In this blog post, I'll break down the factors that influence playlist quality, additional factors that you may have access to (e.g. Spotify for Artists), and aggregated patterns/trends that are common among fake playlists.
Followers, playlist descriptions, "Discovered On" presence, and so on are examples of forward-facing indicators. Because of the importance of these indicators, many people think they're a good measure of the quality of a playlist.
The ratio of profile followers-to-playlist followers
At least one profile follower for every 100 playlist followers is a healthy ratio. This growth is due to traffic over time or the popularity of the so-called 'follow-gate' services used by some playlist curators.
You should be extremely cautious of any curator that has a large number of playlist followers and almost no profile followers.
I also strongly advise that you look at their "followers" tab to see if their followers appear legitimate. I become very cautious when I see lots of strange names and/or no profile photos. I definitely stop considering a playlist when suspicious profiles also have no followers (see the example below).
Almost the exact same number of followers for multiple playlists
Scammers commonly use bots to add followers to several playlists at the same time, all of which are roughly the same size. This creates the illusion that they are legitimate playlist accounts and, as a result, can make it easier to increase the follower count on several playlists at once.
Organic playlist growth results from genuine followers engaging with and sharing your playlists. Growth is never linear and never happens in the same volume and at the same time across multiple playlists. Each playlist should be unique in genre/style & content and therefore attract different people. There will be some overlap in followers, but rarely will you see all of the same people following multiple playlists.
For example, if almost every playlist on a curator's profile has around 50K followers, that's a major red flag.
I personally expect to see big variations in playlist followers, and I expect to see playlists with a relatively small number of followers as well (not every playlist will get the same traction). If something is too good to be true in appearance, it probably is too good to be true in reality.
Playlist descriptions mentioning paid playlist promotion
Any playlist that mentions paid placements or music promotion in its description is likely to be a fake playlist. This also applies to paid gigs on platforms such as Fiverr where some kind of guarantee is given for the number of playlist placements.
Accepting "submissions" or reviewing songs for a fee is a common and legitimate practice among curators. This allows artists to "buy" attention and allows curators to monetize their playlists without accepting paid placements ('payola').
Payola, in the music industry, is the illegal practice of paying a commercial radio station to play a song without the station disclosing the payment. This illegal practice of paying for placement also applies to playlists.
The playlist is jam-packed with bad music
Although music tastes vary, we can all tell the difference between low-quality and high-quality songs. You can hear it right away. A playlist packed with low-quality music is suspicious because it isn't appealing. I am increasingly skeptical whenever the top of the playlist features only top-charting artists, and the rest of the playlist is mostly bad music (maybe even unrelated themes/genres).
You just can't grow a playlist that is full of garbage music. Who wants to listen to bad music?
Lack of social presence
Any big curator will have a social presence outside of Spotify. Possibly they post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and/or have a website.
In any case, if you search for that curator online, they should appear somewhere other than on Spotify.
The "Discovered On" section
It's been said many times that if a playlist appears in a major artist's "Discovered On" section, it's legit. In reality, "Discovered On" can also contain fake playlists. Spotify does not validate the playlists displayed in the "Discovered On" section. The "Discovered On" section may contain both legitimate and fake playlists.
There is also no guarantee that good playlists will always be displayed in this section; there may simply be too many good playlists to display them all.
I personally do not recommend using this metric as the only metric for determining the quality of a playlist.
Historical data like 'follower growth over time', sudden growth/dips in the number of followers, etc.
Extreme follower dips
Here's an excellent example of a botted playlist. As you can see from the total and daily follower history, this playlist lost 20,000 followers overnight and then gained them back the next day.Data from artist.tools
Spotify for Artist Indicators
If you have your music in a playlist, you can view additional data about that playlist.
Everyone listener is from a major city
While a lot of legitimate playlists have fans from major cities, if you're getting streams exclusively from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, Amsterdam, London, Berlin, etc... (major data center cities), then it's likely that the playlist is fake.
Bots can be run cheaply from these locations because major cities have the biggest (and cheapest) infrastructure.
Also, look for strange patterns... How normal do you think it would be if a US-based artist with English music is solely streamed in large Asian cities?
The ratio of playlist streams-to-followers is off
Many fake playlists will generate more streams than the total number of followers for that playlist (e.g. you received 10,000 streams from a playlist with only 5,000 followers). In any given month, you should rarely see more new streams from a playlist than the total number of followers for that playlist.
The ratio of playlist streams-to-listeners is off
A genuine playlist should have around 10-30% fewer listeners than streams (there are a few legitimate exceptions). Playlists with a nearly identical streams-to-listeners ratio, as well as playlists with a ridiculously low listener count (e.g. 50 listeners and 1,000 streams), are a huge indicator of fake playlist placements.
In conclusion, verified Spotify playlists are still the best way to market your music. Spotify has over 190 million active users and they continue to grow. Spotify playlists provide a unique opportunity for artists to reach/expand their target audience.
Working with reputable playlist promotion companies, such as SubmitLink, can ensure that your music reaches the right people, increasing your chances of being discovered by new fans.
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