How a musician accused of fraud got his music back on Spotify, iTunes

Enlarge / Musician Benn Jordan, who performs under the alias The Flashbulb, successfully defended his music against streaming fraud allegations.

Last Friday, musician Benn Jordan assumed his phone was glitching when he tried to pull up one of his albums and couldn’t find it on Spotify. Then he noticed all the notifications he’d gotten from fans asking why he’d removed his music on all the streaming platforms where his music could typically be found, including Apple Music, iTunes, Deezer, and YouTube Music.

But Jordan had not made any such decision. By the time night fell on Friday, the gravity of what had happened finally sank in, and he realized something was “very, very wrong.”

For the past 17 years, Jordan has paid his digital distributor, TuneCore, thousands of dollars to manage his music on streaming platforms. Under his alias The Flashbulb, Jordan had released more than a dozen albums, reaching 1.9 million listeners on Spotify who added his songs to more than 300,000 playlists last year alone. In total, he had earned over $400,000 in sales since signing up for TuneCore in 2007.

“The scope of this is actually insane,” Jordan wrote on his Patreon.

Over the weekend, Jordan sent multiple emails to TuneCore demanding answers. On Sunday, TuneCore’s support team finally responded, telling Jordan that Spotify had detected “abnormal streaming activity”—allegedly from fraudulent botstreams attempting to spike Jordan’s royalties—on “one or more” of his releases.

As a result, rather than freeze his royalties or remove only those releases, TuneCore had taken the drastic step of taking down Jordan’s music “virtually everywhere music is sold or streamed,” Jordan explained on his Patreon.

Accused of fraud, Jordan defended himself on X (aka Twitter). He accused TuneCore of blacklisting him without providing any evidence or giving him any way of maintaining his playlists and streaming statistics by hiring another digital distributor. He asked TuneCore to reinstate his music for 30 days so he could swap distributors and demanded evidence of the fraud that Spotify had detected.

TuneCore CEO Andreea Gleeson responded to Jordan on X, confirming that TuneCore didn’t have support staff working over the weekend who could address Jordan’s concerns. Jordan would have to wait until Monday to sort things out.

By Monday, Jordan had already met with a lawyer in case he would have to take TuneCore to court. Relying on savings to float by after his only source of personal income was suddenly shut down, Jordan knew that if this same situation happened to other musicians, it could result in a dire loss of income. He was experiencing “the worst thing that could possibly happen to a musician,” Jordan told Ars.

“This is a lot bigger than me,” Jordan said. “There are a lot of artists who complain about this thing happening where all their albums are gone. And they can’t do anything about it. And there’s no course of action. They’re completely screwed.”

Jordan’s biggest concern while waiting for TuneCore to take his reports seriously was that even if he switched distributors, Spotify wouldn’t allow his music to be streamed again. Jordan told Ars that his music generates the most income on Spotify, along with YouTube Music.

However, Spotify told Ars that it never instructed TuneCore to remove Jordan’s music. Spotify confirmed that the platform had detected high levels of artificial streaming and withheld royalties on some of his songs, informing TuneCore as part of those companies’ business relationship. Removing Jordan’s music, not just on Spotify but across all streaming platforms, was TuneCore’s call, Spotify said.

Jordan’s music never should have been removed from TuneCore without notification. There was a system error, and Jordan was never notified of Spotify’s warning, resulting in the takedown being processed before Jordan had a chance to hash it out with TuneCore’s team. Now, TuneCore says it is updating its process to ensure that never happens to another artist.

“After receiving notice” of “a large, abnormal amount of suspicious streaming activity on artist Benn Jordan’s account, TuneCore investigated and processed a takedown of Jordan’s catalog late last week,” TuneCore said in a statement to Ars. “Unfortunately, upon subsequent review, we discovered that an error was made in our notification system and Jordan was not properly contacted with a warning or opportunity to validate the activity on his account. As a company that prides itself on putting our artists first, we admit our mistake and have redistributed Jordan’s catalog” to streaming platforms.

“We are actively evolving our processes for handling streaming fraud so we can more effectively protect the reputation of our artists while making sure our actions are aimed at those committing fraud and stealing revenue from artists with real listeners,” TuneCore’s statement said.

Late on Tuesday, Jordan’s music was returned to streaming platforms, but Jordan told Ars that he didn’t consider that “a happy ending.”

“The situation motivates an immediate change of policy with both Spotify and digital distributors that prevents this from happening in the first place,” Jordan told Ars. “If you’re an independent musician using one of these services, this situation should scare the shit out of you.”

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