Bell Baronets are an independent rock band from Switzerland. The trio around guitarist Silvan Gerhard has been releasing music for over a decade—with the EP Mount Yeast Tapes (Side B) being their latest in 2022. They are a small band with currently 574 monthly listeners on Spotify.
However, a new EP suddenly appeared on Spotify and other streaming services. I Will Not Surrender with six new songs. Fans might have been excited, but there's a problem: It's not Bell Baronets.
«My brother wrote me because he had it in his Release Radar on Spotify,» Gerhard tells Negative White over the phone. «At first, I definitely was perplexed and also angry, but the more I think about it, the more I can laugh.» He made the fake EP public on the band's social media profiles.
«I thought the EP got accidentally attributed to us, but then I listened to the songs, and it felt odd. It sounds like us, but not quite. The mix is pretty whack. The voice sounds different in every song,» Gerhard explains. After that, he suspected that it was AI-generated music.
So what happened exactly?
How The Scam Works
A combination of criminal energy and lacklustre controls enabled this fake EP to arrive at Bell Baronets' profiles. The ingredients for the scam are simple: Anyone can sign up for an aggregator like DistroKid. Aggregators act as interfaces to various streaming services like Spotify and ease the digital distribution for artists.
However, you can also attribute your uploaded music to any artist you like on these aggregators. Streaming services and aggregators assume that people naturally want to upload to their profiles.
But how do they get the money?
One would think uploading fake songs to another artist's profile is useless since the money would go to said artists. That's wrong in the case of aggregators since streaming services pay the aggregators, who then pay the people who uploaded the music. And that is, in the case of Bell Baronets, not them.
There is no check from aggregators or most streaming services if the upload, and by extension, the payout for those, are legitimate. These insufficient checks open the doors for scammers who probably deploy their scheme with thousands of artists to make it profitable.
Gerhard mentions that the EP wasn't uploaded to Apple Music as their upload policy is more strict.
«We Won't Be The Last Ones»
For Silvan Gerhard, it comes as little surprise that Bell Baronets were used for the scam. He reckons that the people behind it specifically target smaller bands because it's less likely to be discovered, and legal ramifications are unlikely. «We definitely won't be the last ones where this happens.»
«The insane thing is that I can't get these songs deleted easily,» he explains. It would require a lot of legal trouble, which Bell Baronets can not afford. Although the fake EP has meanwhile vanished from their artist's page on Spotify and moved to a new artist with the same name, there's still continuous damage. If you search for Bell Baronets, the fake songs are the first results.
«The whole AI thing is scary, but our example also shows that it's currently not possible to generate an entire EP with any sort of consistency,» Gerhard states. But he admits that it adds challenge for independent artists. According to his distributor, the AI-powered scams are also top-of-mind with Impala, the European indie association. He hopes there will be a solution soon.
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While the incident is a nuisance for Silvan Gerhard, who earns his living as a session and live guitarist for several Swiss bands, he took the bull by its horns. He turned it into a good marketing opportunity and simultaneously raised awareness for the issues of AI music scams.