Spotify Allegedly Creates Fake Artists to Avoid Paying Real Ones (Updated)

Spotify Allegedly Creates Fake Artists to Avoid Paying Real Ones
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Spotify Allegedly Creates Fake Artists to Avoid Paying Real Ones
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Spotify CEO Daniel Ek

Along with spammers and ‘coverbots,’ has Spotify also gamed the music industry and artist fans?  According to a new report, they may very well have.

Updated (Jul 9th, 4 pm PT): Spotify has now officially responded to ‘fake artist’ accusations, while also addressing broader playlist gaming.

Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” recently reached number one on Billboard’s streaming charts.  Straight off the rapper’s album, Damn., Lamar has racked up over 291 million streams on Spotify.  But, did you know that a third-rate cover of the song, ‘Sing Down and Be Humble,’ has 300,000 streams (and growing)?

According to a new report, Spotify has allegedly gamed the industry to avoid paying out real artists like Lamar.

In a lengthy piece, Vulture’s Adam K. Raymond alleges that Spotify has purposefully filled its service with fake accounts.  The Swedish streamer has yet to tackle “the coverbots and ripoff artists who vomit… inferior versions of popular songs,” Raymond blasts.

But Spotify has also allegedly allowed users to upload silent tracks.  Each track is “precisely long enough to generate a fraction of a cent for the artist,” per the report.  In 2014, as part of an experiment, indie band Vulfpeck released “completely silent recordings” thirty seconds long. They asked fans to stream the songs at night. The songs were long enough to count as plays. The group generated $20,000 in royalty payments before Spotify had shut them down.

The fraud happens thanks to Spotify’s broad search results, writes Raymond.  With over one hundred million active users, these search results allow artists to “game the system” for profit.

Playlists = Power.

In another piece tackling Spotify’s playlists, Liz Pelly writes that the streamer has reached “never-before-seen authority” in the industry.  The streaming platform decides how they distribute, what fans discover, and which versions to play.  The goal, writes Pelly, is to “build brand loyalty” and embolden its “authority” in the music arena.  And playlists have become the streamer’s preferred method to “expand that authority.”

Simply put, writes Pelly, Spotify uses playlists as part of its “unprecedented grab for power and control in music.”

In addition, Sony Music’s Filtr, Universal Muisc’s Digster, and Warner Music’s Topsify curate several top playlists that appear on the service.  Spotify staff also manages a myriad of top-ranked playlists.  However, by using label-owned playlisting brands, major labels “effectively use these playlists to pump their artists into Spotify-owned algorithmic playlists.”

In other words, writes Pelly, Spotify knowingly allows major labels to game the service’s playlists.

This method has worked wonders with small-time artists who also know how to game the service.  Raymond also attributes the problem to Spotify’s curated playlists.  Using the example of the Happy Birthday Library, the platform has allowed personalized versions of ‘Happy Birthday.’  Users have streamed these versions of ‘Happy Birthday’ more than a million times.

To enjoy this clear gaming oversight, relatively unknown artists record a ‘Happy Birthday’ single.  The song, alleges Raymond, then gets added to the “Happy Birthday” playlist.  These relatively unknown artists (or spammers) then enjoy sweet royalty checks when Spotify adds them to the playlists.

So, why doesn’t Spotify clean up the service from spammers and ‘coverbots’ who game the system?  Because apparently it does so, as well.

Raymond claims that Spotify views playlists as “kings.”  Songs on playlists generally enjoy a ton of plays.  However, how can it make sure it pays out relatively little to big-name artists?  Simple, writes Raymond; it pays producers upfront to create fake artists.  These fake artists then rack up plays without the streamer having to worry about handing over further royalty payments.  According to Raymond, Spotify thus avoids writing royalty checks that come with prime playlist placement.

In other words, Spotify also games its system for its own benefit.

This upfront payment saves the company from writing fat streaming checks that come with that plum playlist placement, but tricks listeners into thinking the artists actually exist and limits the opportunities for real music-makers to make money.

To remove the playlist system that allows spammers and coverbots to profit, Spotify would lose out on precious revenue.  This, alleges Raymond, means Spotify actually devalues music as a whole.  When listening to songs fabricated by these fake artists, most users on the platform will take time to realize the mistake.  However, by that time, Spotify has allegedly avoided paying out that sweet, sweet royalty check to big-name artists.

Spotify didn’t answer questions when presented with this information, writes Raymond.  However, the company has faced similar accusations in the past, with top artists pulling their music from the service in protest.

Image by Rasmus Andersson (CC by 2.0)

35 Responses

    • Anonymous

      So desperate for attention Paul. Write a real story. Find a real scoop.

      • Jim

        Well, DMN is just copying what others have been doing today. Vulture wrote the long, long article about it. Spin wrote something about it, Stereogum just copied Spin’s article.

