Spotify’s ‘2018 Wrapped’ promotion had plenty of people boasting about how much time they’d spent listening to their favourite artists last year.
But for some Spotify users, the Wrapped microsite was more baffling: if some of their ‘favourite’ artists were acts they had no memory of listening to. An investigation by the BBC Trending team raises some important questions for the streaming service – but also for its rivals and the wider industry.
It identified a selection of artists who may be involved, and even invents a genre for them: ‘mysterycore’. “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,” it reported.
“Interestingly, the bands also have little to no presence on the rest of the internet… Many listeners (including this reporter) never actively searched for or played tracks by bands like Bergenulo Five, but found that their music ended up being logged in their listening history anyway.”
This is where things get serious. It’s possible that people have listened to some of these artists without realising it – for example in Spotify’s radio feature, or if they’ve been served up as recommendations under the feature where Spotify carries on playing related songs when an album or playlist finishes.
But some users have been suggesting a more-worrying cause: that their accounts have been hacked in some way. While some have raised the topic of a Facebook security flaw that was revealed in September 2018, there’s no evidence at this point that any Spotify accounts have been hacked as a result of it.
The artists mentioned in the BBC piece have since been removed from Spotify. “These artists were removed because we detected abnormal streaming activity in relation to their content,” said Spotify’s spokesperson in a statement to Music Ally this morning.
(It’s important to note that innocent, not-fake-at-all artists could get sucked in to this kind of investigation, thanks to the possibility of lean-back listening where people don’t remember what artists they’ve heard. Be wary of assuming that every artist you see mentioned in this context must be a fake / fraudulent one!)
The company has also made a wider comment: “We take the artificial manipulation of streaming activity on our service extremely seriously. Spotify has multiple detection measures in place monitoring consumption on the service to detect, investigate and deal with such activity. We are continuing to invest heavily in refining those processes and improving methods of detection and removal, and reducing the impact of this unacceptable activity on legitimate creators, rights holders and our users.”
It’s vital that Spotify gets to the bottom of this, just as it was last year when reports emerged of the so-called ‘Bulgarian scam’ that saw fraudsters uploading music to Spotify then getting warehouses full of devices to stream it round the clock, to earn royalties.
See also the recent spate of ‘fake albums’ gathering old recordings and demos from famous artists like Beyoncé, SZA and Ariana Grande and uploading them to Spotify. As the biggest (paid) streaming service, it will inevitably be a target for fraudulent activity. But it’s not alone.
Other streaming services have told Music Ally in recent months that attempts to upload spammy or fraudulent music are a growing problem for all DSPs. It’s sparking pointed conversations with the distributors who (unwittingly) have been the pipeline, but also exploration of technologies that could be used on the DSP’s systems to identify and deal with this content faster.
Those efforts are important, but perhaps there will also be value in streaming services and distributors coming together to discuss how best to tackle these challenges too.