artists.

    • Avatar

      Yeah, and one more reason for indies to stay away from Spotify.

  2. Paul Resnikoff
    Paul Resnikoff

    I’ve got to hand it to Billboard, I’ve never seen them write anything that attacks the major labels before. Usually they’re writing fluff pieces about them. Maybe something big happened over there.

    • Avatar
      Billboard is Captured

      C’mon Paul…

      Billboard is captured by Silicon Valley… maybe google/youtube, maybe spotify/google, maybe pandora/google but the editorial at Billboard has crossed over to anti-artist, anti-label, anti-rights holders years ago. Think I’m kidding… look at the so called “consumption chart”… it’s worthless, except to leverage labels into giving into streaming companies – and streaming payola as a result is a shock? I don’t think so.

      This doesn’t surprise me at all. Silicon Valley interests can write more and bigger checks than the labels ever will again.

  3. Avatar

    Just remember a couple of years ago, Majors were the biggest users of YouTube bots for artificially boosting their numbers, before YouTube finally decided to police these practices.

    • Avatar

      That is why the majors created VEVO so they could continue to artificially boost the views without the aid of bots.

      • Paul Resnikoff
        Paul Resnikoff

        VEVO is a JV among the majors, and Spotify is substantially owned by the majors as well (I’ve heard the whisper of 15%). So, this starts getting circular really fast, as the majors are sort of paying themselves to play their own content.

        • Avatar
          Remi Swierczek

          All of this stupid and cashless activity is to increase the brand name value of those toppers and LIVE INCOME. Live is doing well, it is at least 4 times bigger then recording industry and for the moment is the only place where top .01% of musicians, not always great STARS, can make money for themselves and labels.

  4. Avatar
    Jeff Robinson

    Thus the reason indie artists don’t chart on such a service.

    Old news too, the major label music industry has had paid gatekeepers for years. Look to commercial radio for a history of that. No reported ‘add’ to a trade publication chart unless the label was paying the going rate per P1, P2 or P3 station.

    In this new digital domain, I’ve worked with indie artists who were told directly that despite their substantial number of spins (on Xbox), the artist would not be allowed to chart. In this case, that feedback came directly from the Xbox folks.

  5. Avatar
    T. Cooke

    Look for independents to have more power going forward from the quality of their work to heed in a slow game. Sure, increased accessibilty to creation tools is pivotal no doubt, but it is still early. Artists such as Martin Garrix and Avicci are real musical talents I surmise, but they likely have mix engineers and arrangement direction at a very minumum to carry the production to a commercial medium. Then there are ghost productions and now even manufactured DJs like pop has had for years. By acquiescing to needs such as this and marketing and sales force initiatives, they sacrifice artistic control under the guise that they can facilitate they’re career best by touring and taking selfies with fans and leaving distribution decisions to the label and manger. Artists catagoracally think they made the decision, but in actuallity they were persuaded. Take for example Skrillex’s misguided rational that choosing to not be on Spotify is penny pinching. Wow. Ari’s show tonight Hotel Cafe.

  6. Avatar
    About Time

    It’s not just majors doing the paying, hell Jay Frank started doing it to promote his own indie artists. Just nice to see this out in the open before it’s too rampant. There are enough challenges for artists, taking away some of the equity of digital is no good for anyone.

  7. Avatar
    reality check

    the playing field has never been ‘level’ and never will be.

  8. Avatar

    Just have a gander at and you’ll find DOZENS of folks selling plays on Spotify and other services.

    If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

    • Avatar

      But, but… musicians are special, magical snowflakes who would never think of doing such a thing….

  9. Avatar
    Joe Payola

    This practice—and specifically that of the labels’ paying for terrestrial promotion—validates the NAB argument in re the issue of a performance right for masters and performers.

  10. Avatar

    And as I said on the Alabama Shakes thread they pay for hundreds of fake reviews (and take downs of real ones) on itunes, amazon etc.

  11. Avatar
    RockNRoll Buddha

    This just confirms what I’ve been experiencing with my Indie Artists this year.

    We used to get LOTS of love from Spotify on their curated New Release playlists, etc. But this year those placements have almost completely stopped, with no explanation. Same shit, different day – the majors have completely co-opted yet another platform. Once they all took equity stakes in Spotify, we were doomed.

    Really sucks, but we can’t pay-to-play. Hey Spotify – it ain’t only about Major Label content. If we don’t continue to work together to break some indie acts, then NONE of us are going to have jobs in the future….

    • Avatar
      Mike C.

      What’s interesting in the Billboard article, but not mentioned here, is the practice of paying the Playlist gurus on Spotify a $100 – $150 “consultation” fee, which does not guarantee placement on a playlist, but merely gets your songs heard and considered for a playlist. It’s not quite the same thing as payola – getting guaranteed placement for money.

      Curious to know if you would pay such a fee?

  12. Avatar

    Did anyone really not think/assume this was happening? Like the industry suddenly got all moral after the payola rulings..?

  13. Avatar
    RockNRoll Buddha

    Mike C – no, I wouldn’t pay a $100.00 “fee” to be considered for a playlist. I know the folks putting together the playlists @ Spotify – and have no problem presenting my case to them. But if their bosses are telling them what to program, based on equity investments from the Majors – it doesn’t matter who presents it – it ain’t happening.