Music News sites have been in quite the furore these last two weeks. Ed Sheeran appeared in ‘Game of Thrones’ in the least subtle cameo since Michael Jackson in ‘Men in Black II’ and the internet was outraged. Perhaps the show’s producers should have taken a lesson in subtlety from much loved/hated streaming-service Spotify, who have been accused of slipping in tracks by “fake artists” into their playlists.
What is a “fake artist” you say? Are Spotify playlisting tracks generated by faceless computers? Have humans become obsolete in music composition? Is this the end of music as we know it? Fear not, these “fake artists” are in fact real people. Reputedly from a company called Epidemic Sound, a royalty-free production company, who in their own words “acquire the financial rights” to the songs they produce. Clients receive a one-time payment for their composition because “payment is never based on usage”, meaning that once that check has been cashed, their music is the property of Epidemic Sound.
Initially one might feel a pang a sympathy for Epidemic’s writers, particularly those whose compositions go on to get millions of Spotify streams as, contractually, they will receive absolutely no additional financial recompense after the initial payment for the track. But to be fair to Epidemic, they are very, very clear about the terms on their website. Anyone who signs up to Epidemic’s contract has done so knowingly. The real consequences are for the “real artists”, particularly those looking to get their first big hit.
The suspicion of sites like Music Business Worldwide is that Spotify are paying considerably less for these “fake” productions than they would for authentic non-production material.
As put by Vick Bain (CEO of BASCA): “The heavy presence of these recordings on extremely popular Spotify playlists invevitably means less consumption of music from the mainstream industry and self-releasing artists. This drives down per-stream income for everyone, while lowering the negotiating power of the labels/publishers/collecting societies“.
At a time where streaming income for artists is already infamously small, the allocation of much sought-after playlist spots to “fake artists” who aren’t relying on play-count is worrying. These developments mean it is important for artists to sign with publishers who are switched on to these developments and have the right people to secure those crucial playlist spots for real artists with real faces and real royalties. Companies such as MonoKrome Music are well-versed in playlist plugging and making sure the royalties for their catalogue are collected from all territories – which is particularly crucial with the covert squeeze on streaming incomes. After all, when times are tough, those pounds down the back of the sofa are more important than ever.
Regardless, the question facing the music business now is this: Will the public be too consumed with anger at The Orange One’s appearance on Game of Thrones to notice they’re listening to artists that don’t exist?