Writing furiously emails wasn’t how Callie Young wanted to start her 2021. But that’s what happened at the end of January 2 when a fan frantically messaged the based pop singer. in Los Angeles to ask him why his song “Problematic” had disappeared from Spotify. the day before.
Young contacted the streaming service, but to no avail. His distributor DistroKid emailed later that day to confirm that the trail had been removed, without explaining why.
“[DistroKid] did not give me a warning or contact me to ask questions about the problem, ”she said. “They just did it, and I panicked.”
She contacted her producer. He explained that Spotify often performs a scan for songs they suspect have fake streaming activity – that is, when a paid marketing department, manager, or agency uses bots to artificially augment. play numbers and increase an artist’s income, which is a practice prohibited by Spotify’s Terms of Service. . But Young says she never paid for any third-party streaming boosts.
“Problematic” was one of a plethora of tracks quietly purged from the service on January 1, 2021. There is no official tally, but music attorney Wallace Collins wrote in a widely circulated blog post that, Based on discussions with its customers, it appears as many as 750,000 tracks may have been erased. Many affected artists were taken by surprise, alerted to the news by fans rather than Spotify or their sales teams – and this was yet another issue to be addressed in more than a year of brutal pandemic that has cut short almost everyone. tour revenues. And while the income mid-level musicians receive from Spotify is paltry, it’s still crucial for new artists to have their music available on the world’s premier music streaming service. “Fans aren’t going to download another app just to listen to a song,” Young explains. “We have no other choice. They don’t do much for independent artists.
Several artists, including Young, posted frustrated tweets about the wrongful deletions, tagging Spotify and using the hashtags #spotifytakedown and #restoreourmusic. Some shared extended screenshots for their efforts to get their songs back on the service. A petition asking Spotify to restore music has garnered 7,000 signatures – but Spotify hasn’t made a public decision besides writing in its FAQ that “paid third-party promotional services that advertise streams in exchange for payment violate our terms and conditions, and using them may result in your music being deleted from Spotify. Spotify has not responded to Rolling stonerequests for comments.
Young suspects that the particular track of “Problematic”, although it is not her greatest song, was flagged as suspicious because she asked her friends, fans and family – many of whom reside in the Greater Montreal area. Phoenix, Arizona, miles from his California. demographic – to disseminate it overnight.
But if this is the case, then the brutal deletion exposes a double standard in Spotify’s policy. Young points out that in a now-deleted Instagram post Justin Bieber made in January 2020, the successful singer directly asked fans to help increase the number of streams of his single “Yummy” by looping it or downloading it. VPNs. “Yummy” was not removed from streaming – and other act fan groups like Harry Styles and BTS have encouraged the practice, cheering each other on to help their favorite stars better position themselves in the movies. charts.
Lee Mann, the bassist of the psychedelic rock trio from Manchester, UK Heavy Salad, has a history of mirroring frustration. “Who fucked up? He demanded of his bandmates when Spotify pulled his band’s debut in 2020 Worship Casual. Mann says no one in Heavy Salad has used a paid service to boost the band’s streams. He found that DistroKid was not helpful, sending only one email to say he was not involved in the takedown and “received no further information from Spotify”.
DistroKid also recommended that Mann “contact all fans / friends / family who have played outings an excessive number of times to let them know that they are forcing stores to remove your outings.” He warned Mann that if any of the “other outings in the group were flagged, it could ultimately result in the closure” of their DistroKid account and “the removal of all of them. [the band’s]exits from stores. DistroKid also wrote that all of its peer distributors have been affected and that they “have no way of helping or appealing Spotify’s decision.” Spotify told Mann that he understands the situation to be “frustrating” and that he takes “the integrity of our platform very seriously.”
On the DistroKid side, founder Philip Kaplan wrote an article on Medium that explains how fake streams work and why Spotify may have flagged some leads as suspicious. He also explained how independent artists can avoid the problem in the future and added a link to a Google form that artists can fill out if they think Spotify has deleted their track by mistake. Kaplan and DistroKid did not respond to service requests from Rolling stone through a number of communication channels. Young says getting a hold of someone in the business is “one of the hardest things,” and Mann says he thinks DistroKid “still doesn’t seem to have complete control” of the situation.
In May, the distributor boasted of streaming nearly 40% of the world’s new music, but its continued opacity over Spotify’s situation left independent artists trying to gain a foothold in this difficult industry feeling shaken.
“All DistroKid did was let me know it was happening and gave me the possible reasons it got deleted,” Young explains. “Because I’m a freelance artist, I don’t have that control over Spotify, so they’re just going to take it away. “
Other distributors outside of Distrokid are also wondering how to handle robot withdrawals. Dimitri Alary, distribution product analyst at LANDR, says his Montreal-based company regularly receives reports from Spotify telling LANDR which versions appear to be based on fake feeds. But he doesn’t know how the streamer is following this because he doesn’t tell distributors what he looks like to them.
Spotify doesn’t want to deal with fraudulent feeds because that’s the distributor’s role, he says. When LANDR, which started distributing music in 2017, receives a list from Spotify of tracks to be deleted, it declares that it must legally comply with it.
LANDR also has its own dedicated team that looks for suspicious behavior, such as “if a track is playing but only for 30 seconds with the same IP address from the same small town in Germany”. If the team suspects an artist is using fake feeds, they ask for an explanation and, in some cases, give them a second chance if it is an honest mistake.
“We made the choice at LANDR to work for independent artists,” says Alary. “It can have a negative impact on distributors if you don’t watch out for suspicious behavior. “
In May, Heavy Salad’s album was finally restored to Spotify. But Mann doesn’t know why it took Spotify and DistroKid five months to put Worship Casual back online. And while there are reports that Spotify has taken steps to further crack down on the bots that caused this problem in the first place, Mann would like Spotify to do more to protect independent artists. “I don’t think Spotify cares about little artists until they can be of use to them,” he says. “I think that’s why there was a real division this year. Bandcamp knows the independent community is getting angry, but we still have to work with the bigger departments.
Some other artists who saw their music disappear in January have finally seen their music restored. But Young isn’t one of them: “Problematic” still isn’t available on Spotify, and she feels helpless and ignored, still not having heard a peek from the company.
Recently, she decided to start from scratch. She had already considered changing her artist name to reflect the new direction of her work, so she took the opportunity to reinvent herself under a new name, Cali Mesa. “My songs are a bit more on the playlist than before, and I haven’t had any issues with dropped listeners,” she says. “It was for the best, but the fact that it happened was absurd.”