Spotify, the dominant global player in the music-streaming business, has found itself embroiled in a complex and confusing series of accusations that claim it is enlisting producers to create music under false names in an effort to game its own playlists, and also that it pays these producers flat fees (plus expenses) for their music in an effort to avoid paying royalties.
The claim was originally made in an August 2016 report in the U.K.-based site Music Business Worldwide, but resurfaced in a July 5 article on Vulture that focused primarily on how artists attempt to game Spotify and its playlists, but treated MBW’s report (which Spotify initially declined to comment upon) as fact.
“We do not and have never created ‘fake’ artists and put them on Spotify playlists,” a rep for Spotify told Variety on Tuesday (July 11), reiterating a comment the company has made multiple times in recent days. “We pay royalties — sound and publishing — for all tracks on Spotify. We do not own this content — we license it and pay royalties just like we do on every other track.”
Yet both Variety sources and Music Business Worldwide continue to double down on the claims. On Monday the site cited 50 examples of “fake artist” tracks — mainly on niche ambient/trance/smooth jazz/New Age playlists such as “Peaceful Piano,” “Piano in the Background,” “Deep Focus,” “Sleep,” “Ambient Chill” and “Music for Concentration” — that have garnered a total of 520 million streams. These acts, with names like Deep Watch, Piotr Miteska, Antologie, Bon Vie, Benny Bernstein and the 2 Inversions, who have garnered more than 75 million Spotify streams to date on playlists like “Yoga Music,” “Sleep” and “Yoga & Meditation,” all of which were credited to a pair of Stockholm-based producers named Andreas Romdhane and Josef Svedlund (Spotify’s home office is also in Stockholm).
The two Universal Music Publishing Group clients go by the name Quiz & Larossi, and have been credited on tracks for the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Il Divo, Westlife, Geri Halliwell, Diana Ross, the Pussycat Dolls and a number of Syco artists, among others. (A rep for Universal had not responded to Variety‘s request for comment at press time.) Are they creating tracks for Spotify to post tracks under different names?
“It’s one of a number of internal initiatives to lower the royalties they’re paying to the major labels,” acknowledges a former Spotify insider, who acknowledges the practice. “It helps them in their negotiations with the record companies.” (Sources told Variety Tuesday that Spotify recently finalized a new licensing deal with Sony Music Entertainment — leaving only Warner Music without a deal with the service — but the two companies declined to confirm the pact, possibly because of the “fake artist” uproar.)
One indie music publishing exec said, “The problem is musicians are already feeling like Spotify is underpaying them, and this creation of knockoffs doesn’t help that perception.”
And while it may seem, in the big picture, that a few million streams here and there on some of the more obscure playlists isn’t hurting anybody, the total streams can climb into the hundreds of millions, and represent significant income. It’s not unlike posting cover versions with slightly misspelled titles to create consumer confusion when they search a particular track.
“These playlists have been marketed as being highly curated by experts,” added the music publisher. “Doesn’t this put their entire credibility and integrity in question? It’s hard enough for an artist to get on these playlists without competing against Spotify’s own generic music.”