    • Dan

      Here’s a specific example.

      Two of the fake songs/bands in question are Waiting for Nothing by Evolution Of Stars and Endless Fragments of Time by Deep Watch. If you search the BMI repertoire for a song called Endless Fragments of Time, there’s only one listed, and it’s written by Andreas Romdhane and Josef Svedlund, a Swedish songwriting team named Quiz & Larossi. If you google the phrase “endless fragments of time” the Deep Watch song is the only song that comes up. There’s no performer listed with BMI, so I think we can safely assume that it’s Deep Watch.

      When you search for Waiting for Nothing, you find a listing for another song written by Andreas Romdhane and Josef Svedlund. What a coincidence! These two famous Swedish music producers just happened to write two songs that don’t appear anywhere else and have the same titles as fake songs on Spotify.

      The BMI search is publicly available, you can see for yourself. I’m sure there’s plenty more evidence. You’ll have to search by track name though, since the performers don’t exist. I was willing to give Spotify half credit for at least letting the artist keep their publishing rights but I don’t like them lying straight to our faces.

  1. Vail, CO

    Already many examples of bands getting huge $$ just b/c a Spotify employee likes them. Spotify = make/break for an artist.

    • Ricardo

      I dunno. As much as this article is toss… Spotify is largely unimportant. Its one of many …

  2. Paul Resnikoff

    Just one point I wanted to add to this. The major labels (there are 3 of them) actually own a major percentage of Spotify, some claim the amount is up to 20%. So of course they have influence on playlists. But, one other thing to keep in mind is that at this stage, most playlists that are top-ranked are actually curated in-house at Spotify. No, the other playlists are not deleted, but definitely marginalized in comparison.

    If you want to dig further, check out, they’re pushing aggressively into monitoring this stuff.

  3. Anonymous

    Not defending them/denying they do shady shit, who in the music industry doesn’t? But wouldn’t it be pretty easy to spot a fake artist? Or if Spotify pays a producer, makes a song, puts it on a play and its popular, aren’t they a real artist then? lol

    I’m confused I think…

    • Anonymous

      The other issue is these supposed “sweet, sweet royalty checks”. In reality, they are a very small fraction of what artist used to make

    • John Eppstein

      “Fake” cover versions have been around since the ’50s – it’s nothing new and not illegal. What I don’t understand is why people would use a service that plays fake versions? Guess it just proves that most people don'[t actually listen anymore – and maybe that a lot of current music, especially from the majors, probably isn’t worth listening to.

  4. Ari Herstand

    I’m confused what the problem is here. IF, and this is a HUGE if, Spotify is actually hiring producers to make rip off cover tracks to confuse their audience that would be a story. But that seems highly unlikely as it simply diminishes the quality of the service.

    I do not believe that Spotify “creates fake artists.” I’d really wish you’d cite a source other than some dude in Vulture who is just hypothesizing. Because he clearly hates cover artists. Note his tone when referencing Alex Goot who has been doing this for years and years, is not created by Spotify or YouTube or anyone. Is an actual artist. SO WHAT he doesn’t write original music… Why is he “lesser than?”

    I’d like this guy to shit on Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Elvis, Jill Scott, Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews, or literally every single artist in the history of the world for all the damn ‘covers’ they did.

    The story is not that Spotify is gaming the system. (Because there’s no real proof of this or inside scoop) The story is that artists/producers are creating cover songs and getting hundreds of thousands of streams from them. This isn’t anything new. People LIKE listening to covers. Just because you and this dude don’t doesn’t mean no one does.

    TONS of people LOVE listening to cover versions – just go to YouTube. Or stay on Spotify where it’s clear that it is a cover – ie the original artist’s name isn’t even listed.

    Sometimes the covers are drastically different. Sometimes they are close to the original. Who are you to say what’s right and wrong?

    And what is a “coverbot?” I listened to these songs. They’re real songs… There’s no bot involved. A real person recorded a real song and distributed it. Who cares if it’s not an artist playing clubs? Again, why are cover artists “lesser than?”

    If the issue is that you don’t like that producers are gaming the system, then that’s an argument to be had. But I highly doubt Spotify has anything officially to do with this. These “artists” like King Stitch and Jennifer Henderson are yes, probably fake names as they only have one song and no presence anywhere else on the web. This is the conversation to be had.

    There is a lot of circular reasoning going on here and I’m quite confused at what the point is of this ‘story.’

    • Paul Resnikoff

      This all gets a little gray.

      Tell that to Taylor Swift. She didn’t want her music on Spotify. Yet that opens a giant opportunity to ‘game’ with covers of her songs. C’mon, that’s just a game.

      But it also affects rap artists and producers. Try to find an instrumental and oftentimes you’ll get the sounds-like cover version. A ‘close enough’ designed to trick or barely satisfy the user, even though that’s not what the artist wanted.

