For years we’ve talked about the downfalls of streaming fraud, the importance of doing your research when it comes to playlisting, and the argument for slow growth in favor of genuine relationships. Now, it’s not just about ethics, it’s about staying out of prison.

18 months in prison for streaming fraud

In a landmark case, a Danish man has been sentenced to prison for manipulating streaming counts. Using bots to artificially grow his streams on over 600 tracks across Spotify, Apple Music, and YouSee Musik, it’s reported that 244 tracks were “listened to” 5.5 million times in one week, with the majority going to just twenty subscription accounts. Which, for the sake of clarity, is impossible. 

He was found guilty of data fraud and copyright infringement and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Spotify’s role in data fraud

While an extreme case, it serves as a stark reminder that botting is illegal and companies that use this technique for their clients or playlist curators that operate this way aren’t the only ones guilty of this. Artists who knowingly hire these companies or playlists do risk being held accountable.

We’ve heard of artist catalogues being stripped from platforms for botting as well. 

Spotify Will Now Punish You For Hiring Shady Companies

But what about the platforms themselves? Where is their accountability?

Spotify’s new policy is explicit:  “Under the new rules, Spotify will charge 10 EU / USD 10.82 when more than 90% of streams on a song are fake, according to multiple sources. The penalties come in addition to other actions Spotify takes when fraudulent streams are identified, including, in some instances, removal.”

While staying under this 90% might be easier for major label artists, that won’t be the case for indies; they’re the ones who are set up to suffer the most from this rule.

“It’s as if Spotify implies that boosting existing streams by 50% – 60% is OK.” that same Hypebot article quotes.

This means not only do you have to be careful with your own playlist outreach, but also with companies you’re hiring to do it for you. I want to repeat this .

If It Sounds Too Good To Be True (1K “real” plays for $10!) It Probably IS

I know it can feel tough to keep up with what’s expected of you as a musician. Everything from press to marketing to making and performing the music falls on your shoulders, and it can feel tempting to use bots as a shortcut. Especially if you see other musicians doing it.

This is my advice to you: don’t do it.

Cheating the system only creates a false sense of success (without the fans to back it up, that won’t get you very far) and potentially get your entire catalog taken down from Spotify. Or as we’re seeing now, even worse.

This means doing things the old-fashioned way. Take the time to build authentic relationships with fans through live shows, press, marketing, and relationship building. It means talking to fans at the merch table, answering DMs and comments, and encouraging conversation.

A final wake up call

Yes this case is extreme, but it highlights the bigger problem: streaming is still being touted as both a must-have for musicians and an impossibly difficult mountain to climb. When the reality is, streaming is only a piece of the puzzle

Put simply, it’s not worth the risk.

Rather than chasing inflated stream counts or trying to shortcut your way to vanity metrics, use that time and energy to invest in authentic, well-tested marketing strategies that can help you foster meaningful connections with fans and result in gradual, sustainable growth.

This case is a wake-up call. Streaming companies need to take accountability (and be held accountable) but we also need to stop viewing playlists as the key to a lasting career. When the reality is it always has been, always will be about the fans. And you can’t fake your way to that.

Want to learn more about marketing yourself for Spotify playlists? Download Ariel’s latest book Ultimate Guide to Music Publicity

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