Bots are Manipulating the Music Industry Past the Point of No Return

Bots: they’re the scourge of the internet. Unless, of course, you’re trying to turn a quick buck and the bot is in your hands.

First, let’s get it out of the way: what is a bot? It’s just a catch-all term for a program that allows a user to automate their interactions with a platform. For our purposes, these bots are insidious programs that manipulate sales and view counts and turn what should be reliable data on its heels.

When you log into a music stream, you expect to see how many people are watching. That can let you know how popular the stream is. But what if those numbers were fake? What if the numbers of sales, viewers, and followers – are all fake? What then? Is the artist no longer valuable?

It used to be that the only people manufacturing numbers were stalwarts in the industry. The record companies themselves and related businesses like radio stations. They would monitor and report numbers of sales, listeners, etc and it would give the public a general idea of how an artist was doing. While those numbers could be made up, it was generally the kind of hard data you could follow from start to finish.

Now, all of the numbers are made up and nothing means anything. Well, sort of.

Bots are being used all across the internet to snap up purchases of high-value items such as sneakers, Playstations and other coveted items, flipping them around with no overhead and selling them for a profit before individual buyers can even get a chance at a lower price.

And those same bot programs are manipulating numbers in the music industry. It makes it nearly impossible to tell how artists are actually doing. Even the big artists with decent sales could be receiving tens of thousands of fake streaming views or followers, rendering all that we see with our eyes useless.

It’s a problem that the music industry is going to have to grapple with soon because in order to get to the top – you have to prove that you’ve got the numbers. And if the numbers are unreliable, it means nothing.

Platforms are aware of it, though. Spotify exec Jen Masset recently spoke on bot farms on a podcast with Hypebot, explaining, “Engaging in any way with artificial streams can result in the withholding of manipulated streams from streaming numbers. We can withhold royalties and, where necessary, we can remove the tracks from our service. So it ultimately hurts an artist’s long-term process.

Spotify reports the number of artificial streams to our partners on a monthly basis, and we believe that artificial streams are decreasing on a monthly basis. The number of pieces of legitimate content delivered are increasing.”

It sounds awfully optimistic, but let’s see what happens.