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Over One Million "Manipulated" Tracks on Streaming Platforms Impact Artist Revenue, Study Reveals

Photo by Modesta Žemgulytė / Unsplash

All these "sped up", "slowed down," and "slowed + reverb" versions of popular songs have been on music streaming platforms for ages. And it was pretty obvious that they acquired some portion of revenue share, impacting the original artists' payouts. But until recently, we didn't know to what extent, exactly.

A study conducted by digital rights tech firm Pex in November has shed light on a concerning trend affecting the music industry, discovering that over one million "manipulated" tracks uploaded to platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and TIDAL potentially "divert revenue away" from original creators.

Such modified examples include a sped-up version of Halsey's "Without Me," amassing nearly 6 million streams on Spotify, and a rendition of The Chainsmokers and Coldplay's "Something Just Like This," which gained over 12 million plays on the same platform. Some more examples discovered by Music Business World, include a sped-up version of Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj’s Beauty and a Beat with over 8 million streams, and a sped-up version of Lady Gaga’s Bloody Mary with over 25 million streams.

As Turek shared at the Music Business World podcast, "From our research, at least 1% of all music has some kind of modified audio, and the existing systems are not catching that up. So that means at least 1% of all music is misattributed and misappropriated in that sense. And… this means a lot of artists are essentially mis-paid [given how much] they are played."

But what's the problem if these tracks have licences to modify and upload original songs? The thing is, they don't. Most of these altered songs have not obtained licenses for the original tracks but continue to earn royalties from digital service provider (DSP) streams, as per Pex CEO. Even though such audio modifications aren't made with the intention of depriving an artist of their rightful royalties, they still result in the redirection of revenue from the rightful copyright owners and creators.

"Quantifying [it as] fraud is a little bit strong for me, because I find this to be a part of the environment. [Someone who takes a song] and speeds it up, because they find pleasure, enjoyment in it, I don’t think that’s a fraud. I think fraud requires a purpose to deceive. I don’t think anyone does it—or most people don’t do it for that reason," shares Rasty Turek to Music Business World.

It's funny how all this is happening amidst the changes  to its royalty payout model that Spotify has recently unveiled, aiming to address "drains on the royalty pool" and allocate more funds to working artists. The move, that is anticipated to de-monetise tracks that previously absorbed 0.5% of Spotify's royalty pool, are expected to be implemented starting this year.

"In the current world, the distributors generally do the absolute minimum to verify, because the platforms themselves don’t put any pressure on them to do any better. So even at 1%while the number, the final numbers [are] huge [at] tens of millions of dollars—it’s still much smaller than the overall market," shares Turek to Music Business World.

It doesn't mean nothing can or is done to at least try to provide revenue fairness for artists. One such move is the European Parliament's call for a new ruling that aims to address concerns about fairness and transparency in the music-streaming industry. The initiative is designed to ensure equitable visibility for European artists on music-streaming platforms, similar to the Canadian Online Streaming Act which wants to achieve "Canadian stories and music are widely available on streaming platforms to the benefit of future generations of artists and creators in Canada."