Cracking Down on Artificial Streams

Streaming fraud is an endemic and persistent problem within the music industry. Yet in 2024, promising strides are being made by distributors, labels, and DSPs to curb fake streaming and protect legitimate artists. Stay informed on all things artificial streaming with this blog post, and help crack down on fraudulent activity.

What is Streaming Fraud?

Spotify defines an artificial stream (aka a fraudulent, manipulated, or fake stream) as “a stream that doesn’t reflect genuine user listening intent.” Most artificial streaming is done using bots or click farms trying to appear like genuine listeners, while actually only streaming songs from artists who have paid for their services.

Artificial Streaming’s Impact

Streaming fraud isn’t just fledgling artists looking to pad their streams through any means necessary. There are also a number of far worse, nefarious reasons for the rampant spread of fake streams. Most notably, criminal gangs have been known to launder illegally earned money through fraudulent streaming. By buying fictitious streams on fictitious artists, gangs are paid out by DSPs in clean, untraceable cash. Turning money made from any number of crimes into usable currency.

Outside of the immoral, the widespread nature of the problem means that there are a number of companies offering artificial streaming disguised as a legitimate service. This has led to a rise in recent years of artists who employ artificial streams totally by accident. These artists think they’re paying a legitimate music marketing company that’s helping to promote their music, when in reality the company is just using bots to ramp up streaming numbers. 

The Damage Done

It’s difficult to know exactly how many streams on a service like Spotify are fraudulent, but some estimates have it as high as 10% – accounting for as much as $2 billion in fraud each year. Scammers might see this as harmless stealing from a giant corporation, like shoplifting gum from a chain convenience store. But in reality, they’re stealing from legitimate artists. Spotify (like most other streaming services) determines royalty payments based on their total pool of revenue and divides it up based on the number of streams in that period of time. So that 10% of fake streams represent billions of dollars in revenue that would otherwise be divided up among legitimate artists that is instead going to fraudsters.

Further, artists who boost their numbers with bots often have lasting damage done to their Spotify algorithm, making it harder to establish a legitimate following. The random streams make it difficult for Spotify to determine who your fans are and what kind of music they like – after all, the bots and click farms aren’t usually streaming music from bigger artists that sound like you, they’re streaming other tiny artists who paid for the same bot service. A surefire way to see if an artist is paying for streams is to check the “fans also like” section – if it’s all completely unrelated music, those streams are probably fake. This is part of why Spotify has rolled out its new 1,000 stream threshold before artists can start earning money – so that scammers can’t fly under the radar any longer.

And of course, the big reason to avoid artificial streams is that it can get your music pulled from streaming services and even get you blacklisted from your distributor. Artificial stream detection is getting more and more sophisticated, so the odds of getting away with buying streams are getting slimmer and slimmer.

How to Protect Yourself

To keep your music from getting stolen by “phantom artists,” never publish streaming-quality music to YouTube, SoundCloud, or TikTok without first submitting it to a reputable distributor like ONErpm. Distributors store metadata and the songs’ “digital fingerprints” that will prevent it from being uploaded to other distributors by bad actors. 

The other way to protect your music from takedowns due to artificial streams is to avoid shady promotion companies that use botted streams. Never pay for any marketing or promotion service that guarantees a certain amount of streams, even if they claim they’re all real streams. 

It’s also important to be careful which 3rd party playlists you submit your music to, especially if you have to pay to be included. Watch out for extremely long playlists with 200+ tracks and anything with a really random genre mix. Playlists that are entirely no-name or fake-sounding artists should also be avoided. As a simple rule: if you wouldn’t listen to it, don’t submit to it!

ONErpm is a member of the Music Fights Fraud Alliance, a global taskforce of streaming services, labels, and distributors dedicated to eradicating streaming fraud.

Looking for more? Check out all of the latest from the ONErpm blog here! 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button