Spotify has had enough of people 'gaming the system' to make money from background noises

Whale sounds, ASMR and white noise are surging in popularity as a productivity or relaxation hack—but according to Spotify, “bad actors” are taking advantage of the trend to earn undeserved money.

In a blog post on Tuesday, the Swedish music streaming giant said it was shaking up the way it paid royalties to artists—which would include a crackdown on people who were manipulating the platform to cash in on “functional” sounds.

These include things like white noise, rainfall, static and whale sounds, which people often play in the background to help them unwind or focus.

While Spotify conceded in its announcement that the “functional” genre was popular on its platform, the company said some users were “gaming the system with noise.”

“Listeners often stream these functional genres for hours at a time in the background, and this is sometimes exploited by bad actors who cut their tracks artificially short — with no artistic merit — in order to maximize royalty-bearing streams,” Spotify said on Tuesday.

How ‘bad actors’ are ‘gaming the system’

While a typical song is a few minutes long, some users are shortening whale soundtracks and other functional sounds to 30 seconds and placing them consecutively on playlists without users noticing, the firm said—which earns them “outsized payments” from Spotify.

“Beyond track length, noise recordings are valued in the same way as music recordings,” the company added. “The massive growth of the royalty pool has created a revenue opportunity for noise uploaders well beyond their contribution to listeners.”

In an effort to address the issue and divert earnings back toward emerging and professional artists, Spotify said it was bringing in new policies for noise recordings.

From 2024, the company said functional noise recordings would need to be at least two minutes long in order to qualify for royalty payments.

Extra $1 billion heading to legitimate artists

In the coming months, Spotify said it planned to work with licensors to revalue noise streams at a “fraction of the value” of music streams. This would help send an additional $1 billion to legitimate artists on the platform, the company added.

Tracks that would be impacted by the changes include white noise, nature sounds, machine noises, sound effects, non-spoken ASMR and silence recordings.

Under the current system, Spotify said the earning opportunity was too large for noise uploaders, who consequently flood streaming services with interchangeable noise recordings in the hope that they can attract sufficient search traffic to earn royalties.

“By setting a minimum track length, these tracks will make a fraction of what they were previously earning (because two minutes of listening to noise recordings would generate one royalty-bearing stream not four), freeing up that extra money to go back into the royalty pool for honest hard-working artists,” Spotify said. “It also creates a more fair playing field for artists in these functional genres, by eliminating the perverse incentive to cut tracks artificially short with no artistic merit, at the expense of listener experience.”

By the end of 2022, Spotify’s all-time payouts to music rights holders was approaching $40 billion.

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