Music streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music are excellent tools for discovering new music; the apps conveniently generate curated playlists with music recommendations for each user. However, Spotify users have noticed that some of their recommended songs are not by real musicians. Instead those recommended playlists are populated by fake or “ghost” artists who have figured out a way to manipulate the streaming platform’s algorithm.
TikToker @enough_dad described how Reddit’s Indieheads forum discovered Spotify ghost artists in this video. Throughout the video, @enough_dad references Reddit user RrentTreznor’s exposé on how fake artists exploit famous musicians’ fans to collect streaming revenue from Spotify.
Throughout his Reddit post, RrentTreznor used the artist Romangwap’s profile as an example (the Spotify page no longer lists any songs, but users can still see that Romangwap accumulated over 9,000 monthly listeners). Although Romangwap’s artist page on Spotify appeared normal initially, a closer look into the artist’s discography raised a red flag for RrentTreznor.
Despite Romangwap being a small artist, most of his songs allegedly linked collaborations with more prominent indie artists, such as Klaxons, Wilderado and the Rose. But when RrentTreznor listened to Romangwap’s songs, he quickly realized that the “hypergeneric” songs were most likely “a front” — that this so-called ghost artist had actually figured out a way to fake a collaboration by linking their music to popular artists to exploit streaming revenue from the bigger artists’ fans.
Why do ghost artists exist on Spotify, and who is responsible?
The exact motives behind ghost artists’ decision to add songs with fake collaborations to Spotify are unknown, but many speculate that fake artists mainly want to manipulate Spotify’s algorithm for a quick cash grab. Through faking collaborations with massive artists, the ghost artists’ songs can quickly appear on “new release” playlists that can attract many streams.
In his TikTok, @enough_dad explains that there are only two ways that artists can get featured on Spotify’s auto-generated new-release playlists. The app curates a unique “Release Radar” playlist for each user by creating music recommendations based on the user’s listening history or adding new songs released by artists that the user follows.
“These kinds of ‘ghost artists’ are basically piggybacking on these well-known artists,” said @enough_dad. “And it seems like the scam is mostly because the people are making a bunch of money from streaming.”
RrentTreznor also tried to research who was responsible for the ghost artist problem. Despite uncovering various other examples of fake artists, their general lack of a social media presence makes it difficult to pinpoint who is behind this widespread music “scam.” It is unknown if fake artists work separately or in tandem to collect streaming revenue from fake collaborations with famous musicians.
“If I had to guess, I would say one group of coordinating individuals represents every single one of these artists. And my reasoning for that has to do with the music itself,” RrentTreznor speculated. “It’s all so hypergeneric and bland — almost as if the same ghost producer is making each song using templates. The only key distinction between quite a few of them is the use of a ghost vocalist. If even one of these vocalists could make themselves known — it could break the story wide open.”
How does the ghost artist issue affect other musicians’ streams?
Ghost artists aren’t just an issue on Spotify — they are running rampant across other streaming platforms, such as Apple Music, iHeartRadio and various other online music services. The takeover of fake artists across different music apps is a troublesome issue for real musicians getting started in the industry; scammers are taking away small artists’ chances at building a fanbase.
“Effectively, these ghost artists are taking a spot away on these new release playlists from newer artists who are playing by the rules,” explained @enough_dad. “It’s possible that if Spotify doesn’t do anything, these new release playlists are going to be chock-full of fake singles.”
Reddit users commented under RrentTreznor’s post to expand upon the ghost artist issue and bring up other ways that they have taken advantage of streaming services’ algorithms.
“This has been a problem where scammers release songs under the names of popular artists. I guess this is a new tactic they’re trying that’s sneakier/harder to detect,” a Redditor replied.
“To add to this, sometimes a ‘collab’ does show on the popular artist’s page, and the band/manager will have to submit a takedown request to get it removed,” another wrote. “It’s negligent and infuriating that Spotify hasn’t introduced a simple feature wherein the artist/Mgmt/label can approve a ‘collab’ submission.”
Currently no features on Spotify allow users to block fake artists’ songs from appearing in their Release Radar playlists. However, Spotify is aware of the issue; the platform’s community forum includes pages that direct users on reporting incorrect song information and how artists can relocate or remove songs that appear on the wrong profile.
“Stream manipulation and content misrepresentation are industry-wide issues that Spotify takes seriously and are against our policies,” a Spotify spokesperson told In The Know. “We have robust, active mitigation measures in place that identify bad actors, limit their impact and penalize them accordingly. We are continuously evolving our efforts to limit the impact of such individuals on our service.”
TikTokers also commented under @enough_dad’s video to express how fake artists affect their listening experience.
“My release radar has been ruined for like 2 years because this is so common now,” a TikToker commented.
“They are infringing on copyright and monetizing it; this isn’t about playlists as much as it’s about easy passive income, by exploiting others’ IP,” another wrote.
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