Platform Policing: the Relationship Between Artists, Spotify and Third-Party Playlisting | OPINION

Streaming Promotions
6 min readJan 19, 2021

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Becca Wig

Now that we live in a world without live music, Spotify pages have become essential to the dissemination of an artist’s work.

Cultivating a following has much more to do with numbers and algorithms than tours and meet and greets. The pressure for artists to make a strong presence on any social media (including Spotify) has only increased. When it comes down to it, Spotify can be likened to any marketplace — with the sellers needing credibility and popularity in order to make a profit. This is what has created the opening for fraudulent third parties to “help” an artist beef up their digital resume.

On the first day of 2021, more than 5,000 recording artists were dismayed to see that their work was removed from the Spotify platform. After major confusion and conversation between creators online, the common thread between these artists affected was that most were indie artists using independent distributors and promoters. Though no official statement was made by the company, they did offer a link to their Spotify for Artists resource page which has plenty to say on the topic of “artificial streams.”

To save you the time of combing through the resources, their stance is summarized below. Spotify defines “artificial streams” as:

“a stream that doesn’t reflect genuine user listening intent, including any instance of attempting to manipulate Spotify by using automated processes (bots or scripts).”

They go on to explain that using any third-party services that guarantees streams in return for payment is in violation of their terms and conditions. They also detail which actions they may take if they detect that you have been gaining fraudulent streams. These include: withholding royalties, correcting numbers, as well as removing any “manipulated content.” It seems that they’ve received enough feedback from indie artists because they also include this disclaimer: “If this happened to you but you believe your streams were earned authentically, you should share information with your distributor or label about the methods used to genuinely promote the content in question. They’ll work with our team to review, and hopefully get the problem solved quickly.”

Not only is contracting with these third-parties that provide fraudulent numbers against the terms of use, but it also has a naturally negative impact.

When the amount of money you can throw at a curator increases, they will place you on any high impacting playlist they own, regardless of whether or not it fits. Quality of music and congruence with the theme becomes much less of a factor compared to what you have in your wallet. This leads to what’s referred to as playlist erosion. Basically, the argument is that by buying and selling placements on a playlist, the effectiveness of being on a playlist declines. These playlists will lose their following because what originally drew the listener there (good music that fits the mood) is no longer present. On top of the playlist losing credibility, as soon as the artist stops paying for these placements, they are taken off and numbers begin to decline again. It simply isn’t sustainable for any artist to create any natural or incremental growth this way.

All of this is not to say that the business of creative third-party marketing on the Spotify platform is unethical or ineffective.

But great care should be taken when deciding on where to spend that promotions budget. An artist can and should be aware of their performance on Spotify and be actively looking for ways to expand it. However, doing this manually takes countless hours of research and outreach. This entails finding your own audience: where are your potential fans, and which playlists are they listening to? After you’ve found that group of like-minded listeners, you need to track down the owner and simply self-promote. But in order for any of this to make a difference in the organic growth of your project, this process needs to be repeated many, many times. Some playlist owners do not give out contact information, some aren’t looking for new music, and others will simply decline based on their own taste. It’s a trial and error process that can only be streamlined by doing adequate research on your project’s own demographics. This is why so many artists look to outsource this important aspect of promotion to other parties.

There are many claims that Spotify took down projects that did not violate terms of use, and this is all the more reason for artists to closely monitor exactly how and why their Spotify stats are moving.

If you don’t have complete transparency with who you’re contracting with, they could be using these back-door methods without your knowledge. At Streaming Promotions, we take great care to find and collect real, independent curators. No money on the table, just one fan to another saying “hey, I think you might like this.” By building this network, we are able to represent artists and get as many ears as possible on a new project. In addition to research and outreach, we also have a team of curators who provide feedback as to why they would or would not add the music to their lists. This gives artists and their teams a pulse on their project and how they should adjust in order to fit in this changing marketplace. The team also includes a group of analysts who report all numbers and growth in a clean and easy to understand way. The true value of any third-party business that works to increase your audience is the ability to provide a holistic service with descriptive data.

We are a boutique, third-party playlisting service, we are not payola, we are not botted streams.

We are transparent with expectations because we want our clients to know exactly what is happening with their campaigns. Creating growth the right way on Spotify takes time and every project will perform differently. There is no average expectation of how a playlisting campaign will go, and any company who promises you an exact science that works every time is not abiding by the terms and conditions of the platform. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Spotify is one of the main authorities on who hears what in the music industry in this day and age. It would be imprudent to ignore the importance of your project’s performance on streaming platforms. However, as it is the new marketplace, it is not surprising that the Spotify team is taking steps to regulate it. Though at the moment there is a lot of confusion on how Spotify came up with this list of songs to nix from the platform, it’s likely we can expect to see even more sweeps of this nature in Spotify’s attempt at creating a more equitable economy. This means that in order for artists to make a real difference with their promotion efforts, whichever method is chosen must be ethical in order to be effective.

Becca Wig is the Marketing and Social Media Coordinator at Nashville-based Streaming Promotions, a boutique digital strategy and music marketing agency specializing in the strategic placement of music in streaming services, specifically Spotify. You can submit on the website and read more content from Streaming Promotions on Medium.

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Streaming Promotions

We are a boutique digital strategy and music marketing agency specializing in the strategic placement of music in streaming services, specifically Spotify.