How ‘Playola’ Is Infiltrating Streaming Services


Like social media, playlists are viral in nature: A track’s streams will spike after it’s added to a popular playlist; listeners will add the song to their playlists; their friends will do the same. Getting a song onto a hot playlist almost ensures awareness will spread from one social network to another.

Multiple insiders allege that the major music groups have paid influential curators to populate their playlists with their clients’ music. Some third-party users are known to request money to include songs on their playlists. Pay for play “is definitely ­happening,” claims a major-label marketing executive, one of several who say that popular playlists can and have been bought.

According to a source, the price can range from $2,000 for a playlist with tens of thousands of fans to $10,000 for the more well-followed playlists. And these practices are not illegal, although it would be difficult to find an official policy in the fine print.

In a statement to Billboard, Spotify head of communications Jonathan Prince says its new terms of service, hitting the United States next week, prohibit selling accounts and playlists or “accepting any ­compensation, financial or otherwise, to influence … the content included on an account or playlist.” Yet policing, let alone enforcing, these terms could be difficult.

Everything old is new again, eh? But then how is aggressively promoting an artist to a playlist different than, say, promoting that artist – through bribery or otherwise – to a music blog? Playlists are sort of becoming ‘the new music blogs’ to streaming fans, so it makes sense. A blog (or a radio station in the ‘old days’) that relies on promoted or paid content gets noticeably watered down in its taste-making reputation, but that probably doesn’t matter to the mainstream targets here. Pay-for-play stinks, but as it is nearly-impossible to enforce (though not difficult to spot by savvy music fans) it’s probably going to be a permanent thorn in the side for these services. When it used to affect your local radio station you didn’t really have elsewhere to go … at least with playlists and blogs there are many other alternatives out there to turn to when the ones you are following start suspiciously including the same lackluster songs at the same time.

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