How spammers and scammers are gaming Spotify

Should a streaming service decide what counts as art?
Despite Spotify paying less than half a cent a play, some artists and opportunists are finding ways to make a few extra dollars through the streaming service. (REUTERS)

This segment first aired in February 2016.

Streaming services, like Apple Music, Tidal and Spotify, are all vying to become your go-to way of listening to music.

They're trying to supplant our own music collections by offering immediate access to every song ever, in exchange for a subscription fee. But with streaming services that generally pay artists less than half a cent per play, some people are finding ways to get extra money by gaming the system.

Ryan H. Walsh is a musician and writer in Boston who wrote an article for Motherboard about these Spotify scammers, and what Spotify is doing to fight back. 

"'s fair to say that my relationship with streaming is completely love hate… I love it so much having access to all this music, and then there are problems with pay-out rates for me, my friend, artists I love.

And, always in the back of my mind, does a streaming service that gives you all the music ever created at the tips of your fingers devalue music?"

-Ryan H. Walsh

According to Ryan, there are two main ways that people are making extra money from Spotify (besides being a very popular artist).

The first is click fraud. This involves simply streaming your own songs, or encouraging others to stream them, over and over.

The other is what Ryan calls "musical spam", tracks which may be static, silence, or just any track which is not intended to be enjoyed, but just to be mistakenly streamed. Creators of musical spam often use names of popular artists in their song titles, or purposefully name their songs so they might be mistaken for a popular song, for example "Hotline Fling".

The album Sleepify by the band Vulfpeck is an interesting example of both of these method. The band released an album of silence, which they encouraged their fan stream while they slept. 

To combat this, Spotify is taking anything they deem illegitimate, and removing it from the site completely. The problem, Ryan says, is that the line between the legitimate and the illegitimate is not always so clear. 

"I spent a whole weekend listening to a song by the band Can. That's unusual, yes, but it was legitimate listening, and there could be a future where Spotify declares this sort of thing not permitted."

  • Ryan plays guitar and sings in the band Hallelujah the Hills, and he is currently writing a book for Penguin Press.


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