Streaming fraud in the music streaming world poses a significant threat to artists, particularly those who rely on streaming platforms for their livelihoods. Artists utilizing DIY distribution services like DistroKid and Tunecore collectively earned $1.8 billion in 2023–accounting for over 5% of the global recorded music industry’s market share, according to research firm MIDiA. Lately, hundreds of independent artists who use these DIY distribution services have had their songs removed from Spotify permanently due to supposed bot streaming fraud.

To increase streams and get placed on playlists, often, independent artists enlist the help of third-party playlist companies to pitch their music. Unfortunately, some of these third-party companies have recently been caught utilizing fake playlists and fake playlist bots that generate fake streams, which is known as streaming fraud. This is why it’s more important than ever that artists trust the third-party playlist promotion company they utilize so that they aren’t at risk of having their music taken down. Note to artists: While it is legal to pay a third-party company to pitch your music to real playlists, it’s not legal to pay for plays.

What Is Streaming Fraud?

Streaming fraud is defined as the use of illegal fake playlist bots to generate fake music streams versus real listeners. Unlike traditional music sales models, where artists earn revenue directly from each purchase, streaming platforms operate on a pro-rata payment system. This means that artists receive a portion of the total revenue based on the number of streams their songs accumulate. Recently, Spotify has cracked down on these illegal bots generating fake streams that result in undeserving monetary payouts.

Why Is Streaming Fraud on the Rise?

The rise of DIY distribution independent music distribution services has exacerbated the streaming fraud issue. These platforms allow artists to easily upload and distribute their music to streaming services for a nominal fee, often as low as $20 per year. With minimal oversight and a high volume of uploads daily, it becomes challenging to effectively police fraudulent activities.

Artists who are told they can trust third party streaming promotion companies, may have unknowingly taken part in fake streaming bots. Or worse yet, some artists are being accused of being involved in fake bot playlists, when they haven’t.

For example, According to Variety Magazine, in February, artist Ben Jordan, who to date has earned more than $500,000 in streaming royalties and relies on them for a significant part of his income, had been unwittingly caught up in streaming services’ new crackdown on fraudTuneCore, his distributor, had received a notice from Spotify indicating that significant artificial streaming activity had been detected on his music. TuneCore summarily removed all 23 of his albums from all streaming platforms—without warning.

Another artist named Viper, who distributed her music through DistroKid had her track “Fusion” removed from Spotify playlists after DistroKid flagged it for “100% artificial” streams. This decision came despite the song’s inclusion in official Spotify editorial and algorithmic playlists, garnering nearly 14,000 streams over several weeks. The discrepancy raises questions about the efficacy of fraud detection measures employed by distribution platforms.

How Is Streaming Fraud Affecting Independent Artists?

In response to mounting concerns, Spotify announced significant changes to its payment structure. The platform aims to combat streaming fraud and ensure fairer distribution of revenue to “emerging and professional artists.”

Under the new policy, Spotify will not issue royalties for tracks that garner fewer than 1,000 streams annually. Additionally, distributors will face fines of $10 for each track found to be accumulating significant numbers of artificial streams. Given that distributors like DistroKid and TuneCore handle a vast number of uploads daily, these measures have far-reaching implications for the industry.

In response to inquiries, DistroKid president Phil Bauer emphasized the company’s commitment to adhering to streaming service rules and policies. However, he deferred questions regarding Spotify’s playlists, citing the streaming service’s discretion in disclosing fraud management policies.

This is just one example of hundreds. As the music industry continues to grapple with streaming fraud, stakeholders must collaborate to develop robust strategies for detection and prevention. Only through collective efforts can artists and platforms ensure a fair and sustainable ecosystem for all involved.

How to Promote Your Music While Steering Clear of Fake Streams

Playlist Pump PR Agency heavily vets our network to ensure we never subject artists to fake playlists, bots or fake streams. We have in the business for almost a decade and have followed all of Spotify’s terms and conditions since the start.

You can tap in below to book a consultation with us to get advise on how to go about handling your releases and business as an indie artist. We are a company of artists built for artists, so we understand the indie artists’ hardship.