@BBCtrending: The mystery tracks being ‘forced’ on Spotify users–another explanation

Jonathan Griffin has another “fake artist” story about Spotify on BBC Trending (see also Laura Kobylecky prescient post from 2017, Making Fake Art: “1984”, The New Rembrandt, and The “Fake Artist”).

Mr. Griffin frames the story:

Mysterious musicians have cropped up on Spotify, racking up thousands of listens and (perhaps) hundreds of pounds. It’s a phenomenon that experts say could indicate a security flaw.

But while Spotify denies that accounts have been hacked, the music streaming site has not explained in detail how the playlists of some users indicate they’ve “listened to” musicians that nobody’s ever heard of.

They have names like Bergenulo Five, Bratte Night, DJ Bruej and Doublin Night. Apart from being musically unremarkable, they generally have a few things in common: short songs with few or no lyrics, illustrated with generic cover art, and short, non-descriptive song titles.

Interestingly, the bands also have little to no presence on the rest of the internet. At a time when social media plays a crucial role in connecting musicians and audiences, these artists have no fan pages, no concert listings, social media accounts or even photos of the actual musicians.

But somehow these mystery artists and a host of similar acts have snuck into people’s Spotify listening playlists, in some cases racking up thousands of listens and prompting a number of users to speculate that their accounts had been hacked.

“Hacked” like “glitch” is a word that hides a multitude of liabilities–particularly when the basic phenomenon of mystery tracks is one that has been around for years.  Mr. Griffin offers what I’m sure is an honest technical assessment involving a security breach of the particular incidents of mystery tracks appearing on Spotify playlists.  The complex explanation accepts a basic premise–hacked accounts–and overlooks a simpler explanation.

“Hacked” is one of those flexible Gumby words that can be molded to fit a particular situation, but it definitely implies that an intruder engaged in what is sometimes called an intentional possessory taking and carrying away of property not their own, or as it’s known in the trade–larceny.  In this case, the common law would struggle to cover a playlist as property, but I don’t think it’s all that difficult.  I’m just a country lawyer from Texas and I’m not as smart as these city fellers, and even I can see the analogy.

The more obvious and much simpler explanation is that Spotify did it themselves.  They had access and moreover had a financial incentive as Laura pointed out in her 2017 post.  Here’s how it works…

Spotify makes it easy for the “artists” on these tracks to upload their recordings.  Spotify may buy a batch of these recordings from the “artists” for a flat fee.  Laura covered this issue and quoted a Music Business Worldwide op-ed by Vick Bain about Epidemic Sound.  As Laura said:

There is another problem with the, hypothetical, “fake artist.” In a second article, (4) Music Business Worldwide addresses the issue of how these “fake artists” could be driving down the “per-stream income for everyone, while lowering the negotiating power of the labels/publishers/collecting societies.” The following chart illustrates that issue:

Royalty Allocation Ratio

The problem depends on the “allocation ratio,” or how people are getting paid. The bigger the “total plays” the smaller the “per play rate”. If the total pool of monthly revenue available for royalty payments is divided equally over the total number of plays, that determines the “per play” rate for that month. Each artist or songwriter would get paid for each of their plays based on that rate. (There may be complexities like minimum payments and country variations depending on negotiation power, but the basic math is pretty consistent.)

In other words, artists who are paid a flat fee are included in the allocation ratio, but  even though their tracks are not royalty-bearing, they pull down the overall payout.  This is one of the oldest tricks in the book and may account–so to speak–for the stickiness of fake artists.  It’s also probably prohibited by at least the major label contracts by the insertion of the qualifier “royalty bearing” or similar words on what can be included in the “total plays” denominator in the equation above.

As long as the nominal per play rate for flat fee artists costs less than the per play rate, Spotify has an incentive to play this game.

Particularly if they can chalk it up to a “glitch” on the audit that may never come.

While Mr. Griffin’s explanation is appreciated, there may just be a simpler explanation, and you know what William of Ockham had to say about that.

Spotify Can’t Find Songwriters Performing at Spotify High Roller Party in Cancun

Ah, Cancun, where the elite meet and the US Consulate is located next to the jail.

According to Digital Music News:

Spotify is currently hosting a pricey offsite meeting in Cancun, Mexico, with dozens or more executives and employees participating.

Of course, Cancun isn’t usually associated with getting work done — unless that work involves repeatedly lifting rum cocktails.  But this offsite is reportedly focused on assembling content groups from various global offices.  Beyond that, we’re not sure of the exact business purpose.

