How Artists Are Scamming Streaming Services

If there’s a system, you can bet that someone is going to try to game it. In the case of streaming music, how do you adjust your strategy to boost the number of streams of your music so your payouts are higher? Vulture takes a look.

A few weeks after the release of Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble,” the hard-charging lead single on his fourth album Damn., the song landed at No. 1 on Billboard’s streaming chart. It’s been on the chart ever since, never falling below No. 3 as users have played it more than 291 million times on Spotify alone.

And that’s just the streaming total for Lamar’s version. His hit song has also been a boon for Spotify’s parasitic underbelly — the coverbots and ripoff artists who vomit out inferior versions of popular songs every week, flooding the website with dreck that only succeeds when users are misled. No one would willingly listen to King Stitch’s “Sit Down, Be Humble,” a third-rate cover of Lamar’s original, but the track has been streamed more than 300,000 times thanks to Spotify’s broad search results and a clever title designed to confuse those who don’t know the song’s real name.

On a website with more than 100 million active daily users, there are plenty of ways to game the system, be it for attention, or, if the streams pile up enough, profit. And the frauds cashing in on the latest hot single are hardly alone. A bevy of unknown artists have found ways to juice their streaming totals, whether it’s covering songs from artists who don’t allow their songs on Spotify, or uploading an album of silent tracks, each precisely long enough to generate a fraction of a cent for the artist.

Gaming Spotify does not rely strictly on deception. Some artists, a term used very loosely here, are providing people exactly what they want. It just so happens that what they want is ephemeral nonsense. Take, for example, the artist Happy Birthday Library, whose Spotify catalogue consists of hundreds of personalized versions of “Happy Birthday” streamed more than a million times.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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