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Spotify to Let Users Manipulate Tracks & Pay Rightsholders For Their Streaming. But There Are Still Questions About the Move

"RIP to whoever’s job it was to make 'Artist - Song (sped up)' song versions."

Photo by Cezar Sampaio / Unsplash

Over one million tracks uploaded to streaming services are manipulated, as the recent report by Pex states, and this portion is increasing. On TikTok, for instance, which is among the top ten platforms that store sped-up and slowed-down versions of songs, the percentage of modified tracks surged from 24.55% in 2022 to 38.03% in 2023. The trend is concerning: the proliferation of modified tracks leads to potential royalty disputes and copyright infringements.

Breaking down the statistics further, Pex revealed that 18.9% of identified content had modified speed or pitch, while 18.0% had modified speed alone, and 11.4% had modified pitch. 10.5% of the identified content had undergone both speed and pitch modifications.

The ramifications of this trend are significant, as many of these modified tracks are being distributed without proper licensing. Needless to say it results in a lack of attribution and royalties for original rightsholders. Without adequate measures in place, creators of original content may find themselves deprived of due credit and compensation for the use of their work, even though there's no intention of depriving an artist of their rightful royalties.

"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," shared Rasty Turek, Pex CEO to Music Business Worldwide.

Modified versions amass millions of streams. As such, a sped-up version of Halsey's "Without Me" gained nearly 6 million streams on Spotify, and a rendition of The Chainsmokers and Coldplay's "Something Just Like This" got over 12 million plays on the same platform. Some more examples discovered by Music Business Worldwide, 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.

Some actions need to be taken, surely, so Spotify has reportedly announced plans to introduce a feature that would allow users to modify the speed of songs, with rightsholders receiving compensation for streams of these modified versions. The move comes as the music streaming giant seeks to compete with the popularity of such modifications, particularly on platforms like TikTok, where a significant portion of tracks are altered.

According to reports from the Wall Street Journal, Spotify's proposed feature aims to "appeal to younger users while generating additional revenue for artists." The reported plans would enable listeners to save modified versions of songs to "virtual collections" on the platform, although sharing these versions on external platforms would be restricted. Basic song modification features would be accessible to Spotify's Premium subscribers, with more advanced tools potentially available as part of a rumoured "Supremium" tier.

However, this move isn't new. Back in 2017, Tidal allowed users to change the pitch and tempo as well as alter the start and end points of songs with its "Track Edit" feature. This functionality was, however, removed later, and one of the (primary?) reasons was that major music labels likely pushed for its removal, as they may have felt it was overstepping and allowing too much customisation of their copyrighted content.

Spotify isn't going to fall into the same trap as discussions regarding licensing agreements for the new tools are still in the early stages, as WSJ reports.

This Spotify's version of its competitor's "Track Edit" also reminds us of Ye's stem player.

The move sparks controversy, though, as many questions remain unanswered. It's yet unclear how this might impact the careers of DJs and if those creators who make nightcore tracks are going to be compensated at all. We don't know if it'll be possible to upload such modified tracks outside Spotify through distributors, either, and if Spotify can detect such uploads. And once it can, what is it going to do then? We reached out to Spotify for comments but haven't heard back so far.

Some users are happy, however, and so are some artists. Users say on Reddit that they'd "reverb [their] playlists to death." Well, if the portion of these prevails, then Spotify likely knows what they're doing.