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Music streaming has revolutionized how we listen, offering vast libraries and endless discovery at our fingertips. But a recent study casts a shadow over this convenient paradise, revealing a hidden world of musical trickery.

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Think you’re listening to your favorite artist’s latest hit on Spotify? Think again. Pex (a company that specializes in detecting streaming fraud) has uncovered a disturbing trend: over a million manipulated tracks are hiding in plain sight across major streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer.

These aren’t just unauthorized remixes or covers. We’re talking about slightly altered versions of existing songs, tweaked just enough to fool the platforms’ algorithms and sneak through the cracks. Think of it as the musical equivalent of a deepfake. Just as AI can create eerily convincing video forgeries, these sonic doppelgangers exploit loopholes in streaming algorithms to appear legitimate.

Imagine a familiar Cannibal Corpse track slowed down by a fraction of a percent or a Metallica classic with a barely-detectable pitch shift. These subtle changes might go unnoticed by the average listener, but they have big implications for both artists and music fans. Some of the tracks uncovered by Pex had been played 25 million times, and even more.

So, why would someone go through the trouble of creating and uploading these fake tracks? It all boils down to money. Streaming services pay royalties based on the number of plays a song receives. By flooding the platforms with manipulated copies of popular tracks, fraudsters can artificially inflate their play counts and rake in unearned cash. This not only steals money from legitimate artists but also skews the algorithms, potentially burying genuine talent under a mountain of fakes.

The implications also extend beyond financial gain. The presence of fake songs erodes trust in the very platforms we rely on for music discovery. While streaming services are taking steps to combat this issue, the sheer volume of fake songs poses a significant challenge. We, as listeners, can also play a part. Familiarize yourself with your favorite artists’ music, so you can spot subtle discrepancies, and avoid listening to a fake version of the song you love.

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