Spotify Is Removing Hundreds of Thousands of Indie Tracks Over ‘Artificial Stream’ Violations — DistroKid Offers Counter-Notification Process

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Photo Credit: Logan Weaver

Spotify is reportedly removing hundreds of thousands of indie tracks over alleged “artificial stream” violations; DistroKid is already offering a “counter-notification” process for artists whose songs have been pulled down.

A musician recently reached out to Digital Music News with word of the reported indie-track takedowns on Spotify — and that was just the start of a flurry of reports on the ugly situation. Multiple sources have now pointed to a pulldown that started at the beginning of this month and has impacted an estimated 750,000 tracks.  The sources now include emails to Digital Music News, a report from music industry attorney Wallace Collins, a detailed breakdown of the situation from DistroKid, and numerous social media posts.

Spotify appears to have offered an explanation for the alleged indie-music purge in the “promotion” FAQ section of its Spotify for Artists resource. Part of an answer to a question concerning the legitimacy of third-party promotional services – i.e. services that provide paid streams – reads: “Third party promotional services that advertise streams in return for payment violate our terms & conditions, and using them could result in your music being removed from Spotify.”

The FAQ’s very next question elaborates upon the possible “consequences” associated with utilizing one of these unauthorized services to boost play counts. “When we identify or are alerted to potential or confirmed cases of stream manipulation, we take action that may include the withholding of royalties,” the Stockholm-based service wrote. “Spotify reserves the right to remove manipulated content from the platform.”

But on Twitter, some frustrated artists are relaying that while they haven’t used a fake-stream service, their tracks are still being pulled from Spotify.

“Hi Distrokid, Spotify removed my music due to what they say [are] ‘fake plays,’ this is a genuine mistake by Spotify. I filled out the counter act form and ask you [to] send it on ASAP please @DistroKid so we as a band can move forward,” penned one creator.

“Our album was removed for alleged fraudulent streams citing the alleged use of streaming services. We have never used such a service and the counter claim form from @DistroKid is based around questions asking to detail use of services, hard to fill in if you haven’t used any,” wrote Manchester-based Heavy Salad.

In another post, published early this morning, Heavy Salad said: “Following on from our last tweet, we are very frustrated by this situation as we are completely in the dark about why this has happened, we have no info, no help, no advice from @Spotify or @DistroKid which is a total kick in the teeth for small independent artists.”

(At the time of this piece’s writing, Heavy Salad’s 2020 Cult Casual album wasn’t live on Spotify; a total of nine singles remained on the group’s artist page, however.)

DistroKid’s mentioned counter-notification form requests information about artists’ removed music – and utilized third-party marketing services, for which “Spotify expects detailed reports.” The seven-year-old distribution service will then “pass it along to Spotify,” according to the text at the bottom of the application – though “DistroKid may not hear back from Spotify regarding the results of Spotify’s investigation, and the content will remain down during Spotify’s investigation.”

It’s unclear if the Spotify pulldowns are also impacting a substantial number of CD Baby and TuneCore artists, but the companies didn’t address the matter in time for publishing. DistroKid founder Philip Kaplan, however, said that his service “wasn’t involved” with the removal effort and specified that “these takedowns were distributor-agnostic and affected music from all distributors (not just DistroKid).” That makes sense, given that Distrokid is easily one of the largest music distributors in the world.

As many have stated on social media (and as Kaplan noted in his response), team members, friends, fans, or others could have purchased third-party promotional services on behalf of artists without their permission or knowledge. Presently, it doesn’t appear that there’s a way to differentiate between the musicians who intentionally inflated their play counts and the musicians whose work may have been flagged due to the actions of others.

Buffalo-based artist Dylan Toole – whose Spotify profile shows his Cold Hearted Love Story album only in the “artist pick” section, with just four of its nine tracks available to stream – has started a petition entitled “Restore our music” over the takedowns. The petition has garnered more than 2,800 signatures thus far.

More as this develops.

