July 21, 2017:Fake Spotify streams are the new fake MySpace friends

Fresh from a week of stripping back the layers of Spotify commissioning producers to make music for its mood playlists, MBW has turned its attention to another scary headline for the company: “fake streams”.

Editor Tim Ingham used a service called Streamify to buy more than 10,000 Spotify streams of a demo he made a decade ago “nobbing about on GarageBand” to see how possible it was to artificially inflate a song’s play count.

And yes, it is possible: Streamify charges $5 for 1,000 Spotify plays; $200 for 100k plays and $2,250 for 2m plays. This is certainly an issue worth talking about, but with two pieces of context.

First, this isn’t a new problem. Every single time a digital metric has become important, whether for winning over radio playlisters or label A&Rs, there have quickly been people and companies willing to game that metric for cash.

MySpace friends; Facebook likes; Twitter followers; SoundCloud streams; YouTube views… Indeed, the respect given to Shazam tags in recent years was partly because it was seen as the least-inflatable metric (and yet if you google ‘buy shazams’ there are services promising that too).

The second thing to talk about is how Spotify is responding to this problem, and while the company hasn’t yet responded to MBW’s report, it’s clear from the warnings Ingham encountered on Streamify about Spotify being “very sensitive to sudden changes in artists’ and songs’ popularity and the daily plays they receive” and having “some kind of automated alarm system in place” that it has already been taking steps to combat the practice.

Also worth noting: past fake-buying scams have relied upon inflating public metrics on one service (e.g. MySpace) to impress someone at a different company (e.g. a radio playlister or label A&R) who could only see those public metrics too.

But if one of the main goals in 2017 is to impress Spotify’s in-house playlist curators, good luck to anyone trying to fool them with their own service’s data. Spotify’s hip-hop boss Tuma Basa recently talked about his ability to tap internal data to spot bad pitches: “Even as we speak on the phone, I can be looking at fan insights and verify if they’re B.S.’ing…”

Similar bullshit-detection will surely apply to artists buying fake streams. And while it would be over-optimistic to expect Spotify to give too much away publicly about its mechanisms for detecting this kind of activity, MBW’s latest investigation might be a useful spur for the streaming service to put out some firm messaging on the penalties for people caught at it.

In that sense, the fake streams of Ingham’s ‘Pinky Hue’ – and his article drawing attention to the issue – are a worthwhile reminder that while faking digital-music metrics isn’t a new problem, it’s one that the industry does need continued vigilance over.

Stuart Dredge
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