Two Danish journalists from Vice outlet Noisey recorded what they deemed a terrible track, uploaded it to Spotify, then paid for plays in order to show how easy it is to game Spotify.

“We started by giving the project a name that we felt described what we were all about: Cl1ckba1t,” they explained.

“We took turns on the mic, choosing wildly different styles in our roles as shitty MCs. Some added Auto-Tune to off key bars, while others simply said all of the most cringey lines they could think of. With some shoddy production flourishes, we’d created the exact opposite of a cool track.”

They bought 10,000 plays for $40 from a company named Streamify. While I always assumed these were robots doing soulless robot things, it turns out there is an art to gaming the inbuilt (robot) moderators at Spotify who flag these kinda things.

Here’s their track. I haven’t listened, but I’m sure it’s exactly as rubbish as they claim.

“We chose to blow $40 on 10,000 plays, as we felt anything less would make us look bad”, they explain. “With ultimate Spotify glory within our grasp, we got greedy and tried to get all 10,000 plays in one day. Luckily, this wasn’t Streamify’s first rodeo in the world of buying popularity, and they immediately hit us with a warning, stating that more than 10,000 plays in one day would be ‘dangerous’ for our track.”

The service suggested they spread the plays over two months; they countered with ten days, and just as ordered, the track sat at 10,000 listeners within ten days. Then… nothing.

“After ten days, we’d hit our target. Yet, even though we were listed as having as many as 5,000 monthly listeners at our peak, we today have 0, while our track has 10,000 plays, as promised. Thanks, Streamify.”

So, that’s an interesting experiment, but the main thing it shows is that a thousand listens a day isn’t nearly enough for the track to catch fire and build a natural momentum. Because this isn’t natural. It’s data manipulation, and doesn’t represent anything other than how easily you can game Spotify. But to what end?

Where this could be useful is in making this an ongoing weekly cost of $40 for 10,000 plays — at least initially — so the streams at least appear to be growing steadily… which can be used to give the illusion of an act with a steady fanbase. Agents, labels, management companies – they love this stuff, because if an act has a proven fanbase, there is less risk. Even if the fanbase is an army of robots who don’t buy merch and can never learn to love.

Of course, the bottom may fall out as soon as you attempt to convert this perceived online action into real world fans at gigs, but maybe not. A few plum support slots, and actual radio play may lead to that stream count becoming an actual reflection of your fanbase.

After all, perception is reality. And payola has existed since the dawn of the music industry. It’s just shifted online. There’s a new way to cheat!