17 Responses

  1. Anthony McGriff

    Spotify does not want indie artists on any playlists unless it’s artist’s discovery. Artist Discovery is another fancy word for PAYOLA. Notice you did not see any major label artist’s music removed and yes they use streaming farms and bots to inflate their artist’s numbers, the only difference is that they have a budget for promotion. The Sad part is that the artist has to pay the label back with interest worse than any credit card on the market. I know streaming fraud happens but I also know covid has the majority of listeners home and listening to music and Spotify’s advertising revenue is not what they anticipated.

    • Roman Fitzgerald

      Very true Anthony. There are also better indie artist so the labels can only protect their artist by two means payola and take downs. The FCC has to start working on it Congress and RIAA. Royalties have been stolen from all these artist. The Streaming Companies are sharing music just like napster did and should not be allowed.

  2. Eddie

    Wow, so far I haven’t heard of anyone else besides Distrokid being affected. Time will tell though.

  3. Juan María Solare

    Hey Dylan, correct me if I’m wrong but… Would it mean that a person with enough money, know how and bad will can literally destroy another artists – the competence–by putting bots to work, inflating the rival’s stats?

  4. BL

    My album was removed for reason and now the only thing up is my singles from the album… I haven’t used fake streams and u too it down based on the curiosity of it maybe being fake. Smh over 300,000 streams now gone

    • say what say who

      BL….the water meter is not at your house its their house and they control what goes and stays as a private company….dont participate and govt will not come and save you…….

  5. Ray

    I’m not buying the line that that many artist have fans with so much good will that they are going out and buy fake promo services for artists because they love their music. So much so that it caused millions of tracks to be removed. That’s total BS.

    • C. J

      You do realize that, even if they haven’t bought services as such (and yes it is a bit ridiculous, just an excuse for a reason, especially from Distrokid’s side), they actually tell you to ask people not to stream your tracks on repeat as it can be a reason why they remove your tracks. If you ask 10 friends/fans/family members to just listen to your track on constant repeat for support , on low volume and not muted (Justin Beiber’s words, not mine. You can Google Yummy stream abuse up if you are not aware) for the whole day and every day it will give you quite a significant amount of streams. Correct me if my math is incorrect but, if we take for example, a track that it is approx. 3 minutes long and you play it 20 times within an hour, that is 20 streams an hour. Do that x10 for each person listening and that is 200 streams per hour. Do that for the whole 24 hours and you get 4800 streams within a day and more than 140k streams a month. And that means that Spotify has to pay a band for a single track about 430 bucks (as the rate is around 0.0032 if I’m correct). Now imagine at least 10000 of 750000 tracks had such streams and have to pay them all… That is about 4.3m if I am correct? That is fraud in Spotify’s eyes and Spotify just saved that amount of money by saying the artists have used fake streams without providing proof. And yes, a lot of people ask friends and family to do support with repeats , not just Bieber. The only difference is that, one of them is a big artist and the other one is small. Also, another funny thing is that the form asks for names of third party lists and proof of how much people paid, not how legit their promotion was so they are clearly trying to take down all third party playlisting/marketing that accepts money so they can put it in their pocket instead (Google up Spotify royalty exchange for algorithmic boost and you will see that they have created their own Payola but since it is from their side, it is legit). Spotify has done some nasty stuff so far (including buying stakes off of Distrokid, meaning that they partially own them, meaning that they have influence over distribution as well) but since they have the full power to act however they want, other people will pay for it and they won’t be blamed for it at all. Instead you will start blaming people that you think stream your music a lot, third parties that ‘sell fake streams’ or friends thsr have bought such services for you. Welcome to the world of Spotify.

