Rumors swirled this week that Spotify removed thousands of songs from the platform without warning. The alleged culprit? Fake streams and songs on playlists utilizing bots.
Before you jump too far ahead and assume things, we need to clarify a few points. For starters, these rumors mostly stem from a blog article DistroKid founder Philip Kaplan posted on Jan. 2. In it, Kaplan defends DistroKid artists who probably paid a "marketing" service that ultimately faked results using bots.
Pretty much all of the other rumors around the situation, including number of affected songs and motive are all either hearsay or anecdotal. We reached out to Spotify for a comment and have not heard back as of publication. The @SpotifyCares Twitter handle did post the following reply to a user's complaint, which doesn't really address this specific situation but does at least confirm what we already know.
"Thanks for reaching out! This may be a result of our efforts to protect against artificial streaming — and is not related to what distributor you use. You can learn more about our policy here. We'll be here if anything else comes up." — @SpotifyCares
But we will obviously update this post when (if) Spotify gets back to us with a more specific response.
However, we don't need an official statement from Spotify to address some of what is going on.
Does Spotify Ever Remove Songs?
Yes. Spotify has removed songs, albums, and full artists in the past. The company does so after deeming these songs violate some part of their Terms of Service, which includes artificially garnering plays via clickfarms or uploading songs with misleading or false information (like falsely including a famous artist as a "feature" in order to get more awareness).
And Spotify has been doing this for awhile. Musician, author, and music marketing personality Ari Herstand wrote about his own experience with having music taken down back in 2017 after he paid a company called Streamify to help him "promote" his music.
When your music gets removed, you find out via your distributor. Spotify does not contact you directly; they send a message to the distributor, who then sends you a message with whatever language they deem necessary.
Spotify may also take down content if another party files a music infringement report. Spotify's policy is pretty clear on this, though that still leaves a lot of questions regarding how and whom they target.
Is It 15,000 or 750,000?
The initial rumor was 15,000 songs came down at the start of the new year. Then some comments and social media posts started alleging the number was closer to 750,000.
One Instagram post was particularly egregious in spreading rumors, including that three quarters of a million figure. We're not going to link to it because it's just downright irresponsible and we respect your mental health more than that. But basically, it came from one of these "streaming plugger" companies. More than 200 of their clients demanded their money back after Spotify removed their song.
In the post, the "company" alleges that it's not their fault, but that Spotify and DistroKid are somehow mounting a "corporate takeover" and attacking independent artists. So yeah, take that 750,000 number with a grain of salt until we hear something official.
Does Spotify Or A Distributor Somehow Gain Money From These Takedowns?
No. Comment sections started filling up alleging that this is a money-saving scheme, but that's not how Spotify's money payouts work. Spotify pays out a set portion of its income regardless of who it goes to.
Basically, it's a sort of "market share" pool of money, the same way PROs pay out. Drake and Billie Eilish get a bigger share of the pool because their songs were streamed more than yours were (probably), but you're all still swimming in the same cash pool. There's a lot to learn about streaming economics, but just know that Spotify doesn't save any money by having fewer artists or songs on the platform.
So if Spotify takes down potentially fraudulent songs that would otherwise pay out $10 million in royalties, that $10 million just goes to the rest of the artists in the pool. Spotify doesn't save any money.
If your distributor earns a percentage of your catalog, they stand to lose money from these songs getting taken down the same way you do. In DistroKid's case, they just take a flat fee so it really only comes down to whether a customer chooses to keep paying them after the whole ordeal.
Are They Only Targeting Independent Artists Or DistroKid Users?
Again, this is a super fuzzy area. Anecdotally, we've seen artists who claim they received takedown notices from non-DistroKid distributors as part of this apparent purge. But Because DistroKid released an actual article on the matter and a lot of DistroKid users first started posting about their music getting taken down, it didn't take long for people to claim Spotify directly targeted DistroKid.
Spotify does own a small stake in DistroKid, but it's unclear how or why this would play a role in the removals. As for whether or not Spotify actively removes songs from artists distributed through major labels, well, that's another gray area.
The relationship Spotify has with the majors has always been complicated. All three of them at one point invested in Spotify, though Warner divested from Spotify for over half a billion dollars in 2018. And the majors at one point accused Spotify of trying to dilute their earnings, so there's that.
That said, there's no immediate reason to believe Spotify's likely automated removal system favors artists distributed through majors over those distributed through public alternatives. The more obvious answer is that marketing teams for major artists were less likely to use the the most obvious companies committing these fraudulent streams.
Now, we're not saying that the majors aren't finding dubious ways to inflate popularity — that's a practice as old as the industry itself. We're just saying they're probably much better at it than some jerk with a clickfarm selling "streaming packages" to unwitting artists.
But My Streams Are DEFINITELY Legit And My Song Got Taken Down!
Sure, maybe. Mistakes happen. Unfortunately in a lot of cases, your distributor might not make it particularly clear on how to address this. DistroKid usually just says, "Tough luck."
Other distributors may be able to go to bat for your if you think your song was taken down by mistake, but it's kind of a case-by-case basis. And in a lot of cases, you may just need to re-release it with a new ISRC.
But here's the better question: are you SURE those streams were legit? Remember, it doesn't have to be clickfarms or botted playlists. You could have a few well-meaning friends streaming you on repeat, and if you're a smaller artist and say, 3,000 of your 4,000 streams came from two ISP addresses, well, that's a big ol' red flag.
What About The Other Services Like Apple Music and Amazon?
So far, if there's been a big stink at any of these other services, we haven't heard about it. Part of that probably has to do with the fact that they only have paid accounts, making clickfarms a significantly more expensive enterprise.
They also don't have the user-generated playlist culture that Spotify has, which means it's even more inherently difficult for people to bot things efficiently. Of course, that doesn't mean you can't find it.
Also, when Spotify takes down a song, that doesn't mean your distributor automatically removes it from the other services. If there's a legitimate claim (like an infringement issue), then it's quite possible your distributor will yank the whole thing. But if it's a Spotify Terms of Service violation, well that's between you and Spotify.