Newsletter Editorial #132 - Fake Artists: Back Door Music Curation Or Just Fake ‘Fake News’?

13 Jul 2017

Accusations and commentary about alleged ‘fake’ artists on Spotify playlists have intensified last week, with MusicTank itself commenting on this in both The Times, and on Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs PM programme, the spur to all this being Music Business Worldwide’s recent investigations that actually took root a year or so ago.

So is this an issue for the music industry?  Well that depends on which side of the fence you’re sitting on – an independent music creator, or a signed artist hungry for inclusion on potentially career-enhancing playlists.

The accusation that Spotify is creating fake artists, whilst perhaps surprising and questionably ethical if true, makes the assumption that the names in question are indeed being touted as artists.  The reality appears to be that some are, some aren’t – the latter comprising producers, independent writers and session musicians.  Hardly a crime.

Regardless, if the allegation is true, this could be seen as content curation by the back door, and as such could be said to be displacing more ‘legitimate’ artists, the overwhelming majority of whom are released by Spotify’s record label stakeholders.  Those labels who have an equity stake in the platform certainly have grounds to cry ‘foul’; in that context, it’s hard to see why this would be happening other than as a cost-saving exercise for a model whose increasing popularity is commensurate with ever increasing operating costs that desperately need to be reduced.

It would be truly ironic if the alleged hard deal struck by label stakeholders has given rise to Spotify introducing so-called fake artists as a cost-saving exercise in an effort to make the platform more financially sustainable.

In an era that is increasingly all about the playlist, if true, this accusation does raise questions about the criteria for inclusion on those all-important playlists – something The Verge this week drilled down on.  The notion that many of these so-called artists can achieve playlisting in the conventional sense is questionable in the absence of any footprint outside of the platform, in today’s digitally connected, social media-driven world.

No matter that of the music we listened-to that is alleged to be ‘fake’ from MBW’s ‘list of 50’, none of it should be cause for concern artistically.  Nor would it win awards for originality.  The fact that playlists like Ambient Chill (426,494 followers) and Stress Relief (433,208 followers) receive many millions of plays does however mean that there is the potential for significant sums of money to be made, and possibly the latest ruse to game the system – the surprise for some being that this time it is allegedly being gamed by Spotify themselves.

Is the public being duped? Almost certainly not… nor do they probably care.  It’s ‘content’ that fits a mood/ genre – an intentionally non-specific accompaniment to daily life by music that isn’t demanding of any attention.  From Spotify’s perspective they’re not touting these names as ‘artists’ in the accepted sense, so any accusations about dishonesty or conning the public need to be considered in that light.

If anything, this shines more light on the viability of the model itself and transparency around the deals struck with labels that remain shrouded in a cloak of NDAs…

 

Editorial by Jonathan Robinson