I honestly can’t believe that I am sitting here today about to write what I am going to write. It’s taken me a few days to really wrap my head around what this blog is about. You see, it feels more like a science fiction movie than the music business…but its all too real. Now, this story, much like your favorite sci-fi film has a million twists and turns, but let me break it down into the cliff notes version for you… Okay, here goes…In a galaxy far far away…Wait sorry, no, it’s right here on earth…
The Setup- A few days ago Music Business Worldwide broke a story entitled “Why are all of these fake artists on Spotify?” So naturally, being a professional musician, songwriter, producer and warrior for my fellow artists I read it. Wow. There have been allegations made that Spotify has been secretly including “fake artists” in some of their top playlists so they don’t have to pay out royalties.
Prologue- So, Music Business Worldwide breaks this story that says Spotify is placing music by “fake artists” in their playlists. Beyond that, they went so far as to actually research and name at least 50 of those “fake artists”. Now, are these artists actually fake? Well, yes and no. None of the artists listed had any other web presence (no other music services, no website, social media etc…) but somehow have hundreds of thousands and in many cases millions of streams on Spotify. Fishy? Kind of.
The Set Up- What is actually happening is, Spotify, it would seem, is doing back door deals with producers to write and record music specifically for playlists. This in itself is not shady because I’m sure Spotify is paying these producers handsomely So they can own the copyright to those songs. It’s pretty much what labels do. They pay an advance to the artist to make the record and then take all the backend royalties. The problem is, this takes valuable playlist spots away from real artists and songwriters, both independent and label acts…Oh, and also, Spotify has said many times “We are NOT a label.” Uhhh… Again, this is not super shady and might even be seen as good business….except…(cue dramatic film score music)
Plot twist #1- When MBW broke this story, Spotify responded by saying “We do not and have never created “fake” artists and put them on Spotify playlists. Categorically untrue, full stop.”
Oops, it would seem Spotify got caught in another false claim. How do we know they are lying? Well, at hearing that strong rebuttal, MBW dug a little deeper and found a producer in Europe that claimed he’d done a deal with Spotify to create songs under “fake” artist names. To further corroborate this claim, this producer provided them with the names of the pseudonyms and they all existed and all boasted tracks with 500,000+ streams. Getting good right?
Flashback- So let’s recap…Streaming company (that swears its not a label, curator of music, or copyright holder in anyway) fights for lower royalty payouts to labels and artists. Then, said streaming company gets caught paying producers to create fake artists and songs and places them in major playlists, therefore bumping their numbers while paying zero in royalties since they own those songs.
Sure seems like a label to me. But, I digress, here’s where things get really crazy. Let’s say there is still some question in someones mind about whether Spotify doesn’t like paying out royalties to creatives…yeah, lets just say that…
Plot twist #2- Today, Spotify hired Francois Pachet- one of the worlds foremost experts on the application of Artificial Intelligence in the world of popular music.
Or, in simpler, and possibly more terrifying terms…music created by computers.
Resolution- Okay, so this is scary for many reasons but lets just look at the trail of breadcrumbs related to the current “fake artists” story.
Spotify gets caught paying producers to create fake artist personas and songs, then they feature those in major playlists and garner millions of streams. Why? Because if Spotify owns those copyrights, they don’t have to pay royalties.
Spotify claims “We do not and have never created “fake” artists and put them on Spotify playlists. Categorically untrue, full stop.”
Now, days later, Spotify hires the foremost expert in AI created music. Why? Because if music is created by a computer, that computer won’t expect to be paid.
Foreshadowing to chapter 2- It’s a scary time in music for sure, but that’s why Crowd Music was created. Crowd pays artists fairly for amazing content as well as paying our consumers to listen, like, and share that music. In a great movie there is always something that the hero has to overcome. I’ll leave it to you to figure out who the heroes are and who are the villains are in this real life science fiction story.
To Be Continued…