Spotify’s ‘Fake Artists’ Are Actually Real Artists Getting Paid. Still Outraged?

Outrage at Spotify! Fake Artists!
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Outrage at Spotify! Fake Artists!
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photo: Kenny Louie (CC 2.0)

Behind every ‘fake artist’ is a real artist that’s getting paid, directly and upfront.  So who cares?

Spotify’s ‘fake artist’ issue?  It’s basically ‘fake news’.  Because ‘fake artists’ are actually real artists.  They just have fake names that Spotify listeners aren’t reading anyway.

Spotify denies it all.  I’m not here to call them liars.  But it doesn’t matter if they’re lying or not.  Because some producer got paid to make some meditative piano track and put a name like ‘Julius Aston’ on it.

Sorry, Bernie Papaschwartzky doesn’t have the same ring.  So they went with Julius.  Welcome to show business.  But Bernie’s getting paid a market-competitive fee for making a background piano track.

In fact, he’s probably making another background track for some commercial right now.  You’ll see ‘Tide’ with some jingle, and Bernie gets paid.  That’s just as good — if not ten times better — than uploading your music through Tunecore or some label and getting $0.0005 per spin.  Then participating in a class action lawsuit over unpaid mechanical royalties.

Indie Artist With 4.3 Million Spotify Plays Receives Check for $5,078

Spotify (or whomever) just chose a different copyright arrangement.

In ‘scenario B,’ Spotify controls the copyright, and Spotify pays upfront for that privilege.  Same thing with session musicians, ghostwriters, and a touring drummer.  Two consenting adults agreeing to a business deal with terms they both like.

And zero downstream royalty issues, lawsuits, or other bulls—t.

And these ‘fake artists’?  Please show me the Spotify listener that cares that their zen-like piano music wasn’t actually performed by Julius Aston.  They don’t.  It’s just as irrelevant to them as the chef who made your linguini with clam sauce.  You don’t care.

Come to think of it, Spotify should be doing more of this.  Not less.  Why?  Right now, Spotify doesn’t have a sustainable business model.  And Wall Street hates them for it.  And why don’t they have a sustainable model?  The reason is that they’re paying upwards of 80% of their revenues on content royalties.  And they’re handing out 20% of their business to content owners, because they have to.

So why not create some of that content themselves?

How to Fix Spotify’s Business Model and Save the Music Industry

Sorry you hate the fact that this ‘cheats’ some struggling jazz artist who can’t get onto a playlist.  But it’s benefiting some producer whose music IS getting placed on that playlist.  And frankly, that producer is probably getting paid better, got the money upfront, and is all-around happier because of it.





21 Responses

  1. Jim

    1) it’s still bad.

    2) but, for the reasons you stated, it’s smart.

    And it’s not like a) music is good these days. It isn’t. And it’s not like b) this type of thing wasn’t really common back in the day. It was. Tin Pan Alley, Brill Building, Joey Levine.

    There are anti trust concerns here. I’m more concerned about normal suckoligopoly processes that have led us to the land of garbage music than I am about Spotify doing a bit more vertical integration than we’re used to recently.

    I see no reason at all why Spotify can’t make big top 40 pop stars, rap stars and EDM stars either. All that is crap, and if Spotify wants to pay pop, rap, and EDM acts minimum wage, that wouldn’t bother me personally. I’m really more concerned about the idea that pop rap and EDM are being sold as not crap, but good. This pop, rap, and EDM is the kind of stuff that would be in Teen Beat, Tiger Beat, 16, 50 years ago, and nowhere else. It has its place, and that place is not where good music goes, but in the area where garbage music for preteens and middle aged women goes.

    But, still, bad. Makes perfect sense, but makes things worse. But things are bad now. So, ???

    • Me

      If you think music is bad these days, then what are you doing reading/posting on a music website?

  2. Dan

    You’re missing the point, these aren’t backing tracks for commercials. They’re being sold to the listener as real songs by real artists. If there was a playlist called Muzak: Songs For Algorithms, no one would listen to it. Spotify knows this, which is why they are lying and presenting these songs as being written and performed by “real” artists. Artists that people want to know more about, because people desire an emotional connection with the humans who create the music they enjoy. People are sick of being lied to and they will not tolerate it in their art, which is why Spotify keeps trying to make this go away.