One Spotify executive referred to this as a ‘Spotify Music Conference’.  Another source noted that the ‘entire content org’ at Spotify is attending the getaway.  Sounds like a lot of people.

There seems to be a strong Latin emphasis among the performers (more on that below), which makes sense given the location.  But at this stage, this looks like a broader global content and curator meet-up.

According to one source, the action is happening at the Ritz Carlton Cancun, which is surrounded on all sides by white-sand beaches and light blue waters.  According to the resort’s website, room prices start at $439 a night for an ‘Ocean View Guest Room,’ and quickly climb to $1,329 a night for the spacious ‘Club Master Suite’.

Two of the artists performing at the Spotify soiree…sorry, I mean working conference… are Nicky Jam and ChocQuibTown.  What’s strange about that is that Spotify can’t seem to find the songwriters for these two artists:

nicky jam noi

nick rivera caminero nois

chocquibtown

carlos valencia

Now Spotify can explain to these artists why their songwriters aren’t getting paid.  Good thing we have that Music Modernization Act safe harbor that will put everything right as rain.

@nickconfessore @laforgia_ gabriel-j-x-dance: Facebook offered users privacy wall, then let Spotify and other tech giants around it

For years, Facebook gave some of the world’s largest technology companies more intrusive access to users’ personal data than it has disclosed, effectively exempting those business partners from its usual privacy rules, according to internal records and interviews.

The special arrangements are detailed in hundreds of pages of Facebook documents obtained by The New York Times. The records, generated in 2017 by the company’s internal system for tracking partnerships, provide the most complete picture yet of the social network’s data-sharing practices. They also underscore how personal data has become the most prized commodity of the digital age, traded on a vast scale by some of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley and beyond.

The exchange was intended to benefit everyone. Pushing for explosive growth, Facebook got more users, lifting its advertising revenue. Partner companies acquired features to make their products more attractive. Facebook users connected with friends across different devices and websites. But Facebook also assumed extraordinary power over the personal information of its 2.2 billion users — control it has wielded with little transparency or outside oversight.

The social network allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the records show, and gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.

Read the post on the New York Times.

@ tnm___: Women Artists Lose Out When Algorithms Help Book Events

[This is a really important post by Tshepo Mokoena–in a male dominated industry (streaming) that reflects another male-dominated industry (music), with playlists manipulated by men to men, the much vaunted “artist data” benefits for touring falls down both economically, artistically and ethically.  Turns out streaming is a hyperefficient way to make sure the rich keep getting richer and the bias keeps getting stronger.  Thanks, again, Spotify!]

A funny thing happens when a mixed-gender group chats in a room: people, of all genders, tend to think that the women are talking more. And they tend to think that even while the opposite is true….In translation: women have had to fight for a voice in the public sphere so much that their bare minimum participation is seen as Too Much.

I bring this up, because it’s just about that time for the annual rollout of the coming summer’s festival lineups and their inevitable gender imbalances. Welcome! You can almost draw a parallel between that academic idea – how one woman speaking a little, giving a bit of input, is perceived as her being on a par vocally with the men in the room – and the way women can still feel like a box-ticking afterthought at festivals. A 2017 BBC study found that all-male acts accounted for 80 percent of UK festival headliners. The same study also noted that a quarter of those top slots basically were taken by the same 20 acts – your Muses, Kasabians, Foo Fighters, Killers and so on.

But what about outside the traditional rock festival setup? This week, two events – Spotify’s Who We Be Live in London late this month, and Annie Mac’s AMP Lost & Found festival in Malta in May 2019 – shared news of some of their confirmed artists. Both present some pretty incredible talent, from UK rap, R&B and electronic music. Who We Be, after all, is the name of Spotify’s grime and rap-focused playlist. But, look closer and you also start to notice another trend emerge around gender balance, specifically when streaming plays as central a role in booking a live show, as it does for Who We Be. So while festivals are expanding beyond the ‘yes, let’s go see Kaiser Chiefs for the 18th time!!’ format, what space does that leave for women, in an industry that’s still traditionally dominated by men?

….In the US, Spotify’s RapCaviar, with its more than 10.5 million followers, is often cited as a star-maker. Only, hehehe, it turns out that women feature on it very rarely. When writer David Turner looked into the numbers, for Jezebel’s The Muse earlier this year, he found that women rappers accounted for about 4 percent of artists on the playlist between May 2016 and December 2017. Women overall made up 10.8 percent of RapCaviar artists over that time period.

