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The Rise of Fake Spotify Playlists

What's so good?

Summary

Spotify is hot right now. So hot that fake playlisters are making a business out of selling "placement" on their "playlists." I've fallen for the trap and some of these playlisters have managed to get onto SubmitHub (and been kicked off). I need to do a better job cracking down on them, so here's an article that'll help make all of us more savvy.

Intro

Chances are if you're an artist trying to your music heard these days, folks have told you that it's all about the Spotify playlists. And they're not wrong -- getting picked up by one of Spotify's featured playlists can break an artist overnight.

The problem is that Spotify has stopped featuring independent playlisters, and the only real ones that seem to have any significant impact moving the needle are official playlists -- which are notoriously hard to get featured on, let alone find a contact for. Spotify seems to do that intentionally, and with good reason.

So, what about these 3rd party playlists? How do you figure out which ones are good and which ones aren't? We've had a tough time over at SubmitHub figuring that out, and have misstepped on more than one occasion. Perhaps a good place to start is by breaking down the types of playlists that exist.

The Various Types of Spotify Playlists
  • Official Spotify Playlists
    • The holy grail
    • These are the only playlists that get featured on Spotify
    • Their editors are notoriously hard to contact -- and some of them are run using magical code
  • Old-school independent playlists 
    • Created roughly 2 years ago when Spotify used to feature playlists that weren't made in-house
    • These folks built up lots of genuine followers in short order, but 2 years later their playlists seem to get very little activity even though most of the followers are there
    • A prime example is Indiemono
  • Label / blog / artist / brand playlists
    • These guys have a reputation behind them and so are often able to generate a good following based off their existing fanbase
    • An example? Indie Shuffle's Spotify, which has picked up nearly 1,000 followers in roughly 12 months of being linked on our sidebar
    • They don't generate millions of plays, but they're genuine and so are their followers (many of whom are in the industry, so you want them to discover your music)
  • Fake playlists
    • The rise of platforms like SubmitHub have given individuals a reason to buy Spotify followers -- they can now monetize the hype!
    • These guys are preying on independent artists who are desperate to capitalize on the popularity of Spotify playlists -- somewhat like Bitconnect did with Bitcoin
    • While we try to be diligent about catching them at SubmitHub, we've fallen for it more than once
How do you a spot a fake playlist?

Well, for starters they tend to look very legitimate. Beautiful cover artwork? Check. Well-curated playlists? Check. Social presence online? Check. Tens of thousands of followers? Uh... check!!!

At face value they all seem quite legitimate. Start digging in, though, and things get sticky. There are a couple ways you can do that:

  • Tools like Chartmetric allow you to monitor the playlist's growth over time. If you see them picking up 1,000+ followers in a day it's probably a pretty huge red flag
  • Open up Spotify, look up the playlister, and take a look at who's following them -- sometimes you can tell quite easily that all their followers have fake usernames
  • Do they have links elsewhere? A Facebook page with 100 followers can often be a pretty good sign that a playlist with 100,000 followers isn't likely
  • How many plays does their playlist generate? This one's a lot harder to track down, but if you find a song on that's been on a playlist for a few months but has barely any plays, it's another red flag
  • Find an obviously fake user and see who else they follow. Here's an example. Most of the time they're following other artists (who likely paid for their likes); occasionally you'll spot a playlist in there
Want to see an example fake playlister?

Check out CriticalNetwork. They've got great artwork and even have a legit website. There are two red flags, though:

  1. Head to their profile tab on the Spotify app and you'll see their 11,000 followers primarily include usernames such as "0rayking" and "0reneedaddy" and "0ryan" -- the list goes on and on and on, with the first number growing occasionally (and not one of them has a profile picture)
  2. Chartmetric data shows that their playlists went from 0 followers to 10,000 in one way, followed by ~2,400 additional for each successive day

When I called him out on this he said "we ran a legit campaign with Facebook for our Playlist. I do not understand where you get that our followers are fake." Apparently they ran a really shitty Facebook campaign if all their followers have usernames starting with numbers.

Is there any benefit to getting listed on one of these playlists?

To be honest, I don't know. One school of thought is that there's no such thing as a "bad playlist" because Spotify's formulas use "how many playlists a song is on" as a signal in their automagic playlist generation formulas.

On the flip side, I've heard multiple people say that buying Spotify likes gets you a "strike" on Spotify's system, so it's possible they've excluded these playlisters from influencing the formula. When one further considers that Spotify places heavy emphasis on song trajectory and retention* as one of their strongest signals, the impact of getting featured on an inactive / fake playlist is going to be even smaller.

Conclusion

I need to do a better job trying to identify fake playlisters. And if you're a budding artist or publicist, you'll probably want to do the same. Be wary of the ever-increasing number of websites that guarantee you Spotify playlisting and plays. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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* How many plays they got, how many users listened to the full song, and how many users keep coming back to that song

 

1. Original post: The Rise of Fake Spotify Playlists

2. Find more music on Indie Shuffle's Indie Music Blog.

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