Swedish Musicians’ Union Calls On Spotify to Investigate ‘Fake Artists’ Amid Playlist Controversy

Stockholm, Sweden. Photo Credit: Yoko Correia Nishimiya

Yesterday, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN) reported that Firefly Entertainment was allegedly associated with an array of “fake” artist profiles on Spotify – and that the indie label had cashed in on millions of streams, in part by placing the accounts’ tracks on first-party playlists. Now, the Swedish Musicians’ Union is calling on Spotify to launch a full-scale investigation.

The shocking (Swedish-language and paywall-blocked) article from DN claimed that the “artists” in question “do not really exist,” with some describing their prominence – which, predictably, prompted pushback from Swedish musicians – as a “scandal.”

“The artists can be linked to the fast-growing Karlstad-based company Firefly Entertainment, whose turnover has risen to SEK 65 million [currently $6.97 million] annually,” DN wrote in a follow-up piece today. “The survey shows that about 20 people are behind over 500 artist names.

“Several of the fictional artists have more listeners each month than” popular Swedish musician Håkan Hellström (almost 678,000 monthly listeners on Spotify) and “Some Die Young” singer-songwriter Laleh (about 866,000 monthly listeners), continued DN.

The outlet likewise highlighted an alleged connection between Firefly and Spotify, specifically via an individual named Nick Holmstén, who “was previously part of Spotify’s top management, as global music director and synonymous with the focus on playlists.” Holmstén is currently co-founder and co-CEO of a company called TSX Entertainment, however.

Firefly said in late January of this year that it had invested in TSX, which is constructing “a $2.5 billion purpose-built, entire-building, immersive branding, retail, hospitality and entertainment project” in Times Square. Higher-ups reportedly expect to open said project in Q1 2023.

“On social media, he [Holmstén] can be seen hanging out with the Firefly founder, who has also participated in major Spotify events. Through his new company, Nick Holmstén says he was not involved in licensing agreements with record companies during his time at Spotify,” wrote DN.

Of course, relatively popular Spotify artist profiles for non-artists aren’t new. Back in early 2021, for instance, “white noise” pages entered the media spotlight for their massive Spotify followings and correspondingly substantial earnings.

One such profile, named “White Noise Baby Sleep,” has racked up a staggering 716.26 million Spotify streams to date with a “song” entitled “Clean White Noise – Loopable with no fade.” Needless to say, though, these and similar tracks don’t typically take away spots on popular Spotify-maintained playlists from actual artists, and the point is worth considering (alongside the straight royalty payouts) with regard to the ongoing criticism.

The information – in coordination with Spotify’s previous disclosure that “of the eight million people who have distributed any songs to Spotify, 5.4 million of them have released fewer than ten tracks all-time” – raises interesting questions about the streaming service’s creator community and its goal of having 50 million on-platform creators by 2025.

“In the industry, there are rumors that there are manipulated playlists and songs that are fake,” Swedish Musicians’ Union president Jan Granvik said of the Firefly fake-artist controversy, per a Swedish-language statement provided to DN. “It will be a question of credibility for the entire music industry. Spotify must investigate and transparently report what has happened and what it intends to do.”

According to the same outlet, Firefly exec Peter Classon relayed in a statement: “There is no direct relationship with Spotify or any other way that can affect the playlists. When it comes to the number of songs on Spotify’s playlists, we refer to Spotify, which controls the process of how songs end up on playlists. And we would also strongly deny that there would be any kind of connection to Nick Holmstén, who left Spotify in 2019, that would affect our business.”

Spotify – which said in June of 2020 that “you cannot pay to get on an official Spotify playlist,” albeit without mentioning the possibility of offering playlist spots to “artists” who accept smaller payments – broached this present controversy in a statement of its own.

“We at Spotify do not decide how an artist chooses to present their works, and we have no opinion on whether they publish their songs with their real names or under a pseudonym,” communicated a spokesperson. Songs “are licensed by rights holders and we pay them a license fee for their music,” proceeded the comment.

2 Responses

  1. Sorry

    Who cares if it’s white noise or just plain noise? Who cares if an artist is fake? An AI artist is no more “real.” If people listen to the uploaded audio over and over, then the people who uploaded it should get paid through the same channels everyone gets paid. It’s fair and simple. Fake listeners is a problem, but certainly no such thing as a “fake” artist if there is audio people can listen to.

    • Baloney Jones

      Doesn’t seem like you read the article, or grasp the concept.