With 2017 seemingly being the most contentious year yet for ‘fake news’ perhaps it’s fitting that there’s also a spiky argument emerging around ‘fake artists’ in the music-streaming world.

Spotify is at the centre of the row, to the extent that the company issued an unusually-blunt statement as its contribution to the debate.

“We do not and have never created ‘fake’ artists and put them on Spotify playlists. Categorically untrue, full stop. We pay royalties – sound and publishing – for all tracks on Spotify, and for everything we playlist,” said a spokesperson, in a statement issued to multiple outlets (Music Ally included).

“We do not own rights, we’re not a label, all our music is licensed from rightsholders and we pay them – we don’t pay ourselves. We do not own this content – we license it and pay royalties just like we do on every other track.”

If you missed the original catalyst for this statement, it was a feature on culture website Vulture claiming that some artists in prominent positions on Spotify playlists simply aren’t real.

The second slot on Spotify’s Ambient Chill playlist was taken by an “unknown” band called Deep Watch, which has two songs on Spotify with more than a million streams each. The first track on the Sleep playlist was by Enno Aare – a band with three songs on Spotify and no footprint outside of the streaming – while another band called Evolution of the Stars only has two tracks on Spotify, both on the Deep Focus playlist with a combined 15m streams.

The two claims being made here: Vulture’s that there are fake artists on Spotify with prominent positions on popular owned-and-operated ‘mood’ playlists; and Spotify’s that it has not created these ‘fake’ artists, are not necessarily contradictory.

But neither does Spotify’s denial entirely rebut the claim by industry site Music Business Worldwide – which broke this story last year and re-entered the fray this weekend with a list of 50 artists it believes to be ‘fake’ – that this music may be created by artists and production libraries but licensed to Spotify at lower rates than regular tracks from labels.

This argument has legs: you can expect Spotify to be pressed on some of the details around its denial by journalists and label partners alike.

It’s also logical that musicians might be keen to take advantage of this trend: if we were an electronic artist, we’d be rummaging through our old unreleased tracks to find the most sleep / chill / focus-worthy ones (or boshing some new ones out over a weekend); inventing a pseudonym to release them on Spotify, then trying to tip the wink to its curators.

But there’s also a wider point here related to the current flurry of activity around artificial-intelligence music composition startups.

It runs thus: IF mood-based playlists for sleep, focusing and chilling out are popular (which they most-certainly are) and IF the AI-music startups’ algorithms can start to produce music good enough for these kinds of uses (and let’s be honest, this is a ‘WHEN’ not an ‘IF’) then why wouldn’t production-music firms or even major labels be in the market for acquiring startups like Jukedeck, Amper Music and the rest to capitalise?

But that said, why wouldn’t Spotify also be mulling that strategy? Let’s see who’s first with the chequebook…

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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