Read the post on Noisy

@cheriehu42: Fraud Has Become the Latest Hurdle for Music Streaming

[Editor Charlie sez:  Cherie Hu presents a good argument for why artists and fans should demand the “user centric” royalty, or what Chris Castle calls the “Ethical Pool” approach that he’s working on.]

Fraud is applicable because there’s a tangible price tag involved in the consumption of a song: Labels and other rights owners are paid on a pro-rata basis, according to proportional volumes of on-demand streams. The average per-stream payout may not look like much — $0.004 for Spotify, slightly more for services like Apple Music and Tidal ($0.008 and $0.012, respectively), although exact rates depend on the type of artist or song….

But they can add up. A top hit like Ed Sheeran’s 2017 monster “Shape of You” would distribute millions of dollars in performance royalties to its songwriters and even more to the master-rights owner. Using Goldman Sachs’ projection that the streaming sector will hit $34 billion by 2030, millions of dollars in fraudulently acquired funds could be making their way through the royalty chain. Though unlike Twitter, which wiped out 6% of its users, the number of fake music streamers has not been determined. Says one major label head: “It’s not something we’re currently concerned about, but that’s not to say we won’t be in the future.”

Music streaming payouts are a zero-sum game,” says another industry insider. “It is imperative that services are vigilant and sophisticated in their controls to ensure that streaming fraud doesn’t dilute payments to the artists who have rightfully earned those payments”….

Here’s how “playola” works at playlist-promotion companies like Spotlister: A customer pays the company to secure prominent placement of a song on key playlists, such as those on Spotify. When a track is uploaded, it is analyzed and its metadata is used to send it to the most appropriate playlists.

Read the post on Variety

[Chris Castle says:  Remember that high profile criminal payola cases were prosecuted under state law commercial bribery statutes and not only the federal anti-payola or plugola laws.  Alan Freed pleaded to commercial bribery for actions which are literally nothing compared to what Spotify does every day.  While the federal payola laws apply to FCC licensed radio stations, commercial bribery prohibitions are not restricted to radio–so Internet companies need to take this a lot more seriously.  “Because Internet” is less of a defense every day.]

Must-Read by @LizPelly: Discover Weakly: Sexism on Spotify

ON MARCH 2, SPOTIFY ANNOUNCED the most Spotify thing imaginable: The Smirnoff Equalizer, a brand partnership in the form of a woke algorithmic discovery tool. Together, Spotify and Smirnoff claimed that the app would analyze users’ listening habits and “equalize” the gender ratio of their listening experience. Applying a binary understanding of gender, the Equalizer would quantify the user’s past six months of streaming, display the percentage of male-versus-female artists in their history, and provide them with a personalized, more “balanced” playlist. The Smirnoff Equalizer will be live through this summer, available for Spotify users of a legal drinking age in the United States and five additional countries, which should serve as reminder enough: this tool is meant to sell vodka.

Read the post on The Baffler

Must Read: @ChrisRizik: How Spotify Is Killing Jazz, Soul, Classical Music

[This is a must read post on the growing revolt against Spotify as the first known example of Orwell’s versificator.  As Chris Rizik notes, Spotify and its ilk are hardly saviors of music, more like destroyers of music and any popular culture that is more than a foot wide and an inch deep and a few years old.  There’s a reason why 10% of the music accounts for 90% of the revenue–and I think it’s more like 5% acccounts for 95%.]

Two events happened recently that caught my attention:

  • Lil Pump, a 17 year old Miami rapper, signed an $8 million recording deal with Warner Bros.
  • Around the same time, one of the leading modern soul singers in the US celebrated on social media the one millionth stream of her latest song on Spotify. Her financial haul on it? Likely around $3,000.

Though these two stories appeared unrelated, they are instructive of the strange new world of music streaming payments, and the inherent bias against soul, jazz, classical and other genres of music aimed at adult listeners….

And while there has been a lot of press about how streaming initially reduced the overall payments to record companies and artists (which has since turned around), what hasn’t been addressed as much is how streaming has changed which artists get paid. And, without a doubt, streaming has stacked the deck toward hip-hop, pop, and other genres whose listeners are teenagers and twenty-somethings.

Read the post on Hypebot