How artists are exploiting lax metadata protections by streaming services

While the exact number is in dispute, in what has now become an infamous statistic, at a minimum music streaming services (“DSPs”) are ingesting tens of thousands of new tracks every single day.

At such a scale, metadata becomes a very thorny subject; DSPs, at the mercy of the quality of information provided to them, are sorting through an almost unmanageable wave of data. 

Overlapping metadata entries abound, with the music of two or more artists of the same name often being grouped together on the same artist page, creating an arduous task (both for rightsholders and DSPs) of separating out individual artist catalogs after the fact.

(This author is intimately familiar with the subject, having managed an artist whose instrumental electronic music at one time shared DSP profiles with, all at once, a French rapper, a Uruguayan reggaeton remix artist, and a Washington, D.C.-based house producer.)

In response to this growing issue, Spotify, for instance, has unveiled a dedicated Content Mismatch tool via its Spotify For Artists platform – one imagines thousands of artists and rightsholders make use of it every day.

Generally speaking, these metadata delivery issues – having one’s music land on another artist’s page or vice versa – are accidents and perhaps inevitable consequences of the glut of music that is being introduced to the retail market 24/7. 

But what if tagging the wrong artist pages was not just a headache to resolve but also a money-making scheme?

What if obscure artists were profiting by purposely tagging big-name artists as primary collaborators, thus reaching said artists’ fanbases via algorithmic music delivery systems like Spotify’s Release Radar?

This is the story of an artist/record label, variously known as Diversify and Variegate.

This author was first alerted to Diversity/Variegate’s unusual practices after being served its releases, again and again, by Spotify’s personalised algorithmic equivalent of New Music Friday: Release Radar. 

Diversify is an artist project that counts over 100,000 monthly listeners. It also seems to be the owner behind a shadow operation of several “labels” and artists whose Spotify (P)-lines (representing ownership of the recordings) are know alternately as “Diversify Entertainment Services,” “Veganism Records,” “Diversify Record Association,” “Dream Records,” “Variegate Records,” and “Variegate Entertainment” – the list goes on.

The Diversify biog page on Spotify provides many more questions than answers. 

The company’s catalog, musically, is objectively a disjointed mess, with songs ranging from EDM-meets-pop ballads to hip-hop tracks with lyrics that are blatant parody. There is no one performer or unifying theme; instead, dozens of different female and male singers recur throughout (possibly sourced from fiverr or a similar freelance-for-hire platform?); vocal performers sometimes switch abruptly in the middle of the same song. 

One song in particular – judge its sonic merits yourself – named “ROYAL KRIPP,” released earlier this year, even seems to declare itself as a sketchy money-making operation: “Kripp pays, Ninja kripp pays, I buy streams no real plays,” as one line goes (1:22).

Variegate, seemingly a second alias to Diversify – both pages share recurrent motifs and characters, as well as the bizarre, highly corporate-sounding tagline “this song is dedicated to Diversify” – offers an even more outlandish plot-twist.

Variegate’s Spotify bio reads, simply, “youtuber.” A quick search revealed that its YouTube channel – which links out to Variegate’s DSP pages – is, stupefyingly, an e-commerce self-help advice channel whose bio reads “Variegate is a finance channel. Established in 2021, Variegate has made a lasting impact on contemporary dropshipping culture and lifestyle. The channel hopes to expand the content to other pursuits.”

A cursory search through Diversify and Variegate’s Spotify Related Artists quickly reveals a network of artists collaborating with and releasing under the Diversify/Variegate banner, including Lukas Stevens, Susanne Davis, and Harper Minta. Each of these artists has relatively small followings, but close to or more than 100,000 monthly listeners. 

Tellingly, all of these Diversify/Variegate artists also employ a tactic that is so often repeated as to seem impossible not to be on purpose: tagging established artists (each of whom have  millions of monthly listeners on Spotify) as primary artists on their own releases. A few noted major label and established independent artists who appear most frequently: Aries, mike., Yeek, Ashe, and WEISS, among others. 

Needless to say, in none of these cases are such artists actually featured – or even sampled (legally or otherwise) – on the tracks.

This author’s Release Radar has had dozens of releases appear from Diversify/Variety and co, many within the first few slots of the playlist, and including a new one – I’m not making this up – that appeared the exact day this article was written.

In addition, Diversify has been algorithmically given its own official “This Is” playlist on Spotify, which appears to contain a who’s who of those aforementioned mistagged artists in the millions of monthly listeners:

This is not a Spotify-specific issue – what appears to be intentional mistagging by Diversify and Variegate extends to all other DSPs, too.

Details are scant on Diversify and its owner’s identity. 

Its catalog’s songwriter metadata seems intentionally tongue-in-cheek: John Smith is listed as the sole songwriter for most of the releases, and where  other songwriters appear, they seem to be phoney collaborators (including, e.g. “Yeekus Steinberg”, for whom Google, Facebook and other searches  return no results. If as suspected this is a fake name, it could even be a means to justify the tagging of popular independent artist Yeek.)

Diversify has not responded to a request for comment ahead of the publication of this piece.

To be clear, this piece is not intended to pick on Spotify – quite the opposite, as its platform and more detailed data was the only means by which to tie together this potentially ingenious thread of deception.

Spotify For Artists – which allows one to compare one’s own artist’s stats to any other’s on the platform – reveals that virtually all of Diversify’s streams (as well as Variegate’s, Lukas Stevens’, and the full label roster’s) come from the Release Radar effect, with peaks as high as 100,000 daily streams on Fridays (when the algorithmic playlist is published, weekly) before cratering by mid-week (since editorial and organic streams are seemingly close to zero):

Whoever is responsible for the Diversify portfolio – whose name itself seems an inside joke on the project’s purpose as a supplemental form of income – certainly recognizes the opportunity for exploiting lax metadata protections. On “THE GRIND,” they rap, “Get paid by the streams… turned addiction into a business.” And on “King of the Sheets,” they say, “Diversify your f*ckin beats.” 

One specific collaborator this author tracked down is pre-adolescent rapper YNR Nervy who appears on Diversify’s latest album, For the Fans, on the track “Real Kripps”:

Ultimately one suspects DSPs will eventually offer some widespread form of “profile locking” that prevents fake uploads. But until then,  highly inventive “artists” can  drive millions of streams – conservatively earning tens of thousands of dollars each – from the distribution of songs with intentionally incorrect metadata.Music Business Worldwide

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