Spotify's Ghost Hits

Been enjoying the soothing sounds of the soft piano work of Amity Cadet lately? 

You're in good company - the artist's 2016 tune 'Romances' has enjoyed a casual 9.5 million streams over on Spotify.  That being said, if you're looking for somewhere to send your besotted fan mail, give up your search - according to a raft of music business insiders, Amity Cadet doesn't exist.

The global music industry has been enjoying their own Musicgate in the last week, with recent allegations that Spotify is regularly commissioning production houses to create music under fake names, featuring them across their influential taste-making playlists. Music Business Worldwide has gone as far as to out 50 of these 'fake artists'.

The theory behind the allegation (and outlined by MBW over here) is simple enough: Spotify contracts producers to write a piece of music to a brief (mellow jazz, instrumental, psych folk pop), buys the rights to the music, slaps an invented artist name on top, and throws the track on one of their key playlists. These tracks then rack up millions of streams (MBW is placing that figure at 520 million streams across the 50 fake artists they claim to have discovered.)

It's worth mentioning that throughout this furore, Spotify has consistently and vehemently denied that they're involved in the creation of fake artists, with their spokesperson quoting: "We do not have and have never created 'fake' artists and put them on Spotify playlists. Categorically untrue. Full stop."

But really, what's the big deal with Spotify creating its own content? It almost seems to make good business sense that streaming services like Spotify would make the move to incorporate their own label structure and fund the creation of new content; it's been a successful model for streaming video services like Netflix for years.

Music Business Worldwide identifies a few concerns, which, if this whole thing is true, represent some sinister manoeuvres. Firstly, the use of production houses to create content allows Spotify the chance to negotiate their own royalty and fee structure for these tracks - which, in some cases may mean buying the tracks outright from production houses for a flat fee, only to rack up millions of plays (and associated income) through their own playlists. An even more concerning suggestion is that the subjective high-profile profile placement of these tracks on Spotify's taste-making playlists means that Spotify's playlisting methods aren't as pure as the artist community have been led to believe. The introduction of fake artists with millions of streams also eventually hurts the payout amounts given to legitimate artists. 

In the MBW piece, an anonymous industry insider also suggests that fake artists are a part of Spotify's ongoing war with major labels:

“This strategy is designed to lower the share of music on playlists form legitimate labels - major and indie - that are investing substantial resources to develop quality artists and music, so that Spotify can lower its content costs and lessen the influence of the labels."

There's no denying that the music industry needs to continue to evolve and find creative ways of innovating for survival; it may just be a tricky road finding out where the ethical lines lie in that evolution.