BusinessDay

Explainer: Streaming farms, black market of music business

 

Afrobeats music artists, BNXN (aka Buju) and Ruger, traded words on Twitter over who was the bigger star. In one of his posts, BNXN accused Ruger of using streaming farms to illegally grow his streaming numbers, which led to more royalties and other benefits.

“There are streaming farms in Nigeria now. A room where your label bosses pay money to get your songs up by automation, no real fans, no real people, just a facade. Y’all make the people who really work for this bleed and your day is coming,” BNXN said.

He continued questioning how the artist got millions of views on other platforms but got less than 5,000 on Spotify, which has a strict policy against artificial streams.

For some people, this recent stream of tweets may be the first time they learn about what streaming farms are. But they are not new phenomena in the music world. Industry mainstays like Rolling Stone speculate that artists could be losing around $300 million each year due to the high number of fake global streams.

Streaming farms are like the black market of the music business; they are services designed to illegally increase the number of times a song is listened to through software Bots or the use of a large number of phones.

They create listening bots that can stream songs up to 1,000 times per minute, which means that in just 10 minutes they may give a musician or band a count of more than 10,000 fake streams of their song. This greatly increases the number of times a song is streamed.

Sadly, many labels use it to boost their artist’s streams and keep them hot on the market, while unknown artists use it to get the attention of big labels. On a global scale, some big names in the music industry have been accused of using streaming farms to boost or inflate numbers.

French Montana in January 2020 was accused of faking Spotify streams, an allegation he denied. G-Eazy management in 2021 was caught red-handed through leaked phone calls.

Joey Akan, a Nigerian music journalist, tweeted recently: “Apple Music Top 100 has become a marketing tool for Nigerian musician, not an independent curation of the country’s listening habits. Apart from bragging rights and screenshots, people rig streams to climbing up there for the public attention it brings to the record.”

Brian Harrington, an LA-based sound engineer, has written about music streaming farms and how to identify them, saying small towns listed as a “top city” is a big red flag. According to Harrington, an artist’s Spotify follower-to-listener ratio and social media engagement with fans indicate whether an artist’s following is legitimate or artificially inflated.

In 2021, Platforms like Spotify count streams on repeat as long as that song has been listened to for more than 30 seconds before being played again regardless of the song that was played before.

However, artificially increasing a song’s play count is against Spotify’s rules and could result in that song’s stream being taken away or being removed completely. Essentially, it’s okay to listen to a song on repeat severally but having a song on repeat for hours or even a day that seems inorganic may be crossing the line of what is acceptable for Spotify.

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On-repeat may be one of Spotify’s algorithmic playlists which encourages repeated listening but track these kinds of behaviour. Spotify looks for thousands of data points and compares them to other users’ listening behaviour and can take action if they think they need to.

Apart from removing the songs from the platform, other penalties that can be for the streaming platform to remove the distributor, the artist used to distribute the music from the distributor’s platform which denies them the ability to ever upload music to Spotify again.

By observing unique user listening behavior in comparison to typical user listening activity, Spotify may identify fake streams. When there aren’t more streams than listeners, for instance, Spotify can regard a playlist as false.

Remember that Spotify has a ton of information on the music it offers and the ways in which its users engage with it. Using this information, they may identify situations when something seems fake.

Speaking on why labels use streaming farms, Akan said: “That marketing firm that offers you a range of streaming numbers for money or guarantees you the number 1 spot. What do you think they do? Move from house to house and ask people to politely click on your music? Or break the bank on ineffective ads? Everyone goes to the farmland.”

On the morality of the practices, a Twitter user KontentSensei, who writes about the music business on Twitter, said: “For the uprising artists and independent artists, it means the already competitive industry is now much more competitive. You have to compete with people that are more talented than you, people that have better social media following and You also have to compete with people that use Bots and Stream farms. So as an artist that still has to struggle and hustle to get money to fund studio sessions and music promo, it can be tough seeing someone else who “doesn’t deserve it” Take your spot in the game.”

Some music artists such as Yemi Alade and Blaqbonez have reacted on social media, condemning the use of streaming farms by labels and artists to inflate their streaming numbers.