Over the weekend, Spotify decided to do a major purge of songs they believe had ‘fraudulent streams.’
In effect, tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of songs disappeared from the platform overnight (happy new year!).
There’s been a lot of misinformation flying around about what happened and why. There’s a (debunked) conspiracy theory flying around that DistroKid had something to do with this – because so many songs that got removed were from DistroKid artists.
Over the weekend, Philip Kaplan, CEO and founder of DistroKid, wrote a blog post helping people understand.
“Every month, Spotify & other streaming services detect fraudulent marketing services and playlists, remove associated tracks, and email a list of affected tracks to distributors (so your distributor can notify you).
If you got an email notice, it’s possible you (or someone on your team, or a friend, or fan) used one of these fake marketing services. It’s also likely you didn’t know that the marketing service (or playlist) was generating fraudulent streams. Which is a super bummer situation (for you and for your distributor).”
Well, last night I joined Philip in a Clubhouse discussion all about this topic – what happened, why and what to do now.
—> If you’re on Clubhouse follow me, I’m leading regular discussions! @ariherstand
It started with one of the moderators, Joey Lavish, bravely relaying all the conspiracy theories he’d been hearing in various circles he’s a part of. The proverbial conch was then passed to Philip who attempted to go one by one and debunk all of the conspiracies. He laid out a few basic facts:
- No, DistroKid had nothing to do with this
- (This only hurts their brand. Why would they shoot themselves in the foot?)
- DistroKid passes 100% of the money they receive onto the artist
- DistroKid does not pay out any money before they receive it from the DSPs (Spotify, Apple, etc)
- DistroKid is the largest distributor in the world (by far), so naturally most songs that got removed were from DistroKid artists.
- After reviewing the survey DistroKid artists (who had music removed) filled out, Philip learned that there seem to be hundreds of scam services out there that artists hire to inflate their streaming numbers (or promote their music, plug them into playlists, etc)
“This may be a result of our efforts to protect against artificial streaming — and is not related to what distributor you use.” – Spotify
@DistroKid @spotifyartists @SpotifyCares I made a Christmas Album to uplift the community in dark year and promoted it organically, and it’s been removed because people were enjoying it and before I got my royalties. This must be fixed. Thousands are suffering from this. HELP
— John Riesen (@john_riesen) January 2, 2021
Thanks for reaching out! This may be a result of our efforts to protect against artificial streaming — and is not related to what distributor you use. You can learn more about our policy here: https://t.co/gJBzzixClM. We’ll be here if anything else comes up /MQ
— SpotifyCares (@SpotifyCares) January 3, 2021
Ok, let’s start there. Why did this happen? How is this happening?
There are countless services out there that claim to help you boost your streams. Most services make it look legit (“We don’t use bots! We only pitch your music to real playlist curators!”). Believe me, their language is tricky AF. I’ve spent the past 3 years studying these services and even became a victim to one 3 years ago when MY album got removed. I wrote about that experience on Digital Music News. (That was a CD Baby distributed album.)
These services are, by and large, against Spotify’s terms of service. So avoid them like the plague!
The thing is, Spotify purging songs for ‘artificial streams’ (as they call it), is not new. They just do this in waves.
And the latest wave began January 1st, 2021.
Good rule of thumb, never pay a service to market your music on Spotify.
For clarity, running ads on Facebook, Instagram or Google to get people to click on your ad which then sends them to Spotify is not against Spotify’s terms. That’s old-fashioned, very legitimate marketing. You’re targeting real humans to use their human fingers to click on your ad and use their human ears to listen to your music on Spotify.
This is a good use of your marketing dollars.
Also, hiring a PR firm to promote your music and story to blogs and other media outlets is, of course, also not against Spotify’s terms. PR companies are contacting real human writers and influencers to use their human brains, hearts, voices and fingers to talk and write about you and your music.
This, similarly, can be a good use of your promotion dollars (Spotify playlist editors have said point blank that they read blogs and pay attention to who journalists are talking about and listening to).
Just be careful, there are plenty of PR scams out there too!
Spotify is trying to do away with these scammy services by teaching artists a lesson.
But this is a really shitty way to do it. It’s like punishing your child for getting kidnapped while working at their job. “You should have known better!”
It’s an extremely difficult time to be an artist in the music industry these days. Not only do you have to create brilliant art, you have to brand it, market it, promote it, manage your brand on social media, oh, and book shows, tours and manage all your finances. This is all before anyone in the music industry will even glance their way. We know that no one, not managers, agents or labels, will give the time of day to an artist who doesn’t seem to have their shit together.
And how do you have to show you have your shit together in this day and age? Streaming numbers! Great branding! Engagement! And a great f’in story to boot.
So artists got punished for attempting to do what they thought they were supposed to be doing – promoting their music.
But this is the world we live in. So if you’re an artist, again, do not, I repeat, do NOT pay anyone to pitch you to playlists or boost your presence on Spotify.
What about Playlist Push and SubmitHub?
These two services technically do not break Spotify’s terms of service. Technically. On the face. But there is a lot of grey area here and many artists who got their music removed only used Playlist Push or SubmitHub. So what gives?
For the uninitiated, Playlist Push is a service that’s been around for about 3 years where they have a network of playlist curators who get paid to listen to music and possibly add it to their playlist. Now, they’re technically not being paid to add your song to their playlist (that’s against Spotify’s terms). Just paid to listen and review and POSSIBLY add it. The artist pays a bulk amount (like $1,500) to submit their song and based on your genre, Playlist Push sends the song to the playlist curators they think will dig it.
Where it gets a little iffy is, the playlist curators actually make MORE money if they DO add your song. So it’s to their benefit to add your song. So no, they’re not being paid to add it, they just make more money if they add any song.
This is how my funk band’s song got added to “90s boy bands” and “P!nk and Avril Lavigne” playlists when the song has nothing to do with these playlists. Supposedly because we selected “funk” and “soul” and “R&B” as our genres, that Avril Lavigne playlist also had “soul” selected, or something like that.
And, not to mention, that it totally f’d up our Fans Also Like and killed our Spotify Algorithm.
See, Spotify is increasingly driven more and more by the algorithm. We know about Discover Weekly, Radio, etc. And if they start throwing your music into someone’s Discover Weekly who would definitely NOT like your music (because they like 90s boy bands and P!nk and you do 1970s funk), Spotify is going to think that people just flat out don’t like your music and will bury it.
Our Fans Also Like, shortly after running our Playlist Push campaign, turned from the hottest emerging funk bands in the world, to all Japanese artists, with Japanese Artist Names and Song Titles. It was pretty hilarious.
SubmitHub operates where you can similarly pay a person (one at a time) to review your music and possibly add it to their playlist. Again, not recommended!
So, artists, per usual, got fucked. Because Spotify can’t figure out how – or just don’t care – to go after the ACTUAL perpetrators (the scammers and fraudsters), they go after the victims. The artists.
Maybe next time the police should arrest and imprison the kidnapping victim for being so dumb to show up to work.
If you’re a DistroKid artist you can dispute the takedown here. DistroKid is saying they will go to bat for you with Spotify if it shows that you didn’t do anything wrong.
You can also get in touch with Spotify directly here and plead your case.
If this doesn’t work, it’s recommended that you immediately stop the playlist plugging/marketing service you’re working with (duh) and redistribute your songs/albums. You may be able to use the same distributor. You may not. If you use the same ISRC numbers (you’ll need a new UPC), your streams should stay intact.