The terms ghost music or ghost artists describe a phenomenon on the Spotify streaming platform that is becoming increasingly widespread in 2023. Ghost artists are artists on Spotify who are not real musicians. They are fake profiles under whose names music is published.
In addition to well-known musicians, the Spotify streaming platform also features a number of unknown artists who enhance their profiles with exciting resumes and attractive stock photos. Often, however, these resumes are made up. Behind the profiles are „ghost musicians.“ An Icelandic musician dedicated to spiritual music may actually be an entrepreneur from Norway.
The supposed artists do not exist in reality, but give themselves creative names and interesting resumes. They are mainly found in playlists that are accessed particularly frequently. The question is whether Spotify has manipulated this or makes it too easy for users to do so.
What is „ghost musician“ on Spotify? Explanation, meaning, definition
Journalists have managed to assign more than 100 different fake profiles to a supposed artist. The profile pictures are of models and are offered by picture agencies for payment, sometimes for free. A small group of Swedish music producers is particularly active on Spotify, appearing under hundreds of freely invented artist biographies. Amazingly, these profiles have all been verified by the streaming platform.
In some playlists, 60% of all songs come from ghost musicians. Mostly, this concerns lists with relaxation music, for example the playlist „Peaceful Piano“. The catchy music is produced as if on an assembly line and is represented under various profile names in highly frequented playlists. The suspicion is that this music is deliberately flushed to the top, so that the fake profiles in particular benefit from the distribution of money. The research team found out that there is a connection to the label Firefly Entertainment from Sweden. The accusations of manipulation are reinforced by the fact that one of the label’s founders is friends with a Spotify manager who was instrumental in developing the playlist concept.
As Tagesschau shared, relatively little money would be paid out for a stream, but since the songs are featured in high-reach playlists, it’s still lucrative on the bottom line. Bayerischer Rundfunk said it had received offers from artists confirming the approach. Spotify Germany denies that artists can buy their way into certain playlists. One would look after all lists artistically independently. Spotify does not comment on the connection between Firefly Entertainment and the streaming platform when asked. Strikingly, Firefly Entertainment is a Swedish company, just like Spotify.
What impact does Spotify’s distribution system have?
It is undisputed that artists earn a lot of money with fake profiles on Spotify. Because the platform is powerful, has more than 172 million paid premium accounts. When made-up artists flood the playlists, the profits for real artists are lower. That’s because of Spotify’s distribution system, which pays out money based on share of total streams. The rates are therefore not based on the number of streams of the individual artist. As a result, it’s mainly large producers and record labels that benefit. Small, independent artists lose out.
The distribution system of the streaming platform, but also the fact that Spotify distributes money to authors who do not even exist, is often criticized. In some countries, it is now also being put to the test in court.