Howard isn’t aggrieved by people gaming the platform to get their music heard, and he highlights that people using these strategies are simply working within a broken system.
Have you ever wondered what your life would’ve been like, if, instead of the well-paid manager position, you’d lived out your passion as a writer? If you’d married your childhood sweetheart instead of that hot classmate from college who one day showed up at your door, waving a pregnancy test in your face? What if you’d visited your parents more often, noticing your mother’s progressing illness, instead of getting a phone call from your dad inviting you to her funeral? What if you had just turned left instead of right on the path that’s called life?
But how do you figure out what your tool is? It can be frustrating going through life without having that self-knowledge. If you don’t know what your tool is, try the following exercise. Sit down with someone you’ve worked with — not your drinking buddy or book club friend. You want input from someone who has experienced your strengths and weaknesses firsthand.
Ultimately, this is the nature of life. If we keep on looking at all the Jimbo’s in the world, we waste our time on what we don’t have. Instead, look at what you do have, and think about how you can use that in a big way.
Another tack involves bare-bones versions of popular, generic, kid-centric songs like “Happy Birthday.” In fact, the “artist” Happy Birthday alone has uploaded hundreds upon hundreds of the same dozenish versions of the tune (done in different styles, from EDM to acoustic), racking up more than 140,000 monthly listeners. Another account, Children’s Music, is up to nearly 300,000 monthly listeners by sharing misspelled classics like “Wheel on the Bus” and “If Your Happy and You Know It” over and over again.
In short, it’s about a boy named Archie Ferguson — born 1947 in Newark, New Jersey, as a child of former immigrants (like Auster himself) — whom we accompany for many years, witnessing his childhood, growing up in a suburb with a nice house and a tree in the backyard, but forever in the shadows of his beloved New York, up to his adulthood. We experience first hand the history of America in the second half of the 20th century, through the eyes of a child, a teen and a young adult — with undeniable autobiographical traits that also bring us closer to Auster himself..
And so a seemingly unending stream of “artists” battle in an audio turf war over various niches of faintly wellness-related audio. These profiles often have dozens to hundreds of albums, each saturated with keywords. Individual pages using this method regularly rack up tens to hundreds of thousands of monthly plays. Some daisy-chain featured artists in their metadata to populate multiple pages with slightly different names, while others simply reupload the same exact tracks over and over again in repackaged albums.
Increased human moderation of Spotify’s library could offer another solution, but this presents a logistical problem because of the sheer scope of the platform’s catalog. (The platform says it adds tens of thousands of songs to its catalog every day.)
The idea behind this game is that you can bounce ideas off each other. Your friend can serve like a sounding board — someone who gives you a view from the outside. Play the game like this:You can also do this in your journal. But if you play it with someone else, you can feed off each other’s input. Sometimes we have a different idea about our own capabilities.But Auster wouldn’t be Auster if that was all there was to it. What if? The question, the central question, that has concerned Auster all his life, like an itch that could never be scratched, comes finally to a masterly end. With Ferguson, we walk not only once, not only twice, but four times through his life’s story. Shaped through tiny decisions, brief moments that pass, choosing the left path over the right, doing one thing instead of the other — his life changes inevitably, in directions that one can hardly imagine. But Auster succeeds.Some “artist” profiles have named themselves after entire subgenres of music, some of which might not have a dedicated genre page or clearly labeled Spotify-created playlist. “Lofi Chillhop” and “LoFi Chill” (both verified artists) seem to be competing for fans of a certain type of instrumental music that experienced a recent rebirth thanks in part to a meme, hitting more than 100,000 and 40,000 monthly listeners, respectively, by uploading beats of unknown origin. The verified artist profile “Uk Drill” took advantage of rising interest in the British hip-hop scene by simply ripping and reposting tracks from up-and-coming MCs, reaching more than 80,000 monthly listeners. And whoever is behind the account “Witch House” (a spooky mid-aughts style of electronic music) accumulated a trickle of traffic by uploading generic instrumentals and jamming the names of popular EDM songs, albums, and artists into the tracks’ metadata. Witch House’s music itself isn’t even witch house, but rather intentionally mislabeled tracks ripped off from places like obscure instrumental sampler albums.Ask Google to play “relaxing music,” or plug “meditation” into Spotify’s search bar, and you’ll find heaps of artist accounts with names like Binaural Beats Sleep, Nature Sounds Nature Music, and Air Conditioner Sound that mass-upload ambient drones, looped chord progressions, or straight-up white noise. Spotify’s user base apparently has a lot of trouble sleeping, and that significant audience interest makes it a worthwhile hustle for a prospective SEO spammer. It also doesn’t hurt that generic New Age sonic compositions are relatively easy to make (or rip) compared to other types of music.Tools like digital music distributor and Spotify partner DistroKid’s DistroLock audio fingerprint technology and Spotify’s own blockchain startup acquisitions could in theory curb some of this spam by, say, limiting reuploads of the same tracks. But these kinds of checks aren’t yet baked into Spotify’s platform.It takes time, introspection, and humility to figure out what you’re good at. The humility part is often overlooked. When we have an ego, we’re not open to other people’s views. If the guy from my example listened to the people who told him to use his hammer, he could have saved himself a lot of time and frustration.
There isn’t really an incentive for Spotify to clean up repetitive tracks or bizarre artist names. In a way, these prolific posters are just executing an extreme version of Spotify CEO Daniel Ek’s vision of a world where artists spend less time on their music and focus more on volume. The platform’s own goal, as Liz Pelly wrote in The Baffler in 2017, is (arguably) to “fit music snugly into an emotional regulation capsule optimized for maximum clicks.”
Spotify’s editorial team functionally runs interference on certain terms people frequently game by essentially using the same strategy as the spammers, creating official pages for certain “Genres & Moods” of music, each featuring handpicked playlists within these categorizations. However, it’s unclear who on Spotify’s editorial team makes these pages, what process they use to create them, and whether their explicit purpose is to get out in front of spam. These official Spotify pages and playlists sometimes surface high in search, but they often have a lot of competition from artists named with almost every imaginable variation of a set of high-value terms. Plus, spammers themselves occasionally show up in the sanctioned playlists, often joined by plenty of the less intrusive fake artists.Ultimately, this is the nature of life. If we keep on looking at all the Jimbo’s in the world, we waste our time on what we don’t have. Instead, look at what you do have, and think about how you can use that in a big way.Indeed, a fundamental building block of Spotify’s algorithm is to simply recognize when a listener successfully finds what they were looking for, not whether or not the music was “quality” per se. As a 2017 Vulture article points out, these artists “are providing people exactly what they want. It just so happens that what they want is ephemeral nonsense.”
Cerf, for instance, views what he’s doing as a useful utilitarian tool. “People want to be able to search for music not just by artist name, but also by keyword,” he said. “They want to say, ‘Oh, I’m sleeping, or I’m driving, or I’m meditating, or I have a kid and he needs to sleep, or I just need background music.’”
I don’t want you to waste any time reading long summaries, so I’ll keep it short. If you want to go more into detail, feel free to look it up somewhere, but I would advise against it. Read it instead!