    There’s no shortage of music out there so why not spread the money around a little bit instead of hiring two Swedish guys to write every song? Do you think monopolies make for better music? Are you afraid of what might happen in twenty years when artificial intelligence becomes capable of producing electronic music that can pass a Turing test, once it figures out the math to make a human cry? Do you think when there is only one place to listen to music, that the people who own it will be generous enough to share their profits with other human beings when they can get machines to create content for free? Will people in 2037 have access to enough information to find “real” music when they’re having discussions like this with an AI bot programmed to defend the corporation that created it? Then you’ll be out of a job, too.

  3. Whistleblower

    Paul this is the Swedish label putting out fake covers. Check any song out, go to the artist ABOUT section, 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 racking up millions of playlist streams

    • Paul Resnikoff

      ‘fake covers’? What are those?

      So, some producers are making a bunch of these tracks that blend well into Spotify’s playlists and that people are enjoying. And, they’re getting paid to do it, while agreeing to the terms of their work.

      So what?

      • rjb

        Music added to playlists is, presumably or perceived, an organic process — curator discovers, uploads for others to discover, wash/rinse/repeat.

        If Spotify is stacking the deck, paying others to make music for (whatever reason), what’s to say others (read: labels) aren’t paying to get ON said playlists??

        AUTHENTICITY is central to this debate. Spotify loses credibility if these accusations are true. Sure, good for the party who’s getting paid… it’s just new payola. Gatekeepers deciding what is/should be listened to. There’d be nothing wrong with it if the selection was natural… but alas, it appears it isn’t.

  4. Top of the Pops 2017

    All this talk about “fake artists” is a nonsense.. Pop music is a business and always has been.. some would say artists like Elvis weren’t real artists because the Colonel (Tom Parker) was calling all the shots and Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were writing and producing the hits.

    Same goes with the Chinnichap machine of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman,
    many accused them of having having fake artists/bands with Mud, Sweet, Smokie.. eventually these bands got tired of the criticisms (especially from the press) and left the Chinnichap machine and disappeared from the charts in the process.

    Producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz even sent a step further and had different singers and musicians appear on TV and on stage to what was actually on the record…

    In Britian during the early 70s you had the hit songwriting teams of Tony Macaulay, Barry Mason, John Macleod, Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway.
    They were all having massive hits in Britain and around the world with their made-up studio bands going under a variety of names.. Edison Lighthouse,
    White Plains, First Class and many others..

    The pop record business has always been about having fun making hits and
    making a fortune… it’s no different today than how it was back then..

    Sure technology and distribution has changed.. but you still need a great song,
    a top production and people have to like it for you to have a shot at scoring a hit..

    Radio is still about..

    • Seth Keller

      This is one of the best comments on the topic yet. TOTP17 is going way back in pop music, but if you even go back to the days of Peak CD in the late 80s through 90s you had good number of Top 40 hits that weren’t from “real artists”: C+C Music Factory, Milli Vanilli (won a Grammy), Black Box, Enigma, etc. All of these were creations of writer-producers. Even the images of the singers were “fake”, using models in photos and videos and professional background vocalists on the actual recordings.

      If people are upset that the Swedish Spotify “fake artists” are taking a spot on a New Age playlist from an artist trying to make it in the genre, they should be apoplectic that fake artists once regularly appeared on the Top 40 charts taking spots that could actually create real money for real artists in the form of CD sales and touring income.

      Now come the comments that every Top 40 artist is fake…in 3, 2, 1…

      • Paul Resnikoff

        Fun trivia. I think I remember that Snap’s ‘I’ve Got the Power’ video featured a very skinny model singing ‘I’ve Got the Power!’ in the video. When, it was a very portly woman belting out that chorus.

        Wasn’t there some lawsuit over this?

        • Seth Keller

          Just checked the wikipedia on the song and Snap fits the “fake artist” bill–two writers making up an artist:

          Written by Michael Münzing and Luca Anzilotti (under the pseudonyms Benito Benites and John “Virgo” Garrett III) and produced by Snap!, “The Power” was the group’s third single. Featuring a rap by Turbo B and vocals by Penny Ford (lip-synced in the music video by Jackie Harris), the single became a massive international hit.

