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What You Need To Know About Fake Streams

January 20, 2023

France made waves in the music world this week when it published a report on fake streams. The country's new government agency, Centre national de la musique (CNM), found more than 1 billion music streams in France alone were fraudulent in 2021. 

The report includes data from Spotify, Deezer, and Qobuz. To put it in perspective, Spotify and Deezer are about equally popular in the country — which is the fifth largest streaming market in the world. The study also did not include data from Apple Music, YouTube, or Amazon Music, which MIDiA Research estimates account for about 35 percent of users. 

So while this study was likely only able to pull from around 60 percent of the country's total streaming market, it's still a huge sample size. And that 1 billion number could be even higher, since the report is not able to account for fraudulent streams coming from services that mask their actual location with the use of VPN services.

More Context About All These Fake Streams

Alright, so 1 billion fake streams in one year sounds like a lot. It amounts to anywhere between 1 and 3 percent of the total number of streams in that country. But in terms of cold hard cash, that means as much as $510 millions worth of streaming royalties are going to fake streams globally (if the 1 to 3 percent number holds up globally).

There's reason to believe the number could be even higher, especially when you look at countries taking a lax approach to the regulating fake streams. While countries like Germany, France, and Brazil have all made efforts to shut down fake stream farms, other countries seem to be less interested. In 2021, the head of a Brazilian agency tasked with eliminating fake stream sites in the country told Billboard they found many of the streams were actually from websites hosted in Russia. 

In general, the highest percentage of fraudulent streams came on background music and non-musical tracks (between 3 and 5 percent). However, the most fraudulent streams in total occurred in France's most popular genre, rap. Spotify recently said that the company has been able to mitigate many fraudulent streams (the company detected 1.14 percent overall), meaning those streams did not earn any money or affect the charts. 

What This Report Means For Creators

First and foremost, use your brain. We understand you want your music to reach people, and we also understand there are a lot of companies out there seemingly providing affordable services to help you do that. 

But the reality is, almost all of them are ultimately serving up fake streams. We wrote this article to help you identify them more easily. If this report shows anything, it's that fraudulent streams are still very real and very damaging. 

A lot of artists getting fake streams probably don't even know it at first glance. They'll often end up on some playlist and think nothing of it. But just a few tell-tale signs will let you know what's really going (again, read that article we just linked!). The good news is there are ways to contact Spotify if you think you're the victim of one of these playlists.

And there's a good chance you really are a victim here. Spotify won't punish you if you come forward and ask them to help you scrub the data and report the list. Sometimes those fake playlisters will just remove you if you ask, too. 

Our friends over at Venture Music have a really helpful TikTok account where they often dip into this subject. It's worth listening to Dustin tell this story just so you understand how seedy this fake streams world is. 

Shortcuts Don't Work

Just remember, if you're looking for a shortcut that doesn't exist, you're a lot more likely to end up in the wrong place than where you want to be. As streaming platforms, music companies, and *entire countries* focus more and more on streaming fraud, you're liable to end up in a much worse position than you started if you try to take a shortcut. 

These fake streams also affect the entire ecosystem. Because of the way streaming payouts work, the more fake streams out there, the less you get paid for your real fans. Oh, and it looks like Spotify may even be starting to tag artists with a "fake" tag if the platform detects fraudulent streams, which tanks your potential algorithmic reach to real fans.

At the end of the day, we know that building a fanbase that streams you consistently is tough. We know that the idea of getting to a point where you're making enough money from streaming to really impact your career seems daunting. But it's very doable — more and more artists do it every year, according to Spotify — and if something seems like a shortcut to getting there, it's really just a wrong turn. 

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