Forget about fake artists – it’s time to talk about fake streams.


I’ve got a confession to make. I’m a fake artist.

One afternoon, about a decade ago, I started nobbing about on GarageBand. Made a scratchy demo. It wasn’t very good.

Last month, thinking nothing of it, I uploaded that demo to Spotify, via Tunecore.

I called it PH, by Pinky Hue. On Pinky Hue Records.

(As it turns out, my pseudonymous tendencies were rather more in vogue than I’d appreciated.)

Then, for over a fortnight, nothing. Aside, that is, from one loyal monthly listener in Milton Keynes, England. (Thanks mum.)

But this past week-and-a-half, things have kicked right off.

First 1,000 listens, then 3,000, then 5,000. Word’s getting out.

As we stand today, Pinky Hue has racked up more than 10,000 Spotify plays – and is already marching towards 15,000.

Anyone know a good manager?

There’s just one problem with this empowering rags-to-riches story, of course.

I bought these streams off the internet.

And I could have bought 2 million of them.

The issue of fake streams has been on my mind since Midem back in June – in particular, a panel called ‘How distributors and streaming services collaborate.’

Anne-Marie Robert (VP International, Tunecore France) appeared alongside reps from the likes of The Orchard and ADA, and was asked how self-releasing artists could gain better access to streaming playlists which would then revolutionize their career.

“Contrary to my friends from ADA and The Orchard, we don’t provide direct trade marketing services because we let the artist do [that] and we take no commission,” she replied.

“But we give a lot of advice on our blog… and also, we are partnering with some services where you can buy some streams [on] Deezer and other websites which can help you.”

Robert specifically mentioned, which allows artists and rights-holders to have their music played in promotional slots on streaming platforms – for a price.

Robert’s comments triggered a subsequent thought in my head: How hard is it to go out and actually purchase fake plays online?

So, the other week, I Googled ‘buy fake Spotify streams’.

And voila: options.

The top result was for a company called Streamify, which boasts on its homepage: ‘Whether you want to get more fans, boost sales or just monitor your plays [sic] count, Streamify has the answers and insights you need to get your songs played more.’

Streamify LLC is officially located in Houston, Texas and offers a full menu of fake stream delicacies specific to Daniel Ek’s platform.

For the timid trialist, $5 will buy you 1,000 Spotify plays.

For the bolder connoisseur, $200 will buy you 100,000 Spotify plays.

And for the full-on, screw-it-this-will-change-my-life desperado, $2,250 will buy you 2 million Spotify plays.

Other options for buying Spotify streams on the internet – and to be clear, MBW cannot vouch for the legitimacy of these companies – include Streampot/StreamKO and Mass Media, both of which also sell packages of fake YouTube plays.

Another website, Fiverr, takes things in another direction,.

Fiverr is a freelance marketplace operating across various disciplines.

It has a dedicated ‘Buy Spotify Plays‘ section, where it claims to enable customers to “[purchase] Spotify plays from music expert promotion freelancers & get your Spotify music or album promoted within 24hrs”.

A range of vendors are currently offering struggling artists the chance to buy their way onto playlists with over 50k followers.

One vendor, based in Brazil, even says they can “add your song to a verified playlist on Spotify” for just $10 (£7.68).

Before we come on to the ‘why this is quite a big deal when you think about it’ bit… here’s an important note about where (and where not) to point the finger.

While I was trying to bulk up Pinky Hue’s adoring fanbase – through fragrantly cheating the system – Streamify kept slapping me with a health warning.

Spotify’s anti-fake detection system is, in Streamify’s own words, “very sensitive to sudden changes in artists’ and songs’ popularity and the daily plays they receive”.

The site further warns: “[It] seems [Spotify] have some kind of automated alarm system in place, that monitors daily plays and raises (false) alarms.”

For this reason, Streamify recommends that its users heed caution in how many fake streams they try to buy in each 24 hour period.

It suggests never going above 5,000 a day for new tracks, before piling on the plays after a solid foundation is built.

Clearly, Spotify is not dumb.

[UPDATE: A Spotify spokesperson has provided MBW with the following statement: “We take fraudulent streaming activity extremely seriously. Spotify has multiple fraud detection measures in place monitoring consumption on the service to detect, investigate and deal with fraudulent activity. We are continuing to invest heavily in refining those processes and improving methods of detection and removal, and reducing the impact of that activity on legitimate creators and rightsholders.”]

So what’s the wider industry issue here?

There are a few.

First, it’s common knowledge that the music business fame escalator – the tried-and-tested series of machinations that gradually take an artist from unknown to superstar – are heavily invested in data.

What if some of that data, particularly early-stage data, is made of nothing but smoke and mirrors?

Case in point: if an act contacts a label, publisher, management company, law practice, live agent or local radio station with 2m+ Spotify streams under their belt, they are surely likely to get some attention.

