Fake artists – who are they? Part 2: Music in the background

20 Jan 2018

(Continued from Part 1 here)

In my last blog, I had introduced a topic about questionable activities inside Spotify, an online music platform. Namely, about a presence of musicians without history or achievements, generating high playlist clicks and royalties, so called "fake artists". This is where this story continues.


Journalists slowly managed unveil the opacity surrounding the “fake artists”, and point to the real characters behind them. As a result, the story is not about the Spotify's royalties but about much graver things, as the following came to light:


1) “Fake artists” are more numerous than just fifty, as reported by the Musical Business Worldvide, which first spotted the problem. No one knows how many are at the disposal of Spotify and other platforms, among millions of artists. However, the number of detected “fake artists” shows a stable increase.


2) A large share of music produced by “fake artists” is rather simple, if not primitive, and not intended for intense listening. It is background music, or musical wallpaper.  In general, such music is nestled in Spotify “mood and activity” playlists like Ambient Chill, Chill out Lounge, Songs to Sing in the Shower, Acoustic Morning, Peaceful Piano, Weekend Hangouts, Sleep, etc. There are thousands of those, multiplying daily.


3) “Fake artists" prefer to work anonymously as a matter of principle. This is paradoxical, given the fact that artists always seek a large exposure to audience.


It certainly looks like a cohort of anonymous composers and performers churn out a low quality product and distribute it all over the internet.


What is this rising trend about?


The Big Turn


Nowadays, we often encounter an opinion that music is losing its former value because it is used as a commodity. Not to overstate the obvious, music was always a commodity. It was sold and acquired in different ways. 


What is really new in the digital age is a genuine market principle where the listener (consumer) becomes more important than the composer (producer).


With it, a thousand-year old tradition of art dealing turns by 180 degrees. In the past, the composer and performer were the principal players. They were the source of revelation, creators of aesthetical values that couldn’t be reached by other people. Audience used to be secondary - it followed the artist. Listeners strived to join the artist’s world to attain new impressions and truths.


Today, the situation is the exact opposite. Leaders and followers switched places. Spotify was designed just for the purpose to adapt music to the world of the listener. Listener’s daily needs took the centre stage. The artist is crucially influenced by the basic needs of a consumer, a non-musician, not by own ideas and creativity, as a professional who is deeply involved in music. 


Playlist Revolution


The catalyst of this 180-degree turn is a playlist.


A past approach to marketing music was not profitable in terms of distribution and sales. The name of a composer, a title of piece, or genre often said nothing to the average listener, especially in classical music. “Impromptu in E♭major by Schubert” means little to a person who never heared Schubert.


However, a playlist called “Evening Chill” or “Songs to Sing in the Shower” clarifies the content for everyone. Music presented this way has better sales, and a lot more prospects for clicks. Which is often more important than sales, on the internet. Google and Facebook sell nothing to its general public, but make billions. Only the number of clicks matters.


The title of the playlist is a descriptive tag for the listener. A small advertisement of how one can benefit from it. 


Playlist is a heart of a streaming service. And streaming service already became a heart of the musical industry. By means of playlists, a streaming platform manages music into the most marketable form. It’s a great way to boost business.


Spotify has millions of playlists to cover all aspects of life. The platform's inner machinery is all about generating playlists in the most effective way.


Multitasking and music wallpaper


The role of a playlist is to reduce music to an ordinary component of everyday life. This is an exact business model the founder of Spotify Daniel Elk, non-musician but talented businessman, intended to build. A global music marketplace like Amazon, to fill everyone’s life with easily accessible music, 24/7.


Noble idea, as Daniel Elk puts it. But the dark side of this idea turns music into a phenomenon which requires no special attention from the user, a wallpaper. A service similar to other personal utilities people use daily.


The age of multitasking and digital information overload turned out to be an extremely beneficial environment for Elk’s idea. People juggle several activities, not paying full attention to any, while some music provides a continuous background of unrelated content.


“Spotify loves “chill” playlists: they’re the purest distillation of its ambition to turn all music into emotional wallpaper... “Piano in the Background” is one of the most aptly titled; “in the background” could be added to the majority of Spotify playlists. (The Problem with Muzak. Spotify’s bid to remodel an industry)


Fertile soil for fake artists


This is a perfect explanation why “fake artists” appeared. They are caused into existence by the need of streaming platforms to fill their endlessly produced playlists with something.


Something is a key word here. The quality of music is not important. The only thing the streaming platform seeks is listener’s click on a track.


There is even more to that, which feeds the hypocrisy -  the lower is the quality of the track, the better it is for the platform. As it forces the listener to immediately jump to another track.


“Fake artists” are producers of clickbait content, which is intended only for generating clicks. This is the secret of their emergence. Amateurs, second-rate professionals, failed composers, all kinds of producers of musical garbage – are highly welcome. They are completely identical to Bach and Beethoven in terms of clickbait.


And what do the “fake artists” gain from it?


Money, of course. Anonymity allows them to escape liability, and bad reputation, which would reduce clicking on their tracks.


Frequent name change is an effective tool to earn more than to appear under a constant name. Producing a ton of musical trash, “fake artists” remain invulnerable.


And it actually works. Some of them are becoming millionaires (Spotify’s Top ‘Fake Artists’ Make Six-Figure Salaries). 


So, this is what is behind the incident with Spotify’s “fake artists” - contamination and devaluation of music.


However, this is not the end of the story. More unexpected, and fairly bizarre details to follow…


(To be continued)





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Violinist deeply rooted in classical tradition and concerned about the future of the genre >> more about the author 

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