Spotify Playlists – The New Payola?
by India McCarty –
For almost as long as music has been a lucrative business, people have paid to get played. This practice, called payola, was eventually deemed a misdemeanor offense in the early 1960s. However, with the decline of radio and the rise of streaming service playlists, we could be looking at another landmark legal case.
As things stand now, artists can pay to get their songs on popular playlists. Spotify itself doesn’t accept payment, but there are plenty of high-trafficked playlists that are run by outside users.
Spotlister, a third-party service, charged artists in exchange for the promise of a connection with a Spotify playlist curator. While it was only $2 to upload your track to the service, some artists were paying anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 to get their music on the right playlists.
Spotify cut ties with Spotlister in 2018. The company quickly rebranded by launching a new venture called Jamlister, but they’ve been relatively quiet since then.
Other companies have moved in to take their place. A quick Google search brings up ads for “Guaranteed Spotify Playlist Placements” from Group82 – all for $93. Sound Grail and Playlist King are two other sites that advertise playlist placement. Playlist King even has packages – $74.99 and your track is pitched to an audience of 50,000. $249.99 and your audience grows to 250,000 listeners.
While these sites don’t offer the built-in audience that Spotify-approved playlists do, they are still an example of how streaming has broken all the rules. What seems like a straightforward case of modern-day payola is harder to nail down. The people charging for playlist placement don’t work for Spotify, so the argument could be made that they’re just entrepreneurs.
Nothing has been done so far to regulate these pay-for-Spotify-plays deals, but with streaming’s power to make or break a career, it’s a situation that will definitely need to be dealt with.