This certainly isn’t exclusive to Spotify numbers. It will be no surprise to hear that options for ‘buy fake YouTube streams’ and ‘buy fake SoundCloud streams’ are even more popular/prevalent online.

Second: After all of the hoo-ha last week about Spotify potentially using production music to dilute the revenue pool it uses to pay other rights-holders, consider how fake streams affect things.

For Pinky Hue’s 10,000+ streams, I shelled out a whopping $50 on Streamify.

Yet running that figure back through the calculator, it doesn’t seem too daft an outlay.

Spotify’s blended per-stream payout rate (roughly calculated) is thought to settle at somewhere between $0.005 and $0.006.

Guess how much 10,000 streams at that rate would theoretically nab me? $50 – $60. A profit of up to $10.

“All plays are absolutely real and eligible for royalties,” Streamify reassures its customers.

Lastly: The great unknown… just how widespread is the practice of buying streams online?

Who else within the music business is at it?

And how much of what we think to be real in terms of streaming accomplishments is actually true?

Naturally, it would be a massive shock to the music industry if anything other than 99.9%+ of plays on Spotify were genuine.

But it’s also worth bearing in mind that things can change: some metrics today suggest that 50%+ of the social media followings of certain superstars are comprised of bots.

To what extent is music’s total streaming mass online, and therefore all business forecasts and analysis based upon it, actually verifiable?

That’s a question which the music industry may have to ask itself – and explain to others – with renewed accountability in the years to come.Music Business Worldwide

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  • Ritch Sibthorpe

    Has Pinky Hue confirmed any live dates yet?

  • Romina Jones

    When you start to research streaming promotion this is all you run into, and it dominates. To find a legit service is a needle in a haystack kind of mission. I guess pay to play has always been and will never go away in the music biz. It simply takes new forms.

  • jack

    Whilst the idea of paying for plays to me is morally wrong and I understand the temptation to do it especially if you can break even/earn a little back. However if this is your motive in the music industry maybe you should look at another career, once you solely focus on making money in this industry this is when you run into problems. Whereas if you focus on carving out a career based on achieving success the monetary rewards will inevitably follow based on success but it will all be relative to your self worth and happiness.

    I would advocate paying to go on playlists as then it is still the choice of the listeners or followers of these lists to decide whether they like your music and want to continue playing it. It is somewhat similar to paying a PR agency to put your music in the right places.

    Please just dont pay for fake hollow plays it will only lead to misery in the long run 🙂 x

    • Shocking. But not surprising. I agree with you, paying for plays is not right on any level. Does anyone get rewarded for doing the right thing though? Whats the incentive? I feel like the moral high ground can also mean the success-low-ground. Unless you’re exceptional. Maybe the future of digital music belongs to the crooks and the geniuses.

      • During my entire career, the music business has been run by crooks and geniuses. Why should the digital era be any different? 😂😂😂

  • Dudu Marote

    what is the vendor based in Brazil?

  • Eric

    2 questions:
    1. When you receive royalties for the plays can you tell us how much they were?

    2. Can leaving a song on repeat all day be counted on Spotify or will they detect fake listening habits? This is an important question because charts wise can fanbases easily manipulate songs/albums by leaving them on repeat.

  • Hessel van Oorschot

    He Tim, if you can find a supplier of Spotify streams offering 10,000+ legit streams at ~$30 I think you have exposed a new business model for people owning 100% of the music rights 😉

    You will need patience and some cash in your bank. It will take time before money is going through the system but if that’s all…

    • filiep manhaeve

      there’s a few things wrong about this business model. First of all free plays earn royalties but only a fraction of what premium plays give. Second a play doesn’t earn 0.05-0.06 but mostly something around 0.0035. So 50 dollars for 10.000 streams and in the best case all premium streams gets you 35 dollars. Meaning you are losing money. If it was profitable he would stream for himself.

  • Interesting construction, “…all tracks on Spotify are eligible for royalties”. Not the same as saying ‘all tracks earn royalties’, is it? That could mean any number of things, most of them perfectly legal and probably ethical. In fact, ‘fake artists’ is fake news; if these very real artists have found a way to turn a profit, that’s gonna continue, so long as there’s little to no consequences for buying/selling plays.

  • Mattia Settimelli

    Guys, payola always existed in music. We wouldn’t have 90% of the music we got in the last century without it.

    • paying someone to plug your single to radio is quite different from paying for a play though isn’t it

      • Mattia Settimelli

        sure, except that payola is exactly paying for plays to radio. A practice all major labels has done from the beginning of the music industry.
        Radio plugging is another pair of hands…

  • Mattia Settimelli

    And…who remembers about the dance label Spinnin Records scandal couple years ago?! They used to buy themselves on Beatport to scam the charts and Bern banned. Well, today, 90% of dance music still coming out of that label. Thoughts?
    Disclaimer: I love a lot of tracks that label produces, though.