      So, it’s legal. But it’s a loophole. Ethically, it’s questionable.

      • Anonymous

        Swift didn’t want her music on Spotify because she knew her minions would still buy her CDs and she’d make millions more. And/or she knew he had the clout to work out some sort of exclusive and get a bucket of cash up front. Had nothing to do with ‘fake’ artists, get real lol

      • John Eppstein

        Questionable? Maybe – it depends on the context. If it’s legit, the name of the cover artist will be clearly stated. I do country music and have done blues – in both areas well known artists cover each other’s songs and nobody says “boo!”. Rockers (post Beatles) are peculiar in the insistence on self-penned material.

        My own band does about 1/3 originals and 2/3s “classics”.

        Hell;, even Willie Nelson, one of the greatest country songwriters EVER does covers.

        However, all other factors taken into consideration I dfo believe that Spotify is deliberately gaming the system. The proof would be if somebody could uncover a “work for hire” contract between Spotify and one or more of their cover artists.

    • Lest it be overlooked...

      Whether it is true or not, it seems like a lot of unnecessary effort when it would be easier for “Spotify” to simply file an “address unknown” compulsory licence notice for the songs at the U.S. Copyright Office.

      Meet The New Boss: Tech Giants Rely on Loopholes to Avoid Paying Statutory Royalties with Mass Filings of NOIs at the Copyright Office:

      • John Eppstein

        I doubt that would fly in the case of any song by a currently charting artist, and would probably engender criminal charges for perjury, if not outright fraud. Eck may be an ugly, crooked SOB but he’s not that dumb.

  5. conspiracy theories due to bad weed

    what the FUCK is this shit? -how can you publish this crap?are you really smoking that much to believe this is actually plausible?

    fucking get off the weed

    • John Eppstein

      Actually it’s more than plausible. You must not know much about Spotify – or you work for them.

  6. stop trolling

    spotify allows silent tunes? lol nope. no distributor in the world lets you upload silence, in fact even if it has a too big silence gap at the end, you have to amend it or it is not getting anywhere. SHUT THE FUCK UP

    • Ignacio

      “But Spotify has also allowed users to upload silent tracks. ”


      Might want to search Vulfpeck.

  7. Hit Covers made for streaming

    Covers have been around since records began and I am perfectly happy with producers and artists recording and releasing covers and remixes of popular songs (without sampling the original artists) – main thing is not to deliberately try to trick
    listeners that yours is the original artists (iTunes has made a point of not allowing this) .. so as long as the covers and remixes don’t mislead the public then it’s great to have other versions.. whether they’re soundalikes (remember those Top Of The Pops LP’s from the 70s) or re-arranged/re-mixed versions and of course Instrumental versions and Karaoke versions .. all ok in my book..

    The public decides what they want to listen to.. and with streaming it does lend itself for more experimentation of the listener to hear-out other versions of popular songs..

    • Anniebhumble

      I thought you have to have copyrights to post a song to a streaming service for the purpurpose of payment to the owner of the song and cover songs are not covered by copyright laws. The defense to justify adding cover songs to streaming services is an extremely weak one and may result in copyright infringement lawsuits against Spotify if proven that the original content owner was harmed by Spotify if others received money compensation from Spotify.

  8. Where there's a hit (there's a bunch of covers..)

    There are millions of cover versions of Beethoven, Mozart and all the other
    classical composers whose works have always relied and survived by having
    covers recorded and performed of their works.

    Also, it’s so hard for a songwriter or artist to launch a new song and often the best way to find an audience is through recording an already proven hit popular song which will have it’s own fans willing to have a listen.

    Streaming lends itself to consumers trying out new versions of already proven hits..

  9. Boss

    Major labels are the biggest crooks in the music industry. They are the ones getting pissed of with indie labels and
    successful cover artists making money of streaming and not giving away 90% of the income to the majors with thousands of employees and big offices at the best addressees all over the world.

  10. Correction

    Vulfpeck made $20,000, not $200,000. May want to correct that.

  11. Whistleblower

    Paul this is the Swedish label putting out fake covers. Check any song out and you will see that they are added to ALL of the major playlists upon release day, even though they are not real artists. Some even make it to New Music Friday

  12. Anniebhumble

    I thought you have to have copyrights to post a song to a streaming service for the purpurpose of payment to the owner of the song and cover songs are not covered by copyright laws. The defense to justify adding cover songs to streaming services is an extremely weak one and may result in copyright infringement lawsuits against Spotify if proven that the original content owner was harmed by Spotify if others received money compensation from Spotify.

  13. Beans

    I cannot find a song called “sing down and be humble” although that sounds hilarious and I’ve been trying to find it. In fact, not a single google search comes up when I search that with quotes except this article. Does that song exist? I wanna hear it!!!