It is likely you’ve listened to many “artists” cheating the Spotify game, it happens all the time. Ever gone down a Spotify rabbit hole and wondered where all the weirdly-named artists like “White Noise Baby Sleep” come from?
Well, they don’t even exist. In fact, Spotify is now filled with search-optimized spammers disguised as “artists” who are simply just cheating the system.
How? It’s actually pretty simple, as Peter Slattery reports for OneZero. They achieve incredibly streaming results by “optimizing their (artist & track) names to show up prominently in Spotify’s search results.”
Take the example of Relaxing Music Therapy, an artist you’ve never heard of but who is amassing up to 500,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. By utilizing a name that ranks high on Spotify search results for music genres, the “artist” behind the account is able to rank high on searches and playlists, thus racking up high listen counts.
While Spotify is notorious for paying artists a sub-standard and unethical amount to stream their music, if your music ranks high enough for specific searches it will slowly build up enough listens to make the “artist” up to several thousand dollars a month with little to no effort needed.
Don’t believe it? Slattery asks you to check out this selection of Spotify “artistid=”rmm”>s” to get an idea: Pro Sound Effects Library, On Hold Music, Yoga, Jazz Music Therapy for Cats, and Natural White Noise Best Nature Sounds for Sleeping, Stress Relief, Relaxation, Sound Therapy.
With more than a quarter-billion active users at any given time, and growing, to cheat the system all you have to come up with is the perfect phony artist name that users are likely to search for. You may have probably guessed it by the aforementioned names, but what works best to cheat your way to high Spotify plays is using “artist” names inspired by genre adjectives that are commonly searched for to describe and find music.
“Others name themselves after popular uses for certain kinds of music, well-known generic tunes like children’s rhymes, or entire music genres,” writes Slattery. Those creators that are smart enough will then go a step further, titling tracks and albums they upload with further related words, reuploading the same song tens if not hundreds of times in order to guarantee a higher rate of search success. “Relaxing Music Therapy,” he notes, “has uploaded the track “Stream in the Forest With Rain” 616 times to date.”
This is SEO spam at its finest and Slattery notes that these spammers are actually playing right into Spotify’s very own business model and marketing machine. The streaming giant aims to be a “one-stop shop for music for any mood” rather than focusing on the popularity and talent of artists. This is evident if you venture beyond listening to your own established favorite artists, and start digging deeper into Spotify playlists, genre break-downs, and so on.
This isn’t quite news, although it was previously reported differently. In 2017, trade publication Music Business Worldwide revealed that Spotify’s curated playlists filled with artists who posted their tracks under platform-specific artist names, and yet had zero off-internet presence.
In that report, they specified:
“MBW understands that Spotify is instructing producers to create tracks – typically without vocals – which fit certain genres and themes, including jazz, chill and peaceful piano playing.
MBW is 100% sure that these tracks exist. We’ve even heard some of them.
We promised our sources we wouldn’t tell you who the fake artist names are, so we won’t.
But wecantell you that we’re aware of five Spotify-owned tracks that each have more than 500,000 streams – and one with over a million.”
But this game isn’t just played internally by Spotify.
SubmitMusic purchases musical recordings from individual producers and artists across multiple genres and then, according to Slattery, “positions them to be monetized, a process that includes working with clients to pick streaming-friendly artist names, track names, and album art.”
SubmitMusic founder Jason Cerf explains, “We have brainstorming sessions where we come up with artist names that will probably be recognized as ‘on brand’ or possibly, you could say, generic. If you name [yourself] ‘Joe Smith,’ and you put out a classical music album, it’s not going to resonate with a digital consumer. If you put out classical music under the name ‘Classique Elegante,’ that is an on-brand piece of data that is put up in front and center… and is likely going to harbor more digital activity, or clicks.”
How this manifests on the Spotify platform is easy to see, and just requires you to do a quick search. You will find a seemingly never-ending stream of “artists” targeting users for various shades of wellness-related audio. Each of these “artists” can have dozens of albums, countless tracks (some of them reposted hundreds of times), all using strategic keywords to rank higher in Spotify search and playlist inclusion. These profiles can get up to tens to hundreds of thousands of monthly plays, making the “artists” thousands of dollars. Slattery explains that,” some daisy-chain featured artists in their metadata to populate multiple pages with slightly different names, while others simply reupload the same exact tracks over and over again in repackaged albums.”
In Slattery’s article expose he highlights some key examples of how ridiculous yet effective this is:
“In fact, the “artist” Happy Birthday alone has uploaded hundreds upon hundreds of the same dozenish versions of the tune (done in different styles, from EDM to acoustic), racking up more than 140,000 monthly listeners. Another account, Children’s Music, is up to nearly 300,000 monthly listeners by sharing misspelled classics like “Wheel on the Bus” and “If Your Happy and You Know It” over and over again.
Some “artist” profiles have named themselves after entire subgenres of music, some of which might not have a dedicated genre page or clearly labeled Spotify-created playlist. “Lofi Chillhop” and “LoFi Chill” (both verified artists) seem to be competing for fans of a certain type of instrumental music that experienced a recent rebirth thanks in part to a meme>, hitting more than 100,000 and 40,000 monthly listeners, respectively, by uploading beats of unknown origin.”
— Telefon Tel Aviv (@telefontelaviv) May 21, 2020
Due to Spotify’s own business and marketing strategy, there isn’t really an incentive for Spotify to clean up repetitive tracks or bizarre artist names. Instead, the platform thrives off of users being able to search not just by artist name, but also by keyword. “They want to say, ‘Oh, I’m sleeping, or I’m driving, or I’m meditating, or I have a kid and he needs to sleep, or I just need background music,’” says Cerf.