          The lawsuit you’re thinking of, though, was actually two lawsuits, both by Martha Wash (who is a big woman) who was the singer on the C+C and Black Box hits. In both cases, the producers paid her flat fees to record demo vocals (one article I read said about $1,000 for a session) on those songs and then used those demos in the final master recordings without crediting her. They then used models or very young, thin singers in the videos and artwork.

  5. PTSoundHound

    Anyone want to blast another content delivery mechanism (Netflix) for pivoting their model and producing their own content (e.g. House of Cards) rather than just buying it in?

    After all, isn’t Netflix’ HoC just a “cover version” of the 1990 BBC television series?


    • William

      I love that Netflix is doing that. The difference is that Netflix tells you its a Netflix produced show.

      If Spotify pays a producer, cool. But call it what it is.

  6. Me

    The difference here is the fake ‘artists’ have no need or desire to participate in any promotion. There tracks may explode on the platform, but you will never see a tour, interviews or presence outside the platform. This is a revelation, and is very difficult for labels to deal with. What now is the reason of labels, if no pr budget is needed?

  7. Bubblegum Boy

    That has always been the case with writer-producer faceless studio created artists/projects – actually they’re my favorite kind of record because in many ways it’s the actual song and record that have to stand up on their own merits.. the record and the song becomes the stars..

    Talking about fake artists.. look at “Sugar Sugar” The Archies as an example..
    Don Kirshner got tired dealing with the egos and demands of actual
    artists that he decided his next hit project would be made up of animated
    characters and Sugar Sugar was born with the great help of Jeff Barry & Andy Kim.

    We could go on and on… The Banana Splits…

    Saturday morning TV was a great platform for creating big hits..

  8. just clarifying

    Isnt the problem that these songs, that are paid for and owned by Spotify, are diluting the royalty pool for artists not part of this agreement?

  9. Will Buckley

    Several years ago, I wrote an article speculating on Apple Music and the hiring of Jimmy Irvine.

    It had been my hope at the time that Apple would get in the music production business, i.e. Invest in talent, and make that music exclusive to their streaming service.

    I haven’t read whether these ‘work for hire’ compositions are exclusive to Spotify, but if so it does raise questions about windowing and the use of in house produced content, ala HBO / Netflix, as a way forward to profitability.

  10. Lest it be overlooked...

    … Interestingly, the complaint, if a complaint it could be called as to whose content is to be included within the “Spotify playlists” which, in essence, was really a veiled-complaint raised by the publisher/record label(s) as to whose content is to be included in the “Spotify playlists” AS IF the publisher/record label(s) possess some divine right to have their content included in said playlists over and above, say, a non-contractually or monetarily obligated (independent) producer(s) and/or artist(s) which arguably they do not, unless of course, Spotify has a contractual obligation with the publisher/record label(s) which requires Spotify to include a certain percentage of the publisher/record label(s) content in said playlists.

    Be that as it may, above and beyond that red-herring, it appears that the real story is that “Spotify diminishes the value of music by using the 50% discount-that’s right 50%-as a loss leader for both Spotify’s subscription service (aka the valuable part of the Spotify service) and for Capital One to sell more indebtedness to fans[,]” as reported by Chris Castle in the article referenced below:

    Spotify’s Latest Premium: 50% Back Means 50% Less:

    I hope Taylor Swift is proud of herself.

  11. Lest it be overlooked...

    Though I am neither a lawyer nor do I purport to be, I believe (pun intended) for the reasons stated below that a case could possibly be made that not only are the record label(s) potentially in breach of contract(s), but so too is Spotify, et al.

    As Chris Castle explained: “Most record deals give the artist a ‘marketing restriction’ that looks something like this:

    ‘Label will not use Masters made under this agreement in premium Records to promote the sale of any product or service other than Records. The restriction set forth in this subparagraph shall apply during and after the Term.’

    This prohibition is usually absolute and is generally an easy give by the label in a new artist negotiation. That’s why you don’t see too many premiums out there in the market place.”

