Last Friday, in response to an story in Vulture, Spotify issued a denial of an accusation that’s been making the rounds since the website Music Business Worldwide first reported it last year: that the streaming platform is concocting bogus artists to pad out popular playlists in an effort to avoid paying royalties to legitimate musicians who might otherwise occupy those plum spots.
Music Business Worldwide backed up its allegations on Monday, releasing a list of 50 “fake artists,” each with over 500,000 plays, and each with no presence outside Spotify – no Facebook page, no Bandcamp, no Soundcloud, no YouTube channel, nothing. These artists exist only on Spotify, seemingly to fill space on Spotify playlists.
Efforts to verify the identity of these artists have failed. Until now.
One of the 50 named artists was Enno Aare, whose most popular track, “Ella’s Lullaby,” is included on popular playlists such as “Music for Concentration” and “Peaceful Piano,” and has racked up over 17 million plays.
City Pages can’t speak for the other forty-nine artists on the list, but we did manage to reach Aare. A reclusive pianist and composer, Aare lives in a small cabin in northern Minnesota, about half an hour from the Canadian border. City Pages contacted him through the internal messaging system on Spotify, and we spoke by phone on Tuesday.
CP: So you’re included as one of the fake artists on Spotify. How does that feel?
EA: It hurts. It stung a little, I won’t lie. But I’m a pretty chill guy, pretty relaxed.
CP: You do appear on a lot of relaxation-themed playlists. You only have four songs on Spotify, all solo piano. No photos, no biographical information, no links to your music anywhere else.
EA: It’s all part of the lifestyle. I’m committed to peaceful piano. All the other trappings of the industry – you know, it’s unnecessary.
CP: What do you mean exactly by trappings? Like Facebook?
EA: Obviously I think things like Facebook and, what’s the other one, SoundCloud? Yes, they’re just a lot of distraction. But it goes deeper. I’ve been really bummed by the resurgence of vinyl – I thought when CDs went out, we’d finally turned a corner, but no, vinyl’s back. Committing your music to physical format is a complete waste. Playing your music in a club? Have you ever been to a show? It’s terrible.
CP: So the excess trappings of the music industry are social media, websites, CDs, records, and live performances? You take a hard line on this.
EA: I see some of these guys at the farmer’s market selling CDs out of their cars, and I’m like, pfff, this guy is a sellout, a complete fraud. I knew this one guy in college who made a tape and spent, I don’t know, an hour designing a cover for it? With a band photograph and a logo? And he listed his email address on the back? Like, ooh, I’m so important I think people should email me. Man, I just shake my head. What a waste of energy.
CP: And so the only appropriate venue for music is a Spotify playlist?
EA: Basically. Yeah, when you get down to it. Put me on a playlist, and that’s all I need. That's music in its purest form. I never even considered putting my music online anywhere, but these Spotify curators are just relentless in their pursuit of creating the best playlists. I was so stupid I didn’t even know you could “curate” music – I thought that was like an art thing. But when they told me my four songs could exist in a free-floating, context-less, non-corporeal environment for the benefit of people falling asleep with their earbuds in, I couldn’t say no. I told them, “This is what I’ve been waiting for. This is my moment. Sign me up.”
CP: Do you know any of the other so-called “fake artists”?
EA: Sure, we all came up on the peaceful piano scene together. I know some of the others took it harder than I did. Hermann was devastated. So was Amity Cadet. Folks like that, you know, they pour their heart and soul into relaxing piano music and they just don’t have to tools to deal with the outside world.
CP: Of course, but you can see where this might seem suspicious, right? You don’t have any Internet presence at all, besides a really barebones YouTube channel and Twitter account. It’s like you don’t exist outside Spotify. Same with all those others. Amity Cadet, who you mentioned, only has one song.
EA: Look, if you’ve written a song as good as “Romances,” what else do you need? Listen to that tone. Amity can retire. As far as I’m concerned, she earned the #63 slot on the “Peaceful Piano” playlist. They should name a suspension bridge after her.
CP: Is Enno Aare an assumed name, then?
EA: Sort of. The last name, yeah. But Enno is a family name. My uncle was Bryan Enno.
CP: Brian Eno?
EA: Common mistake. B-R-Y-A-N Enno, E-N-N-O. He recorded a series of ambient knock-off cassettes in the ’70s for K-Tel. Mostly sold at truck stops. Music for Gas Stations was the big one. A lot of truck drivers were buying electronic records at the time. They needed something to come down off the “Convoy” craze, I guess, and the industry just couldn’t keep up. Uncle Bryan would churn these things out – they looked just like the Eno records, same typeface. You know, some truck driver is just in and out of the place to grab some jerky and porno mags and a chill-out cassette, he’s not looking too carefully at the typography.
CP: So it’s sort of like the family business.
EA: Yeah. My other uncle was one of the original Masked Marauders.
CP: That’s a little on the nose, Enno.
EA: Hey, man, facts are facts.