The Cheater’s Guide to Spotify

Inside the Surprisingly Big Business of Spotify’s Secretive White-Noise Spammers

Search engine optimized accounts that publish hundreds of nearly identical tracks rake in streams and profits

Photo illustration; Image source: gaiamoments/Getty Images

Welcome to The Cheater’s Guide to Spotify, a series about the schemes that rack up streams, money, and infamy on the popular streaming service.

Ever played some white noise on Spotify while you fall asleep? There’s a decent chance a U.K.-based company called Ameritz created it — though you wouldn’t know that from looking at Spotify.

“Truly brainless to produce,” a former in-house sound designer for Ameritz told OneZero via email, requesting anonymity due to potential professional repercussions. “You’ve no idea of the amount of time I spent recording fans (computer fans, oven fans, desk fans… basically anything you can think of!).”

Primarily through a shell label called Peak Records, Ameritz fuels hundreds of generically named Spotify artist pages, such as White Noise Baby Sleep and Relaxing Music Therapy, with literal static. There appears to be a real appetite on the platform for music to play while you fall asleep, with some of these artist pages reaching hundreds of thousands to millions of streams every day, according to data viewed by OneZero via Spotify for Artists. With Spotify paying around a third of a penny per stream, revenue from few of these top accounts can be comfortably estimated at upwards of $1 million per year, each.

Though internal Spotify rules from 2017, acquired by OneZero, ban SEO terms from being used as artist names and track titles, Ameritz continues to feed keyword-rich projects to hundreds of “sleep music” artist accounts, often reposting the same content to pages over and over again, ultimately spamming Spotify with an immense number of tracks.

Ameritz isn’t the only company releasing search engine optimized hissing noises and ambient drones to a network of pages to make some quick cash — the others are often just more difficult to track down. A close look at generic “relaxing music” pages suggests there are a handful of specific businesses dedicated to the practice, from small entrepreneurial enterprises like Lullify to operations like Ameritz that employ dozens of people.

It’s difficult to quickly identify these Spotify spammers for a few reasons. For one, many of the ambient “artists’’ don’t have any off-platform presence. Simply put, except for Spotify, they don’t exist. In addition, these SEO-ified musicians and their accompanying Spotify artist pages are so generically named — things like Nature Ambience, Smart Baby Lullaby, and Binaural Beats Brain Waves Isochronic Tones Brain Wave Entrainment (a real name) — that it’s unlikely any one person owns the copyright on their monikers. This allows multiple entities to use the same name when releasing music on streaming services without fear of infringement, essentially turning certain valuably named artist pages into wacky free-for-alls with tons of music from disparate sources, making tracking down creator identities even more confusing.

This general anonymity is convenient for creators banking on good SEO, rather than musical quality, because they’re often skirting Spotify’s internal rules. In confidential 2017 guidelines, acquired by OneZero, the company states that “SEO terms such as Christmas Hits, Sleep Music, Music for Concentration, etc., must not be used” as an artist name. In addition, “SEO terms such as Sleep Music, Music for Concentration, Chill, Chillout, etc., must not be used as track titles or track versions.”

Yet, used they are. There are hundreds of such accounts and a healthy audience of people seeking them out. According to data viewed by OneZero via a Spotify for Artists account, which shows artist pages’ daily stream totals, Spotify artist pages like White Noise Baby Sleep, Rain Sounds, and Deep Sleep Music Collective regularly topped 1 million streams per day in 2020. On an average day last year, these top ambient accounts individually racked up roughly the same number of streams on Spotify as established artists like Kacey Musgraves, Chance the Rapper, or Cage the Elephant. Dozens of others, from Binaural Beats Sleep to Sound Library XL, consistently accumulated six-digit daily listen totals. (Spotify didn’t respond to a request for comment for this article.)

The copyright information Spotify displays on these tracks and albums rarely matches up with a publishing company that has an actual public presence of some kind. Most white-noise albums on Spotify credit suspiciously basic company names that don’t appear to actually exist, such as Beats of the World Studios, Experiences in Music, or literally Umbrella Terms Records. One exception is Lullify Music, which is credited on popular pages such as White Noise Baby Sleep, Rain Sounds, and many others. The company directly markets itself on its website as “Unlimited Functional Music at Your Fingertips.”

