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.
If you’ve just discovered rising Dallas rapper Lil Loaded, and want to hear a bunch of his hits in one convenient spot, Spotify has just the feature for you. Like many popular artists, there’s a “This Is” playlist for the MC, a grouping of his “essential tracks” that the platform’s team creates. However, listen to the playlist for a while, and a few songs sound out of place. In fact, though tracks 12, 14, and 16 on “This Is Lil Loaded” list Lil Loaded as a featured artist, he’s not on them at all. Instead, you’ll only hear some truly wince-worthy rhymes from some entirely different artist who goes by the name “Wali Da Great.”
People have gone to some pretty silly lengths to inflate their Spotify streaming numbers, but this is a method that’s largely flown under the radar: fake artist features. Similar to other streaming schemes and Soulja Boy’s scams of yore, which involved mislabeled LimeWire files, the trick is a bait-and-switch. First, the aspiring streaming star uploads a song to Spotify using a third-party site. When filling out the track’s information, they add a popular artist as “featured” (when they are, in fact, not involved with the song at all). If the fabricated metadata sneaks past whatever safeguards the third-party site may have in place, as well the “featured” artist’s team, Spotify’s algorithm will do the rest, placing your duplicitous ditty in prime spots across the platform.
The system takes advantage of the way Spotify handles music uploads and metadata, and exposes a continued challenge for big streaming platforms: vetting their extremely large catalogs for frauds and phonies. Spotify doesn’t allow manual uploads from musicians. Instead, it requires them to use a digital distributor to put songs on the platform, recommending a preferred list of distribution companies that “meet our standards for providing quality…