Spotify faces calls to probe ‘fake artists’ amid playlist controversy

Stockholm, Sweden. Photo credit: Yoko Correia Nishimiya

Yesterday, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN) reported that Firefly Entertainment was allegedly linked to an array of “fake” artist profiles on Spotify – and that the independent label had cashed in millions from streams, in part by placing the accounts’ tracks on proprietary playlists. Now the Union of Swedish Musicians is asking Spotify to launch a full-scale investigation.

The shocking (in Swedish and blocked by a paywall) article from DN claimed that the ‘artists’ in question ‘don’t really exist’, with some describing their notoriety – which predictably caused Swedish musicians to push back – as a ‘scandal’.

“The artists can be linked to the growing Karlstad-based company Firefly Entertainment, which has reached SEK 65 million in revenue. [currently $6.97 million] annually,” DN written in a follow-up piece today. “The survey shows that around 20 people are behind more than 500 artist names.

“Several of the fictional artists have more monthly listeners than” famed Swedish musician Håkan Hellström (nearly 678,000 monthly listeners on Spotify) and “Some die young” singer-songwriter Laleh (about 866,000 monthly listeners), continued DN.

The outlet also highlighted an alleged connection between Firefly and Spotify, specifically via an individual named Nick Holmstén, who “formerly served in Spotify’s senior management, serving as Global Music Director and synonymous with Accent put on the playlists”. However, Holmstén is currently co-founder and co-CEO of a company called TSX Entertainment.

Firefly noted by the end of January this year, he had invested in TSX, which is building “a $2.5 billion, immersive, all-purpose brand, retail, hospitality and entertainment project” to Times Square. The superiors would expect to open the said project in the first quarter of 2023.

“On social networks, he [Holmstén] can be seen hanging out with the Firefly founder, who has also been at big Spotify events. Through his new company, Nick Holmstén says he was not involved in licensing deals with record labels during his time at Spotify,” wrote DN.

Of course, relatively popular Spotify artist profiles for non-artists are nothing new. In early 2021, for example, “white noise” pages entered the media spotlight for their massive Spotify followings and substantial earnings to match.

One such profile, named “White Noise Baby Sleep”, has amassed a staggering 716.26 million Spotify streams to date with a “song” titled “Clean White Noise – Loopable with no fade”. Needless to say, however, that these tracks and others like them generally don’t take spots on popular playlists maintained by Spotify from actual artists, and the point is worth considering (in addition to direct payments of royalties) regarding ongoing reviews.

The information – in coordination with Spotify’s previous disclosure that “of the eight million people who have distributed songs to Spotify, 5.4 million of them have released less than ten tracks all-time” – raises interesting questions about the streaming service’s creator community and its goal of having 50 million creators on the platform by 2025.

“In the industry there are rumors that there are manipulated playlists and songs that are fake,” Swedish Musicians’ Union president Jan Granvik said of the controversy over Firefly’s fake artists, according to a statement in Swedish provided to DN. “It will be a matter of credibility for the entire music industry. Spotify must investigate and transparently report what happened and what it intends to do.

According to the same outlet, Firefly executive Peter Classon relayed in a statement, “There is no direct relationship with Spotify or in any other way that may affect playlists. Regarding the number of songs on Spotify’s playlists, we’re referring to Spotify controlling the process of getting songs to playlists, and we would also strongly deny that there is any connection with Nick Holmstén, who left Spotify in 2019, which would affect our business.

Spotify – which said in June 2020 that “you cannot pay to access an official Spotify playlist”, but did not mention the possibility of offering playlist spots to “artists” who accept smaller payments – addressed this current controversy in a statement of its own. .

“We at Spotify do not decide how an artist chooses to present their work, and we have no opinion on whether they release their songs under their real name or under a pseudonym,” a statement said. spokesperson. The songs “are licensed by the rights holders and we pay them a royalty for their music,” the commentary continues.