Alan July 11, 2017 9:33 AM

“Even Spotify is reportedly gaming the system by paying producers to produce songs that are then placed on the service’s massively popular playlists under the names of unknown, nonexistent artists. This upfront payment saves the company from writing fat streaming checks that come with that plum playlist placement, but tricks listeners into thinking the artists actually exist and limits the opportunities for real music-makers to make money.”

Erm, what? So Spotify commissions music. They promote the music because it’s cheaper for them to stream than music they license. But somehow this isn’t “real”? How are they “nonexistent” artists if the music exists? That sure sounds like arguing that Netflix is somehow cheating television creators by commissioning and promoting their own shows.

Kristian July 11, 2017 9:36 AM

Old trick in new clothes
It was common in the 50’s here in Denmark that artist got their hands on singles that hit the charts in the US and then did a danish version of the same song before the original got to the country.
Some of those danish versions are still more popular than the original.

wumpus July 11, 2017 10:06 AM

Sounds like payola without the pay or the labels. If you let someone else decide what you listen to, do you really think the choice will be in your interest?

LPA-11K July 11, 2017 10:57 AM


Growing up in the 50s, payola was a hot topic and a sore subject with recording artists. Stan Freberg explained it all very well to my younger self with his parody “The Old Payola Roll Blues”.

Freberg’s work is one reason I have always been immune to “Madison Avenue” tactics and methods. This personality quirk comes in handy around election time as well.

Sandman July 11, 2017 1:05 PM

Listen to real music and you won’t get spammed. Invention stopped sometime in the 70s. Now its just coversongs and remixes. 😉

TJ July 11, 2017 2:33 PM

Looks boring, but from my skim over it I gather they need content meterering like Google did with Penguin, Panda, and Hummingbird to fight link cloning, back-link spamming, and header packing..

mark July 11, 2017 4:14 PM

@Alan, bad analogy. Spotify would be doing like Neflix if it funded artists to make albums and promoted them and set up tours etc, like other labels do with their artists. Just like Netflix produces its own shows, and promotes them like other networks do their own shows. That’s not what Spotify is doing. They’re taking up spots in playlists with generic tracks with the likely intent of avoiding paying content creators.

Steve July 11, 2017 7:06 PM

Two things:

1) I’m old enough to remember the “payola” scandal myself and I confess I never understood why it was a bad thing. So money changes hands to play a song on the radio. So what? Who is defrauded here? If the listening public doesn’t like a “payola” song, they turn off the radio and the record promoter has wasted their money.

I suppose the biggest argument to be made here is that payola songs would drive “legitimate” songs off the air but it’s entertainment, not news.

2) So what if Spotify is creating music on their own? Netflix now creates its own series, some of which seem pretty successful (again, I don’t watch enough movies or teevee shows to bother with having a Netflix subscription). I assume that if a song is really bad, people will not listen to it, so no fraction of a penny profit. If it’s listenable, then the listener is satisfied. There are a lot of awful songs on the radio made by “real” artists (assuming that Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and JayZee aren’t already bots).

Seriously, can someone help me here?

Steve July 11, 2017 8:12 PM

And, apparently, I’m sufficiently out of it not to know it’s spelled Jay-Z, not JayZee.

martin July 12, 2017 7:15 AM

One example of something that ‘looks like it might be fraud’ on several of the online music streaming services is what I call the ‘cover that isn’t a cover’ scam. Look up the artist called ‘Jem’ and you will find albums/EPs called ‘Cloudbusting’, ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’, and ‘Both Sides Now’ (any of those titles ringing a bell?).

The first is actually a Kate Bush compilation, the second The Carpenters, and the third is Joni Mitchell. All of them seem to be the original music, not a cover, and if you buy them, then the money presumably goes to the people who provided the data and not the actual copyright owners.

For a really interesting time, look up ‘Jem Cloudbusting’ on Amazon, where you get visual references to lots of popular culture…

Contacting the streaming services about this is interesting too – they don’t seem to be able to do anything about it.

Harald K. July 12, 2017 7:17 AM

@Steve, popular music is a lot like Keynes’ famous beauty contest. Lots of people don’t listen to what they like most, they listen to what they think others will like. Everyone who assembles a playlist for a party (or even suggests songs to a twitch streamer these days) does the same thing to some degree, for obvious reasons.

Thus, promotion is extra profitable. You don’t have to make them like it, you just have to make them think others like it, which is much easier.

