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How music companies are gaming streaming with “playlist stuffing”


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Kieron Donoghue – founder of Humble Angel Records and former VP of global playlists strategy and curation at Warner Music – has been blogging about the trend of “playlist stuffing” that he has been spotting on streaming services. As songs qualify as a stream and, therefore, a payment after 30 seconds, he says a key tactic has been to “release albums with as many tracks on as possible”.

He picked up on a promoted post on Instagram for an Apple Music playlist developed by Sony Music UK called Sleep & Mindfulness Thunderstorms (which was assembled by Filtr Sweden, Filtr being Sony’s in-house playlist brand) and the Apple Music version has 330 tracks and a run time of six hours and one minute – meaning each track averages out at just over a minute long. It is designed as a sleep playlists so users leave it playing overnight. It has just shy of 12,000 followers currently on Spotify (Apple Music followers are not made pubic) but runs to almost 1,000 tracks and over 18 hours there. “Notice how the playlist artwork says ‘Sleep & Mindfulness Thunderstorms’ which although is nonsense, it reads logically, kind of,” Donoghue writes. “But the actual title of the playlist is called ‘Thunderstorms Sleep & Relax Tracks’ which makes even less sense but is playlist SEO at work given that these are all keywords that Sony thinks people will be searching for in Apple Music.” Where it gets interesting is where he notes that all 330 tracks on the Apple Music playlist are credited to Sleepy John, but the artist profile links to that of an Idaho band from the late 1960s which made him suspicious.

Darren Hemmings of Motive Unknown picked up on this and did even more digging, posting his findings on Twitter. “SHOCK HORROR – its production house music!” he wrote. By digging into the production credits on Spotify he found that the composer of the tracks is David Tarrodi but the performing artist is credited as Sleepy John. Tarrodi apparently works for production music house Yellowtone. “Its fun looking at the Sleepy John artist profile too,” tweets Hemmings. “Over 600k plays on one track. Most albums have hundreds of ‘songs’ and few exceed 60s in length. Its all calibrated to juice as much money as possible from the streaming services, who pay out after ~30s…” He also notes that, drawing on Soundcharts data, Sleepy John had 570 followers but they suddenly doubled in a 48-hour period. A multitude of tracks were added to the playlist in the past week and, because they are storm noises, are easy and quick to create and then chop into minute-long segments. “So in short: calibrate songs for maximum revenue, leverage your playlist brand to push these f—king *everywhere*, support it with ads and boom – watch the money roll in,” Hemmings concludes. “Behold the music industry in 2019, ladies and gentlemen.” To drive home his point, he posted a gif of someone repeatedly banging their head on their desk. This was excellent detective work and proof that the transparency of data can have unintended consequences.

Eamonn Forde

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