Spotify Is Riddled With Fake Streams — Or Is It? Our Latest Podcast

Vice's 'Black Market' examines fake streams
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Vice's 'Black Market' examines fake streams
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The late Michael K. Williams hosts Vice’s ‘Black Market,’ which delved into seedy world of ‘underground stream farms’ in season 2.

Can you really trust the play counts on Spotify, Apple Music, or YouTube? To find out, we interviewed the CEO of a company with a sophisticated method for validating play counts on major streaming platforms. The answer to our question was surprising.

The Digital Music News Podcast is available on iTunesSpotify, Stitcher, and other podcast platforms.  Or, simply listen to the embed below.

After a string of ‘fake stream’ scandals involving mega-stars like French Montana and G-Eazy, a serious question percolated within the music industry: how real are Spotify’s stream counts? After those scandals, Vice went underground and found a shadowy network of ‘underground stream farms’ that fabricate play counts, raising serious questions about Spotify’s numbers.

The late Michael K. Williams, who led Vice’s investigatory plunge, declared that the “entire industry has been compromised,” and that “music artists are faking their way to the top of the charts.”

But how corrupted are streaming numbers at Spotify — or Apple Music, Amazon Music, and YouTube for that matter?

In this edition of The Digital Music News Podcast, we posed that question to Legitary, a company that has spent years developing a sophisticated methodology for verifying music stream counts. By cross-comparing streaming activity between different platforms and monitoring billions of streams overall, Legitary can detect anything abnormal — including fake streams.

But instead of a picture of seedy fake streams and rigged chart positions, Legitary’s Nermina Mumic offered a completely different takeaway.

Legitary, an Austrian tech company that spun out of university research, has a growing clientele of major content owners.  The statistical validation offered by Legitary allows companies to investigate play totals that display unusual anomalies, based on statistical analyses across all DSPs.

Sometimes, those anomalies can be quickly explained. Other times, they reveal serious issues involving missing metadata, reporting errors, or even outright fraud and fake streams.

But after scanning more than 250 billion streams, Nermina’s assessment of the stream-count landscape was different than Vice’s seedy report. It turns out that streaming fraud is only part of a far more complex story.

Here’s our interview.