A few years ago, Louis Posen, the founder of Hopeless Records, observed an unusual pattern in his company's streaming statistics. One of its tracks consistently received around 3,000 streams per day, but it abruptly increased to 35,000 for three consecutive days.
To understand the sudden increase in numbers, he investigated the source of the streams. It turns out that all of them came from six playlists on Spotify. What raised suspicion is that these playlists were created in a very short timeframe, gained a lot of followers in one week, then only gained new followers after that.
Plus, all the plays occurred within just three days. Independent music labels are becoming more worried about this manipulation that moves money from honest musicians to those willing to pay to cheat the system.
Fake streams have become increasingly commonplace in the music industry, often undetected. As streaming continues to dominate the market, we must understand the impact of these "fake plays" and what can be done to stop them. In this blog post, we'll look at where we are today with fake streaming in the music world - its prevalence, how it affects artists and labels alike, and how technology is used to identify and eliminate fraudulent audio plays.
By understanding more about fake streams and what’s happening today, music professionals should be able to make better decisions regarding their streaming activity. So let's dive into fake streams and discuss where we're at on the issue.
What Are Fake Streams?
Fake streams are simulated plays of music created to increase an artist's streaming numbers. They can be challenging to identify since they are generated by bots or paid individuals who stream specific tracks. This has stirred controversy in the industry, as it promotes unfair competition among artists.
Genuine streams from fans are crucial for many artists, and fake streams provide an unfair advantage to others.
Music Streaming Farms
One way fake streams are created is by using streaming farms. These farms use music streaming services like Spotify, Soundcloud, Deezer, Apple Music, or YouTube to play the artists' music to inflate their streaming numbers.
Streaming farms often employ hundreds of computers and phones with automated bot scripts running on them to generate thousands of fake streams for an artist's songs. This streaming fraud allows them to quickly and easily boost their streaming numbers without having any real fans listening to their music.
Fake streams especially concern independent artists needing access to these services or the resources needed to create fake streams. However, it also affects record labels and music streaming platforms, which rely on accurate data when deciding which artists to sign or promote.
To combat this problem, many platforms have implemented measures such as verifying accounts and using algorithms that detect suspicious activity to identify and remove fake streams from their databases.
How Can They Impact Market Share Calculations
Fake streams can significantly impact market share calculations, skew the data, and make it difficult to measure an artist or label's success accurately. A recent study by the French entity Centre National de la Musique estimated that at least 1% - 3% of all streaming activity in France was fraudulent on services like Spotify and Deezer in 2021.
To put that into perspective, 1% would be the equivalent of USD 5.8m, and 3% would be USD 17.4m in music streaming artists revenue.
Fake streams can also hurt artists and labels who rely on accurate market share calculations for success. For example, if an artist or label has artificially inflated streaming numbers due to fake streams, it can lead to inaccurate market share calculations, which can lead to lost artists revenue and decreased visibility for those artists and labels.
Music streaming platforms are taking steps to detect and remove fraudulent activity from their platforms to combat this issue. For example, Spotify has warned about fake streams, stating they will act against any accounts engaging in such activities. Other companies like Apple Music and YouTube have also implemented measures to detect and remove fraudulent activity from their platforms.
Fake streams can significantly impact market share calculations, so companies must detect and remove fraudulent activity from their platforms to ensure accurate numbers for artists and labels.
How Do Fake Streams Work?
To briefly recap, fake streams are music played by bots, hijacked accounts, and other inauthentic methods of listening. Fake streaming is a form of click fraud where automated software is used to generate counterfeit plays on music streaming services such as Spotify and SoundCloud.
This fraudulent activity artificially inflates the number of streams for an artist's song, which can lead to increased revenue from royalties. Unfortunately, fake streams hurt algorithmic performance and do not reflect genuine user listening intent.
How It Impacts The Creative World
While music streaming services have implemented various measures, such as algorithms that detect fake streams to remove them from platforms, musicians are still able to use them due to the potential benefits they can offer, making them look more popular than they are.
Fake streams can significantly impact emerging artists, as it can be difficult for them to compete with larger record labels that may have access to these fake stream farms. So they struggle to make an impression on the charts when competing with larger artists. Unfortunately, fake streaming often makes success hinge upon the size of a record label rather than the quality of music.
Emerging artists, who may lack access or resources to “buy” streams, suffer from this situation by having their legitimate album listens diminished. Not only does this disadvantage those just beginning their music career, but it also devalues and undermines the hard work done by all musicians in pursuit of reaching their rightful place in the industry.
Record labels pay attention to data from streaming services when looking at which artists they want to include on their rosters or promote in different ways. If the data is inaccurate, record labels can miss out on finding talented new singers and songwriters who could bring them great success.
The opposite is also true; record labels may continue promoting underperforming artists simply because the data doesn't reflect each track's performance. Arguably the most critical consequence of fraudulent streaming is that honest artists get shortchanged, as their career opportunities and financial rewards are directly tied to how many streams they achieve.
Big Music Companies
When fake streams go unnoticed, they impact the major players in the music industry. The false data distorts the actual performance of a song and presents an incorrect picture. This can lead to financial losses for large music corporations because their advertising efforts become less precise and less successful.
How Are Popular Streaming Platforms Handling This?
Music streaming platforms are taking steps to detect fraudulent streaming, but they have not all revealed their specific methods. Here is a summary of their efforts to fight streaming fraud.
Spotify is acting against fake music streams by deleting fake content and stopping payments to dishonest artists. Additionally, they are offering educational tools to raise awareness about the harmful consequences of buying streams. Using their expertise and conducting detailed investigations, Spotify is working diligently to put an end to this deceitful practice.
Starting in 2022, Deezer stepped up its game by rolling out a state-of-the-art algorithm to detect suspicious music streaming activity better. They've also been working hard to improve cross-departmental collaboration and stay ahead of the game by constantly fine-tuning their fraud-fighting toolset so that they can catch any new sneaky tricks quickly.
Apple Music is taking steps to combat fake streams by investing in new technology and building a dedicated team. The company has implemented a process for identifying and investigating suspicious streaming activity.
When a stream is under investigation, it is not included in regular reporting sent to distributors or charts. Instead, partners (record labels, distributors) receive a report daily, including suspicious streaming activity.
Once the investigation is complete, any fraudulent streaming activity is removed. Additionally, partners receive a monthly report with a detailed list of the removed streams.
Amazon Music has upgraded its fraud detection system and team to share all necessary data with CNM for conducting their study. The study will include more recent observations till 2022 and open up opportunities for future analyses.
Amazon Music assures that it continuously works on enhancing its detection methods and tools and collaborates with CNM and the entire music industry to combat fraudulent practices effectively.
SoundCloud has taken various steps to address the issue of fraudulent streams. They have installed a fraud detection and prevention system that includes automatic checks for suspicious activities and manual reviews by their team.
They have also simplified the process for users to report any instances of fraud-related copyright infringement.
Fake Streams In The Music Industry: Wrap Up
Fake streams constitute a significant issue in the music industry that needs to be addressed to remain fair and competitive for all artists involved.
It's essential for everyone involved in the industry - from labels and streaming platforms down to individual musicians - to be aware of this problem so that they can take steps toward preventing it from happening.
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