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[“Dark Algorithmic Clouds Raining Down A.I. Art” by Dall-E]

A 15 minute read

How algorithms and artificial intelligence robs both artist’s and followers of culture.

This article was not written by A.I. One needs to make such a statement these days. With a torrent of automated books, articles, images, videos, and music raining down from the dark algorithmic clouds, it has become increasingly difficult to find human-generated content. It’s estimated that roughly 50% of all internet traffic comes from bots, and with A.I. becoming more powerful, that number is only going to rise. Discerning human-created content from A.I. automation has become a difficult task. In many areas, artificial intelligence passes the Turing test. Several vocations have already begun seeing layoffs as cheap automation tech makes human intelligence obsolete.

In some ways, this might be a good thing. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not categorically against A.I. In fact, I have great optimism for its potential to help us create a better world, freeing us from toxic drudgery, costly human error, and humanity’s moral shortcomings. When applied healthily and skillfully, it can extend the reach of human compassion and ingenuity. But like all technologies, which are neither good nor evil in themselves, the purposes to which A.I. is deployed can either help us or hurt us. And oftentimes, it’s both.

In this article, I’m going to tell you about an instance of its harmfulness, specifically related to my music offering and the Source Vibrations brand. It involves fraud, algorithm manipulation, and blatant trademark and copyright infringement. It highlights the dark underbelly of the music business and the longstanding exploitative practices between industry executives and artists.

But before I get into my story, I want to tell you a little about myself. I’m an independent artist creating music under the name Source Vibrations. I’ve done so for the last 20 years from my small home studio. I’ve focused mostly on the ambient, meditative genres, creating sound healing music that blends mathematical principles from Pythagoreanism with neuro-acoustics. My wife, who sings on several tracks with me, and I, along with our sweet dog Seda, live in a small town in Iowa. 100% of our modest income comes from music streaming royalties and commissioned work. Based on my estimates of all the streaming royalties generated by music under the name Source Vibrations, my family captures only about 15% of it. The rest goes to DSPs, streaming platforms, and scammers. At this point, I’m not sure there is much difference between them.

This is nothing new. In fact, my first album, “Solfeggio Harmonics vol. 1,” published in 2005, was downloaded illegally over 2 million times. In the days of Napster and Pirate Bay, it was not uncommon to see albums from independent artists go viral. With no charts tracking an artist’s success and no revenues being generated, the popularity of Source Vibrations was hardly even visible to me, at least until the Wayback Machine and digital forensics tools showed me many years later. Artists and record labels dream of numbers like that. But who can say what those numbers mean in that context? Anyone can download music for free. A fan is someone who is willing to pay for it, and what artists want are real fans.

I tell you this so you can understand that I’m personally affected by digital music trends and have been part of this world long enough to see how they’ve changed over the years. When I say they are getting worse, it comes from experience. The parasites of this world find artists to be a particularly tender meal since creative types, in most cases, are less inclined to do the sorts of things other businesses do to protect their interests. I’ve been hardened to the realities of digital piracy and exploitation, to the point that I remain devoted to my work despite being endlessly savaged.

Streaming music platforms are relatively new compared to the history of the music industry, which has always been fraught with exploitation. They have done a lot of good for music, in many ways democratizing music publication, enabling artists to share their music without needing big companies to sign them—at least at first. They spurred countless creative trends and continue to enable more artists than ever to make a living off their music. Yet, as it has been in the past, they’ve also given rise to a new type of exploitation.

For example, artists have no way of knowing how many streams they actually get. We simply have to take it on faith that the DSPs (digital service providers) and streaming platforms are accurately reporting. There is evidence to suggest that streaming numbers are both inflated and deflated in certain cases. There are several points of exploitative vulnerability that artists have to contend with, from errors with music fingerprinting algorithms leading to false copyright violations to tech companies exploiting copyright laws and service policy agreements that prevent artists from organizing class action lawsuits or litigating infringement cases without first sacrificing their income and spending exorbitant amounts of money in legal fees. These points would require whole articles in themselves to delineate.

The Scam

What I want to tell you about here involves a specific type of music scam that detrimentally affects artists and listeners alike. Reddit threads have coined the scam the “Release Radar Scam” since it involves manipulating Spotify’s “Release Radar” playlist algorithm. In reality, it goes far beyond the Release Radar playlist and even Spotify, involving every streaming platform. This scam involves fake artists publishing fake music collaborations to get their often generic music onto real artists’ profile pages to corral listeners to their music. In the last couple of years, my channels have had to remove over a hundred fake collaborations with anonymous artists. If you listen to Source Vibrations on any streaming platform on playlists, you’ve heard some of this music. Hundreds of thousands of plays have been generated by these scammers getting in front of my music.

