Streaming Fraud on Spotify and Other Platforms, Plus How to Prevent It

Streaming fraud robs hard-working musicians of their time, money, and effort—even their careers.

That sounds dramatic. It isn't. Streaming fraud allows bad actors to torpedo the artistic livelihood of creatives otherwise trying to build a fanbase with integrity intact. And with Spotify planning to charge labels and distributors for artificial streaming, it's more important than ever to understand what artificial streaming fraud is and how to prevent it from capsizing everything you're working towards.

Here is Streaming Fraud on Spotify and Other Platforms, explained:

What is Streaming Fraud?

We define streaming fraud – also known as artificial streaming, abnormal activity, or streaming manipulation – as a scam utilizing bots or streaming farms to falsely inflate the number of plays a song or album receives on a streaming platform to generate illegitimate success.

How much success? More than you might think. A recent study by France's Centre Nationale de la Musique (CNM) utilizing data from Spotify, Deezer, Qobuz, and other labels and distributors estimated that, in 2021, between 1-3% of all streams in France were fraudulent. That adds up to between 1 and 3 billion streams.

For its part, Spotify shared that "0.23% of [its] top 10,000 streams...showed signs of artificial streaming, and on the total catalog, the number is just 1.14%." That's proof that streaming platforms can, and do, take countermeasures against streaming fraud to eradicate it.

But a musical artist can't prevent streaming fraud once it's already occurred -- and it's happened to scores of legitimate artists. That's the bad news.

The good news?

We can teach you what bots and streaming farms are, how they work, and the best practices for avoiding them and their influence.

What are Music Streaming Bots & How They Work

To paraphrase Ciara, a music streaming bot is “automatic” and “supersonic.” It’s a computer program that automatically executes a repetitive task faster or longer than humans can. Even the most passionate listeners struggle to stream music for 72 hours straight – they need sleep, dinner breaks, etc. For bots, it’s no problem.

For example, on Spotify, Apple Music, or a similar streaming service, somebody might program a bot to control listener accounts and repeatedly play a song or album to inflate its stream count. Streaming farms can utilize many bots simultaneously and generate thousands of illegitimate streams monthly.

And they’re hiding in plain sight. You may not even know you’re using them right now.

How to Anticipate Streaming Fraud Before it Happens (Or You Commit To It)

You’ve seen the ads – “boost your streams and get added to bigger playlists instantly with [REDACTED COMPANY NAME]” – don’t believe them.

To be clear, any third-party service or promotion company that promises playlist placement, pitching, streams, or followers in return for money is likely engaging in streaming fraud or artificial activity. If a company has to reiterate how little it’s using bots, it’s probably using bots. As Shakespeare said, they protest too much.

Many of these services will appear legitimate. They will have websites. They will have a social media presence. They will declare “partnerships” or “experiences” with well-known labels and artists. They will have “outstanding reviews.” They will tell you that they do not engage in streaming fraud and that their success is 100% organic.

It’s too good to be true – and you can learn more about the warning signs here.

Avoid these sites and third parties at all costs. They could cost you your career.

The Consequences of Using Streaming Farms for Music

Spotify's guidelines crackdown on users utilizing music streaming farms. Artists caught with artificial streams can have their royalties withheld, their music taken down, or their accounts permanently banned. And it's not just streaming services like Spotify – TuneCore and other distributors are already taking these actions. Spotify also plans to charge distributors 10 EU / USD 10.82 when they discover extremely high levels of artificial streams.

Streaming farms may seem like a speedy way to sway influence and boost fan engagement, but they cost you the single best currency you have – credibility.

And that's not worth it.

Impact on Reputation

There’s a reason the phrase “guilty by association” remains culturally resonant more than a century after its inception. Participation in streaming fraud – purposeful or not – will have dire consequences for you, the artist.

That isn’t fair. It’s not right that scammers are trying to exploit you.

Taking the high road isn’t easy – but let’s look at how it benefits you and the music industry in the long run.

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Transparency and Integrity

Preventing streaming fraud isn’t just about protecting your career and creative peers – it’s about transparency and integrity.

At TuneCore, we believe innovation is driven by creativity, not pressure. Streaming fraud is the latter. It’s the poster child for a “get rich quick” mentality that mistakes cutting corners for hustling. When you commit streaming fraud, you tacitly admit the music doesn’t matter – only numbers do.

You’re reading this because you love music. If you’ve devoted your life to making songs and projects to reach an equally passionate audience, you’re already in it for the long haul. Transparency and integrity are the bedrock of that journey. Authentic engagement with fans and genuine industry savvy carry more weight in the long run than a quick profit spike. We can help you develop both.

You deserve to build your career the right way. There’s no world in which streaming fraud is a part of that.

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Streaming fraud will be a hot topic in the coming months — you’re ahead of the game.

You understand that promotion services that say they can get you playlisted or get you more streams are scams. You know what streaming farms are and how quickly they can invalidate a musical artist’s tireless efforts.

TuneCore is in alignment with you. While we take (and will continue to take) strict action against anyone attempting to engage in streaming abuse or artificial manipulation, we will do our best to stop it for you. Similarly, those who do not engage in artificial streaming or shady promotion services that guarantee streams will not be impacted by any of these strict actions, including penalty fees. We’re staying informed to ensure our artists thrive in the ever-changing world of digital streaming, artists like you.

We believe that you can make it in the music industry – the right way.

Let’s do it together.