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Musical Space

Musical Space: Fake News


Now that fake news is being reported by real news, I thought it would be good to look into how much fakery goes on in the music business. Sure, there’s autotune and lip-synching, but in the business of music the chicanery goes even deeper.

Pop success is measured in sales numbers, and fudging those numbers is as old as the Billboard charts. For years record companies have leaned on stores, by bribery or coercion, to report inflated sales numbers to push whatever they want to be the next hit.

There are also fake fans. All over the world, low-wage workers are paid to click the “like" button on millions of bogus social media accounts. “Click Farming” is done on behalf of businesses, governments and even music providers like YouTube and Spotify, which is why Kanye West’s video “Heartless” was able to get 33 million views in one day.

Spotify has also been accused of creating fake artists. To avoid paying royalties, the company buys cheap music on a “work for hire” basis. They attribute the music to a fictional artist, then promote it, to the detriment of legitimate artists. Avoiding royalty payments is also why clothing retailer H&M sells t-shirts for metal bands they themselves have invented - complete with bogus social media profiles and a YouTube channel.

The motivation for these lies is understandable; the music business is a business. Fake music, like fake news, is a part of our world, and the phrase caveat emptor now means keeping your ears open to what’s real.


Listening list:

The Beatles, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” (1967)
Fake news and music: Paul McCartney’s death in 1967 (reported in 1969). It was reported that John Lennon says “I buried Paul,” after the false ending of the song. Actually, he says “cranberry sauce.” Quote (or misquote) is at 3:55. I can’t hear either.

Ke$ha, “TiK ToK,” 2009
Example of autotune - voice sounds as controlled and artificial as the synths on the track.

Amity Cadet, “Romances,”
Over nine million streams, one of the most promoted tracks on the “Piano in the Background” playlist. No info on the artist is available in the news, on social media, or even in Spotify itself. Not even a picture.

Metal, “Final Kill for Power,”
One of the bogus metal bands created by H&M. Fun to read the fake comments for these videos - “METAL were amazing. I remember seeing them at Donnington in 1984,” etc.

“Joyce Hatto”
Brahms Piano Concerto #2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83. Horacio Gutierrez, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Andre Previn.
Over 100 fraudulent recordings, incl. all the sonatas of Beethoven, Mozart and Prokofiev, concertos by Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, etc.

“Bad Blake” (Jeff Bridges), “The Weary Kind,” Crazy Heart OST (2009) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePVVDGRIHD0
Fake isn’t always bad. Co-written by T-Bone Burnett