This is demoralizing. In a student documentary interview I recently gave, the interviewer commented on recent music published to my channel and was astonished at how prolific I had been, wondering how I was able to publish such a vast number of albums. We were both disappointed to hear my answer was simply, “I didn’t make that music.” Because my music is often slow and fits in a genre that by its nature favors a calm, relaxing, and ambient style, it is particularly prone to this type of scam.

The term scam really isn’t even the right word. In a scam, a criminal uses deception to fleece their mark of money. But in this case, their mark is not just listeners (who really aren’t losing money), or the artists, or even the streaming platforms. Instead, it’s something far worse. These bot artists are gaming the music culture itself. This manipulation isn’t just happening in my genre but, sadly, in all of them. I find it particularly distasteful in the sound healing and meditative genres for obvious reasons, but also because listeners tuning into this field are seeking intentional music designed to soothe and uplift them in a meaningful way. When scammers manipulate them for clicks, it degrades the whole experience.

The music is rarely even tolerable, much less good. One such fake artist’s album that showed up on my YouTube channel consisted of several 20-second tracks of children’s limericks set to an atrocious electric piano sound titled “Relaxing Sleep Music.” The level of cringe was unbearable. God only knows how much this torpor has given potential fans a bad impression of my music and turned them off my work for good. With generative music algorithms made popular by Brian Eno, the “godfather of ambient music,” fake artists can quickly generate tracks without any musical skill, creativity, or healing intentions. Settings in digital audio workstations (DAWs) can be changed with simple mouse clicks, enabling endless variations of pseudo-original and soulless content.

Then the abominable torpor gets posted to DSPs with generic artist names like “Entrainment,” “Ambient Meditation,” “Binaural Beats,” or similar titles designed to game the search algorithms. Most of the time, brainwave entrainment isn’t even present in the music. But if they simply published under these names, very few people would ever listen for obvious reasons, so to get around this, they lie and say some other artist with an actual following has collaborated with them. This gets their clickbait onto real artists’ profiles. One might call to mind the saying, “Mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery,” and certainly, Source Vibrations has been the subject of mimicry, but these scammers aren’t trying to sound like me. In most cases, they don’t even get close to my sound. Instead, they just want to get into your listening rotation and hope you don’t notice.

One might ask, how is this allowed to happen? Why don’t the DSPs and streaming platforms stop it? It would be easy enough to do. If anyone tries to publish a “collaboration” with me, an automated notification and approval process could be activated. But they don’t stop it for what seems like a very disappointing reason. They might be the ones doing it. If it’s not them, it’s at least enabled by their complacency.

If the DSPs and streaming platforms can get their A.I.-generated fake music in front of real artists, they get to keep the royalties rather than having to pay them out to the artists. Moreover, a steady stream of fake tracks capturing real listeners saves the platforms royalty payouts even when the profiles are deleted and the fake collaborations are removed from real artists’ profiles. The damage is already done. While we can’t prove this without very costly digital forensic investigations, it’s often the case that those who most stand to benefit from such criminal activity are likely culpable in some way. The fact that many of these “artists” are verified and yet have no paper trail, no online presence, publicly available name, or any traceable information shows that the tech companies are allowing these frauds to hide behind a veil of anonymity.

I’m deliberately not going to link to evidence here since I don’t want to encourage traffic to fake artists, but a simple search will provide ample evidence if you need it.

Please understand I’m not against anonymity and data privacy. I’m quite for it actually. I personally publish my music and writing under a moniker for privacy reasons, but anyone can get ahold of me if they want to and ask me to collaborate or tell me their opinion of my music. I publish under the name Asa Idoni, which makes the initials A.I., ironically enough.

More importantly, anyone accusing me of copyright violations or fraud could easily get me into court. The level of secrecy in this fraudulent activity seems to go beyond basic privacy, suggesting that the tech companies enabling it are incentivized to do so. Why else would they continue to ignore it? In a recent email to Spotify, I was told to talk to the DSPs, and the DSPs tell me to report it to the streaming platforms. And so we go around the Ouroboros of unaccountability. The solution they offer is to file a form to remove fake collaborations from my profile. This means that every week we need to go onto our platforms and check for new releases, constantly staying on top of it. This “whack-a-mole” process, by the way, I do regularly, even though it takes sometimes 6 to 9 months before the offending content is removed after the forms are filed, meanwhile racking up thousands of listens.

