A guide to tell if you’ve fallen victim to botting and why you should STOP paying for playlisting.
Streaming has come to dominate the music industry. For many industry outsiders, the number of streams on a song has become the primary indicator of success. But there is a growing awareness among marketing teams that — to truly find success on Spotify — artists should strive to optimize Spotify’s algorithm, rather than “chase streams”.
My name is Madelynn Elyse (you can call me Maddie) and I am the owner of Shark Attack (a label services company). I wrote this article with my dear friend Dustin. We both work with artists of varying genres and backgrounds to help them grow authentic audiences, oftentimes with an initial focus on Spotify. Our aim is to help artists develop strong data that feeds the Spotify Algorithm and activates Spotify’s algorithmic playlists (such as Discover Weekly, Release Radar, Radio, etc.) Spotify is a closed system and provides little data back to its artists. So we have to deduce the quality of an artist’s Spotify profile by looking at their numbers.
First off, the Spotify Algorithm is what all artists should be targeting… Spotify’s algorithm is a complicated web, which utilizes your data to determine what to do with your track. Everything counts, from your ‘similar artists’ to your save rate to your skip rate. By feeding the correct data, you increase your chances of activating Spotify’s algorithm. This in turn will push you onto Spotify’s algorithmic playlists, such as Release Radar or Discover Weekly. These algorithmic playlists are the Holy Grail of streaming and will push you to a vast audience of listeners that are ideal for your music.
Let me paint a scenario that we see all the time. An artist reaches out to us, wishing to get more streams and grow as an artist. We analyze their numbers and discover their accounts have been heavily botted. They have hundreds-of-thousands of plays, but their other data points (including save rate, amount of followers, and Artists Also Like) scream botting. It then becomes our responsibility to inform the client that their account has terrible data. Oftentimes these artists hired a playlister to help them. Ultimately they spent a great deal of money, only to discover that all these fake plays are actually hurting them.
To assess the health of a Spotify Profile we look to an artist’s SPI (Streaming Performance Indicators). Let's look into these indicators one-by-one.
Indicator 1: Ratios
The first of our primary indicators for a healthy Spotify profile is the ratio between Streams to Listeners to Saves. When an artist mistakenly bots their new release, it tends to give them a great deal of streams… but their Save Rate tends to be significantly low. We look for an artist’s save rate to reach 6%-10%. Artists with botted accounts tend to see 3% or less.
We also look to the Streams to Listener ratio. Bots tend to listen to a track once before moving on… so if you have a high amount of streams and just as many listeners, we have a problem. This implies that listeners are not coming back a second time and are — ultimately — not engaged with the track. The opposite side of the coin is having too few listeners to streams, which indicates someone has left a song on repeat. We look for a 40%-60% listener rate.
Indicator 2: Fans Also Like
We look to an artist’s “Fans Also Like” section to get a sense of what Spotify’s algorithm is associating with the artist. For accounts that have seen substantial bot activity, these recommendations tend to be jumbled and random. This is because many of these bot-infested playlists are not musically themed. They are a sequence of random songs from random genres. Therefore, the “fans also like” section tends to reveal that Spotify has been given poor data regarding an artists’ genre.
Some artists’ pages are so botted that they will have hundreds of thousands of plays but no “Fans Also Like” section. This is another example of a huge red flag.
Indicator 3: Playlists
The source of an artist’s streams is also a great indicator of the health of their account. We gather ample insight from looking at an artist’s playlists.
For example, there are a number of immediate red flags with this botted playlist. First, you can see how thrown together it is… no cover art, poor grammar in the title, the top songs are all unknown artists, a high amount of followers, etc. These indicate a botted playlists, but it is the back end that really reveals what’s going on!
On the back end, we discover a ratio disaster. The streams-to-listener ratio is off-kilter, with only a 14% listener ratio. This combined with the look of the playlist strongly suggests that it is botted. Oftentimes, this will result in a low Save Rate as well.
There are other types of playlists that can damage an artist’s data as well. This artist is a pop-rock artist, but (as you can see above) he has been added to unrelated playlists, such as the Classic Rock playlist. One can also see from his back-end that he’s been added to other non-related playlists, such as an EDM Workout playlist. This becomes an issue because it’s associating the artist's song with multiple incorrect genres and — most likely — resulting in a low save rate and a high skip rate. These playlists might be getting him plays from actual people (not bots), but they are ultimately hurting his profile’s data.
A third example of a troublesome playlist is the one above. With 84,122 followers, you’d expect this playlist to appeal to a large audience with many popular hit songs. But every artist is smaller, with low monthly listenership. This can indicate that this playlist is botted.
To verify the quality of a playlist, we use resources such as Chartmetric to check the monthly listenership on the playlist. This verification process takes a bit of investigating but it allows us to discern the quality of a playlist and act accordingly.
Indicator 4: Algorithmic Movement
Botting will have negative effects on an artist’s algorithmic movement. In this example, the artist was able to activate the algorithm, but — since the data being created by all that botting was incorrect — Spotify’s algorithm was unable to put the artist in front of the right people.
Indicator 5: Followers vs. Monthly Listeners
When we look at Followers vs Monthly Listeners, we are looking for an authentic relationship. With artists who have been botted, their monthly listeners tend to be sky-high but their monthly followers are astoundingly low. 2-to-1 is much better than 2-to-100.
The caveat to this point is that sometimes artists will have a high amount of monthly listeners to followers if they managed to trigger an algorithmic playlist, such as Discover Weekly. So if there is a huge discrepancy between listeners and followers, we look for an algorithmic playlist to indicate legitimacy.
Indicator 6: Activity Over Time
An artist’s activity over time will show us a great deal. Accounts that have been botted are prone to show huge spikes in streams and followers. A healthy, non-botted account tends to show sustained, incremental growth. This is one of our most glaring indicators.
Indicator 7: Trigger Cities
One final indicator we evaluate is what cities are showing up in the ‘Where People Listen’ section of their profile. Spotify has what are known as Trigger Cities — cities that tend to engage with new or emerging artists more rapidly. These include cities such as Mexico City, Santiago, London, Los Angeles, and Chicago. More recently, countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines have become quality trigger cities. You can see the full list here
Bot farms can be anywhere and will occasionally operate out of countries that don’t even have access to Spotify. To get around this, they will use VPNs and set their locations to small cities around the world. Watch out for these cities! Piscataway, NJ for example. With a population of less than 50K, it is driving 20x that in streams. This suggests to us that a bot farm (or multiple bot farms) are setting their VPN location to Piscataway and driving up these numbers to absurd highs. A great rule of thumb: if it seems dubious, it probably is.
There is no quick and easy answer. The team you hire must investigate and determine whether or not an artist’s profile is suffering from botting.
The moral of the story is simple: STOP PAYING FOR PLAYLISTING! Stop it right now! You are being put on playlists packed with bots and it is causing terrible damage to your Spotify algorithm.
Your goal is to build up your Spotify algorithm with authentic engagement, to trigger Spotify’s algorithmic playlists like Discover Weekly or Release Radar. These algorithmic playlists are where you will see the bulk of your streams and they will be authentic streams that target the correct audience!
With these indicators at your disposal, you can better evaluate the quality of your own Spotify profile and — if there has been damage caused by bots — you can take steps to counteract these negative effects.
HUGE THANKS to Dustin and Charles for helping me with this blog.