One of the metrics by which an artist lives and dies is the number of streams they amass on streaming platforms. In a just world, the number of streams and followers on, say, Spotify, would be an accurate and true determination of a song’s/artist’s popularity. But because humans suck and are always trying to game the system, those numbers often cannot be trusted.
Why? Something called “streaming farms.”
Just as there are bots and programs that can fraudulently boost Facebook or YouTube likes, streaming farms will make it look like a song/artist has more legitimate streams than they actually have. Listening bots (automated minions available for a price, of course) have the capability of streaming a song 1,000 a minute. When that happens, an artist will get thousands and thousands of fake streams an hour, which, of course, means higher (and fraudulent) payouts.
Digital Music News has this report.
Industry mainstays like Rolling Stone speculate that artists could be losing around $300 million each year due to the high number of fake global streams, an estimated three to four percent. Spotify and other streaming platforms aren’t losing any money from the practice — the bots that stream the music still have to use their service through paid subscriptions or through a free account that generates ad revenue. But streaming farms do effectively steal money away from artists with legitimate streaming numbers.
Brian Harrington, an LA-based sound engineer, has written about music streaming farms and how to identify them. Look at the top cities where a song is streaming — small towns listed as a “top city” is a big red flag. An artist’s Spotify follower-to-listener ratio and social media engagement with fans indicate whether an artist’s following is legitimate or artificially inflated.
“There’s the pool of money that (streaming platforms) distribute out to the rights holders for the songs. So when the artist is faking with bot-streams, they’re taking chunks out of the pool that could be getting distributed to artists that are legitimately streaming with legitimate fan bases,” Harrington tells Radio New Zealand. “And it’s already diluted so small that it doesn’t make a massive difference, but over time that can account for lost money.”