And it’s not just Spotify. It’s Pandora, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube, and others requiring that I go onto each platform, filling notifications to each one. Until recently, I wasn’t even aware of the extent of it. I discovered over one hundred fake collaboration albums on Amazon Music, many of them innocuous, even cute, including “Feline Raindrops: Whisker Melodies Chord.” The way this harms me is incalculable, not only representing significant revenue losses but permanent damage to my brand’s reputation. If there was an email or address to send cease and desist letters to, I would happily send them. If I could track down the owners of labels, I’d litigate vigorously. But instead, I’m forced to play whack-a-mole with fake music showing up on my channels despite the legal protections copyright and trademark ownership claims to afford me.

I’d like to be able to tell you that the problem is a few naughty scammers that moonlight as click farmers and algorithm hackers after a hard day of driving a rickshaw to support their six kids, but the reality is, the DSPs and streaming platforms are complicit, intentionally leaving holes in their system to water down royalty payouts and, in some cases, even hiring producers to shuffle lower payout contracts into the mix of popular artists. They evade and ignore every email and phone call, the left hand blaming the right and the right hand blaming the left. Even the seemingly reputable Google-owned YouTube platform puts ads on my videos without my permission and demonetizes videos for copyright violations on my own music, despite my perfect 20-year record with them. When I get them on the phone after weeks of escalating emails, they use the excuse, “The A.I. algorithms did it, there’s nothing we can do to prevent it in the future.”

These days, corrupt practices and exploitation are automated, and the A.I. overlords get a free pass while those who work to create the culture they profit from are their fodder.

How You Can Help

Don’t listen online. If you are an actual fan of my music and intend to listen to authentic Source Vibrations, rather than the counterfeits, you’ll need to download it from my website. If you go to Spotify, Pandora, or YouTube, chances are, if you’re not attentive and are listening on a playlist, or if you say, “Hey Alexa, play Source Vibrations,” you are most likely listening to a counterfeit. I’m sorry to have to inform you of this fraudulent activity. If you do wish to support me and other artists, you can do so by being deliberate in your listening habits.

Don’t consume music passively or through playlists. Instead, buy albums, download them, and play them offline. If you must listen to music on streaming platforms, make your own playlists so you don’t enable fake artists to get in. But I must tell you, listening to music on Spotify does not support artists; it supports corporate executives. Whatever value they once provided artists and culture has now inverted to parasitism. Don’t be fooled by their virtue signaling about going to bat for the underdog. They do nothing of the sort. Rest assured that if you’re on my emailing list, you’ll be notified of new releases and provided download links through the web store. If you see Source Vibrations music out there online and you haven’t heard about it from me directly – it’s not me.

Long Term Solutions

Given how unreliable, unethical, and convoluted the music publication business is, I’ve begun moving my livelihood away from DSPs. When the resources become available to litigate, our income can’t be tied to them because it will end the moment lawsuits are filed. I am presently considering several options to resolve this issue, including authentication keys using PGP encryption for digital music. Select programs and new releases will be available on a private members-only streaming platform built on blockchain. Full-length albums will be available for purchase on vinyl records only. Which of these tactics win out will depend on several factors best left for another article.

I believe that SV fans aspire to be more conscious consumers, holding intentions for a better, healthier society with fewer downstream effects resulting from unconscious lifestyle practices. Because of this, I’m not worried that the added inconvenience of intentional listening will harm our relationship or diminish your listening experience in any way. In fact, I see this as a positive problem. To solve it, we need to come closer together. I may have fewer listeners as a result, but they will be of a higher caliber.

On a personal note, I have not published new music to streaming platforms like Spotify in over four years due to the sense of futility and demoralization that publishing music gives me. Instead, I’ve published music exclusively for digital download on and with Sage Space Technologies for use with the Sound Lounge, the X1. As a result, I’m holding back a great deal of original music. If or when I do publish music to streaming platforms, I’ll notify you via email. For now, however, I ask you to boycott SV on streaming platforms.

Worse than not being paid for my work is the thought of enabling corporate thieves and scammers to profit by my name’s sake.

In the future, our relationship will not take place casually amidst the business of the day. You will not hear Source Vibrations in the office or the salon; it won’t be available on Web 2 sites, XM Radio, or anywhere music is normally sold. Source Vibrations will not play trivially in the vestibule amidst the hawkers and counterfeiters. For it to be heard, one will be required to remove their shoes and enter in, past the noise of the world and the concerns of materialism. This is not me being eccentric or being an overprivileged artist trying to create false scarcity. I simply can’t stomach the moral degradation that this trend signals to the whole of culture. In a world of kitsch and pop-art, fake artists, and A.I. everything, our world is headed deeper into the misery of meaninglessness.

The myopic torpor of trivialized cultural consumption does violence to the soul, and no spiritually enlivened person should ever be required to suffer it. I, for one, won’t be a part of it. Thank you for your support. I trust this knowledge brings us closer together and helps us become wiser stewards of consciousness and culture.