This ‘secret’ composer is behind 650 fake artists on Spotify. His music has been streamed 15bn times on the platform (report)

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The concept of “fake artists” on Spotify is a story we’ve been following closely since way back in 2016.

The existence of fake artists on the platform is now a well-known fact: Music released by musicians under pseudonyms, who have no real online presence other than their Spotify accounts and plays, and whose music can be found on many of Spotify’s key playlists dedicated to ‘mood music’.

The “fake artists” debate was reignited in 2022 when Swedish newspaper, Dagens Nyheter (DN), ran an expose (available here) on Sweden-based indie label Firefly Entertainment, and how it makes its money by releasing music by lots of fake artists.

DN reported to have obtained a list of 830 ‘fake artist’ names linked to Firefly, and discovered that at least 495 of these artists had music on first-party Spotify playlists.

On Tuesday (March 19), DN published yet another expose on Spotify’s fake artist problem, and reports to have identified the musician “behind the world’s most listened to network of fake artists on Spotify”.

DN reports that this individual is a composer from Sweden named Johan Röhr, whose music, it says, has been released on Spotify under “50 composer aliases and at least 656 invented artist names”.

DN reports that Röhr sang in the house choir for the Melodifestival song competition in Sweden in the early 2000s and has also previously worked as a “conductor on several popular stars’ tours and in television productions” but that he is now “far more successful” than any of “the artists he has collaborated with”.

According to DN’s report, which you can read hereRöhr is behind over 2,700 songs that have been released under various fake artist names on Spotify. Some of those names include Minik Knudsen, Mingmei Hsueh, Csizmazia Etel, and Adelmar Borrego.

His music across all of these pseudonymous artist accounts on Spotify, according to DN, has been streamed approximately 15 billion times.

DN points out [translated from Swedish to English] that this combined stream count  “makes him Sweden’s current most played [artist] on the streaming service” and that Swedish superstar Avicii “has slightly more streams overall, but Johan Röhr has more listeners per month”.

Globally, according to DN’s report, Johan Röhr is one of the 100 most streamed artists on Spotify of all time. “He beats Michael Jackson, Metallica and Mariah Carey,” adds DN, which adds that “In the dark [sic], Johan Röhr is well on his way to overtaking The Beatles”.

According to DN,  Röhr is generating significant revenues from his music. DN reports that his private company generated over SEK 70 million, between 2020 and 2022 (approx USD $6.7m).

DN also reports, citing Röhr’s private company’s annual report for 2022, that it generated SEK 32.7 million (approx USD $3.1m) in that year alone and that all of this income came from royalties.

According to DN: “Exactly how much of the money that derives from the streams of the invented artist names is not clear from annual reports. Johan Röhr has previously also been the registered author of several well-known Swedish songs.

“But it is only in recent years – in connection with the rise of the fake [artist] phenomenon – that the income in his company has skyrocketed.”

Key to the success of Röhr’s music on Spotify, according to DN’s latest expose, is the prominent presence of his music across Spotify’s Official playlists, where DN notes, “the [music streaming] company chooses who can be included”.

DN discovered that Johan Röhr’s songs have been added to “well over a hundred different playlists for instrumental music, which together have over 62 million followers”.

Citing its own “unique data analysis”, DN reports that Johan Röhr has songs on “at least” 144 official Spotify playlists under various artist pseudonyms and that in eleven of those playlists, “more than a fifth” of the entirety of those lists are made up of his songs.

According to DN, on one of the large instrumental playlists, called Stress Relief, which has over 1.45 million followers,  41 out of the 270 songs on the playlist are by fake artists whose music is made by Johan Röhr.

Dagens Nyheter (DN) reports that Johan Röhr didn’t want to be interviewed for its article and that the composer directed the newspaper to the label that releases his music: Sweden-based Overtone Studios, which is owned by Epidemic Sound.

Epidemic Sound’s involvement in this story is very interesting.

Back in 2017 when MBW broke the news that Spotify was repeatedly adding ‘fake artists’ to its key playlists, we also revealed the source behind a swathe of these fictitious performers was Stockholm-based production music company, Epidemic Sound.

DN reports that Epidemic Sound’s Overtone Studios didn’t want to answer questions for the article either, but that it was sent a written statement from Overtone CEO Niklas Brantberg confirming that Johan Röhr has released music under various pseudonyms.

“Many of these [artist names] are now old and inactive musical projects and we have significantly reduced the number of artist profiles that actively publish music, even though today we work with many more creators,” said Niklas Brantberg, in that statement. He also called Johan Röhr a “pioneer in the mood music genre”.

Spotify didn’t want to be interviewed for DN’s article either, according to the newspaper.

In response to DN’s report, Julia Levander, Spotify’s Head of Communications in the Nordics, told the publication that, “This music exists primarily in Spotify’s Focus hub, which limits competition with artists from traditional genres in popular music.”

Julia Levander added: “We don’t stop artists or bands from releasing music under their own names or under various pseudonyms, and as the demand for this type of music increases, so do the number of rights holders and artists producing this type of content.

“Payouts from Spotify build artists’ careers at all stages, and we’re continuously helping more artists – big and small – reach more fans.”Music Business Worldwide

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