    Spotify’s Latest Premium: 50% Back Means 50% Less:

    I previously made mention in my previous post (July 14th) for purposes of discussion to the theoretical existence of a contractual obligation which would require Spotify to include a certain percentage of the publisher/record label(s) content in the Spotify playlists and though I have yet to uncover the existence of such a contractual obligation (the search continues), I have stumbled upon some very interesting contractual obligations as reported by Ben Sisario of the The New York Times on July 14, 2017, which, in pertinent part, is as follows:

    “As some in the business see it, the ‘fake’ controversy could endanger future deals, although many labels, big and small, have protections in their licensing contracts that forbid Spotify from owning content or DELIBERATELY driving customers to lower-cost songs.” [Emphasis mine.]

    While Some Cry ‘Fake,’ Spotify Sees No Need to Apologize:

    As reported by Chris Castle, “Spotify also takes the next step-using music as a LOSS LEADER to promote credit cards” and “diminishes the value of music by using the 50% discount…as a loss leader for both Spotify’s subscription service (aka the valuable part of the Spotify service) and for Capital One to sell more indebtedness to fans.” [Emphasis in original.]

    If Spotify is using music as a loss leader to promote its subscription service, is that not “DELIBERATELY driving customers to lower-cost songs” at the expense of, say, for example, the artists? Before it is argued that the contract(s) are not between the artists and Spotify, but rather, the labels and Spotify and therefore not forbidden, take a quick look at the ‘marketing restriction’ set out above. It has been reported by DMN that “some claim [that] the amount [of the major labels collective equity interest in Spotify] is up to 20%” (though there has, to my knowledge, been no published report as to the collective equity interest of the major label’s publishers in Spotify, for example, if any), therefore, can it not also be said that the labels are using music as a loss leader to promote its subscription service? IPO much?

    Before I get ahead of myself, perhaps it would be best for the artists to first check their contract(s) (past and present) to determine whether or not there is in fact a ‘marketing restriction’ clause such as the one identified above in their contract(s) with their record label(s) and, while they’re at it, why not also check their contracts with their music publisher(s) and distributor(s) for greater certainty.

    For present purposes, so as not to confuse the matter, if there is such a ‘marketing restriction’ clause to be found in the artist contract(s) (past and present) with their respective record label(s) that forbids, among other things, the use of the Masters made under those agreements in premium Records (Content) to promote the sale of any product or service other than Records, and in view of the fact that the record labels (major or otherwise) own an equity interest in Spotify which is a service (is it not?), could it be said that in such circumstances that the record label(s) are in breach of contract with their respective artists? If the record label(s) are in fact in breach of contract with their respective artists, it seems that the artists could sue for breach of contract (past and present).

    If there be merit in the foregoing reasoning, just imagine the possibilities. As noted by Chris Castle concerning Spotify: “Capital One gets to have their music industry tie in by having ALL the music for a premium. And Spotify probably got a branding fee that they do not share wi[th] the artists in return.” [Emphasis in original.]

    Sound familiar?

    Lets travel back through “time” for a moment to August 1, 2014, when DMN reported that Universal Music Group made $400 million off the Beats acquisition and artists made $0:

    At the time, DMN reported that sources, “which include[d] a major label attorney, ha[d] noted that NONE OF THE MONEY WILL MAKE IT BACK TO THE ARTISTS, based on the language of most artists contracts. The standard contractual language stipulates that one-time payments to the labels from streaming services, either in the form of upfront advances or equity cash-outs like this one, are simply not shared.” [Emphasis in original.]

    Referencing the June 10, 2014 DMN article, “How Streaming Services are Screwing Lady Gaga (and Every Other Artist),” the article further states:

    “In other words, if it isn’t a stream directly attributable to an artist on the label, THERE IS NO PAYMENT. ‘They will get nothing,’ one major label attorney flatly told Digital Music News, while insisting on anonymity.


    If there are ‘marketing restriction’ clauses to be found in Lady Gaga’s contract, and others, a reputable attorney may advise that there is in fact a case to be made for compensation to the artists from such sales by their record label(s) and, perhaps, depending on the contract language of the artists with their respective music publisher(s) and distributor(s), even in those circumstances.

    If there are ‘marketing restriction’ clauses to be found in the artist contracts and there is merit in the foregoing reasoning, what other transactions would such ‘marketing restriction’ clauses apply to? There was mention of Spotify and the major label(s) sale of their share in Beats when it was sold to Apple for $3.2 billion, but could those ‘marketing restriction’ clauses also be relevant to the potential $400 million plus sale of Believe (Tunecore) to Sony Music and others?

    Might be worth further investigation, just saying.