      • Ruell

        True, the fact is that if they pay for their plan, they should be able to do what they want, if they listen to different artist constantly for 24hr, because they want their music playing 24hr, it’s the same as playing your favorite artist 24hr. they are over stepping their boundaries to benefit themselves. none of these companies charge correctly, your roi is less than you spent. they should be charging $40 and guaranteeing 60,000 plus streams, by continuing to marketing your song until you reach that, remember it’s extra money for them, plus they really should have been exposing everyone equally to the audience every month, hell they could easily run ads to ask people to listen to independent artist and create a rotation so all the audience can support independent artist, instead of trying to kick of permanently. it’s not right. they want it solely for label artist. why jump to the victims that will lose marketing money and all else, when they could have just banded or block the bad marketers and leave the independent unscathed. why don’t they do to help the artist that need a boost. why don’t they help us make a decent living since they got the audience already, i’m sure it can be done. no one wants to do what’s right.

  6. ET

    I do not appreciate what Spotify is doing. Without warning and consultation it did this? I understand the policies regarding fraudulent acts but we who do not use does not mean others won’t do this to hurt us or do so and not know better. This seems like an attack on Distrokid, as well as a way of keeping the earnings of indie artists. Something needs to be done legally or with aggression. This is also a violation of my rights as a copyright owner if I may.

    • Roman Fitzgerald

      Correct ET. It’s also there platform and only their subscribers can listen. So the artist have nothing to do with music hacker or fraud listeners. They have IP addresses for a reason and log in’s and passwords. All Artist need to demand there music put back by Spotify with the same stream counts they had and all their royalties paid!

  7. Anonymous

    The bottom line, artist should not be held responsible, we lose money marketing and revenue permanently when we are the victims. it’s not right. if a robber, robs someone and the police come by and locks up the victim, and permanently, for being robbed, all the while the robber is not affected and the police is not affect, it’s not right. your basically killing our means to earn a living, when most have spend days searching for affordable companies that say they only provide organic results and say the methods they use are real, and now you want to cause us harm. every option y’all provide is too costly, Roi is less than spent or none at all. most companies charging $250 for 10,000 organic streams, but you only ever get 10,000 streams. this whole system is structure to cause independent harm, the labels are flourishing and your helping them. we better blowing up the planet and be done with it. you could only hold the marketing companies responsible they are the only ones responsible, and you should verify them, has using bots or not and warn us, as a promotion starts, so we can say, hey, your using bots, we don’t pay the marketers. now we can show evidence, their is malicious intend. now your preventing us from being rob, and being shut down. Streaming companies have become the middle man and funneled all listeners to their service, it is almost impossible to sell music outside of it for independent artist. it’s is not right for you to remove their content, or stop them from being paid when they are not responsible for what happens, all they can do is trust that it is done as promised. you should make the marketing companies verify themselves, and now when we buy, they are able on prove their verify and so we not responsible for anything, and create an alert to allow us to know if it’s bots in advance, and just let us know this service is not valid right away, so we can stop them and not pay. simply put, you should never remove a artist song, for these reasons. we don’t have control and your not providing the necessary process to stop this without negative effects. if any of the these companies had a problem with government polices that they have no control of, they would lose it, if the government shut them
    down permanently. what they did is wrong in every sense.

  8. Genu1ne monsta

    my suggestion is all indie artist not post their music up on spotify or support anyone on spotify thats famous j til they pay us back.

  9. blm

    Been sending to folks that have already had their song randomly deleted.

    Distrokid launched Playlister their own playlist service… they decided to be shady as hell and start taking down songs that use their service at the same time.

    Just for some of the background – Spotify owns a piece of distrokid and distrokid owes a ton of money in back taxes, cuz they didn’t pay the taxes to artists out of the US . Spotify footed the bill and distrokid owes them the money. So Distrokid says, we have a solution, we will get into third party playlists and with your help we will put all other playlists out of business and we will split the revenue …

    There are people that didn;t do any Spotify promo and they got removed. they are just taking tons of stuff down…anything and everything. It’s very shady.

    There is a war being waged right now against Distrokid and Spotify. Which is fucked up cuz there is no touring rev, so artists are blackballing distrokid. That’s why the CEO of Distrokid is in our Clubhouse rooms trying to save his rep with the industry folks…

    Also important to note, the CEO owned a botfarm before owning distrokid. All just very shady stuff.