Of course, the audience doesn’t get the best music that way. They may even get music they can barely stand. It doesn’t matter if the radio DJs do it for their friends for free, for cash, or for friendly visits from the band’s groupies (the infamous “publicity balling” that Frank Zappa sang about).

Of all genres, the ones here are probably least vulnerable to Keynesian beauty contest logic. Which is why no-name can succeed so often there in the first place.

Nícolas W July 12, 2017 9:15 AM

In Brazil, it’s the same as reported by Kristian@ …

Get an International “Hit”, translate it and adapt to Brazilian Portuguese and profit with a song that makes more success inside the country that it’s “cloned international version”(yeah, there are some folks that trully believe that the Internetional version is the “cloned one”)

Rick Lobrecht July 12, 2017 10:56 AM

The same problem has been happening on the App Store since its invention. Blatantly rip off someone else’s work, publish to app store with the right keywords, profit.

Steve July 12, 2017 11:08 AM

@martin: Just for the record, “Both Sides Now” was by Judy Collins, not Joni Mitchell. Joni Mitchell covered it but “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes” had the original.

In checking this, I discovered that Frank Sinatra also covered it. Just listening to the first three seconds of it will give me nightmares for weeks.

JDM July 12, 2017 2:51 PM

Can you call a song a cover when it’s sung by the person who wrote it? Joni Mitchell wrote Both Sides Now; Collins did the first recorded version.

martin July 13, 2017 6:53 AM

@Steve: Thanks for the correction. I admit it was slightly outside my musical area of expertise, and so ripe for errors. I suspect that the Hamming/Levenshtein distance between Judy Collins and Frank Sinatra is an under-investigated research topic amongst musicologists.

Jeremy July 14, 2017 8:57 AM

“…a handy illustration of how much on-demand streaming has changed the way we use music. Twenty years ago, finding a personalized version of “Happy Birthday” for your towheaded son Grover required a trip to the novelty-music kiosk at your local mega mall. Now, you just have to ask Alexa and seconds later the song’s blasting throughout the playroom.”

“Novelty-music kiosk”?

This demonstrates that the only thing that’s really changed is that the mega-mall is now in your living room.

Jeremy July 14, 2017 9:31 AM

Lots of people don’t listen to what they like most, they listen to what they think others will like.

Along vaguely similar lines, as discussed here a lot of the questionable music seems to appear in muzak playlists of the type used by bars etc.

SadMan July 14, 2017 12:31 PM

Maybe a thought that there are too many outlets for the industry output. Spotify was built to curb media theft initially. Correct me if I’m wrong on that. I have some different angles on music today:

  • US citizens find it too easy to purchase from Amazon, which is a central market for anything… one account.

  • You have a clash between industries. You can’t push good music yet the IT service needs regular paycheck and will leech on any money train. Spotify was late. How many accounts do you want?

  • Governments still need a fast system to choke torrent trackers with DNS. Don’t get me into the SOPA argument because I was for it. Now the US baits trackers with Cloudflare takeover. People can fall on a knife about this. I’ve been watching the watchers. Media is the US’s bread-and-butter and we are screwing ourselves on this.

  • The guitar has been played. Genres? Do you want to be a leader or follower? I used to laugh at people stuck in classic rock or blues land. Now I don’t blame them because the pop that is out here now is nothing new, just fractalized and borderline confusing or copied in some way. Popular mainstream just sucks.

  • Compressed audio has turned guitar and bass players away. All the money spent on analog tubes and rack gear. All of the nuances, instrument characteristics… gone. I’ve heard a 5-string Joe Zon bass all but disappear on a compressed file. Fundamentals are there if that is all you need. I thought the industry would level up and start selling 24-bit to consumers. My mistake.

  • Electronic people went for Beatport, a portal dedicated to a super-genre. When you shop electronic genres you learn how to push the followers away and go for pioneers. It is about a sound that is so complex, you could not rightfully play live.

  • We are all micro-scene now because of the Rainbow-Ticketmasters of the world, so finding good talent could not be more difficult when nobody sees cash.

  • Who is making cash? Start digging into music hardware mfrs. The money is in the hobby mindset. It is not even about the thing anymore. It is about the thing that makes the thing.

Ertman August 1, 2017 3:38 PM

I figure Spotify is only a few years away from simply auto-generating music I will like rather than auto-selecting music I will like. That will take all of the pesky human bands out of the equation.

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