Lullify CEO Patrick Zajda, who’s based in Nashville, Tennessee, says that his company does upload to the generic profiles but is also focused on creating an actual brand. He and his business partner (Lullify is a two-person company that works with contractors, according to Zajda) have created Lullify-specific Spotify pages, social profiles for the company, and a slick website. Zajda said the generic-pages strategy is simply a way to “think outside the box to categorize your content,” but he also says that “some people, of course, will take it way too far.”

“You’ve no idea of the amount of time I spent recording fans (computer fans, oven fans, desk fans… basically anything you can think of!).”

Pinpointing other savvy publishers in this space is difficult, because most companies don’t advertise their use of this strategy. Still, look across many “sleep music” artist pages and you can at least group different unknown creators based on quirks — similar track-naming conventions, album art styles, logos, bits of metadata — and go from there. Though most of these clusters lead to dead ends, one particularly unique creator left a trail that did not.

Peak Records, a name used by Ameritz on Spotify to post white noise, is the most distinctive (and perhaps most prolific) of the anonymous sleep spammers, creating, releasing, and rereleasing ambient tracks on Spotify at a breathtaking clip of thousands of tracks every few months. Its mountain logo is a regular sight atop “relaxing music” pages, which often list the company as the rights holder on hundreds and hundreds of extremely similar albums. Peak’s endlessly reposted projects often follow a bizarre naming convention, used by at least a few apparent creators, where titles are sandwiched in between exclamation points and other symbols. Its album art often features these strange titles as well, superimposed over vaguely trippy stock imagery (a departure from commonly used photos of nature or cutesy illustrations).

Search Peak Records on Google, though, and none of the various active and inactive companies around the world that share the name match the branding of the prolific label.

Though Ameritz runs a public-facing lo-fi-focused division called Mellotron, which has signed artists, the company doesn’t mention Peak anywhere on its website.

This is where looking at a key bit of metadata can come in handy: songwriter credits, which can be viewed on Spotify on a per-song basis. The connection between Peak and Ameritz is tucked away in the “show credits” menu of Peak’s songs on Spotify. When viewing songs on albums credited to Peak, three individual names repeatedly show up as songwriters: David Christopher Green, Lewis Owen Heath, and David Stewart Wilks. Ameritz’s website lists David Green as the company’s managing director, Lewis Heath as general manager, and David Wilks as “legal and finance.”

Amid thousands of ambient albums, these artist pages will also very occasionally credit compositions directly to “Mellotron Records, a division of Ameritz Music Ltd.” In this example, all five tracks also credited David Christopher Green as the writer.

Founded in Liverpool “during the mid-’90s,” Ameritz once produced karaoke records, even briefly charting in 2008 with a cover of Snow Patrol’s “Run” done in the style of Leona Lewis. According to its website, the company currently employs 30 people and claims to reach “over 50 million streams per month.” (Ameritz didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.)

“They had us doing the most bizarre of things, from ‘Italian restaurant music’ to jazz to electronic,” said the former Ameritz employee. “There was a long period where we did ambient electronic stuff, basically single synth drones that were aimed at the yoga and deep-sleep playlists on Spotify. Ultimately, though, it’s whatever they think can make it into playlists and/or be released at the top multiple times onto the artist pages. The latter being the more tedious but effective route, apparently.”

Lullify’s Zajda said that Peak’s vague brand identity with a Spotify-only logo likely wasn’t even Ameritz’s idea originally. “I’ve watched from the sidelines, and what’s kind of ironic is that my business partner and I will do certain things to brand things a certain way, and then these other rights holders will follow suit for a week or two.” Zajda says. “They don’t know why they’re doing it—they’re just doing it.”

Though the excessive release schedule on these pages indicates that this strategy is worth their while—keeping music at the top of a Spotify page’s “new release” module seems to be key—it’s difficult to ascertain which tracks specifically are garnering streams, and thus what percentage of these pages’ total daily streams certain rights holders are accruing. As a group, though, rights holders on three top pages are currently splitting the profits of more than 1 million streams per day—around $3,000 daily—which adds up to more than $1 million annually.

In a recent Facebook post, Ameritz celebrated “hitting 3 billion streams.”

“I do know that Ameritz rereleases these albums dozens of times on Spotify with varying names, listing orders, and artwork mostly in an attempt to keep their album at the top as the ‘latest release’ on their artist pages, and that’s basically the full-time job of at least 10 different people (literally to just release the same tracks over and over),” said the former Ameritz employee. “The ultimate goal of this music spamming is essentially to keep the music at the top of the page so that it gets seen most easily and is the latest thing on there.”

Audience Development Editor @ OneZero

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