Up to three billion fake music plays on streaming platforms

Pay 129 euros to get 10,000 to 20,000 plays of your music titles on streaming platforms? These are the fees charged that allow music production players to artificially increase the number of plays of a song or an artist, and therefore its ranking on streaming sites. In the same way that fake reviews praise the merits of this or that restaurant on websites, fake reviews are also sold online. They even represent between 1% and 3% of listening in France, i.e. between 1 and 3 billion streams, according to 2021 data revealed on Monday by a study by the National Center for Music (CNM), a French organization that oversees the sector .

“By artificially inflating the volume of consumption of one or more titles, we increase the fame and economic value of a project or artist,” denounced the Union of independent French phonographic producers in early December. The CNM study was based on data from certain platforms (Deezer, Qobuz, Spotify) and distributors (Universal, Sony, Warner, Believe and Wagram).

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One million readings for 6499 euros

It is certain that the reality of false currents goes beyond what is detected, without being able to arrive at an exact figure, since they do not enter the field of detection”, develops the president of CNM, Jean-Philippe Thiellay. “The figures circulating in the media, much higher than 3%, are not based on any proven and demonstrated data, which does not allow us to contradict them,” adds the manager. Some professionals “have indicated that they have approached service providers directly with their offers to artificially increase streams, and Deezer has seen an increase in fraud detected in 2022,” he further explains.

France Inter has received an email with prices from a company that promises “100% French” streams, which “are not bots (virtual listeners, editor’s note) but real people listening to your titles”. According to this radio, prices range from 129 euros for a package of 10,000 to 20,000 broadcasts, to 6,499 euros for more than a million shows. The National Music Center, for its study, has collaborated with most of the actors in this sector. But the body condemns “that players such as Amazon Music, Apple Music and YouTube were unable or unwilling to share their data according to the defined surveillance perimeter, despite all guarantees of confidentiality”.

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The example defines fraudulent manipulation of online games as “artificially increasing the number of impressions or views, by robots or natural persons, for the purpose of generating revenue, improving the performance of a title in the charts and/or to lead a system of recommendations (playlist, search)”. “Flow farms (networked computers, editor’s note), hacking accounts, the imagination of pirates is rich and scalable,” CNM still laments.

Loss of income for artists

All areas are interested: hip-hop, pop/rock, classical, French or background music. In detail, on Spotify and Deezer, “a very large share of detected streams comes from hip-hop/rap: it is quite logical as these are the most listened genres (more than 50% of the top 10,000 on Spotify and 40% on Deezer)”, notes CNM. However, “compared to the total number of listens of hip-hop / rap titles, these fraudulent streams represent only a very small percentage, 0.4% on Spotify and 0.7% on Deezer”. In comparison, the percentage of streams detected “as fraudulent out of all listens of a given genre is significantly higher for background music (4.8% on Deezer)”.

In the current system of distribution of music streaming revenue – generally a common pot divided in favor of the most listened to – those “who inflate the listening figures draw a share of the reward from everyone who does not cheat”, analyzes CNM . . “These large increases in listenership, if not accompanied by increases in subscriptions, automatically lead to a decrease in the value of each stream… and therefore, potentially, in the remuneration of artists,” it said. part France inter.

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Saying that “stream manipulation” should be taken very seriously and to make “efforts” to combat this phenomenon, a spokesperson for Spotify France for his part assured AFP that these artificial streams “had no impact on the remuneration of artists”. Fighting this fraud means running into a pitfall: “in most cases, the sponsor at the origin of the feed manipulation request will rarely be identified and identifiable,” admits the National Music Center. The body proposes the development of an “interprofessional charter for the prevention and fight against the manipulation of Internet interceptions”. CNM will also conduct a new study in 2024.

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